Wednesday, 17 August 2016

imperial immediacy

The old, medieval centre of Goslar has been accorded World Heritage status and rightly so with its preserved lanes of half-timbered houses and canals along the streaming Abzucht—possibly named for the run-off, discharge of the silver mines of Rammelsberg that had secured this city’s wealth up until the discovery of even greater lodes in South America—and favoured residence of the Holy and Roman Emperor of the Germans.
Most reasons are clearly manifest but it’s interesting to note what sort of scholarship and rediscoveries lie behind it. This pair of Brunswick Lions (Braunschweig Löwe) are reproductions installed (of several around Germany) to celebrate the oldest and largest example of such Middle Age sculpture produced north of the Alps, but Germany had its own undiscovered heritage. Presently sheltered in the bowels of the imperial palace is the symbol of the city, the griffin, once thought to be an 19th century embellishment, like much of the restorative work done to the palace itself, replete with murals depicting German mythology and the rise of the nation-state and empire, but researchers revealed in 1988 that the object dated back nearly a thousand years, which was then just a weather-vein on some gable.
After the piece was studied and dated, it became the symbol of Goslar and a golden version of the Imperial “Eagle” of Henry I adorns the fountain in the main square amidst the old gothic Rathaus and the city’s other iconic landmark, the Hotel Kaiserworth with its wooden figures—including some rather lewd allegory, which I would have appreciated explanation for, like the random local in Trier who at length told us about the veiled meaning of the central fountain’s decorations. Another element of forgotten and re-discovered awaited us in the City Hall.
Over five hundred years ago, the Hall of Homage was created as a council chamber, at the height of the region’s economic prosperity—finely decorated by anonymous artists as tribute to municipal leaders and patrons who were answerable only to the person of the Emperor.
The upper storey of the Rathaus, however, was perhaps a bit much for a series of Bürgermeister to confront and contemplate on a daily basis and at some point, the hall was turned into an archive and storage space. Like the griffin, the rich decorations were only rediscovered in the late 1800s and is now visited by tens of thousands each year.  In order to preserve the artwork from so much traffic, however, one can only experience the chamber by climbing into a plastic porthole.