Sunday, 4 April 2021

they are not long—the days of wine and roses

Though separated by a considerable distance in the north and the southern part of modern Germany, it’s interesting to note, via the always engrossing Futility Closet, the kindred relationship between the oldest known rosebush and the oldest known uncorked bottle of wine. The Millennium Rose (der Tausendjähriger Rosenstock) grows in the apse of the Hildesheimer Dom—dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, and is a non-domesticated variety known as the wild dog, Rosa cainina. Hardier by degrees that cultivated garden varieties that usually only thrive for decades, this especially long-lived specimen is legendary, with Louis the Pious (Ludwig der Fromme), heir to the Holy Roman Empire after the death of his father Charlemagne, happened upon this rosebush after becoming separated from his hunting party. Sacred to the Saxon goddess Hulda, the lost emperor sought shelter there but offering a prayer to the Virgin Mary through a reliquary he carried with him. Ludwig rested and upon waking, he found his icon irretrievably stuck among the branches—taking this as a sign from the pagan goddess that she was to be replaced in veneration. The emperor’s entourage found him and Ludwig pledged that his city should be founded in this spot and constructed the cathedral around the rosebush. In March of 1945, Hildesheim was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid which razed the cathedral as well. The rose’s extensive root system was intact and began to flourish again the next season as the city was rebuilt. The Speyer wine bottle (Römerwein) was recovered from a Roman tomb outside of the city (see also) in the mid 1800s and since dated to the fourth century of the common era. This grave good is contained in a glass vessel and is one-and-a-half litres in volume, two modern standard bottles and is shaped like an amphora with dolphins ornamenting the handles. There is no intention of opening it.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

the thracian

Acclaimed by the Praetorian Guard as emperor in the West on this day in 238—a year later labelled by history as the Year of the Six Emperors (see also)—and reluctantly confirmed by the Roman senate who did not find the prospect of putting an oafishly large barbarian bandit in charge, Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus “Thrax” would rule for three years, the first to attain such the pinnacle of government without coming from the elite classes of the Senātus or knights eques. Thrax’ tumultuous reign is considered to have set in motion the Crisis of the Third Century which eventually led to its downfall and dissolution in the West and ruled mainly from Mogontiacum, capital of Germania Superior along the Rhein and from the province of Israel, where there is archaeological evidence of starting on some infrastructure work with an unfinished roadway, never able to come to Rome herself. Paranoid and focused on consolidating power inciting accusations and cultivating a court of informers, Thrax doubled soldiers’ pay and waged continuous warfare—financing these policies through raising taxes and appropriation of church property and violent confiscations, earning almost universal distrust from those outside of the army and his inner circle. Marching on Rome in May of 238, Thrax was assassinated by his own troops at a camp outside the city walls at Aquileia, the gates closed to the advancing siege of the unpopular emperor by order of the senate, the soldiers disaffected and suffering from privation with taking the fortified city not as simple of a matter that they had been led to believe.

Friday, 13 November 2020

jz

Born this day in 1699, Johann Zach (†1773, also called by the Czech equivalent Jan) was a versatile Bohemian composer, violinist and organist who helped bridge musical traditions from the old Baroque style to the emerging Classical one, punctuated with counterpoint (the clavier vs the orchestra) and the so called style galant, and importantly incorporated Italian influences with folk music from his native land—though his eccentricities and difficult personality made it hard for him to secure employment or keep a positon for long. Despite this reputation and temperament, Zach did hold the office of Kapellmeister for the court of the Prince-Elector and Archbishop of Mainz for over a decade which were among his most productive years, including the performance below of his Stabat mater (a hymn to Mary, setting to music the first line—the incipit—from the Council of Trent’s liturgical sequence, Stabat mater dolorósa—the sorrowful mother was standing).

Monday, 9 November 2020

bnt162b2

Though preliminary reports are from a company press release and have not been independently verified, news that the COVID-19 candidate vaccine being developed and trialled by a partnership between the Mainz-based BioNTech and the US drug concern Pfizer vaccine exceeds effectiveness targets by a sizable margin (on par with the best childhood inoculations against measles) and suggests that protection is enduring is significant and hopeful. No serious safety concerns or side-effects were observed and the companies are already under contract to deliver tens of millions of doses.

Friday, 6 November 2020

helmaspergerische notariatsinstrument

Decided in the plaintiff’s favour on this day in 1455 in the refectory (the dining room or fratery, a frat house and documented by the above notary public’s seal) of the Barefooted Friars of Mainz, financier and angel-investor Johann Fust (*1400 – †1466) won his legal suit filed against Johannes Gutenberg allowing him to seize the first printing of the Forty-Two Line Bible as compensation for the credit extended Gutenberg that the inventor had yet to repay, despite protestation and promises to remit the loan with interest.

After this unamicable split (the underlying motivation is unclear with some characterising Fust as a genuine patron and others as an opportunist out to steal Gutenberg’s insight all along) with assistant and technician Petrus Schöffer joining Fust to move merchandise and organise the next undertaking, the latter went to Paris to sell his books as manuscripts to members of the royal court—whom were pleased to acquire such handsome, high-quality volumes. Possibly conflating Fust with the near contemporary itinerant alchemist and astrologer Johann Georg Faust (subject and inspiration of Christopher Marlowe’s and Goethe’s tragedies), we get the source of the story that the printers were thought to be in league with the devil and that only witchcraft could have produced so many editions so quickly and uniformly and to escape punishment, Fust had to admit that they were printed and disclose the technology. While the advance may have been disruptive for the Paris book market, the Church welcomed such innovations for spreading the gospel, though literacy and the medium could be harnessed by all and sundry

Friday, 14 August 2020

psalterium moguntinum

The second major book printed with movable type in the West and the first by printers and former colleagues Johann Fust and Petrus Schöffer after the unamicable split from the workshop of Johannes Gutenberg, the Mainz Psalter, an anthology of poems, prayers and other devotional material like a liturgical calendar, a guide to the saints and a good primer to impart literacy commissioned by the archbishop, contained many innovations that are still resonant and relevant in the publication industry.
It bears a printer’s mark and colophon that gives the date of publication as the Eve of the Feast of the Assumption [14 August] 1457—the date, dateline and dedication of the Bible being handwritten for each copy. The work employs three colours of ink and contains images and mixed sized text on the same pages, a technical feat—as well as parallel music score for selected psalms.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

bailey and bergfried

Though this castle built on a rocky spur (Spornburg) dominating an adjacent valley of the Moselle, a tributary called the Ehrbach, that we visited on the way home had the feeling of an empty playground for adults the Ehrenburg was quite unexpectedly spectacular and has a rich, well connected history dating back to at least the twelfth century.
In part conserved through all the tumult by its first documented mention in a deed by Barbarossa referred to as a slighting (Schleifung), that is the intentional damage to a high profile property to reduce its strategic value—
probably not making the castle worth the taking as it would have been a liability to defend. In this milieu, the castle, a baronet, was involved with territorial feuds among the knightly gentry and the Church for control of trade and taxes, forming an alliance against Trier and Luxembourg with Eltz and other occupied castles in the area, finally surrendering claim on the castle with the extinction of the family line after a conflict with the Koblenz erupted and brought in those new disruptive inventions of gunpowder and the canon in the fifteenth century, making Ehrenburg less tenable.In normal times, the venue outside of the town of Brodenbach is host to many cultural events and medieval re-enactments.

Friday, 10 July 2020

unter dem burgen

The site of our last night of camping along the Moselle, guarded by a host of more manky swans, was in a village called Burgen beneath its namesake ensemble of a chapel and eleventh century fortification, Bischofstein, on the west bank of the river perched on a steep mountainside—though folk hagiographies place the castle back to a legendary time some six hundred years prior as the palace of Bishop Nicetius of Trier in the times of the Merovingian court (as opposed to the stronghold of the archbishops of Treves as it is believed historically to be) as a bulwark to protect trade and traffic in the region.
It was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice and exchanged hands many, many times—most recently to a business magnate from Darmstadt as a summer home and was purchased in 1930 (granted protection status as an example of interior design of that decade rather than as an eight-hundred year old castle) with refurbishment beginning then but was never occupied, the castle seeing incarnations as a sanatorium for returning soldiers and then as a safehouse for refugees. In the mid-1950s, it was purchased by the alumni association of a prestigious gymnasium in Krefeld, near Düsseldorf, as a retreat for students and a place to hold their class reunions and host other events. The tower’s white ring are the remnants of a plaster coating all but washed away by centuries of weathering, but local lore has all sorts of explanations, including that it indicates the high water mark for a particularly catastrophic flood.

itineris mosellæ or pilgrims in an unholy land

With trade and occupation lasting the duration of the late Empire, Roman culture left its imprint on the region including excavations of ancient wineries, the foundations of workshops and the remnants of defensive and civil engineering, a network of roads still trod to this day and the occasional tomb, like this pair of Römergräber perched above the vineyards of the village of Nehren (Villa Nogeria, a stylised version of the reconstructed graves are community’s coat of arms).
Prior to know- ing what the struc- tures were, the “heathen mounds” (see also here and here) were used as shelter from the elements for growers tending the grapes and memorials such as were often erected along trafficked areas so the departed would be remembered and carried with the living.
Afterwards, we returned to the city of Mayen and took in the spectacle of Schloss Bürresheim—another one of the few intact structures of this area and if it seems familiar, due to its well-preserved status it has made several cameo appearances in film, including the exterior, establishing shots of the fictional Schloss Brunwald where Doctor Jones and son are held captive in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Also a house divided and on the border between different land holdings, Bürresheim, taking its present appearance in the fifteenth century, was probably again preserved by dint of its joint ownership

Thursday, 9 July 2020

in der römerischer weinstraße

Our penultimate overnight stop brought us to the Central Moselle (Mittelmosel) community of Trittenheim—this like most other steep vineyards advertising their local vintners and varietals in big white letters like the Hollywood sign, championed by a village Wine Queen (Weinkönigin) selected by a jury of past title holders and restauranteurs.
In 1999, however no suitable candidate could be found and the judges instead elected the first (and quite possibly sole exception but we’d like to think that such pageants are a bit more enlightened—a few years ago the Moselle named their first royal industry representative who was a Syrian refugee) Wine King in master mechanic, philanthropist, entertainer and developmental chieftain (Ngoryifia) Céphas Kosi Bansah of the Ewe people of the Hohoe region of Ghana.
Having come to Germany as part of a student exchange programme, Bansah stayed on and was invested with this honourific political office, realising that he was able to govern remotely and could achieve more education and outreach for his people in Germany, improving infrastructure and schools dramatically through his celebrityand his talent for networking. 

mittelmosel

Again passing through the Calmont, we got a chance to inspect one of the monorail cars that climb the steep hillside so pickers can collect grapes and tend the vines on some of the sheerest arable cliffs in the world—I couldn’t say I’d enjoy the ride, seeing the track tapering off vertically in the distance.
Taking a slow, meandering drive along the many curves and turns, we stopped at the village of Lösnich (Losuniacum), a typical wine-growing town with this beautiful 1906 Jungendstil (Art Deco) Winzervilla by representative architect Bruno Möhring, who also designed many of the outstanding buildings of Traben-Trarbach.
Next we proceeded to the main town of the Central Moselle, Bernkastel-Kues.
There H and I explored the market square—with an ensemble of medieval Fachwerk (half-timbered) buildings including the Spitzhäuschen and the abutting vineyards partially enclosed by the old town walls and learned about the local wine’s reported restorative properties (see also) that gained the town prominence enough to get trade privileges and a defensive castle—the partially ruined Burg Landshut dominating the town from above, the stronghold overseeing trade in the region traded between France and Prussia over the course of several skirmishes before finally sustaining damage due to a fire that could not be brought under control during a plague outbreak in 1692.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

architecture sacred and profane

We started driving along the upper Moselle valley passing through the wine-producing region and first took a detour for a short hike outside of the town of Alf—connected to a village called Bullay on the opposite shore by a rather striking double-decker bridge with a carriage for automobiles below and trains above—up to Burg Arras, a twelfth century Höhenburg (a hill castle) built from the foundations of an earlier Roman horse stables.
Next we drove on to the Marienburg perched on the nearby foothills at one of the many bends of the river, the former Augustine cloister, now used as retreat and education centre, having a commanding view of both sides.
Particularly striking was the ribbon of masonry arches for the train tracks that crossed the valley below.
Afterwards, we explored the city of Traben-Trarbach, an Art Deco (Jugendstil) jewel nestled in the so called Valley of the Dawn whose wine trade is only second to Bordeaux—with quite a few representative works to marvel at.




The surrounding territory once known as Rhenish Franconia, it was fought over between France and the Holy Roman Empire, trading hands several times and includes the remains of a Vauban (see above and also here, here and here) fort outside the city in a development known as Port Royal.  Not much was left and the fortification was only recently rediscovered but one might imagine how imposing it was. 





Unable to visit any restaurants in the city, we stopped in an outdoor café in Riel and sampled some wine before heading back through Bremm at the bend in the river where Calmont hill rises steeply over the valley and the vineyards here—producing some of the finest wines in the world are tended at an impossible angle of up to 65º of obliquity. It took some consulting of a map but we figured out how to cross to visit the ruined shell of Stuben convent in the fields of the opposite bank.
A local noble in 1137 donated his property on the promontory across from Bremm to an abbot in exchange for building the monastery in that area at the request of his daughter. The archbishop of Trier made good on this arrangement and limited membership to one hundred women who ran the cloister and performed charitable works. The convent was the chief landholder of the community up until 1802 and the suppression of the monasteries (deutsche Mediatisierung), a major territorial restructuring and secularisation of estates, pressed for reform and redistribution by Napoleon and revolutionary France.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

burgen und bunker

Having decamped early, H and I packed and headed along the Moselle first to the well-preserved village of Beilstein, whose untouched charm is sometimes compared with Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and is dominated by the ruin of Castle Metternich, one of the holdings of the noble house of prince-electors and also the namesakes of the sparkling white wine (Sekt) Fürst von Metternich.
Later on, we continued to the town of Cochem, settled since ancient times by the Celts and Romans and with its first documented mention in 886.

Towered over by an imperial castle (Reichsburg Cochem) whose immediacy was already confirmed by the mid-twelfth century, the residence was sacked by French forces during the War of the Palatine Succession (der Plälzischer Erbfolgekrieg) in 1688. The compound lay in centuries in a state of disrepair until purchased by a Berlin businessman in the late 1860s and rehabilitated in the Gothic Revival style of the day, though true to the original form.
Not a day to spend in an underground bunker even if tours had been available, but maybe something to see next time—there lies in an unassuming neighbourhood a formerly secret safe—der Bundesbankbunker, disguised by two houses above it that contained a reserve of fifteen billion mark banknotes that the West German government could put into circulation in case of economic disruption from the Eastern bloc. The money never needed to be used.

Monday, 6 July 2020

entlang die mosel

Underway for a local excursion for a few days, we headed to our first overnight destination, secure but still cautious that the camping set and those who run campgrounds are among the most conscientious about hygiene, shared spaces and consideration for one’s neighbour—and indeed everyone was adhering to the rules set forth and all activity was chiefly in wide open spaces with ample distance apart, other than this manky swan that was keen on showing off his ballet moves, and managers, as ever, were studious about taking the information of the guests in case of the need to do contact tracing.
En route, we stopped at Burg Thurant overlooking the village of Alken on what’s referred to as the Terrassenmosel (the terraced Moselle).
The double castle of slate and stone dates from the thirteenth century and was a condominium with lands claimed by the archbishoprics of both Trier and Köln—with a line running through the structure to designate each side, and to this day is still a private joint residence of two families.
After getting encamped on an island in the river outside of the town of Hatzenport, which looked at first to be more crowded than it turned out to be with the outward facing shore lined with trailers and awnings set up for longer term occupants but were still vacant—these Potemkin villages were common at all the sites who were seeing as expected a lot less business—we visited the ancient town of Münstermaifeld, dominated by a massive minster (from the corresponding Latin for monastery), the Franks having arrived in the area centuries after the Romans vacated and built the church around the ruin of a Roman fort.
Our last site for the day was a hike to see Burg Eltz (previously) from a distance and marvel at the well conserved castle, one of the few on the left bank of the parallel Rhein river and still owned and lived in by members of the same family—the thirty-third generation since its construction in the 1100s, with some of the wings (there are several branches that own the castle jointly, an arrangement called a Ganerbenburg where no single line is responsible for the upkeep alone, and also a tactic by an overlord to prevent vassals from becoming too powerful ) open to the public with treasure and art on display.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

der goldene hut von schifferstadt

Uncovered in a field near a village not far from Speyer on this day in 1835, the Golden Hat of Schifferstadt is one example of a quartet of headdresses from the Bronze Age and likely date, judging by the intricacy of the metalwork, the gold alloy hammered to the thickness of a sheet of paper, to circa 1300 BC.
This reproduction above is on the shingle of the local museum near the spot where it was excavated, with the delicate original conserved in the larger facility in Speyer—though sometimes ancient artefacts are part of the furniture and become sort of a mascot. The meaning of the insignia and symbols is unknown but researchers speculate that the hats were worn by the high priests of a Sun worshipping cult and may have served as an almanac, marking the days and weeks between planting and harvesting and other rituals.