Friday, 22 October 2021


Introduced in Erfurt in October 1929, nearly coinciding with the US stock market crash Black Friday that set off the Great Depression world-wide, the alternative currency known as Wära, invented by Hans Time and Helmut Rödiger its name derived from the words Währung (money) and währen (lasting, stable), was freely exchangeable with the Reichsmark at parity.

As legal tender and a store of wealth, however, each banknote carried a monthly penalty (demurrage, the carrying cost) of one percent its face value which could be offset with stamps and had a expiry date so people and businesses were motivated to spend and not hoard their liquid assets, thereby countering inflation. Gradually other businesses and workers began to accept Wära and there was even a coal mining operation fully financed with loans, salaries and discounted consumer sales in the alternative currency. Marked improvement in the region’s economy attracted the attention of the finance ministry, which after deliberation ordered the experiment to be suspended, fearing this parallel form of payment would ultimately undermine rebuilding Germany’s industrial sector, which by that time in 1931 had spread to a network of fourteen cities and were accepted in several national banks and stores.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

bergruine hutsburg

Having lost the trail a couple weeks ago trying to hike up to the ruined donjon, isolated and nearly forgotten though once one of the most imposing fortifications in the area due to its location on the former border between East and West Germany, whilst trying to approach it from the Bavarian side, we ventured up the Hutsburg to see the eponymous fortress from the thüringischer side.
First passing through the ghostly remnants of villages deemed a liability owing to their nearness to the border (previously here and here), we slowly climbed up the mountain and at the wooded summit encountered the tall of the shield wall and foundations, with the sun shining through the otherwise dark forest through the ancient portal.
Though far older than its first documented reference in the early twelfth century (possibly from the four hundreds in some form of fort), I suspect that these runes were a more recent graffito. It was a strategic possession of the counts of Henneberg and degenerated over the years as the power of the family waned to little more than an outpost for slum lords—Raubritter, literal robber barons in the sense of unscrupulous feudal landowners who imposed higher taxes without the approval of a higher authority and expropriation, culminating with the intervention of the king in the fabled execution of a gang of such bandits after a a siege lasting weeks (the subject of a German nursery rhyme:
Ernst war sie eine stoles Feste / doch heute sieht man our noch Reste. Mit Nürnberge Schraubenzeug ward sie gebrochen / Und zweiundviersig Räuber kamen hervorgekrochen. Noch erhobenen Hauptes und voller Stolz, / kürtze man sie gleich um selbiges, was Solls.
Basically, Once a proud Fort, but today only rubble remains / Battered with catapults / forty-two robbers emerged / Hoisted by their own petard) and was passed through the lordship of Tann and Kere.
The bulwark was not to meet its final fate and fall into ruin and disrepair until the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525 (die Bauernkrieg, see also) when the rebellion successfully stormed and took the castle, the Hutsburg being one of the few castles of the Rhön active at the time of its taking, most empty and irrelevant at this point in history and under the administration of a bailiff. Though the victory was not strategically significant, it was important symbolically as overthrowing the trapping and tool of oppression and serfdom.

Saturday, 4 September 2021


Setting off what was called the “cult of monuments” with dozens of replicas subsequently installed throughout Europe and the North America, the original double-bronze statue (Doppelstandbild) of friends and revered literary figures Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller by sculptor Ernst Rietschel (previously) and commissioned by popular demand under the patronage of Karl Alexander August Johann, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, was unveiled on this day in 1857 in the forecourt of the royal theatre where Goethe had served as director for nearly twenty-five years, the house hosting countless performances of Schiller’s plays over the years. Despite specious or wholly lacking affinities to these places, like monuments had been dedicated New York, San Francisco, Columbus Ohio, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis prior to the outbreak of World War I and even during fighting, more ensemble pieces were erected in Omaha, Detroit, St. Paul, Syracuse and Rochester.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

hügel und tal

Taking a rather long, meandering afternoon walk now that Spring has arrived, I headed towards the former border and thought to follow the patrol road, the Kolonnenweg to its terminus understanding that there was a large tri-colour marker to be found there. I think I took a wrong turn or failed to go on long enough but came to a rise below the Hohe Schuhe and hill top clearing that provided a good view of Hermannsfeld and the border tower now a monument beyond. 
Believing I knew a way to return home without backtracking, I followed a logging trail around the mountain and down into a valley of pastures, which I though was familiar at first but then realised I had gone considerably further out of the way than I had intended and ended up in the fields north of Eußenhausen where the former control point and crossing to Meiningen is conserved as a monument.

Trying to get my bearings and finding a cycle path to follow, I discovered the ruins of a church belfry belonging to a settlement called Elmbach or Ellenbach—vacated along with surrounding property during the era of divided Germany as it was too close to the border (see previously), the ruin a reminder of a sixteenth century desertion but yet a poignant symbol, lonely in the fields whatever the circumstance. The tower houses a chapel and since 1989 has been re-consecrated as a symbol of reunion. 



Wednesday, 6 January 2021


We really enjoyed pursuing the extensive portfolio of images captured of East Germany in the photography of Ute Mahler, who embarked in 1974 for a decade’s long mission to preserve and convey his fellow friends, neighbours and strangers as they were authentically cool and collected—both candid and posed—and unmediated by geopolitics. Much more curated by the Guardian at the link above and at the on-line gallery exhibition hosted by La Maison De L’Image Documentaire.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

the lutheress

Having arrived at the conclusion, despite some objections from his colleagues and followers on the subject of matrimony for the priestly class, that his “marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause angels to laugh and devils to weep” Martin Luther wed former nun Katharina von Bora, whom was thereafter referred to as “die Lutherin” and regarded an important figure in the Reformation for her role among of things defining what a Protestant family should look like, in a ceremony witnessed by Barbara and Lucas Cranach the Elder (also famous for painting both the Luthers) on 13 June 1525. They deserved one another, she formally referring to him as “Sir Doctor” throughout their life together and Luther publically confessing that “If I can ensure conflict with the devil, sin and a bad conscience, then I can sustain the irritations of Katy von Bora.” von Bora appears on the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church, commemorated on this day, the anniversary of her death in 1552 (*1499), surviving her husband by six years, reportedly saying on her deathbed, “I shall stick with Christ like a burr on cloth.”

Saturday, 12 December 2020

umleitung: bedheim

We made a brief stop in the village outside of the town of Römhild in the county of Hildburghausen to take in the architectural ensemble, typifying a Baroque manor, of the three-wing castle and fortified church. First constructed in the thirteenth century and coming into ownership of the aristocratic family Rühle von Lilenstern once ennobled by Hapsburg Emperor Charles VII after 1743, chiefly then as a summer residence for Prince Joseph Friedrich von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, it is still the ancestral home of the heirs and an interesting architectural footnote on its own. 

The village became more intriguing, however, seeing that its crest features a pipe organ and a dinosaur. I don’t think we’d ever encountered this sort of charge before on a coat-of-arms and the raptor is definitely not a mythological griffin.  It turns out that one of the notable descendants, Hugo, was an avid paleotologist and had made many finds in the surrounding area, discovering among others an example originally referred to as the leaping lizard (Halticosaurus, springende Echse) and later renamed Liliensternus

I recall my grade three teacher, Miss Friday, one day bringing in a cast of a fossilised dinosaur foot discovered on their property with the taxonomical classification of Arkansaurus fridayius, which I thought was an odd instance of show-and-tell to end all show-and-tell sessions. A museum was established in the castle to display skeletal remains, but once the family could reestablish residence after the war in 1969, the collection was transferred to the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. The organ of the coat-of-arms is in deference to the pair of instruments installed in the church, a greater and a lesser installed in the early eithteenth century a decade apart (and can be played in tandem) by prominent local master builders and is adjacent to the entombment place of many members of the family Rühle von Lilienstern. We weren’t able to glean much about the war years and there was a sombre and intriguing memorial plaque to all those who underwent forced sterilisation during Nazi times and research yielded little. In better times, we’ll return to learn more, go to the Schloss café and maybe take in an organ concert.

Saturday, 3 October 2020


Visiting a small harvest festival nearby held on Germany Unity Day, H and I looked for some autumn accents for the house and found several stalls selling traditional onion braids (Zwiebelzöpfe). 

Sometimes also incorporating garlic bulbs, the braids adorned craftily with dried wild flowers were not customarily only for decorative and storage, preservative purposes but moreover for the notion that the power of the talisman would stave off illness and harm from hearth and home. Right now we can all use all the help we can muster. Singly, onions were worn as amulets in medieval times to ward off the plague, and a New Year’s Eve custom (divination from onions is called cromniomancysee also) in various regions, especially in the Erzgebirge, called for the dicing of an onion into twelve sections and sprinkling each bowl with salt to forecast the precipitation for each month of the year to come as the moisture drawn out of each section by the next morning would predict that month’s rainfall.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

sunday drive: grabfeld

The fertile region in the southern expanse of the Rhön mountains, referred to eponymously as dig- or ditch-field is so named according to local lore that a queen once lost a beloved ring here and ordered the entire land dug up (tilled) until it was found.
In gratitude for its recovery, she founded an estate that would eventually become Königshofen, one of the major market towns dating back to the eighth century.
We took a little tour of the neighbouring counties and first made our way to Bibra, a small settlement focused and informed by the dynasty of imperial knights that governed the duchy since the tenth century and constructed this castle at the town’s centre.
Retaining its original style as a Franconian royal court, Burg Bibra was destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt and rebuild in the seventeen century true to form—its most recent faithful refurbishment earning a prize in 2002 amongst castle conservators and is presently used as a seminar centre with accommodations for guests.
The patronage of three important prince-electors in the family brought Bibra the church of Saint Leo (dedicated to the early pontiff, Leo the Great), decorated with the altar and sculpture from the school of Tilman Riemenschneider (previously) and is one of the finest examples of late Gothic architecture.

On the way to our next destination, we came across an open-air museum preserved in the former expansive border-zone, demilitarised for decades but with displays of the layers of fortifications and the intervening mine field to imagine.
As with the rest of this strip of terra nullis, it is now a nature preserve and a paradisiacal place for butterflies.

A few detours brought us to the community of Sulzdorf an der Lederhecke to see the gigantic Baroque palace Sternberg, the ancestral seat of a branch of the line of our old friends Count Poppo and the Hennebergs.
We marvelled at it from a distance and it was when we got a little closer, navigating the village directly behind the huge structure that we realised that we had in fact visited once before in May of 2012, noting the calendric symmetry of this construction finalised in 1669 with its four onion-domed turrets representing the seasons, twelve hearths standing for the months of the year, an astonishing and exact fifty-two doors for every week and three hundred sixty-five windows.  I wonder what the story behind that decorating statement was?
The palace is privately owned still and bears some resemblance to the palace of Aschaffenburg, Schloss Johannisburg—the residence of the archbishop of Mainz.
There were koi in the fountain and the watering trough and the Marian figure of one of the rows of homes that were at the rear of the castle was particularly striking for her iconic halo of stars.
Our final stop was a bit more secluded, though in the same community, Sulzdorf an der Lederhecke, as the last and also in private hands and occupied though by descendants of the former von Bibras. This well preserved palace on the water—Wasserschloss—is called Burg Brennhausen and guards the frontier between Grabfeld and the Haßbergen. The current baron is, according to the information board, a petroleum tycoon with a business in the US and divides his time between the palace and a home in Pasadena.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

wüstung schmerbach

Owing to the proximity of the former inner-German border, we knew that there were some depopulated places in the region as well as losses due to geopolitical forces and factors spanning from 1945 to 1990, but had not realised before how assiduously these abandoned settlements (Wüstungen)—often removed without a trace, have been documented and studied nor how recently removal and demolition was carried out.
One such place was the valley village not far from Helmershausen, first accounted for in 1562 as holding of the Henneburg cadet line, Schmerbach was destroyed during the Thirty Years War but re-established in the mid-1600s.
In the late nineteenth century, an industrialist from South Hampton founded a brick factory there and in Weimarschmieden, a village not far away on the Bavarian side of the border. When Soviet forces occupied the area in July 1945, employees of the brickworks were given parcels of land as part of reform efforts by the state, but because the frontier was only a few hundred metres distant and expensive to patrol, authorities decided in 1973 to raze the factory, stables, farmstead and eight homes and resettle the residents. A memorial stone commemorates the destruction and removal.
The surrounding area is all farmland and the only remnant of the village are the electricity transformer tower and a small cemetery in the middle of a field, marked by a grove of trees, the last burial having taken place in August 1948. There are other spots like this and we plan to explore and learn more.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

sehenswürdigkeiten oder rhön around the world

Taking advantage of the bright weather but with an abundance of caution, H and I took a windshield tour meandering through a few nearby locations, first stopping in Helmershausen, a settlement filled with half-timbered (Fachwerk) buildings founded in the foothills of the Thüringen highlands by our old friend Count Poppo VI and endowed with a really out-of-proportion village church.
Completed with the Baroque stylings of the mid-eighteenth century as a showcase for the minor nobility of the area, its towering steeple and ornately decorated wood panels have earned the village church the sobriquet of “Dom der Rhön”—the cathedral of the region.
Next along the way we saw the Bernhäuser Kutte, a sinkhole and protected geotope, with a depth of up to fifty metres across a relatively small surface area unique for the state.
After a bit more of taking in the gorgeous green scenery at speed, we stopped to see the Kirchenberg—fortified church compound, Wehrkirche Santke Albanus, dedicated to the British protomartyr—of the town of Kaltensundheim (see above), an impressive Gothic structure in whose hall Caspar Bach, great cousin of the forefather of the musical family, Veit Bach, was married to Susanne Markert, the daughter of a prominent local tailor, and established the cadet branch of the family after they had immigrated from Hungary around 1520.

Too early?
We are very fortunate to live such a beautiful region and in proximity to such new sites and history to discover.  We want everyone to be safe and want to model the right behaviour, because we are all in this together and all of our actions count, no matter how seemingly inconsequential.   
We hope to take to heart and practise how that privilege is not to be flaunted but exercised only if and when it’s safe to do so. Cover your face, keep your distance and wash your hands and perhaps most importantly, know that these places and the whole wide world will wait for you and be yours to explore once this is over.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

burgruine henneberg

Taking advantage of the nice weather, H and I ventured to the nearby village of Henneberg, named for the castle ruins above and in turn the ancestral seat of the eponymous royal house (see previously here and here).

The late eleventh century compound was within the next generations built up to its height by Count Poppo (see also here) with palace, belfry (Bergfried), residential suite with cabinet (Kemenate), defensive walls and cisterns and was abandoned as official residence in the late eighteenth century, the last of the male line having died off without heirs roughly a century beforehand.
One bit of rather gruesome legend associated with Henneberg involves the Countess Margarete and her three-hundred and sixty-five children—a Dutch noble woman, daughter of Florens IV of Holland and Zealand and Mathilde of Brabant whom entered into a political union in 1249 with Count Hermann (Poppo’s son), in hopes of securing his elevation to Holy Roman emperor of the Germans, a ploy which despite the landed connections ultimately failed. Margarete died in childbirth—which was not an uncommon occurrence—but reportedly was cursed to bear as many children as there are days in the year after insulting the mother of twins with words of incredulity and accusing her of adultery out of envy of her own childless condition. Returned to her parents in Loosduinen, a district of the Hague—not anywhere near here (though the caretakers of the ruin and club of local medieval enthusiasts and reenactors call themselves that)—Margarete gave birth to this impossible brood, varying described as mice or crabs, before all dying.
Neglected and falling into disrepair by the 1830s, the ducal court of Saxe-Meiningen wanted to raise the foundations and build a pleasure palace but those plans were overcome by other events. From the end of World War II to 1989, the castle was part of the inter-German border’s restricted zone (Sperrgebiet) until 1989 due to its commanding view of the surrounding region and into West Germany.