Tuesday 24 January 2023

annex and honours (10. 494)

Occupied by elements of the US Army’s Eighth Infantry Regiment under the leadership of General Henry Tureman Allen, who recognising its historic and aesthetic value successfully argued its preservation over planned destruction of the strategic fortress, the American flag was lowered at noon at Ehrenbreitstein above Koblenz, the headquarters of American forces during the Occupation of the Rhineland, on this day in 1923 as the last remaining troops departed by train to the port of Antwerp. The band of the one-hundred fifty sixth French Infantry played them out with the “Star-Spangled Banner” and themselves in with “La Marseillaise,” the French taking on the role through 1930. With a flourish of being unstuck in time, the image is of the same flag from this first occupation being raised again in the courtyard of the fortress in 1945 when Allied troops once again were stationed in the demilitarised zone.

Wednesday 28 September 2022

medieval woman (10. 175)

Fรชted on this day on the occasion of her death in retirement on an estate in Schornsheim near Mainz in 782 (*710), Saint Leoba was a Anglo-Saxon nun (originally from Dorset), missionary and companion of Boniface in his quest to proselytise to the German people. Credited with multiple miracles and intercession through prayer, Leoba founded nunneries in Ochsenfurt and Kitzingen and was entrusted with a leading role in evangelizing in Franconia by Boniface and his apostles, first as abbess in Tauberbischofsheim and putting Leoba in charge in his absence whilst sojourning in Frisia (see above) and was the sole woman allowed to enter the monasteries in Fulda, where she was eventually entombed near Boniface. St Peter on the Petersberg contains her crypt, known as the Liobakirche, is a landmark rising above a relatively flat plain I pass on my weekly commute and will make a priority to visit soon.

Friday 24 June 2022

daytrip: bacharach am rhein

For a work-outing, we took a cruise on the Rhein from Rรผdesheim to the picturesque village dominated by the twelfth century fortified castle, Burg Stahleck, overlooking the Steeg gorge and Lorelei valley, and once residence to the advocatus (Vogt) of the archbishop of Kรถln but now a youth hostel. We spent the afternoon on the portico taking in the view, having hiked up from the river bank. Along the way we passed not so much as an architectural folly—though it looked the part and the castle itself was destroyed during the Thirty Years War, abandoned and not restored in its present form until 1927 (see also) and pointedly as a retreat for Hitler Youth and re-education centre, in the Gothic ruins of the Wernerkapelle, the unfinished chapel preserved in this state as a reminder of Germany’s and Christianity’s rampant, historical intolerance of other peoples and other faith traditions, the shell of a structure itself originally dedicated to the memory of a youth supposedly murdered by the region’s Jewish residents who were in turn expelled and their property seized—a common ploy and false excuse at time, and put into context with a dedication and prayer from Pope John XXIII, asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. It was a bright and glorious day out of the office by the privilege of the photogenic ought not sanitise the past but rather enhance our understanding of it. 


Tuesday 5 April 2022

bridgehead and bastion

Taking another stroll around the neighborhood during my lunch break (see previously) and with the subterranean pedestrian passage reopened I explored the Reduit—the redoubt that originally hosted the soldiers’ barracks of the fortress of Mainz across the River Rhein—the connected to rest of the Palatinate via a pontoon bridge of ships lashed together at the time of completion in 1834 when the garrison hosted troops of the German Confederation which included forces of Austria and Prussia

 The semi-detached caponier, separated by the inner courtyard, is a defensive feature to extend the protection of the fort’s curtain to outbuildings and beyond—and is derived from the French term caponniรจre for chicken coup. 

Damaged during World War II and not fully restored, today it is the seat of several local clubs and organisations and an open-air venue. The connecting tunnel is reserved as the Brรผckenkopf Kastel Graffiti Hall of Fame and features more gigantic street art murals.

Saturday 26 March 2022

see something, spray something


My workplace located in the extended concrete canvas of The Meeting of the Styles (previously) international street artist collective and noticing some of the murals being given a new layer, I took a stroll around Mainz-Kastel through the train depot and some unwalkable places to document some of the expansive graffiti, especially noting those that referenced the district’s Roman connections and the neo-Classical redoubt / reduit bridgehead fortress that’s just across the tracks on the bank of the Rhein from the station.  We’ll see if we’re host to a whole new gallery of works soon.


Tuesday 25 January 2022

milia passuum

Usually during lunch, I make a circuit around the neighbourhood of Mainz-Kastell and though I pass it every day, it still strikes me as a marvel and privilege that this ancient Roman milestone—among other archaeological artefacts—from 122 CE is just basically someone’s garden gnome. The highly abbreviated inscription reads as a dedication to “Emperor Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, Son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, Grandson of the deified Nerva, Pontifex Maximus in the sixth year of his tribunician [veto] power, Father of the Fatherland. Six miles (M·P VI) to Aquae Mattiacorum.” A near identical inscription (a decade older) was discovered near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem during an excavation in 2014, Hadrian being in power during the Revolt of Roman Judea—the rebellion and the effort to suppress it framed as Expeditio—expedition (see also) Judaica by the other side.

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 Tausendjรคhriger 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 (Rรถmerwein) 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 Senฤtus 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


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 dolorรณsa—the sorrowful mother was standing).

Monday 9 November 2020


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 Schรถffer 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 Schรถffer 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 Dรผsseldorf, 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 mosellรฆ 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 Rรถmergrรคber 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 Bรผrresheim—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, Bรผrresheim, taking its present appearance in the fifteenth century, was probably again preserved by dint of its joint ownership

Thursday 9 July 2020

in der rรถmerischer weinstraรŸe

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 (Weinkรถnigin) 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) Cรฉphas 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. 


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 Lรถsnich (Losuniacum), a typical wine-growing town with this beautiful 1906 Jungendstil (Art Deco) Winzervilla by representative architect Bruno Mรถhring, 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 Spitzhรคuschen 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 Hรถhenburg (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 cafรฉ 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 65ยบ 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.