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June 5th 2019

A mountain track by train and evening atmosphere by the water

This morning I left Arnhem by train just after nine o’clock to go to Offenburg in the southern part of Germany. There I changed trains to Constance at the Lake Constance: this Schwarzwaldexpess (Black Forest Railway) connects Karlsruhe to the north of Offenburg with Constance at Lake Constance through the middle part of the Black Forest. This wooded low mountain range in the Land Baden-Württemberg has been known since the antiquity and indicated by Julius Caesar as “Silva Nigra“, the Black or Dark Forest, because of the dark-coloured pines and spruces which made the forest impenetrable and sinister. I had made the trip with the Schwarzwaldbahn once before and especially liked the mountainous part between the villages of Hausach and St. Georgien im Schwarzwald (with a difference in altitude of over 550 metres) as to natural beauty. And this time again I enjoyed the views (in between passages through tunnels) during this journey over the almost 200 kilometres long railway track with already a long history: the first parts have been built between 1865 and 1866 and the last part between 1870 and 1873 after the Franco-Prussian War. On this rail route several technical highlights have been applied, like the construction of various hair-pin loops near Triberg, enabling to cover many metres in altitude without having to install cogwheel support: Triberg is therefore visible three times – a “Dreibahnenblick“! Somewhere between Triberg and St. Georgien the train crosses the main European watershed twice: from the river Kinzig, flowing into the Rhine at Offenburg and thus into the North Sea, to the river Brigach flowing into the Danube and thus into the Black Sea.

I spotted however this time a lot of “grey” and “brown” between the black of the Forest: the extreme drought of last summer and also the pest of the bark beetle “European spruce bark beetle” (ips typographus) will have added to the situation…

After the mountainous landscape of the Black Forest and a gently hilly region around the towns of Donaueschingen and Villingen the Schwarzwaldbahn entered the somewhat uninspiring industrial area around Singen-Hohentwiel. Only when the Lake Constance near Radolfzell came in sight, the views became interesting again.

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At Radolfzell the Untersee (Lower Lake) of the Lake Constance comes into sight

Around a quarter past four the train arrived in Constance, where it was warm and crowded in a pleasant way. I checked in at my hotel het City-Hotel – near the railway station, and shortly after I walked into the city centre. Near the Augustinerkirche church is a memorial made of black stone with the names of the 108 Jewish people who have been abducted from Constance and who when they haven’t died already in the detention camps in Gurs, France, were killed in the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor. On the four sides of the obelisk the text is written in German, French, English and Hebrew.

The memorial is impressive by its simplicity and in fact one of the few visible traces of the Second World War… Because Constance didn’t have any factories which played a role of significance in the German armaments- of other industries, the city has not been the target of allied bombing. Therefore the historical city centre has been spared. Houses with years like 1377 and 1580 are no exception! The houses also have nice names, like Haus “Zum Wolf“, “Zum goldenen Löwen” or “Zum Leoparden“… Also building styles from later times occur, like a big house with an elaborately decorated front in rococo style. The streets and alleys all are very scenic; there are no showy shop windows and store fronts. Clearly a lot of care is put in the appearance of the city.

Many buildings have richly decorated gates with architraves on top and with special keystones, which have been adorned with reliefs and inspiring texts.

There are several fountains in Constance. The Kaiserbrunnen (Emperor’s fountain) from 1897 had got a few amusing additions: the superstructure of the fountain itself had been modestly made of red bricks, but in the 1990s modern bronze statues have been placed near the water-basin and on its rim, created by the artist-couple Gernot and Barbara Rumpf. The statues are like a wink to the past of Constance as the city where the Council was held in the years 1414–1418. A crisis had occurred due to the schism of the Western Catholic Church (with a Pope in Rome and a Pope in Avignon), to which in 1409 an earlier Council had tried to put an end by forcing both popes to abdicate and by appointing a new pope. This resulted in three popes… King Sigismund of Germany (and later Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire) had called for a new Council in Constance. One of the statues at the Kaiserbrunnen is a peacock with three heads, each adorned with a tiara… The bronze tough-looking horse is especially favourite with children: the saddle is completely polished! The pigeons as Emperor and Pope are also amusing – the little mouse looks the other way.

Next to the Kaiserbrunnen a “Handwerkerbaum“, as it were a variation to a Maypole, has been erected for the tenth time since 2009. It is placed on the initiative of the Konstanzer Handwerkerkreis e.V. (Craftmen’s Association). Many crafts and other branches of the small and medium-sized enterprises are represented herein. Some of the “coat of arms” look like those of the former guilds, but of course there also are more modern trades, like electrician, car mechanic and fitter! It made the Marktstätte Square look even merrier.

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Konstanz: “Handwerkersbaum” (“Tree of crafts“) with the coat of arms of the different trades

Continuing over the streets with old houses on both sides I arrived at the square in front of the Constance Cathedral, an imposing building, of which the first parts have already been built in the 11th century. As to its architecture the church is one of the largest roman churches in the southwest of Germany. However the church has a strong gothic exterior due to the portal dating from the 12th to 15th century and the chapels on the sides. This has been emphasised by the neogothic church steeple from the 19th century. The terraces on the Münsterplatz were filled with a lively crowd.

In 2010 a bronze relief has been placed at the north side of the Cathedral with a map of the historical centre of Constance. It is remarkable to see how close to each other the medieval houses have been built. The street names have been mentioned – for the visually impaired visitors also in braille!

On the waterfront a spaciously arranged city park has been created with beautiful old trees and well-kept borders and lawns. There are several statues, like that of Emperor Wilhelm I. on a large plinth. At the landing-stage of the touring boats a statue of Icarus has been placed on a high stele in honour of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838–1917), who has been born in Constance.

It was pleasant on the quay: in the shade there was a slight breeze from the Lake and here the terraces of the restaurants were also full. Since 1993 a colossal statue of poured concrete stands on the northern pier, entitled “Imperia“. It is made by the German artist Peter Lenk. This artist has often been considered controversial because of his satiric, sexually explicit works of art, which are often put in place without authorisation. Likewise this 9 metres high representation of a scantily dressed courtesan carrying on each hand a dwarf-like naked man: the one as a pope with a tiara and the other as an emperor with a crown. Again a reference to the het Council of Constance from 1414–1418. Peter Lenk has taken as a starting point the story “La Belle Imperia” (± 1835) by the French author Honoré de Balsac (1799–1850), who was known as fiercely anticlerical. This courtesan got – like so many others – great influence on the worldly and ecclesiastic leaders by first seducing them and subsequently ridiculing them. Peter Lenk has given the Imperia also a dunce’s cap, so she has the double role of seducer and mocker. At the time of the placement in 1993 there has been a lot of discussion about the admissibility in many ways, but because the statue was standing on private property (a ferry service, a subsidiary of the German Railways), no official action could be taken… Back then the statue was controversial, but nowadays it is one of the most photographed items in town! The Imperia stands on a plateau which turns around in four minutes. Because the statue is situated on the northern pier, it has been equipped with a top light on its dunce’s cap.

Near the pier with Imperia a historical ferry, the “Konstanz” is moored, which now serves as café boat, but which according to the website is also available as a touring boat. On the webcam at the Konzilgebäude can be checked whether the “Konstanz” is there or not… On the information panel at the entrance is mentioned that this ferry has been the first car ferry to operate on a lake in Europe: as an answer to the closure of the border during the First World War a progressive city council had launched in 1924 the plan to build a car ferry, which was inaugurated in 1928. It was such an enormous success, that in 1930 another ship was commissioned. In 1963 the ship was sold and used as a work vessel. Between 1984 and 1993 she has been forgotten about, until someone has started a foundation to save the ship. Volunteers have put over 70.000 manhours into the restoration of the ship – but with quite a result: it looks brand new and inviting to have a drink!

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Konstanz: information panel about the historical ferry “Konstanz”, which nowadays is a café

So I went aboard, sat down in the evening sun with several enthusiastic people and had a nice glass of Riesling. On the foredeck there was a burst of activity; many young people were busy trying on costumes, following leads from another young lady with a stack of papers in her hand and arranging many chairs in a row. Besides the insiders not everybody knew what was going to happen. I was intrigued and stayed, ordered the dish of the day (pork chops with potato salad) and another glass of Riesling and waited. It turned out to be one of the dress rehearsals by students of the Theatre Academy of Constance: end of June they would be performing a play, entitled “Die Bermuda Dreieck” (The Bermuda Triangle), with the emphasis on climate change, activism, big money, brawls and everything in connection thereof. The performance was a bit chaotic, with many interferences by the lady director, but in the end everyone – actors and audience – was content.

Around 8 o’clock I left ship. I walked last the commercial building from the 14th century, “Konzilgebäude“, where the meetings and conferences had been held during the Council of Constance – hence the name –, so not only (devoutly) in the Cathedral!

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Konstanz: the Konzilgebäude from the 14th century near the harbour

While I took a stroll through the City Park and along the waterfront, I enjoyed with many other people the beautiful and serene views. Everyone loved this agreeable and warm evening!

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Konstanz: panoramic view of the Lake Constance in the evening

At the bandstand a concert was going on. Many seats in rows in front of it were taken by people who were listening to a performance by two accordion orchestras: one from Constance and the other from Kreuzlingen, a Swiss town just across the border. When I arrived they had just started the signature tune of “Star Wars“. The percussionist had to do his upmost to be audible against such an overpowering sound of accordions! Then the German military march “Alte Kameraden” (Old Comrades) was played, which has been composed in 1889 and deals with the close bond between soldiers, confirmed by a glass of something alcoholic. “One moment in time” and “We are the champions” were performed with panache. Because the audience couldn’t apparently get enough of the music, the orchestras decided to finish the concert with an encore. This concert and the dress rehearsal on the boat hadn’t probably been “Art with a capital A”, but both had reached a high level of entertaining value – and that has been the most important point!

To the side wall of the bandstand a plaque has been attached to commemorate the opening of several European long distance hikes on July 2nd 1972, “als völkerverbindende Wanderwege“, signed by the “Europäische Wandervereinigung“.The English name is “European Rambles’ Association (ERA)”. This Association has been founded in Germany in 1969 and serves as umbrella organisation for 63 hiking associations from 33 countries with in total 3 million individual members. As I am participating in long distance hiking over the Via Alpina myself – in my own way – I was pleased to read this text!

Walking back to the hotel in the still warm evening air, I realised that it has been a wonderful first day of a new trip – with a lot of room for nature, sunshine and music.