Day 10 – Würzburg and Rotenberg

The day begins with very overcast skies.  The threat of rain is more than a little apparent.  However our docking location affords an excellent chance for some very picturesque photo opportunities.  Across the way, looking back to the rear of the ship, and even straight down, there are spectacles that are just not normally outside my bedroom window at home.  When was the last time ~you~ were being looked at with expectant eyes peering up from the head of a pair of swans?

A short bus ride to the outskirts of the main entrance of one of the old walls of Würzburg and we arrive at another wonderful portrayal of old Germany.  Yet again here is another example of students representing a major portion of the population.  About 20% of the 130,000 population attend the local university.

A short walk brings us to the Bishop’s Residence.  This palace was home to the Prince Bishop prior to the 20th century.  It consists of 342 room and is modeled after the Palace of Versailles in France.  Essentially it was an attempt to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’, in this case the Jones’s was Louis XV.  Certainly not as big, somewhat less opulent, but stunning in its own right in many ways.  Regrettably pictures were not allowed inside (and we were monitored carefully).  The palace took 24 years to complete and the Prince Bishop that had it started in 1720 never lived to see or enjoy its completion.  Now it is owned and operated by the State of Bavaria.

One of its most notable features is the ceiling fresco just above the main staircase.  It is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world.  Surely not bigger than the Sistine Chapel you say.  Actually… two ways.  First it is, in fact, physically larger.  The Sistine Chapel is 520 sq. ft…this one is 677 sq. ft.  As well, the Sistine Chapel is a series of smaller frescos all segmented from one another.  The one here is simply one giant fresco.

Plaster carvings on the wall are incredibly detailed making them outstanding works of art in their own right.  However their method of creation is also one that bears mention.   Rather than use molds to created the carvings (pour in the plaster, wait for it to dry, pop it out and mount it on the wall), these were carved into wet plaster that was applied directly to the wall.  Speed was of the essence yet the outcome was truly stunning.

In 1168, the Catholic Bishop of Würzburg met with the German Emperor (of the time) Barbarosa.  The Emperor granted the Bishop the title of Duke.  Amongst other things this gave the new Duke political, financial and military command over all of East Franconia.  Hence the new reference of Prince Bishop (church and state now one).  Surprise, surprise…now all the peasants and citizens also paid taxes to the Duke.

In 1802 the Church gave up all the territories to the State of Bavaria…no more Prince Bishop and no more taxes (for him).  Thank you Napoleon.

In the basement of the palace (and this follows the full footprint of the building) is the 2nd largest winery in Germany.  Number 1 is in Wiesbaden, 3 and 4 are also located in Würzburg.

There are about 800 World Unesco sites, 38 of which are in Germany and this palace is one of those.  On March 16, 1945, approximately 380,000 incendiary bombs were dropped in the space of about 15 minutes.  This left close to 97% of Würzburg destroyed and included much of the palace.  To their (small) credit, the Nazi’s had actually removed all the works of art from the palace a year earlier.  Much of the palace has been restored and those works returned to their rightful place in the palace.

This small town is filled with history and tragedy yet continues to blossom while maintaining its heritage.  A quick soup lunch on the bridge overlooking the Main (pronounced ‘Mine’) River to more appreciate its character and it’s back to the ship to await our next bus.

The afternoon sojourn to Rotenberg takes just over an hour.  Our tour will be short to afford us a little more time to walk about this very medieval town.

There are 13 wine (grape) growing regions in Germany.  Lower Franconia is one of them with Rotenberg as a very active participant.  Harvesting is done by hand as most vineyards are on highly sloped ground similar to Portugal.  However getting German people to do the harvesting is a problem.  The wages are not great, about 8 – 10 Euro per hour.  If you’re unemployed in Germany, you are entitled to their version of UI.  This amounts to 60% of your last salary.  If you are under age 50, this would continue for a year; over age 50, up to 2 years.  So…the incentive is lacking.  Reliance, therefore, is on immigrants.

A specifically shaped bottle is used for Franconian wine called a Bocksbeutel.  Before glass became an easily created commodity, carrying facilities were made from organs of animals.  In this case, the wine bottle is shaped similar to a Billy Goat’s scrotum…as that is what was used back in the ‘good ol’ days’.  And Upper, Middle and Lower Franconia are the only places in Germany allowed to use this particular shape.  As a recommendation the white wine, Silvaner, is one to locate if at all possible.

Another ‘must-see’ in Rotenberg is Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas store.  She has 6 stores in Rotenberg alone, each specializing in specific items.  The dedicated Christmas store is absolutely number one.  Again, pictures are not allowed (I may have cheated a bit on that one) which is unfortunate to say the least.  The store, from the outside, is not particularly impressive, but that is quickly changed as soon as you walk in.  Describing it is difficult.  To give you an idea, you follow (for the most part) a guided walkway with offshoots all along the path.  Any and all of these will provide you with Christmas splendor that just boggles the mind.  Color or non-painted, glass, ceramic, or wood, affordable (4 Euro) or not so much (3,800 Euro), small (2 inch) or large (20 feet) and every imaginable combination in-between.  The walkway will take you up and down from the main floor and extend at least 100 feet to the back.  And that doesn’t include the (pay extra for) Christmas Museum.  If you have a penchant for all things Christmas, this store has to be on your list.  Our time was spent inside, preparing for Christmas this year. (…you have to know my wife…)

We left the store (and left a quantity of cash as well) and stepped outside….to pouring rain without an umbrella.  A quick dash across the City Hall courtyard to a café to get a moments respite.  Back across the courtyard to huddle under the strategically placed roof overhang while waiting for our guide to return for our rain-soaked trip back to the bus.  The streets of Rotenberg, like many in old Germanic towns, are very narrow.  Getting our bus to where we were was not going to happen.

Speed walk to the bus, get on board and enjoy some schnapps or Silvaner on the trip back.  Certainly warms the heart and the throat. 🙂

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