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Speyer Kaiserdom - view from Rhine

Speyer is a city of the Rhineland-Palatinate with a current population of about 50,000.  It is advantageously located along the Rhine River which at 1,232 km is the longest in Germany.  A UNESCO World Heritage site the Rhine River is itself historically fascinating and is a commercially and recreationally busy river.  Along with the Danube it formed most of the northern interior frontier of the Roman Empire.

Barge on the Rhine

Founded by the Romans as a fortified camp around 10BCE, Speyer is one of Germany’s oldest cities.  However, long before the Romans established a fort in Speyer’s vicinity others as long ago as 5000 years had seen the locational advantages.  The relatively flat area here has high banks which keep fields, dwellings, etc. safe from flooding, yet it is on a major river and all the benefits that go along with that.

A diocesan town in 346, Speyer was already beginning to show its importance, but it took a Salian from the Speyer district to be elected King of Germany for it to really get a boost up the status ladder.  With the election of Conrad II in 1024 Speyer was drawn into the centre of imperial politics and became the spiritual hub of the Salian Kingdom.  More upward mobility occurred in 1294 when Speyer joined the élite circle of Free Imperial Cities, although the Bishops of Speyer probably had their noses out of joint about that as it effectively ended their 325 year control of the city.

Speyer has a very long history and as an increasingly important city it attracted the usual territorial tussles (some more energetic than others) and churchy type
wrangling.  It also figured prominently in many events such as being the site for the extradition of Richard the Lionheart to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1193.  Speyer is another city that has managed to keep its medieval city core largely intact.
Despite its prominence and therefore, a juicy target, it came through many takeovers relatively unscathed, even escaping the bombing raids of WWII.

Rhine river park fountain

When Conrad II was elected King he immediately set about commissioning a Cathedral, a massive red sandstone triple aisled vaulted basilica.  An immensely ambitious project begun in 1030, its construction and reconstruction would continue into the 19th Century, although its basic structure was complete in 1061, the year of its consecration.  It is undergoing another restoration project at the moment, one that won’t be completed until 2015.  Although the Cathedral has undergone many facelifts the crypt is in its original state.

Speyer Kaiserdom - front

Speyer is dominated by the Kaiserdom zu Speyer (Imperial Cathedral of Speyer), the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Speyer.  Regarded as a symbol of imperial power it is the burial-place of eight (Salian, Staufer & Hapsburg) Emperors and Kings, assorted wives, one girl child, several bishops and a bunch of unidentified bones tossed into a stone coffin. They lie in the crypt beneath the main altar. Conrad II did not live to see the completion of the Cathedral by a long shot, but he was the first one buried there.

Pope Pius XI raised the Speyer Cathedral to the rank of minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church in 1925, and in 1981 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list as a major monument of Romanesque art in the German empire.  It is the largest and one of the finest Romanesque churches today.

Speyer Kaiserdom - partial back view

It was another lovely day when I arrived in Speyer, but I was a bit anxious.  Speyer is the only place I have been where I did not have a room booked in advance.
Because it is larger than the other towns on the pilgrimage route the only listing in the wee guidebook was for a hostel – a big hostel – not my kind of thing.  However, I knew that tourist information centres had listings of accommodation and trusted that I would find something through them.  I was very pleased when not only was a room found for me that was in keeping with my budget, but it was within five minutes walk of the Altstadt, ten minutes to the Speyer Cathedral and fifteen minutes to the Rhine. And, bonus the gal at the tourist information booked it for me.  My accommodations were clean but austere, almost like a monk’s cell which was probably not too far off as the establishment was owned by one of the churches.

My Room

Since I had arrived with plenty of the day left for exploration, my first outing was to the Speyer Cathedral – the end point of the Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Speyer pilgrimage.

There was no question about not being able to easily find the Speyer Cathedral.  However, when I left the Cathedral to go back to the guesthouse, I took a different route out just to be adventurous, and lo and behold found myself back at the Cathedral.  Maybe in a former life I wasn’t a crow attracted to shiny things, but a
homing pigeon – a homing pigeon with issues.

Interior - partial view

They aren’t kidding when they say Cathedral dominates the city.  A basilica with four towers and two domes, it is Mammoth! Its basic dimensions are:  length 134m, width 43m, and height of towers (eastern) ~71m and (western) ~66m. (I’ve rounded the figures up or down).  Despite those impressive dimensions it is not Germany’s largest church. That honour goes to the Cologne Cathedral. Whose length is ~145m, width ~87m, and height of  the two towers ~157m.  Mini digression:  The Cologne Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece.  Begun in 1248 and finished in 1880, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.  Unlike Speyer, Cologne was pretty much flattened during the bombing raids in WWII, but incredibly, despite taking seventy bomb hits the Cathedral did not collapse – awesome construction, or, puny bombs.  I’ve been to the Cologne Cathedral three times and it remains one of my favourites despite its size.

Oddly enough, although the Cologne Cathedral is larger and taller it does not seem as massive as the Speyer Cathedral.  The Cologne Cathedral is sort of airy – largely due to the lacy fretwork style of the towers, the Speyer Cathedral hunkers and looms.

Speyer Dom - interior painting

Since the Cathedral is undergoing restoration it is almost devoid of interior adornment.  At the time, I didn’t know about the restoration, although scaffolding at the far end should have been a clue. I figured that “they” had run out of money after the construction and didn’t have a penny left over for fancy stuff, which seemed highly unlikely. The only decoration is a series of paintings high on the walls and almost as many relief sculptures lower down on the walls – these depict Christ his crucifixion and arising, etc.

Relief carving

There is no question that it is an amazing work of architecture, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was built to the glory of humankind in the name of God.  It is so vast you feel swallowed in insignificance.  There is an impersonal and distant type of energy within.  Unlike the other churches I had been in the Speyer Cathedral inspires no silence let alone silent contemplation, but to be fair the industrious sounds of hammering and sawing, etc. probably had a lot to do with that.  As well, it is so massive that heating it must be an enormous expense.  It was cool in the fall; I can imagine it must be frost cold in the winter.  No warm embrace here.  Nonetheless, the Cathedral is well worth seeing.

Candle offerings

I spent several hours the next day down by the Rhine, until the cool chased me indoors.  Sure was good to be by the water again.  I knew the Rhine was a commercial as well as recreational river, but I was surprised by extent of the traffic; e.g. numerous barges with all manner of goods; cars, lumber, giant parts of something, etc., tour boats – some very large, motorboats, the coast guard, even an intrepid kayaker.  There is  a long wanderweg along the river as well, but I had had enough of walking for a bit, and just enjoyed the interesting activity.

Tour boat on the Rhine

Speyer is in a beautiful locale. As near as it is to a large river the area is relatively flat but with a good deal of greenery around.  The Rhine valley is known for its wine production and Speyer is one of the cities along Germany’s wine route.  Good chocolates too.  I would visit again and check out its outlying areas as well.  In fact 2011 would be a good year to go as Speyer is celebrating three very historically important events.  A) 950 years since the consecration of the Cathedral.  B) 900 years since the coronation of Emperor Henry V (the last Salian ruler). C) 900 years since its citizens received certain rights as a first step to becoming a Free Imperial City.

From Speyer I went back to Altendiez for good company and a pause in my travels.  I have already written about Altendiez so my next update will be about Büsum.

In case you weren't sure how to do it.

Warm Regards,

Anita

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Möckmühl is one of the towns on the Pilgrimage route and it was going to be the end point of my revised timeline, which as you may recall, got revised again in Dörzbach.

City view from castle wall

As with so many towns and cities Möckmühl was inhabited long before it received its city rights around 1250.  Records show that there was a population already there and that the Monastery of Fulda had rich holdings in the area by the 8th century.  During significant restoration of the Town Hall in 1992, Roman artefacts were discovered indicating that the city had been settled as early as the 2nd-3rd Century.

Möckmühl sits in slightly steep rolling green hills and is at the confluence of the Jagst (our old friend from Dörzbach) and Seckach Rivers in the State of Baden-Württemberg of South Western Germany. Among other things the site loaned itself to the establishment of a mill.  In fact its name is thought to originate from the Frankish Princess Mechita who owned a mill there.  One of the early variant spellings of Möckmühl is Mechitamulin = the mill of Mechita.  While it would not be the original mill, Möckmühl’s town mill closed its doors in 1959 (torn down in 1964) after 400 years of service.

Patience

Compared to other medieval cities not too much happened in Möckmühl beyond the usual death and destruction due to the incessant battles and diseases of the times; basically nothing out of the ordinary.   Its castle,  built in the 13th century,  is now a private residence.  Spoiled my fun as you can’t even traipse around the grounds and the wall is too high to see over to take photos.  Drat.  However, I was mildly mollified because you can at least see the original tower of the castle (The Götzenturm) which at 25m high is too tall to hide behind a wall.

Part of the city wall

The town had a surrounding wall thrown up in 1470, but like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, it didn’t do them much good either during the 30 Years War.  As far as I can tell the city was not besieged, but 80% of the population died regardless as casualties of the war plus the plague.

The town wall has a number of towers, one of the more famous or infamous of these is the Hexenturm (Witches Tower).   During the mid 17th Century, witch hunts were common and various German cities avidly participated in the hunt.  There is the story of one stalwart and tough woman in 1655, accused of making fleas.
Personally I would have gone for something bigger, but I suppose back then fleas would have been a major deal.   At any rate she never confessed to being a witch despite several sessions of “interrogation” including one of three hours of continuous torture, and 26 weeks in irons confined in the tower.  She was eventually released and lived to the advanced age of 77.  In fact she would have been alive when the last woman accused of witchcraft in Möckmühl was burned in 1667.

Despite standard turbulence throughout its history Möckmühl suffered little in the way of damage, and like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, preserved its medieval quality so buildings like the Town Hall, built in 1589-92, are still in use.  It does not have Rothenburg’s charm though;  the town square is small and uninviting and the streets radiating out from the square seem haphazard.  It seemed that I always ended up where I started from no matter what street I took out, but then again, I do have that “circling thing” going for me.

Looking toward city square

I had arrived mid-morning on a tangy fall day, by bus from Dörzbach and would only be staying the one night.  Because of my relatively early arrival I was able to take in a number of the old city sights.  Another day would have been good, but I was
getting tired of cycling through the same three pair of underwear, two pairs of socks, two pants and two shirts.  However, having said that, I did squeeze out enough clothes tolerance to spend two days in Speyer, my next stop.

A vigorous walk up to the Castle at the top of the hill – where all good castles sit – got the blood moving after the bus ride.  I didn’t wheeze once!  On the way back down I enjoyed a very fine stroll through the old city, and much as I disliked adding weight to my backpack, bought small pottery chicken salt & pepper shakers.

House built in 1515 - added to 7 times over the centuries

I haven’t gotten mundane yet about all the old timey buildings and hope I never do.  It enchants me to see a building like the house built in 1515, still being lived in, and not only that, but added on to over the centuries so that now there are about seven eclectic residences in all.  Or, the wonderful juxtaposition of the old and the new, such as the young woman leaning out of her third storey window talking on a cell phone in a building from 1615.  This same building housed a voice school and had been a music school in the 1600s.  I was at the right place at the right time and was treated to a delightful melody as I sat on a bench near the building in the city square.

My accommodation in Möckmühl was my least favourite even though the building was very old.  I had gotten lost (imagine that!) looking for the back door and ended up in the cellar.  Talk about a perfect venue for scaries at Halloween.  Lit by a single light bulb it could have passed for rooms in a dungeon.  Walls of centuries darkened stone at least four feet thick, an oppressive ceiling and small arched openings leading to crypt darkness…. Gave me the heebie geebies!

Creepy cellar in Gasthaus

The Inn was a recommendation in the Pilger guidebook, but they neglected to mention that it was a smoking establishment.  Smoke smell was heavy in my room so I had to open all five windows for a nice freshening.   The good news is that I had a triple room on the corner of the building which meant light from two sides.  The bad news is that the toilets (shared) were down a series of confusing hallways.
However, I came up with a creative solution to that problem as I was not going
to wander around in my jammies at night looking for the washroom.  I’d probably end up in that creepy basement never to be seen again.

Gasthaus Zum Baren - where I stayed

I had gotten used to large German breakfasts of meat and cheese slices, fruit, yogurt, several different types of bread, eggs, juices, and cereals  which provided enough fuel so that I only ate twice a day; in fact my second meal of the day was usually a snack.  However, the brekkie here was chintzy by German standards – probably because they had to feed Benny.

Benny is the largest dog I have seen in a while.  He is a large breed, Bernese Mountain dog, which can get up to 120 pounds, but Benny was bigger than that and it wasn’t all big bones.  He wheezed and puffed after coming in from a 15 minute walk as much as the rotund man who took him out.  Still, like everyone I had meant so far, the proprietors were friendly.

Cheers,

Anita

Dorzbach, Germany

Monday, Sept. 13, dawned to rain drumming and pigs squealing, neither of which I greeted with any degree of enthusiasm.   The night before I had determined that I would only walk 10 km a day and I was quite happy with that decision even though it
would mean that I would not be walking all the way to Speyer (end point).   My
reasoning was that:  1. I would do less damage to my poor toes, and  2.There would be less area covered and therefore less opportunity for me to find alternate routes (that is – get lost).

However, the rain was not helping to bolster wavering determination.  Then there was Karin (Gastehaus keeper) who was quite unhappy about the possibility that I could catch a terrible cold, and possibly my death if I were to head out in such horrible weather.  Death catching not being on my agenda, I decided to take the bus (there is no train service in Dorzbach).  It made Karin feel better.   As it happened it was possible to take the bus today, because school holidays had ended and buses were running again.

Dorzbach - former train - no fancy IC/ICE

You have no idea how much I enjoyed the bus ride to Dorzbach.

Dorzbach is a town of about 2400 souls in the Jagst River valley, an exceedingly lovely area of Germany.  The Jagst River, a pleasant meandering river that travels for 189 km and eventually flows into the Neckar River (by Heidelberg), would be considered small to medium in British Columbia.

Dorzbach

In Dorzbach there is a place along the river where you can swim, but it looks muddy and weedy to me.  Having grown up swimming in a “see clear to the bottom”, weed free area of the Okanagan Lake, the thought of squelching through mud, and all sorts of mud creatures not to mention  monster weeds, that are surely intent on wrapping themselves around my legs to pull me under,  makes me feel all icky tingly.

Jagst River

For those of you that are cycling enthusiasts you will be interested to know that the Jagst and the paralleling Kocher River (name originates from Celtic word “cochan” which probably means winding, meandering) form one of Germany’s favourite long distance bike tour routes.   The 330km circular route, which is family friendly, but also has challenging sections,  takes one through interesting towns and villages and fabulous scenery.

As I have arrived in Dorzbach earlier than planned I decide to wander along a couple of the many Wander/Radwegs that are in and around the village as penance for taking the bus.  Miraculously the rain stopped on the bus ride over and, while it is still overcast and glowering, there are hints that the sun will make an appearance.

St. Wendel Zum Stein - door to the other side

I head out to St. Wendel zum Stein – a side trip of five kilometers and one I would not have taken if I had walked (but then again maybe I would have).   This is truly a fascinating little church and a testament to the value one man placed on his sheep.    Well, that is what I understand from the signage.  A shepherd found his lost sheep at this place and in gratitude he determined to build a church.  Must have been some sheep as this would be a difficult place to build a church in modern times let alone when work started in 1478!  The bulk of the work was completed between 1511 and 1515, with the small tower being added a couple of centuries later.  St. Wendel is the patron saint of shepherds.

What makes this wee church standout, and not just for the sheep factor, is that it is built into the stone (zum stein).  The rear wall of the church is cave wall rock.  The cave complex right behind and above the church was inhabited many thousand years ago and eventually became a Celtic ritual place as well.

Path to cave complex behind church

The church is situated on the Jagst River.  You can’t actually go around to the front of the church as it is too near the steep bank down to the river.   In order to see the other side you have to go through the church.  It is possible to do this because, even though the church is quite isolated, it is left unlocked.  A tiny stream, purported to have healing properties, flows under the nearby uninhabited caretaker’s cottage.  I don’t venture down to it as the leaf covered rock is slippery wet and I am mindful that absolutely no one knows that I am here.

Jagst River & swans directly in front of the church

At the moment there are three swans alternately dozing and paddling about.  The sun is happy in the day and has come out to play; I take my jacket off, settle a bench and lean back against the cave wall (first making sure there are no crawly critters hanging about).  Happiness and Contentment snuggle into me like a pair of eight week old kittens.

It occurs to me then that this is what has been missing from my pilgrimage. No not snuggling kittens, but the enjoyment of the moment.  In all honesty I have not enjoyed the walking. While I did not expect the pilgrimage to be a walk in the park it was more of an endurance test than anticipated, although in some ways it was a forced meditation too.  Breath in, breath out or a count of 1 2 3 4  to stop from thinking about the pain in my legs/feet and general miserable walking conditions.  It didn’t end when the walk for the day was done either as then the aches, like unwelcome visitors, came to stay for a while.

St. Wendel Zum Stein - bench of contemplation

But that isn’t it completely though, after all my feet are very sore now too, and I am not looking forward to the walk back to town, yet, in this moment, I am blissful.  At this time I can’t really define what it is.   “It” is just out of reach, but like I have done  I trust that it will come.  However, for this moment and the next, I let go of the pressure of completing a pilgrimage that I am physically ill prepared for.  I am posting this nearly 10 months later and the black of my toe nails has just disappeared.

Addendum to the shepherd and his lost sheep.  It turns out that when he found his sheep he also found a treasure trove, hence his gratitude.

And that, my friends, ends the physical part of my pilgrimage.

Smiles to you all,

Anita

Mulfingen, first established in 980, is a small Dorf (village) of about 1500 people, set in rolling, but somewhat steep green hills.  There is a bus system (school days only), but no other public transportation.  I wonder about the teenagers in these small villages; unless they hoof it, drive, or otherwise catch rides they are stuck.  There is little in the way of teenage friendly entertainment as well; no theatre, only a restaurant or two, no video rental, etc.  They must rejoice when school vacation is over!

Mulfingen insect hotel

I am staying in Mulfingen one more day.  I have to admit that I am seriously thinking about quitting the pilgrimage right now.  I don’t like the look of my three bruised toes and am concerned that my right knee is giving out even when I am walking without a heavy pack.  In addition, walking and consequent recuperation is taking more time than I had allowed and the weather is becoming daily cooler as the season advances.

Quitting thoughts aside, I am a bit bored on this “extra” day, and don’t want to spend such a nice day indoors, so I take my book (Eat,Pray, Love) and go to St. Anna’s Kapelle (about 1.5 km away).  It is a small, pretty church first constructed in 1510. 2010 marks 500 years of service to the community of Mulfingen.   This church honours St. Anna, who according to the family tree posted in the church, happens to be the grandmother of Jesus.

St. Anna's Kapella

According to this family tree, St. Anna married three times (way to go Jesus’ granny!).  She had one child (daughter) with each of her three husbands and named each daughter Maria. Anna might have been “hot” or wealthy or both, but she sure wasn’t creative, or maybe her creativity just didn’t run to names.   The first Maria was Jesus’ mother.  Given Anna’s three marriages, which I am sure was very unusual for a woman during those times, I wonder what else she had going for her – charm, a fun gal, maybe?

That in turn brings me to thoughts of Jesus.  When Charli and I were in Oberammergau our dining mates were two fellows from the United States.  Ian posited that in addition to Jesus being charismatic in order for him to have the following he had he had to have been fun to be around too.  I was SO captivated with the concept that Jesus was a “fun guy” that for several days that notion crept into all of my conversations.  It’s put Jesus in a whole new light for me. And, now a new thought – did he, by chance, maybe inherit his charm and fun self from his maternal grandma?

Snail - fish eye effect

I spend about three hours at this church sitting outside reading, ruminating and people watching.   There is a Radweg nearby and several people (adults, teens and children) are cycling along it (this Radweg is also “the Pilger Way” to Dorzbach, the next village that I will attempt to get to).  It is a heavenly day and I am enjoying my quiet contentment.

However, it is time to head to the Gasthaus and get some supper.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t particularly like staying there.   It isn’t the people, they have been unfailing kind and helpful, and the room is comfortable enough although I don’t like sharing a bathroom, especially with six fellows.   They are quite a friendly bunch of guys that have lots of laughs and are doing a motorcycle tour of some part of Germany – they have left that morning.  *Pilger tip #6 – if you want a private bathroom you have to specify that.  Not all rooms come with “in room toilet”.

My room in Mulfingen

I find out what the problem is very early Monday morning at about 4:30AM, the day I leave.   The Gasthaus is situated above a Metzgerei (butcher shop).  I never gave this much thought, but this is a working butcher shop, and Bernd is a butcher by trade.  What that means is that the meat is not delivered all magically cut and wrapped for sale; it is brought in live on-the-hoof.  This particular Monday morning is pig delivery day.  My room is directly beside the delivery area.  It is distressing to hear the pigs screeching and then silence but for the sound of machinery.  The pork steak I had the evening before threatens to crawl back up and I vow to curtail my “pig” intake.  I still like bacon though.

Gasthaus Zur Krone

Joy and Health to you all,

Anita

Saturday, Sept. 11, the day for walking has come and it is a lovely one – temperatures are expected to reach 25C.  Great!  A sunny day!  One of a handful that I have experienced since arriving in Scotland August 9/Germany August 15 – no wonder both countries are so green.   However, people in both have said that it has been unseasonably cold and rainy this summer/fall.

I have elected to go via road.  The roads between villages here are small ones so I’m not as concerned about becoming road kill.   Sometimes I think Germans treat every road as if it were the Autobahn.

I figure going by road I am less likely to get lost, plus I had stopped in at the Schrozberg Rathaus (city hall – “a” is like “ah”) a couple of days ago and gotten a map of the area.  The map shows all the wee villages that the guidebook mentions right up to Mulfingen, which is my next overnight stay 20 km away.   Another 20km you say?  Yes, well I am brightly confident – my legs are no longer achy breaky and my toes will do – besides I have a map!  And, Marlene and Rolf (her husband) had spent some time going over the routes with me.

House in Kalberbach

According to the guidebook the next stop of interest is Erpfersmeiler six km away.   I’ll never know how interesting Erpfersmeiler is because I never get there.  I end up in Kalberbach.    In my defence both villages are somewhat in the same direction even though the roads they are on are several km apart.  What can I say, I have a gift.

I have no intention of backtracking again, after all I have a map and the next town , Herrentierbach, is about five kilometers away.  All I have to do is figure out which
direction to go – I must be a closet optimist. I give up after about 10 minutes of spinning myself around like a top trying to place myself in what I think is   Kalberbach’s compass orientation.  It is only confusing me, and making me dizzy.  I fold up the map thinking it will make a good souvenir with all its pretty red, green and yellow lines randomly scattered all over.

Once again I put my trust in trust and straight ahead it is.  I am out in the middle of somewhere and there is no one around to ask this time.

At least the weather is nice, of course now I’m too hot.  For a time I follow a bicycle route figuring it will eventually have to go somewhere habitable.  Mini digression:  Germans are great for their Radwegs (literal translation – wheel ways).  These are
also Wanderwegs (walkways).  These “ways” can follow along beside a road or not.
There are a great many bicycle routes/wanderwegs set up in Germany.  Often established with families in mind the majority of them tend to be quite level.

Miracles do happen and I get to Herrentierbach in a relatively straightforward way.   It is here that I end up following the guidebook again as the next village, Simmetshausen,  is only 0.6km away and there is really nowhere else even I can manage to get to.

Herrentierbach

From Simmetshausen I have to go through the Wald (forest).  It is going through the Wald that I get somewhat nervous.  I have seen a number of hunter’s blinds scattered here and there and I see from the map that this is a popular hunting area.  I
realize that being September it is probably hunting season.  After seeing 3 tiny deer flee across the path behind me (no, I don’t have eyes in the back of my head – I happened to turn just then) , I hope some hunter doesn’t think he’s found the mother lode when he sees my burnt orange and muted yellow pack.  It takes me an hour to get through the forest all the while hunching my shoulders up, because we all know that makes you invisible.

Through the Wald

Hohen Strasse or Hoch Strasse

From here the guidebook directions are excellent and I end up on the Hochstrasse (High street) just like I am supposed to.  It is a straight run on this wanderweg to
Heimhausen about 7km away, and then only 3km to Mulfingen – my end point of the day.  Historical note of interest:  The Hochstrasse or Hohen Strasse is an ancient route travelled by both the Romans and the Celts before them – so cool to have walked it myself!  For those of you that are unaware the Celtic people originated in what is now Austria.

Straight and easy run it may be, but after a couple of kilometers or so it goes steadily down hill to the valley of the Jagst River.   The geography of this area is the prettiest
I have seen in Germany, but I don’t spare too many thoughts for the beauty
because this down hill walk is giving my right knee some issues and is causing my toes serious grief.  When I eventually get my shoes off in Mulfingen, I see that three of them are blackened under the nail.

*Pilger tip #4 – footwear is extraordinarily important!  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Your footgear and your feet are going to become more intimate than lovers, so be sure they get along. “They” suggest that you wear your shoes at least a month before you plan on doing a lot of walking to break them in.  I would say longer than that, plus walk around wearing the gear you will be using – uphill, downhill and sideways if you have to.  My shoes are very comfortable, but they were not up to this task. *Pilger tip #5 – it is a good idea to pack some moleskin – because you will probably need it anyway.

Heimhausen

At Heimhausen my feet give out and I call for help once again.  There is the possibility that I could have made it to Mulfingen, but I could see the village in the distance  and that distance was all uphill.  That did it for me.  Bernd, owner of the Gasthaus zur Krone in Mulfingen, came and collected me.   Marlene had insisted that I phone her to let her know of my safe arrival and so I do.  Karin, Bernd’s sister, brings me some tea and offers a lotion for my feet.   I settle in for the night.

I spend two days in Mulfingen – legs were fine, toes not so much.

Wishing you all health and happiness,

Anita

Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Speyer Pilgrimage – Pt. 1 – the lull between or rest and recuperation in Schrozberg.

Schrozberg, established in 1249, roughly 20 km (in a certain direction) from Rothenburg ob der Tauber , is a town of 5889 people (as of Dec. 31, 2009) and big enough to boast a taxi service and a Bahnhof (train station).  There is a bus service as well, but as it is school holidays they are not running regularly. However, if your heart (or pocket book as it is cheaper) is set on taking a bus you can reserve one an hour in advance of when you need it.

Geographically, Schrozberg is situated along the Vorbach River which has diminished to a stream by the time it gets to town. This is a relatively flat area with only the gentlest rise of hill here and there.  As it seems for almost every village, town and city – large fields and tracts of forest surround it.  As well as being on the route for at least a couple pilgrimages, Schrozberg is also in the centre of some prime bike touring country.

Schrozberg in the distance

It is Tuesday, Sept. 7, I have arrived at the Gästehaus Im Tal (guesthouse in the valley), Marlene Weigel’s establishment, and I will be here for the next 4 days.  Achy breaky
legs and bad weather conspire to keep me here for a time.

More miserable than a soaked cat, my only thought is to get out of these wet clothes, have as hot a shower as I can stand and get a hot drink into me.   I am not particularly hungry (though I haven’t eaten since 8AM that morning and it is now after 6PM- or 18:00) but Marlene insists on bringing me a hot supper.  In due course she arrives with the hands down most scrumptious vegetable soup I have ever eaten!  I forget that I’m not hungry and it’s all I can do not to polish off the entire contents of the tureen.   I do have the recipe by the way which I have included in a separate post.

That first night is the worst and I fear that I will not be able to sleep because of my legs/feet.  I am full of painful wonder that body parts can be so sore and not fall off.  Tending to necessary bodily eliminations (all that tea) is cause for anxiety (because I have to get up!) and to put off the moment I lie there dreaming up inventions involving tubes and hoses (details not supplied).

Gästehaus Im Tal - Schrozberg

Thankfully, each day is much better and it is during this time that I meet two interesting beings. The first is Helena – a young woman in her mid to late twenties who has just finished her Master’s Thesis in Economics from the University of Stuttgart.  She is doing the pilger because she was too often “in her head” and had a real need to be in nature.   The route she has chosen is the Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Rottenburg pilger, a much more established route of the same length (~185 km).  However, she will not be completing the entire route as her family home is several kilometers from Rottenburg.  She is the one who also got turned around at Enzenweiler.

It is when I am sitting with Helena that I mention that I would like another cup of tea and the kettle starts to boil.  It is plugged in, but did not get switched on. Helena laughs and says, “Wow, if you can do that after only one day on pilger, what can you do at the end of a week?” Alas, we will never find out. Okay, so it was a faulty plug.

Friday, and I have opted to stay the day, although my legs and toes have recuperated just fine   I have the opportunity to get to know Marlene better (she offers me supper and a room to stay in her house) and in the interest of making another friend I stay the extra day.

My room at the Gästehaus Im Tal

There is a big bicycle festival (as in Bike Tours) happening in Schrozberg over the weekend and all the rooms in the Gästehaus are filled.  I spend the day helping out and going on various errands with Marlene. In addition to getting all the new guests sorted Marlene receives a call from two pilger (the Badish pilger) inquiring about a room.  Instead of telling them too bad, so sad, she finds a friend who will take them in.
Marlene delivers them and bedding to her friend.

It turns out that these two people (a couple) are going on the same pilger route that I am.  Marlene asks me if I might want to go with them the next day- she’s probably thinking –“at least she wouldn’t get lost”.    I don’t give it a nano second’s worth of thought. This couple is fiercesomely fit and look like they could eat 39km for breakfast.  Besides, I CANNOT understand a word they say.

It is when the first group of four cyclists arrive that I meet the next interesting being.  Igon (would be pronounced Egon in English) makes his appearance.  Marlene is astounded.  She has not seen him for about three months, and says of course he would show up today when everyone is arriving.   Igon sits in the middle of the floor while the six of us (Marlene, the four cyclists and me) view him with varying degrees of surprise,  although, none of us is so surprised that we all hide behind the bravest of us, or leap squealing and shouting onto chairs and tables.

Sign of the way - and others (bike tour routes)

Igon is the largest garden variety spider that I have EVER seen.  He must have a diameter of three inches!  One of the cyclists calls him a house pet and goes to touch him causing Igon to scamper lively into one of the guestrooms.  Luckily Marlene finds him, scoops him up in a hand towel and sends him outside.   She has obviously done this before.  It occurs to me that Igon might be a she as spider ladies are generally larger than spider gents.

It is in the lull of helping out when there is nothing for me to do but sit and write that the first insight or lesson, or whatever you want to call it presents itself.  It is
about loneliness and being alone. Maybe those are two lessons or just variations of the same?

While in Rothenburg ob der Tauber I experienced a razor sharp loneliness that startled me by how deep it cut.  I had always declared that I could handle being alone and in fact would relish it. However, when faced with it, when the alone was right there, like green eggs and ham, I did not like it one bit, no I did not, Nita, I am.  I was in a city where I did not know anyone.  I missed my travelling companion, I missed my family, I missed my friends.  Being alone when you know someone is going to walk through that door in a couple of hours or even a couple of weeks is a whole lot different than knowing no-one is going to appear.  Internet is ok and helps, but I wanted to see my people, talk with them, laugh with them. In fact I was so disconsolate that I believe my lower lip may have trembled a time or two.

All that changed in Schrozberg sitting there writing just to pass the time.  I am apart from all that is going on and I am a part of it all and I realize that I have never been alone.  There have been all of the people that have helped along my “way” – and particularly those lately because they were people who were strangers to me.  People like Daniel, Hilla and Victoria (who only knew me through Charli, but who opened their home to me), Klaus (of the Pension- Elke in Rothenburg ob der Tauber who kept phoning on my behalf until he reached Marlene so that I would have a place to stay), the “sherry” shopkeeper (whose name I never did learn), the farmer, the young girl at the bus stop, Helena, and Marlene (by the way pronounced as in Marlene Dietrich) they all reached out and in some way scrubbed out that aloneness/loneliness. I am aware that you can be lonely and not be alone the same as you can be alone and not be lonely but, for me at that time they were one and the same.

Schrozberg - last view

And, because of those people the certainty that, at least, in a spiritual sense one is never alone and always well loved became a truism for me.  I have settled into my aloneness and have not felt lonely since (but that doesn’t mean you should stop emailing!).  Sure, you say, it’s only been three weeks or so – will it last? I don’t know, but for the time being, like the certainty that a heavy snowfall on Christmas Eve night will wonder and delight on Christmas morning, I am sure in it.

As always, I hope this finds you all healthy and happy!

Anita

PS – The Gästehaus Im Tal was a recommendation in the Rothenburg to Speyer  Pilgrimage guide book.  I heartily second that recommendation!  Marlene and Rolf are superior hosts – warm, welcoming and nothing is too much trouble.  The accommodations are clean, bright, quiet and very reasonably priced.  The included breakfast is varied and substantial.

The Gästehaus Im Tal is the former hospital of Schrozberg.  It so happens that Marlene was born in that hospital and so she’s tickled that she is now the
proprietor.  As of this writing there are 12 double rooms with private bath available.  As time and money permit more of the additional rooms will be renovated.

September 7, 2010 – Pilger – Part I – Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Schrozberg – approx. 22 km. (more if you get lost).

Pilger (German) refers to both pilgrim and pilgrimage depending on the context used.

So…the tale begins…..

All set to go!

Pack on, all set to go, take that first step … and my first thought is:  “I should have cut my toenails.”  My second thought: “I hope I never drop anything because otherwise I am going to be doing a lot of headstands.”

However, balance issues quickly got sorted and off I went, excitement and anxiety competing for equal space in my thoughts.

My first problem, how to actually get on the “Way”, had been resolved a couple of days previously with the help of a friendly shopkeeper with whom I had shared a couple of glasses of sherry.  She was the first of many who would help me along my journey, because as it turns out I have a particular talent for getting lost.  By the time I quit the pilgrimage this talent had been honed to a calibre rarely seen.  *Pilger tip #1- bring a map and learn how to tell North from South, etc.  North, as I discovered, is not always in front of my nose.

Road to the right is where I entered the woods.

Anyway, getting out of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was problematic because:  1. My German reading skills are not that good, and there seemed to be an uncommon number of compound words in the wee guidebook.  Germans have a bad habit of simply adding two or more words together to make a new one instead of coming up with a nice short new word, for instance the word for tank is about 26 letters long.  2. No signs are allowed to be posted within the city walls, so how was I to find the yellow shell on a blue background (sign of the Way).  3. There are at least seven towers along the wall of Rothenburg and it really wasn’t clear (to me) which one to leave from as indicated by the guidebook.

Gate I left through

However, my friendly, shopkeeper got that sorted for me, and I proceeded with confidence.  To make doubly sure of a confident beginning I had scouted out the “Way” for a couple of kilometres two days previously.  I even discovered a shortcut which would knock off at least 1\2 Km from the trip.  Believe me that would count!  Well, in no time I lost the shortcut and in wandering around trying to find it I
probably added a kilometer.  Sigh.

But, I was off!  It was excellent walking weather – overcast, but not cold, and, although my Lady pack was heavy, it rode comfortably on my back.

All was going well.  I stopped at the suggested rest place to have the suggested last look at Rothenburg and took suggested photos.

Last view of Rothenburg

Weather did not hold and it started to sprinkle, but that was still ok, I had a poncho.   Although, I did have a few suggestions of my own about what was supposed to be a non-rainy day.

By the time I reached Enzenweiler, a village about 7.5Km from Rothenburg, my feet were getting sore and the sprinkle had stepped up a couple of notches.  Still ok though and the yellow shell signs were right were they were supposed to be.

Yellow shell - sign of the Way

That all went South (or wherever) when I left Enzenweiler as there was no indication where to go next beyond turning right at the crossroad and then left at the village end.  Sure that I had missed a yellow shell marker I retraced my steps, but no, I was on track.   Still it seemed to me that the village had ended a couple of kilometres back and that was before the suggested right turn on the crossroad.  So, which village end were they talking about???  In talking with another Pilger a few days later – she also got turned around here and ended up in a village not in the guidebook. Gratifying to know I wasn’t alone – in this instance anyway.

Failing any signage I strode straight ahead (my default setting) figuring I would come to a village sooner or later and then see where I was.  And, so it came to pass.  Unluckily for me though this was not a village named either in the guidebook or shown on the sketchy map in said guidebook.  I was losing confidence in the guidebook.  Still at its end there were several signs indicating village this and that, this way or that way.  With the exception of one, none of these village names were in the guidebook or its less than helpful little map.

Along the way. The Windrader in the distance were landmarks to look for.

However, the one recognizable name riveted my attention because it said:  Rothenburg ob der Tauber (that way) 5 Km.  Keep in mind that by now, with backtracking and discovering new villages, I had probably walked at least 12 Km.  So, upon seeing this sign, I said to myself:

“Why gee willikers, would you look at that.  I’ve been walking in a circle.  Gosh darn it, don’t that beat all.” (or words to that effect).

I confess that I gave serious consideration to walking back to Rothenburg, hopping a train, and pretending nothing ever happened.  However, with spirits and self considerably dampened as it was by now raining, I set about looking for someone to tell me how to get to Schrozberg (my end point for the day plus I had overnight
accommodation booked there).  *Pilger tip #2 – make sure you have proper rain gear. Poncho doesn’t cut it.

I did finally find a farmer who kindly stopped in his headlong rush from his barn to his warm, comfortable home to help me out.  He actually happened to be the only person I saw outside in this village.

Permit me to digress and mention a little something about German dialects.  The Schwäbisch dialect sounds like so much pea gravel and sand being swished around in a bucket of water.  I understood maybe three words out of this man’s directions.  I never did catch on to more than half of what anyone said to me in Schwäbisch.  The only dialect that was more incomprehensible was Badish.  Later in the week, I would meet two Badish Pilger.  Thankfully, they were not talking to me as based on my open mouthed look I’m sure they would have thought I had the IQ of a celery stick.  I understood one word, “gel” (hard “g” like in girl), and as it is like our “eh” it really isn’t a word after all.  The Bavarian folks, by the way, roll their “r” so vigorously that I’m surprised they don’t choke for air halfway through a sentence!

Anyway, at my “deer in the headlights” look the farmer slowed it down and spoke more Standard German giving me directions that all involved walking back the way I had come, but then turning towards Heligebronn (3 Km away) and then walking another 2Km or so, to Spielbach where there was a gas station in the middle of town (it’s down the road on the 2nd left when you get to the middle of the village – you can’t miss it.  Right.), and someone there would be bound to know the way to Schrozberg.

He was also the first that would ask me two common questions.  1.  You are alone?  2. You are walking?  all the while looking over my shoulder as if expecting people or a car to appear.  It got so that I was often tempted to have a look myself, even though I knew the air behind me would remain distressingly empty of companions, or A CAR.

So, he says “You are alone?”  “Yes” I say.  “You are walking?” He says.  “Yes”, I say.  “That is bad” he says.  “How so?” I say.  “Because it is a long way”, he says.  “Yup”, I think.  Of course, I have translated for your benefit, although, I’m pretty sure the thought bubble was in English.

Well, there was nothing for it and off I go and trust that I will reach Heligebronn and then Spielbach.  I had begun to put a lot of trust in trust because nothing else was working too well!  And, I did find Heligebronn and it was just where the farmer said it would be!  By this time though, my legs were aching something fierce and my feet were so sore I could feel blisters playing King of the Castle on my toes, and I was wet through and through.  I spotted a bus shelter and thought – screw it – I’m taking the bus to Schrozberg!  I had been walking for several hours with only one break.

*Pilger tip #3 – in small villages in Germany when kids are on school holidays – as they were until Sept.13 – buses do not run.

So, I have to drag my carcass to Spielbach after all.  What’s another 2 Km (in theory) to the 20 Km I must have walked already, eh?

Still, I am optimistic… until I get to the crossroad.  No signage and every direction looks equally well travelled.  I am so very tired, so very sore, so very wet and the wind has picked up and I am getting cold and there is NO ONE in sight, and I just cannot stomach retracing my steps yet again.  I give in, but only have enough vigour to perform about 30 seconds worth of the standard 2 minute dance of panic.  But, it’s enough to clear my head and, as per usual, I head straight.  I am rewarded in short order by the sight of houses.  I have made it to Spielbach!

Spielbach - fountain where I waited for Marlene. Appropriate.

I have NO intention of looking for gas stations, and instead phone Marlene, owner of the Gästehaus Im Tal that I am going to be staying at, to ask her if she could send a taxi for me.  I really, really cannot physically or mentally walk another step further.  Schrozberg is larger (about 4500 people) and it has taxis, a bus and a train station!

I never did get a chance to ask Marlene to send for a taxi, because after she got over her surprise that I was in Spielbach (she was aware of the correct pilger route), she said she would come and get me.  I spent the next four days in Marlene’s care.

Gästehaus Im Tal - Schrozberg.

Schrozberg, by the way, was another 8 Km away.

And, that, my friends, ended my first day of walking.

Hope this all finds you healthy and happy!

Anita

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