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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,



Altendiez, is a Dorf (village) with a population of 2,246 (Dec. 31, 2009). It seems to have fallen under the “state reorganization hammer” at least a couple of times, but since 1949, has been a part of the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate (or Rheinland-Pfalz).

Area around Altendiez - Diez in background

While archaeological finds, dating to the Upper Palaeolithic (10,000 BCE), have been found in caves in the area the first reference to Altendiez is recorded in 790.
In 1285 it became distinguished from Diez, which I am assuming is the “new” Diez as Altendiez means “old Diez”.  Diez, by the way has a population of almost 11,000 and is located a mere two kilometres away.  Travel 10 kilometres more and you get to the nearest large centre, Limburg, with a population of about 33,000.   It was from Limburg that we caught the high speed IC/ICE trains.

Aside about the trains.  The ICE (which stands for Inter City Express) can reach speeds of 316km/hr.  I was in one that travelled comfortably at 270km/hr – the handy onboard computer information screen told me so.  However, at those speeds the sound when they come through a station (one they aren’t stopping at that is) – you cannot prepare yourself for it.  It is an intense rumbling roar that vibrates up into your feet, through your body and painfully assaults your ears on exiting. Thankfully, it lasts only a breath and a half and it’s gone.

Frankfurt Airport Station - 175 years of train travel

I actually don’t care to travel by IC/ICE as they are so fast you barely have time to register that you’ve passed by a village let alone catch its name, and if you try to fix on zooming by landscape it just makes your tummy all gookie.  I much preferred the Regional trains as they generally travel at a top speed of 120 km/hr.  I like looking at ungookie countryside.

Another aside:  Have you ever noticed that announcements on loudspeakers anywhere are garbled.  I thought it was just a language barrier, but Germans listening would look around at everyone too for comprehension (you know how you do when you can’t understand something) and shrug their shoulders as well.  The announcements always ended on a friendly note though, by wishing everyone a nice trip.  Of course being nearly impossible to understand and combined with foreign language they could have been warning you not to trip onto the tracks.  Well, if you were so unlucky as to fall into the path of an ICE train I don’t think there would be enough of you left to fill a small sandwich bag – at least not enough all in one place.

Back to Altendiez.
Altendiez, Diez, Limburg and a host of other towns and cities lie within

Diez - typical architecture

the Lahn River Valley.  The Lahn River is almost 246km long and is a right tributary of the Rhine.  The Lahn itself has several tributaries as well.  The river is quite historically fascinating.  While not the whole of the river is suitable for shipping most of it seems to have been.  The Romans used it to supply their forts and settlements and the first significant shipping data indicates that it has been used for shipping since the early 14th century. By the end of the 19thcentury over 300 castles, fortresses and fortified churches were built along the river.  Although, Lahn is thought to be possibly a pre-Germanic name its origin and meaning are unknown.  The name, in its current spelling, dates to 1365.

Diez and Lahn River - view from Castle

The history of these places always gives me a cozy thrill.  The buildings, the rivers, the
area – I always like to imagine what the people were like, what they were doing, etc.

For instance, picture this:  it is the year 49CE and a Roman supply boat is sailing on the Lahn River.  It is on its way to a fortress near what will become the city of Dill (in the year 1107).  It is mid-afternoon, on a crisp sunny day in late September, the boat’s passage stirs up the scent of water lilies, and a river otter slides unnoticed from the bank into the water.

Marcus, a young soldier doesn’t notice any of it.  He and nine others are being sent to replace the loss of seven soldiers in a recent raid by a particularly persistent barbarian tribe, and he has heroic visions tumbling in his head as he polishes his short sword.  Marcus just knows that it will be due to his efforts that the Germanic barbarian tribes will finally bow to Roman rule.  It vaguely troubles him that subjugation is proving nearly impossible.  He’s heard tales from northern Brittanicus that the Celtic tribes are just as fierce in their resistance.

Or…. It is a cold unpleasant day in late March in the year 1380.  Winter isn’t easily letting go its grip on the land and trees are struggling to bud.  Georg worryingly eyes the increasingly thunderous looking sky, and notices that the ducks are taking shelter on shore.  The waves are slapping more vigorously against the small, dangerously overloaded transport boat.  A significant portion of the cargo is fine wool that he had purchased in Bristol; its loss would ruin him.  He alternately frets and prays that the boat will make it to Limburg before the storm breaks.

And, one more!  It is a sultry evening in mid-August, 1793. The air softly caresses the skin and the riotous scents of numerous flowering plants thankfully mask the stink of the river.  Elisabeth is travelling in a pleasure boat to the castle of Graf von Buchen for a pre grape harvest party.  However, she is not at all pleased.  Elisabeth is wearing a dress of the latest fashion with an extra daringly low cut bodice.  Too late she has realized that the slightest bend forward poses a very real risk of revealing far more than intended.  Another of the travelling guests, 17 year old Friederich von Batten, has sussed out Elisabeth’s dilemma.  He, on the other hand, is eagerly anticipating what he hopes is an imminent revelation.

Wasn’t that fun!  Ok, back to Altendiez!

Altendiez - Charli - Lahn River bank in background

Altendiez - Charli - Lahn River bank in background

Charli and I were in Altendiez because that is where she lived during her German exchange from March to May 2009.  Charli was very happy to be back as she is fond of her host family and of the area.   A very lovely geographic area it is too.  Rolling green hills, a fine river, walking and biking trails, generally agreeable weather (not too hot, not too cold), mega history – what more could you ask.

Charli took pleasure in showing me around.  She’s a funny one.  Charli never knew the name of the street she lived on (apparently it isn’t important to know one’s address), but regardless of what route we would take (although it didn’t inspire confidence when she would say “I think if we take this street we will get there”) we always found our way back to the house. I knew I should have taken her on the pilgrimage with me!

Altendiez area - Charli

Although, I had often emailed Charli’s host “parents”, Daniel and Hilla, I had never met them so I was a bit nervous.  I could have saved myself the fretting; right from the start they were warmly welcoming and made me feel comfortable in their home.  Victoria went the “extra mile” and gave up her bedroom to us, and she gave it up again when I returned to them after my pilgrimage.

Even the cat, Lexi, was welcoming, although her brand of welcome left something to be desired.  She had learned to open doors that had a lever handle by jumping at the handle until the door opened.  Since, Lexi often shared Victoria’s bedroom that meant that unless we barricaded the door we would have a vocal night visitor inquiring as to our presence in her domain.

Lexi - the door opening cat - Altendiez

It was low key, but very good to be in a home environment after all the hotels we had been in.  We explored around the area a bit and since school had already begun, Charli was able to spend a day in school with Victoria visiting with chums and some of the

One evening, Hilla took Charli and me to an organ performance at the Limburg Cathedral.  I have to say that organ music is not at all what I gravitate to, but I have never heard the organ played like that!  Incredible. The fellow, who was the cathedral organist, played a few classical pieces and several renditions of Frere Jacques.
Turns out it was his farewell performance as it was his last day as the Limburg Cathedral organist. He had accepted the position of organist at the Speyer Cathedral.  A very prestigious appointment, I’m sure, but in my opinion a step down in cathedrals despite the fact that the Speyer Cathedral is an important one historically as well as presently.  Interestingly, Hilla had the same take on the Speyer Cathedral as I did.  However, I will talk about all that when I get to Speyer in the “timeline” of my journey.

Diez - random statue

Altendiez marked the end of Charli’s European Vacation.  On August 31, I accompanied her to the Frankfurt airport – taking the ICE to the very handy airport train station.  We got her checked in, had a meal, and then it was time to say good-bye, so long, farewell.  No blubbery good-byes for us, just a good hard back thumping hug, and she was off and I was on my own.

Charli - going home - Frankfurt Airport

Charli’s flight back was good and uneventful and she was full of news upon her arrival home where she no doubt received many hard back thumping hugs from relatives and friends.

I remained in Altendiez only a couple more days leaving on September 3 for Rothenburg ob der Tauber – the launching pad for not only my pilgrimage but my solo travel as well.

Health and Happiness,

Anita and Charli


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