My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 3

In case you missed the previous posts in this series, you can go back and read Part 1 and Part 2.

In the first post of this series I had mentioned going to Hus-Haus, a museum in the city center that is all about Johannes Hus, a Christian reformer who was imprisoned and later burned at the stake in Konstanz.

Today, I want to share two more museums and another historical church with you that are perfect for a rainy day in Konstanz. I don’t usually go to museums when I travel. I rather prefer to be out and about most of the time. However, given the time and right circumstances, I think visiting a museum is a good way to pass the time and learn quite a bit, especially if you’re interested in history.

Rosgarten Museum

The Rosgarten Museum is also located in the old city center of Konstanz and features the history of the city as well as the surrounding region. This is a good one to visit on Wednesday afternoons after 2pm or on the first Sunday of the month when they offer free admission. Otherwise, it’s still a quite low price at only €3 per person or half that for students and children. Be aware though, photos are not permitted (or at least they weren’t in 2017 when I last visited).

After arriving, I stored my things in a locker (bags are not permitted in the museum), and took a look around. The age of the building itself lends quite a lot to the exhibits. While looking at objects that are hundreds of years old, I got the feeling that they could have even been used in the very rooms where I stood. The woods floors, intricate paneling, and stone window frames portray a lively sense of time compared to the sterile feeling I often get in modern museums.

Before I went, I knew that the museum highlights Konstanz in the Middle Ages, how the city developed, Reformation and Counter-Reformation times in Konstanz, and art from the 18th and 19th centuries.

What I was surprised to find (I had missed it on the website and never heard about it) was a section in the upper levels all about Konstanz in the era of National Socialism. I was somewhat surprised to come around the corner and see all these items with Nazi symbolism. Seeing photos of areas of Konstanz that I know well with Swastikas was rather surreal.

Germany has done a lot of work in the reconciliation process since the times of Hitler, but it’s not something that I think about every day. I am usually focused on studying / work, cooking meals, enjoying myself out in nature, and generally living my life. Being confronted with the fact that the place where I had been living for two years was one site where Nazis oppressed and eventually arrested Jews and others that they claimed were evil is a different feeling. Seeing the stumbling stones always leaves me with an odd feeling, but seeing the photos and Nazi paraphernalia was like looking through a window into the past.

I am probably more cognizant than others when it comes to putting where I am into historical context. It gives me a thrill to think about who might have been in the places I visit, what the buildings may have looked like, and how people may have lived their lives hundreds of years ago. Aligning that same historical context with such a dark period of recent history instead feels like a cold stone dropping into your stomach.

Dreifaltigkeitskirche

Dreifaltigkeitskirche, or “Church of the Holy Trinity” in English, is just down the way from the Rosgarten Museum. It was originally built in 1268, with Baroque styling added in 1740.

If you like the paintings and Baroque styling, then you’ll definitely enjoy stepping into this church.

My tastes run a bit different, and what fascinated me was the peaks at the edge of the structure that allowed for a glimpse down into the earlier history of the church. There is a sort of gap where you can look down and see the original stone, and a headstone to up the contrast the the sophistication of the rest of the interior.

I think I spent almost as much time checking out this gap as I did looking over the rest of the interior. I may be odd, but to each his own.

Archaeologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Wuerttemberg

The final place I’d like to share with you today is one that I had looked at from the bus stop across the way for two years. It wasn’t until my last week that I decided I was actually going to enter.

The Archaeologisches Landesmuseum is located near the bridge where the Rhine meets the Bodensee next to the old city center. I had always been a bit curious based only on the little lego-style statue standing guard on top.

If you’re interested in going here, be warned that this museum can easily eat up an entire day of your time. At €6 for the entrance fee, it’s a steal. Just take some water to stay hydrated. If you want to learn more about the museum, check out their website.

Now, to some highlights!

The area of the museum that I was always looking at from the bus stop was actually one of the first that I visited. Inside, there was information about the boats used on the Bodensee and trading around the lake hundreds of years ago.

If you were traveling by something that looked like a canoe, I hope that you went on a day with good weather. That canoe did not look too big. Granted, it was a quite worn down one as it was so old. I still wonder how it managed to carry people, let alone all of the goods that they wanted to trade.

More fascinating in the ships that came later. For some reason, I did not imagine that there was any kind of larger boat on the Bodensee until more recent history, but of course there was.

Model for reference
Some of the recovered hull, as I couldn’t manage to fit the whole thing into one photo

I have a bit of a phobia when it comes to bodies of water. I’m not so sure that I would have wanted to take a ride on this ship either. It’s amazing though looking at the ship and thinking about how they built it.

If you’re wondering what they were able to transport in this ship, here’s a rather large barrel that perhaps carried wine. Doesn’t exactly look watertight anymore though.

Moving further through the museum, I came to an exhibit about early settlements (approximately 3500 BCE) on the lake and Rhine River in the area. They used to build their homes over the water. If you’re traveling around the Bodensee, there’s even a life-size model that tourists can visit today.

Pizza anyone?
Fashion, or something like it

Of course, it’s Germany so there was also quite some exhibits about more recent times, from when the Romans were in the region up to medieval times.

Reconstructed kiln

Some of my favorites were the exhibits about life in Konstanz during the medieval ages.

Dice from the medieval era
A medieval toilet seat, lest you think they were uncivilized back then

Hopefully you’re at least mildly entertained by now, so I’ll end it there. Really though, there’s plenty to do if you find yourself on a rainy day in Konstanz. I’d recommend visiting all three if you have the time and are interested in history.

Cheers!

My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 1

For two years I lived in the lakeside city of Konstanz while working on my Master’s degree. I had decided to move there without ever having set foot in Germany before. Having come out the other side, I can safely say that it was a good choice, and I’m quite sad that I don’t still live there.

Back in September of 2017, I handed in my thesis, had a final interview round with the company that ended up hiring me for my first “real” job post-university, and packed up everything to move out of my student apartment. During all of that, I also took some time to explore some parts of the city I had never visited, and I revisited some of my favorite places.

It’s these adventures that I now want to share in this space. Since there is quite a bit that I want to share, I am going to split the information up into several posts.

To provide some context, it had been a very hot summer in which I remember sweating through writing my thesis, hiding in the library when my room began to feel like an oven, and taking a break most days to go for a dip in the refreshing water of the lake. After my thesis and job interviews were complete, the heat broke and rain showers took the place of the sun.

I was quite pleased that the weather chased away many of the tourists and allowed me to explore the streets with relative peace. I had wanted to walk the streets and dedicate some time to take a look at the historic buildings, and then I had the perfect opportunity. Many of the old buildings have a name and building date on them. Some of those dates go back to the 1200s and 1300s.

Zur Mugge, 1422
Zum Leopard, 1399
Zum weissen Bär, 1523 and Zum weissen Adler, 1489
Haus zum roten Korb, Anno 1384
Zur Wage, 1273

It’s nice that these features still exist on the buildings, and you can often see the unevenness of the roofs and different levels of the buildings. If you really want a great view of the Old Town streets, then you can go up the tower of the church there.

The Konstanz Münster (Münster Unserer Lieben Frau) is a church that dates back to about the year 600 CE, though it was destroyed and rebuilt over many centuries. It hosted the Council of Konstanz in 1414-1418 which was the only conclave to be held north of the Alps. It remains one of the largest churches in this region of Germany.

During the warmer months of the year, it is possible to climb the church’s tower for a few Euros. Unlike some of the other church towers I have climbed, the stairs are quite spacious.

There are a few levels to reach. At first, you reach a sort of base of the tower which already affords some nice views of the city and harbor. If you go further, you can reach another level in the tower, with a final option to climb up to the highest indoor part of the tower. Be advised that at the very top you can only see out of some windows (thus, the blurriness of some photos).

While inside the tower, you can also see some of the bells with their historic designs. If you happen to be inside the tower when the bells ring, you’d better cover your ears. As I ascended the tower, it was deafening to hear the bells ringing.

Heading back down the tower, I decided to explore the church one last time, although I had been through it dozens of times in the past. I am not religious, but there is definitely a sense of tranquility and historical significance as you pass through the different areas of the church.

Out by the harbor, you’ll find the Council Building, which is where the actual voting in the papal election took place. Today, there is a restaurant in the lower level that offers seating with views of the lake. On the day that I was making this small tour, the clouds were quite moody although I got a hint of a rainbow.

Speaking of the Council of Konstanz, one of the historical figures during that era was Jan Hus. He was a Czech reformer who was targeted as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415 in Konstanz. There is a museum dedicated to him called Hus-Haus. I spent about an hour exploring there one afternoon, and can recommend it to anyone interested in history. Bonus: Entry is free, and the exhibits are in German, English, and Czech.

Not too far away from the Münster is St. Stephan’s Church. While it’s not as grand as the Münster, it has it’s own charming qualities and a gorgeous painting on the ceiling. Along with the Münster, it is among the oldest and largest churches in Konstanz. If there are a lot of tourists in the city, this church is a good option to step into somewhere quiet and calm while enjoying the surroundings.

Another interesting place in the Altstadt is the Rathaus. (For those who don’t know, a Rathaus is kind of the equivalent of a town hall.) The exterior is covered in paintings, and it has a castle-like appearance to it. You’d almost expect Rapunzel to come to the window. You can step through to the courtyard if you want to explore a bit.

Konstanz is filled with artwork in general. You’ll find paintings on the side of buildings, sculptures, and beautiful architecture all around. Unlike many other parts of Germany, Konstanz avoided heavy bombing in World War II by leaving their lights on at night and pretending to be part of Switzerland. Since it is at the border and a Swiss town bumps right up against Konstanz, they were able to successfully fool the bombers. As a result, much of the historic city remains intact today in ways that you don’t see in all German city centers.

That’s not to say that the Nazis were not active in Konstanz. You will find “stumbling stones” with the names of murdered Jewish citizens throughout Old Town, and there are also monuments to the victims of the Nazi regime such as this one:

Luckily, that dark period of history is gone from Konstanz, and the city has a modern feel mixed in with its historical features. The newest example of modernization before I left Konstanz was this “Way of Live Calculator” (not a spelling mistake). It is an art installation by Andreas Sarow (2017).

With that, I leave you to calculate your life. More about what I explored during my final days in Konstanz is soon to come.

Cheers!

Welcome to Konstanz

Konstanz is my new home for two years. You’ll probably be seeing a lot about it for quite a while. I thought I’d give you a little idea about what this city is all about.

Usually when I take the bus to Altstadt, or Old Town, one of the first landmarks I see is the minster, formally known as Münster Unserer Lieben Frau.

DSCN2157

Then I usually wander through a host of winding pedestrian streets, lined with shops of everything from eyeglasses to fair trade products. There’s also a variety of restaurants, bars, and cafes to visit.

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I have a habit of making my way towards the harbour. There, the most interesting building is the Council Building completed in 1391. Why is it important?

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There was this thing called the Council of Konstanz, which is a pretty big deal as far as Catholic history goes I guess. Basically what happened was that in the late 1300’s, there were two guys who claimed to be the pope. They held a council at Pisa; didn’t work. After that, from 1409 there were three guys all claiming they were the rightful pope.

So, someone had the brilliant idea to haul these church arguments all the way up to Germany to the little town of Konstanz. There were a lot of deliberations about the pope, an execution of reformer Jan Hus (burned at the stake, poor man), and a lot of… well… prostitutes.

DSCN2183

Speaking of prostitutes, you know what else is really cool to check out at the harbour? This statue called Imperia! Imperia is, so the story goes, a prostitute from that time. She was “popular” with the king and the pope, as well as other men of power at the Council of Konstanz.

If you look at the two little men she holds in her hands, you’ll see one with a crown and one with a papal tiara. She was so good at seducing all these men in powerful places that she had some power over them herself. But alas, this is just a story!

A side note is that on clear days from certain parts of Konstanz, including the harbour, you can see the Swiss Alps!

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So that’s Altstadt in Konstanz. Soon, I’ll tell you all about the other place where I spend a lot of time in Konstanz: my university.

Cheers!

Where in the World Am I?

Since some of my friends and family seem to be confused about where I’m living now (no, it’s not anywhere near Berlin), I thought that I’d provide a little context for you with the help of Google maps.

I am living in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, which is in the southwest part of the country. Notice that Berlin in way up in the north.

As I’ve mentioned, I live on Bodensee, the lake in this region. Looking at the map above, it’s the lake at the very southern part of the state where Austria and Switzerland come together. Looking at the map below here, you can get a closer look at the lake. The See, or lake, borders Germany to the north, Austria to the southeast, and Switzerland to the southwest.

Now, on the west side of the lake where the Rhein flows into the Bodensee is Konstanz. Konstanz is the town where I am now living and studying for the next two years.

If you look closely, you can see that Konstanz is on the border with Switzerland. The town right across the border is called Kreuzlingen. So, yes, I could technically walk to Switzerland!

I hope that you find these maps helpful in visualizing where in the world I’m now located. I hope that you also now refrain from asking me how “close” I am to Berlin.

Cheers!

Where Exactly Was I?

Alright. I think it’s about time to get something straight. Contrary to popular belief, I haven’t spent the past three months in Ireland. Yes, I did travel to Ireland, but I’ve actually been living in Northern Ireland. What’s the difference?

Before I explain, I’d like to point out that I’m not an expert. I can only relay what I learned in my politics class and what I learned through personal experience. I hereby make the disclaimer that anything I say is what I observed, and not an attack on or defense of anything that has happened in the region. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Northern Ireland is a part of the island of Ireland. You can see it is the dark part shown below. Even though it’s on the island, it’s technically a part of the United Kingdom. In case you didn’t know, the official name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In all, the UK has four parts: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Image from BBC

So that means I was really living on British territory the whole time? Yes! But what about the rest of the island? The rest of the island is what we commonly think of as “Ireland.” It is officially called the Republic of Ireland.

Now you’re probably wondering how on Earth Northern Ireland came to be a part of the UK. Let me give you a brief history.

In the beginning, of this history lesson at least, Ireland was an island ruled by various clans and families. There was no centralized government and Ireland wasn’t really a country; however, across the Irish Sea was England, a powerful neighbor.

So do you remember that crazy English king that had all those wives? King Henry VIII was his name. If you’ll recall, he was desperate for the same thing all kings wanted: a male heir. The problem was, his wife, Catherine of Aragon, didn’t give him one. So, Henry VIII asked the pope for a divorce which was denied. Obviously, that didn’t make the king happy and led to England’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church.

As a result of the separation, England is a Protestant country. You probably remember a certain saint, St. Patrick, who was one of many missionaries in Ireland. So by this time, most of Ireland had been converted to Catholicism.

At the beginning of Henry VIII’s time on the throne, England had already established their rule in some parts of Ireland, including Ulster where I was studying. Henry made the decision to conquer all the rest of Ireland during his rule. Like I said, there wasn’t a central Irish government and there certainly wasn’t an Irish Army, so after some fighting Henry actually did manage to conquer all of Ireland.

Now, add colonialism. At the same time that Jamestown was being established in America, a plantation was also being established in Ulster. In Ulster, there was a strong loyalty to England, so some declared themselves Protestants as a show of loyalty. Being Catholic was to be against the king (you know, especially since the king was still mad about that divorce-rejection thing).

As you have probably figured out, this leads to the concentration of Protestants with British loyalty in the northeast part of Ireland with the rest of Ireland remaining solidly Roman Catholic and against British rule.

Fast forward through history a little and we arrive at World War I. The Irish, who were still ruled by the British, were sent to fight in the war. Fighting side-by-side resulted in a temporary stabilizing effect for the duration of the war. After the war, especially with all of Woodrow Wilson’s talk about national self-determination, the Irish wanted more than ever to address the issue of their nationality once and for all.

Britain took a look at the island of Ireland and thought, well, overall the majority of the island wants to be their own nation. In six of the northern counties, however, the majorities wanted to remain a part of Britain. Thus, we have partition in 1920 with the Government of Ireland Act. This effectively said there will be a Northern Ireland and a Southern Ireland, each to be governed separately with their own Home Rule, but still a part of British territory.

As you can imagine, the Irish in the South still weren’t happy, and they launched an Irish War of Independence. This eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which made the South their own Irish nation in 1922. In 1949, it officially declared itself the Republic of Ireland, which is what we are familiar with today.

But… What about Northern Ireland? Like I said, they were majority Protestant, loyalists, unionists. (Okay, majority by gerrymandering.) Most of them wanted to be ruled by Britain instead of this Home Rule stuff they were being given. So no, they weren’t happy either. But it wasn’t just that simple.

The minority was Catholic (this “side” was also referred to as nationalists and republicans), and they wanted a united Ireland. In reality, though it seems like the problem was solved, it was really just being managed and ignored with some easy solution that neither side was really happy with.

Enter Northern Irish Conflict, otherwise known as “The Troubles.”

Mural in West Belfast featuring Bobby Sands.

There was a lot of turmoil and unrest, and in Londonderry / Derry on 5 October 1968 tensions finally boiled over at a civil rights march. Marches and parades were common during this time, and the riots and violence they caused eventually led to the British Army coming to Northern Ireland in 1969. With things getting ever worse, in 1972 Northern Ireland returned to Direct Rule by the British.

At this point the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a nationalist paramilitary, was in for “the long war,” willing to accept nothing other than British withdrawal and a united Ireland. So, a period of several decades of violence ensued. There were bombings, open warfare in the streets, and other horrible acts of violence.

I won’t sugar coat it. This time of roughly thirty years (up to 1998) was awful. If you don’t know anything about the history of the conflict, I would encourage you to do some reading on it, watch some videos, and be ever mindful of the prejudices from both sides while doing so.

From the Troubles, on display in Linen Hall Library.

This period of conflict was a horrible cycle of “you bombed us so now we will bomb you” on both sides. Paramilitary organizations were often the local “protectors,” acting as police, jury, and executioner all at once. Parades continued, as did the riots.

A couple of stabs at peace were made, including the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In this, the British government and the Irish government agreed to work together on containing the situation in Northern Ireland, work on issues of reconciliation, and provide international support for the region. It held up, but it didn’t bring peace.

It wasn’t until the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) in 1998 that the peace, or at least a framework for it, seemed to have arrived. Even with the agreement, there were still considerable issues to be addressed, including rights and equality, policing, parades, prisoners, victims, and decommissioning of weapons.

There are some successes here. Decommissioning is complete and the permanent disbanding of the paramilitaries has occurred. A police force, called the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI), is functioning fully today. Many prisoners have been released, with limitations. And in 2007, Northern Ireland was able to finally have a devolved government again.

However, many questions still remain. Who counts as a victim? What about the prisoners who were treated unfairly? Is the PSNI actually better, or is it just the same people who were active in paramilitaries performing the same discrimination as before? Which flags do you fly, and when, and where? Who can have parades, and is it okay to do them along the historical routes, even if they go through areas that aren’t of the same community? Should the peace walls come down? How should issues of housing be addressed? Should the school system be integrated?

Yeah, Northern Ireland isn’t perfect. But as a foreigner who lived there for several months, I can tell you that it’s gorgeous, the people are the nicest I’ve ever met, it’s safe and it’s recovering. It hasn’t even been ten years since Northern Ireland got a devolved government, and not yet twenty since the Good Friday Agreement, but I would definitely say it’s healing and well worth a visit.

Beautiful Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, in the background.

Which side was ultimately right? I’ll let you decide that for yourself.

Cheers!