Conversing with locals has led us to a few of our favorite destinations; Bamberg is a perfect example.
The Altes Rathaus or Old Town Hall shown below, is perched by itself on a teensy man made island in the middle of the Regnitz River. Arched stone pedestrian bridges on either side of the Rathaus connect to Bamberg’s shorelines and offer endless photo opportunities for all.
It has been described as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world that characterizes the historical center of a city. Mention of the town hall was first recorded in 1387. Both the Rathaus and the tower were rebuilt between 1461 and 1467 in the Gothic style and 300 years later, between 1744 and 1756, Baroque and Rococo style elements were added.
However, it is the vibrant murals on the facades of the exterior walls that are so attention-grabbing. They were originally created in 1755 and have been restored a number of times through the centuries.
Today the Rathaus is the home of the Ludwig Bamberg Collection, a treasure trove of Meissen porcelain and historic Strasbourg glazed ceramic ware or faience, that once belonged to the German chocolate manufacturer (Ludwig Schokolade), and the prolific art collector, Peter Ludwig (1925-1996).
Bamberg is only an hour north of Nuremberg by train, in the state of Bavaria, Germany. The town dates back to the 10th century and there are plenty of well preserved buildings, churches and structures, some dating to the 11th century, in this UNESCO World Heritage city. In 1973, the town celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of its founding.
The old fishermen’s district, now called Klein-Venedig “Little Venice”, comes complete with gondoliers rowing their gondolas with long-handled oars along the canals, flanked by pretty gardens and half-timbered homes lining the banks.
The Bamberg Witch Trials of 1627–1632 were one of the biggest mass trials and mass executions ever seen in Europe and one of the largest witch trials in history.
Why? Religion and power were the usual culprits. Christianity had difficulty converting the old Germanic tribes and even after the Catholic Church was finally established, the people still held onto their beliefs in goddesses, magic, herbal remedies and pagan practices.
Then Pope Innocent IV exacerbated the issue by declaring in 1252 a papal bull that the use of magic, herb collecting and questionable gatherings in so-called mystical or heathen sites was forbidden and anyone suspected of disobeying the new law would be tortured. The famed 1486 handbook, The Malleus Maleficarum, translated as The Hammer of Witches, was the best known treatise on witchcraft and how to deal with it.
In the early 16th century the Protestant movement began to quickly convert followers away from the Catholic Church, especially the teachings of Martin Luther. Many major German cities had officially converted to Protestantism.
At the same time in the 16th and 17th centuries, northern Europe was experiencing what is sometimes called the little ice age. Much colder winters ensued. Rivers and coastal seas froze, grinding trade and communications to a halt. Crops and livestock withered while downpours spoiled harvests, unleashing widespread hunger and hardship. During these events the Catholic Church renewed its efforts to win back its territories. The people had deep fears regarding Satan and witches and in order to re-seize power, the Catholic Church manipulated those fears by implying witches were causing the crop failures and severe hardships.
The witch trials took place during the ongoing religious war between Protestants and Catholics and it was the Catholic, Johann Gottfried von Aschhausen the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg, intent on regaining a Catholic stronghold, who conducted the trials.
Between 1618 and 1648 more witch trials and executions took place in Bamberg than in any other area in Europe. Thousands of documents survive from that dark period of the ultimate fates of 884 accused men, women and children. The records share the inquisitions’ ludicrous questions and the torture used to gain information and additional names. The documents even include copies of invoices sent to the families who had to cover the cost of the jail stays of their family members as well as for the wood used during the executions in the witch fires.
Well-to-do citizens opposed the trials as did the entire Bamberg city council. One by one these families were arrested, tortured and executed, including the five-time Mayor Johannes Junius, whose case is one of the most well-documented.
The witch persecution finally came to an end in 1632 when Swedish troops invaded and occupied Bamberg. The persecuting Catholic Bishop immediately left town. In 2015, almost 400 years later, the memorial, “Brandmark” a light installation, created by Miriam Giessler and Hubert Sandmann, was chosen and erected to remember the innocent men, women, and children who were accused, tortured and executed. The number of executions are unknown as only some were documented.
Our photo of the stunning blue Hellerhaus building with its scrolling white details that we used as our header photo at the top of this writing was built around 1730-40. Joseph Heller (1798-1849) “a gentleman of independent means”, an art scholar and avid art collector of prints, books and drawings, lived in this beautiful townhome. Of particular interest to the collector was works by the 15th and 16th century German masters and printmakers, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Hans Holbein.
Emperor Henry II and his wife Kunigunde founded the first Cathedral in Bamberg in 1004. It was partially destroyed by fire and its replacement, today’s Romanesque style Cathedral, was built in the 13th century. There are 4 towers, each more than 260 feet tall (81 m). Historic works of art abound within including the marble tomb of Henry II and Kunigunde.
One particularly interesting treasure and possibly the most significant work of art in the Cathedral is an equestrian statue known as the Bamberg Horseman.
This statue was created around 1235 and it is uncertain who the unarmed horseman may have been. The noble figure on the horse and the regal posture of the rider illustrate the dignity of man to this day. The statue also serves as a symbol of the town of Bamberg.
The immense variety of door knobs and handles are ever interesting and we take photos of many of them? In Bamberg there is a unique door knob that has a name – Apfelweibla, which translates to ‘apple lady’ in english – and it comes with a story.
Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror, a composer, music critic and artist.
Amongst his many writings, the one that may be the most familiar is his novella entitled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker is based.
In 1813 Hoffman wrote a story called “The Golden Pot”, and this descriptive paragraph about Apfelweibla is part of the tale:
“There he stood now and looked at the big, beautiful bronze door knocker; but when, at the last blow of the tower clock on the Kreuzkirche, which was streaming through the air with a powerful sound, he wanted to seize the door knocker, the metallic face twisted in the disgusting play of blue-glowing rays of light into a grinning smile. Oh! it was the apple woman from the Black Gate!”
The original Apfelweibla can be seen in the local Historical Museum but a replica remains on the door at the original residence where Hoffmann’s friend and publisher lived.
Bamberg has been named as one of Germany’s most beautiful towns with medieval streets and an intact old city wall. We are so thankful that the gal we met in Nuremberg strongly suggested we visit Bamberg, her charming hometown.
Prost from these Bambergers,
Ted + Julia
View our Bamberg Cathedral photo album here