Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lorsch & Heidelberg, Germany

More pictures from this summer's Germany trip.

My brother took us on a bicycle trip to the nearby small town of Lorsch (not far from the city Worms, whose name makes most Americans giggle), site of a very famous Benedictine cloister. The Imperial Abbey of Lorsch was one of the most renowned monasteries of the Carolinian Empire, established in 764 and destroyed during the Thirty Year War in 1600's. Most of the original complex is gone -- only an ornate gate and one ship of the cathedral remain -- just look at the size of the buttressing behind the kids!

We enjoyed the little museum: it gave a good overview of the role of monasteries in over a thousand years of European history. The museum also houses a comprehensive section on tobacco (cigars were made in Lorsch until the 1950's) and an attic full of everyday objects -- including the history of bathrooms!
I would have enjoyed more time studying the Abbey's extensive garden with medicinal plants used by monks, but alas, the heat was wearing on the kids' patience. Altogether, I must say they were great sports, and did indeed absorb much of the richness of European history.

On the bike ride back, we took a rest at the ruins of another smaller monastery, discovered when farmers were plowing their fields some 40 or 50 years ago-- here the kids pretend to disappear into a well!

We loved being able to bicycle everywhere -- they are truly an important mode of transportation. My brother's family of 4 manages with one car, even though my brother and his wife both work. Besides bikes, there is also an excellent public transportation system: trains and buses are convenient, and heavily used! This sea of parked bicycles at the train station is proof (click on the picture to appreciate how many bikes are parked there -- how do you even find your bike at the end of the day..!?)

I feel a rant coming on! We sure are way behind in the US, where we rely so very heavily on our automobiles (many of which are still very energy-inefficient). Here in Alaska and many parts of the Western US, one could argue that distances are just too great for public transport. But even where railroads exist, for example, they are often not really meant for routine transportation. Take the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage: only tourists can even take the train to/from airport to downtown hotels, but I can't. Now that's anathema to a European or anyone concerned about all the fossil fuels being burned up and becoming greenhouse gases. Perhaps gasoline is still too cheap -- but as prices continue to go up, Americans may start paying attention (let's hope so, esp. with some leadership from Washington, DC). But I digress...

Back to sightseeing: we took a day trip to Heidelberg, famous for its castle and university.

Parts of the castle were destroyed during the various wars, such as the tower below where half fell off, plus there's always restoration going on -- I love the way they even made the construction canvas look more interesting!

The details are AMAZING-- for example, look at the facade of the building below with all the dignitaries' stone statues, such as portly Frederick with his sword:

Back in the old town square, there are lots of vendors -- their stalls are build right onto the church's outside walls between the buttresses:

We treated ourselves to some delicious italian icecream, including the favorite Eiskaffee and Spaghetti Icecream!

And last, lest you think Germany is all medieval -- there's plenty modern, such as this mechanical horse sculpture near the main train station in Heidelberg, where we hopped on the train to return to Bensheim, tired and hungry for the delicious cooking of my sister-in-law!

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