Fri 20 Dec - Meckenheim, Germany

A private tour in small town Germany.

Breakfast was typical German style, which we liked of course and then we headed out just after 9.30am. A full day was planned starting with a visit to Speyer, an important local town, where Roland booked a private tour for us with a walking guide from the local visitors centre.

Why is Speyer important? It was founded by the Romans and Christianity came to town as early as the 6th century, with the town becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire. Then 950 years ago they decided the bishop would be housed here and they decided to build the greatest roman church in the world.

They succeeded and the cathedral has continually serviced the Catholics for more than 950 years. And it's huge! They can fit the whole town's population inside.

In this photo we largely see the front of the cathedral (which was a "modern addition"). The tower you can see at the back is still part of the same cathedral.

Hardy was our guide and met us just before 11am for our walking tour in English, but he also did a bit of German so Christa could follow along too.

It was very cool - Hardy had keys to open locked doors of some of the historical sites. Hardy to the far right.

Before Hardy arrived we did a quick browse in the cathedral. The gecko door handles reminded Di of home.

A duet were practicing in the church for a later concert and they sounded really good. Of course the acoustics created quite a lot of echo but with just 2 going slowly (some J.S.Bach), the music was beautiful.

The echo becomes obvious when you understand how big this place is, with the Romanesque arches and also very high ceilings. Behind Hans is a "smaller" side corridor. The main nave of the church is to the right behind the columns.

We also checked out the crypt where old emperors of the local region are buried. It looked like they allowed space for many more to come, but history changed that.

The tombs are plain and they provide a plan of who is buried where. We had not heard of these guys but it was still interesting. What caught our attention more was that there were about 5 sarcophagus in the walls which housed mixed bones for at least 5 bishops of the cathedral.

The plan of the emperors' tombs. Good to see that a few wives were also given classy burials.

Hardy took us for a lap around the outside of the cathedral and explained the architecture and also the history and layout of the city.

The cathedral was not within the city, as it was part of the roman Holy See but it was within the city walls.

Another section of the city ended up being Jewish, who arrived in the area about the same time as the Christians. That area was next on our tour - opposite the catholic bishop's palace. Speyer excerised religious tolerance for hundreds of years (the Protestants are here too).

Hardy opened the gates with his keys - all alone we got to see the ruins of the original Jewish synagogue, which is as old as the cathedral. In fact it had the same builders.

What people come to see here was the ritual bath site of the Jewish people.

Speyer has the oldest intact "mikvah" north of the alps and was used by both men and women of the community to become pure. They completely dunked themselves 3 times in the ground water well behind Di. The water is a consistent 4-8 degrees so we all figured they did not linger on their purification process.

The women needed to it at least monthly so were usually here more often than men. Men only came when they sinned...hmmm. Give it a shot, Di.

Fantastic atmosphere and a great story about the uneven stairs leading down to the bath - they were deliberately built uneven so that men were reminded they were not perfect, only God.

Not kosher, watch your step!

The next religion that came to Speyer town was Protestant and they built a lovely baroque church which Hardy also opened with keys (with some Mormon Americans from Utah being opportunistic and tagged along inside).

This church is all original woodwork and paintings and is beautiful.

Gotta love German practicality. The pulpit is behind the first 6 pews so the Protestants made these double sided so when the priest moved to the pulpit for his sermon no one had to break their necks, just switch sides. Hans demonstrated (his back was then to the altar).

As regular followers would know Hans likes to see evidence of pilgrims traveling from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela and this statue is of Jakob, who created the Jakobsweg pilgrim trail we saw when in Tübingen.

The plaque on the ground.

We couldn't see any small scallop shells along here. Instead, there were deliberately designed big shells as part of the road surface that the pilgrims could follow.

After the intensity of all this religion, this sign in a shop window made us laugh. Men seem to be compared to dogs in their habits.

After a quick goodbye to Hardy, who gave us a great insight into the religious past of Speyer, it was time for lunch at this restaurant. Domhof (great name by the way) is a brewery and restaurant named after the cathedral (Dom).

We ordered full meals for lunch, with beer, both which were delicious. Sorry, no photos we were too busy enjoying it.

After lunch we spent perhaps half an hour searching for free wifi within the town centre of Speyer. It was a bit too much, in fact almost embarrassing for us, as Roland and Christa wanted to help and took us to about 5 different shops to check, but no luck.

So dear reader, hence the delay in uploading blogs. Can't be helped, free is not common in these regional towns, but we tried.

Speyer, apart from being an important religious hub, also has the Rhine river flowing through, so we went to check it out. The boat to the right looked like one of those cruise boats you see in travel ads, you know, see 10 European cities in 21 days etc.

Blue skies, sun, the lovely Rhine and we were thinking winter here is pretty good! (But we are not counting on it continuing).

Make hay while the sun shines...we enjoyed a stroll before it got dark. By 4pm we were back in the car heading for coffee and a rest at home.

Refreshed with a short siesta we continued with our program just before 6pm at the local Weinstube, for some wine tasting (and wine purchases by Christa) and then went to Deidesheim Christmas Markets.

Likely these will be our last Christmas Markets as most of them finish up on Sunday 22 Dec and they turned out to be the best.

Apparently this is a "Swedish fire", where deep cuts are inserted into a log and a fire starting sort of from the inside. That may be so, but Hans had never heard of it. Nevertheless, he was part of the photo frame to symboise the Swedishness.

A final(?) selfie at a German Christmas market.

These crepe making guys had their process down to a fine art. Di purchased herself a crepe and while she ate it, these guys amazed us with their crepe making skills. Chocolate by the way was applied to the crepe using a sizable paint brush...

A couple of silly nilly photos of us using Deidesheim town props.

Christa was in for the fun.

This hotel Deidesheimer Hof was a local haunt of Helmut Kohl, the former German Kansler, and his many international guests like Vladimir Putin, John Major and Francois Mitterand (and Roland Suedes...?).

Helmut Kohl seemed to love the local cuisine (hey, he was a big guy) as there were also heaps of photos of him inside the Speyer Brauhaus where we had lunch.

We wandered around the Christmas markets for perhaps 1 1/2 hour, had some Glühwein, ate a bit of local snacks and just admired the whole spectacle with all its lights. No wonder that these markets are so popular both with Germans as well as for international visitors. They are really something else.

A final shot to symbolize us going home as this almost empty side street contrasted so much with the rest.

We rounded up the day with a glass of Cabernet Savignon from the earlier purchase today while watching The Voice of Germany on TV, which had James Blunt, as a guest. Same hype as everywhere else with some contestants clearly chosen, at least partly, to cause a bit of controversy. Hans quickly lost interest, while Di got into the spirit while offering her views and saying "no way will Andreas win".
Another most pleasant day and night with Roland and Christa and small town Germany. Fun and educational (well, apart from the last TV bit anyway). Tomorrow we will switch to Roland's abode which apparently is some 80 km away from Meckenheim.
For now, it is over and out.


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