Today we drove north, our intention being to visit another friend, Ethe, living in the area of the Harz mountains at Salzgitter Bad. If you read last year's blog of our time in Friesland and Schleswig-Holstein you may recall our visit to the family home of the Feddersen family near Niebüll where Ian's mother had worked during her teens, helping to look after a young girl, Ethe. This young girl is now an elderly retired psychiatrist but remembers Ian well and has been eager to retain the family friendship since Ian's mother died several years ago.
Our journey took us through the pretty village of wooden framed houses at Stolberg where we stopped for a stroll and a simple lunch. Nearby at Bad Frankenhausen is the Panorama Museum that overlooks the surrounding countryside from an imposing position on a hilltop surrounded by poppy fields. Of course we had to visit the museum on behalf of our friend Ralph, whom we mentioned recently as an enthusiast of panoramas. The museum contains a massive panorama of the Peasant's War of the 16th century. Disappointingly the museum was closed on Mondays but the views from the massive, circular building – known locally, rather appropriately, as the "Elephant's toilet" - were magnificent.
We stopped to look at the typical little town of Wernigerode with its half timbering, cobbled streets and lovely town square. Street after street of unspoilt little wooden houses crowded in around us as we wandered through the town searching for a baker's shop. Shortly afterwards we reached Bad Harzburg and found the campsite we had been aiming for. The sun has remained unpleasantly hot all day and during the evening we cowered in the shelter of the hedge to escape being burned as we gradually relaxed after a busy day of driving.
Tuesday 12th June, Goslar
This morning we drove on into Goslar, where we found a quiet road outside the town to park and were wandering the streets of the little town by 10am. We were last here 33 years ago and both had memories of a beautiful old town crammed with wooden framed houses, either infilled with bricks or nogging, or hung with slates. Our memory had not failed and the town is every bit as beautiful as we had found it then. The streets are cobbled and traffic is banned from the centre, so there was an eerie calm as we made our way on foot into the town, passing along streets of beautiful, steep roofed houses, slate hung with brightly painted window frames and decorated entrance doors with ornately carved lintels. In the main town square the 15th century gothic town hall dominates. Here too is the Kaiserwörth with its painted carved wooden figures of Emperors, built in 1494. This was originally intended as the hall of the Draper's Guild but is now a hotel. Tourists crowded the square and horses and carriages offered guided rides around the old town. The tables on the shady side of the square were filled with visitors enjoying coffees and ice creams. It was a very pleasant, relaxed and picturesque scene.
We bought Harzwurst with bread and Senf, followed by Pflaumentorte and coffee for lunch which we ate in the market square before buying flowers for Ethe. As we were about to return to Modestine there were rolls of thunder and lightning flashed in jagged streaks. The rain then cascaded down in torrents onto the town. We dived for the nearest coffee shop where we watched the water deluging from the sky for thirty minutes without easing. In no time the square was under water and when it eventually cleared we paddled our way back to Modestine to continue for 16 kilometres north to Saltzgitter Bad where we were already very late for our visit to Ethe.
As we left Goslar the storm returned, directly overhead. The roads could not cope with the torrents, the sky was black, and bolt after bolt of lightning smashed onto the fields around us while the thunder crashed and roared around above. Visibility was reduced to a few yards but as there was nowhere to pull off the road we drove slowly on, the wheels raising a wake as we went.
Last year in Spain someone gave us a CD road atlas of Europe for our computer. It has proved really useful so today we were able to find Ethe's house straight away. She was waiting anxiously at her window and quickly welcomed us inside where we dried off over tea and quark cake while she and Ian chatted about the past and what was happening to the various members of Ethe's family. Although well into her eighties, she still keeps busy peer reviewing articles for a leading German psychiatric journal and preparing a revised catalogue of the paintings of her grandfather Hans Peter Feddersen. The welcome we were shown was really warm and we were even offered accommodation for the night. However, the storm had abated and we thought it best to return to Goslar and seek out another campsite suitably located for tomorrow's planned activity.
Wednesday 13th June 2007, Goslar, Germany
We've had a really lovely day with no driving or commitments or worries of any sort. It has been rather stressful one way and another recently so we have enjoyed simply walking in the cool, wet, forested slopes of the Rammelsberg, in the Harz Mountains, on the edge of Goslar.
The day started with a couple of Dutch people recognising Modestine from the campsite near Prague. Several times now Modestine has been recognised, usually in a completely different country from where she was first seen!
Next an Australian couple from Adelaide came for a chat as they have been in Europe a couple of weeks and haven't spoken to anyone in English yet. They have just purchased a motorhome and a couple of mountain bikes and are touring Europe for a few months. They say they come every year so this year decided to make a definite commitment and store the vehicle in France when they go back, so it is waiting for them next year. He tells us if we think of visiting Australia we should go in April to June, otherwise it will be too hot. On the other hand, why go? He adores Europe and would love to move to France permanently. So many of the reports we hear claim nothing beats Europe and there is so much still to explore here.
Dusting the cobwebs off our hiking boots we walked four kilometres along unmarked woodland paths seeking out the old mining museum that is on the Unesco listing of world heritage sites. Already, outside the forest, the day was becoming too hot for comfort. Underfoot the woodland paths had been swept away in places by yesterday's rain and small rivers and waterfalls had developed and were cascading down the hillside over the path. Eventually we arrived at the lake above the mine from where the water was taken to run the waterwheels that provided energy to the underground workings.
Goslar and the Harz form a very beautiful area but the town's prosperity is based very much on industry. The Rammelsberg is an area rich in various different ores, mainly lead, copper and zinc but also having veins of silver and even gold. Its importance to Unesco is that there is documented evidence that it has been continuously mined since 968 until 1988, the longest recorded period for any mine in the world.
Most visits to sites in Germany are guided. This is fine for Ian but Jill's German is limited and she misses too much, particularly when it's technical. We were told there was a tour for some Canadians at noon and we could join that if we liked. When they arrived they turned out to be youthful French Canadians and we could hardly understand a word they said! It sounds so different from French French! The German guide spoke in colourful English however and the Canadians were obviously bilingual.
Donning our hard hats we were taken underground along tunnels where we were frequently bent double, climbing up and down steep metal steps from one level to another and entering huge areas where giant wooden water wheels activated pulleys and cables to operate the workings. All the levels were running with water and the huge wheels would have been necessary to operate the pumps. (Strange that water was used to drain away the water.) Along with the ore that was extracted were many by-products known as vitriols such as ochre and verdigris, produced by the effects of water on the ores, which were once used in paint manufacture and medicines. The visit was fascinating, lasting about an hour by which time we were actually feeling very cold! Exiting from an adit into a main tunnel with a narrow rail track running through we had to move quickly back again as one of the old mining trains trundled past with some visitors on a different tour. A strange experience in the darkness 135 metres below the surface!
Our ticket included access to the above ground workings, the crushing machines, the settling tanks, the history of mining in the Harz and much more. We have spent the entire day at the mine and still missed so much. One area of particular interest was the testimony of survivors, usually from Poland and the Ukraine who were brought to Germany as forced labour to work at the Rammelsberg during the war. We never cease to wonder at the resilience of human nature to survive under such appalling conditions where they were also subjected to the tyranny of Nazi oppression.
There were special exhibitions about the history of two firms that still flourish in the town. One is a lead processing plant and the other, H.C.Stark had its origins in the early 19th century recycling by-products of the mines, such as the vitriols. From these beginnings it has developed to become one of the leading manufacturers of tungsten products.
We walked back through the woods again to our campsite where our feet are slowly recovering from an entire day in hiking boots to which they have become quite unaccustomed.
Thursday 14th June 2007, Seeburg, near Göttingen
We returned into Goslar this morning to use the facilities of the really good internet shop, sorting out further bank difficulties, emails and blogs. By the time we had finished it was lunchtime and then we discovered some more beautiful corners of this wonderfully preserved little town, so we didn't leave Goslar until mid afternoon.
We took the winding road up through the Harz mountains, stopping at the Okertalsperre, a massive dam that created a huge reservoir from a drowned valley back in the 1950s. Certainly the scenery was lovely and reminded us of the wooded hills of Devon and the reservoirs on Dartmoor.
About 20 kilometres from Göttingen we stopped at a campsite where we hoped to be able to get a bus into the city tomorrow. It looks as if we will have to drive however but it has been a pleasant place to stop, located in a typically tidy German village of smart wooden framed houses with immaculate gardens where not a single blade of grass is misplaced. It is visually lovely but strikes us as rather a dull place in which to live. Nearby is Seeburger See, a lake for swimming, boating and leisure activities. It is attractive with nature trails and plenty of bird life. Soon after we arrived however we were joined by the inseparable trio, Thunder, Lightning and Rain who have been behaving like hooligans outside ever since. Sitting in the centre of a treeless field with bolts of lightning hitting the ground all around we feel we are a sitting target. We just hope our circuit breaker works okay if we get hit. After the heat we have experienced lately storms are inevitable and the countryside certainly needs the rain.
Some years ago Ian enquired about a post working with the 18th century book collections at Göttingen University Library. Nothing came of it and at the time we were very disappointed, but it probably worked out for the best. We thought that tomorrow we might seek out the library and see just what we missed out on.
Friday 15th June 2007, Fulda
This morning we drove to the little village of Ebergötzen a few kilometres from the campsite, our mission to discover the mill where in the 1840s the German cartoonist, writer and poet Wilhelm Busch spent part of his formative years and developed a life-long friendship with the son of the miller. Their childish antics together inspired Busch to create his mischievous characters Max and Moritz which have remained perennially popular in Germany and their adventures have been translated and published in countries all around the world. We found the mill, complete with wooden millwheel and leat, a pretty timber-framed structure in the heart of the village.
We continued to the edge of Göttingen where we stopped to buy some more wine we'd recently discovered at one of the Aldi supermarkets. Only 1.5 euros a bottle and it tastes really warm and rich. We have become the European experts on cheap red wines since we retired and this is definitely one of the best. Aldi can now be found in England so look out for Dornfelder Rheinhessen.
Leaving Modestine to snooze in their car park we took the bus into the town centre. It proved to be a very civilised town with everything one would expect from a prosperous German city – clean, smart and largely pedestrianised with sunny street cafes and ice cream parlours. It also has a wealth of mediaeval and baroque architecture, all in an excellent state of restoration with many timber framed buildings. It is a university town, established in1737 by George Augustus of Hanover – George II of England - which brings its own relaxed, cosmopolitan atmosphere to the town where there are a host of cultural activities available to the residents.
In the Jakobskirche a loud and boisterous organ recital was taking place while in the gothic town hall we got swept up temporarily with a wedding party as we strolled in to look at the painted ceiling and wall decorations. In the main market square stood a pretty statue of young goose girl in the centre of a fountain. It is the custom for every student on gaining a doctorate at the University of Göttingen to climb up to kiss her cheeks, making her probably the most kissed girl in Germany – and Göttingen graduands the dampest doctors.
Around the corner we found what we were seeking – the Paulinerkirche which now houses the historic collections of the University Library. The security to enter is daunting but after so many years wondering what it might have been like if Ian had come here to work we were determined to see inside if possible. Having been told it was only for researchers, we eventually persuaded them to issue us with temporary swipe cards to operate the internal doors in exchange for our passports. As the catalogue shows they hold copies of several of Ian's publications he could probably have convinced them he was a researcher if all else had failed.
Inside we realised why security was so tight. The University Library was established in 1734 before the University was fully inaugurated, and there was a systematic attempt made to build up the collections, with agents in many major cities in Europe. Thus its collections of 18th century English imprints are so complete that it was used as the German base for the British Library's Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue Project in the 1970s. The librarians at Göttingen were leading scholars and in the 1840s included the brothers Grimm, whose manuscript entries can be found in the hundreds of massive leather bound catalogues which are housed in the 18th century reading room. In their time the library was housed in the former Dominican Paulinerkirche, founded in 1294 but secularised during the Reformation. The library was frequented by a galaxy of scholars. Goethe described its collections as a capital asset from which an incalculable interest accrues. The church was badly damaged in 1944 but has recently been restored as an exhibition gallery. Although it was closed, we were allowed in for a brief look. The library has wide-ranging Asiatic and African collections and is especially proud of its Curtis Collection on American Indians, a set of which Exeter University Library recently discarded. Even more impressive was the Heyne reading room for early printed books, named after a scholar librarian of the 18th century. Our swipe card let us into massive stacks lined with more than 200,000 volumes dating from the period between 1600 and 1900. There were many early English imprints including, picked at random off the shelves, an account of a voyage round the world in about 1705 by an earlier Captain Cooke, which included the account of Alexander Selkirk which Defoe must have used as the basis for Robinson Crusoe. Jill's eagle eye also spotted an 1852 catalogue of the manuscripts in Plymouth Library which Ian had not known of. Being surrounded by so much learning was almost oppressive. The stack was much hotter than was desirable for the storage of early printed materials and it was almost a relief to escape into the streets of the university precinct where the names of noted university residents were placed above almost every door of the half-timbered buildings. A little further on was the classical building of the University Aula or main hall and administrative buildings, erected in the reign of William IV of England and Hanover whose statue faced the portal across an attractive little garden. The building was formerly used to imprison naughty students, including Bismark, locked up for taking part in an illegal duel.
Mid afternoon we returned to Modestine to continue our journey to Fulda. Having a long and awkward journey ahead of us we decided to take the motorway. This was not really a good move as we discovered too late that an accident and a lorry shedding its load had closed the motorway in both directions for a while and we were caught in a huge tailback while a doctor arrived by helicopter and police cars created even more chaos by tearing to the scene along the hard shoulder. Eventually we passed the holdup and spent the rest of the afternoon driving through heavy rain with huge lorries thundering past. There are no speed restrictions on German motorways and drivers make the most of their freedom. It is quite scary to see how close they drive to each other at high speeds.
The campsite we had marked on the map turned out to be a long way from Fulda and very expensive indeed, so we drove on to find the one where we are now staying on the other side of Fulda. It is still raining but the site is pleasant and friendly and only half the price of the one we saw earlier.