Monday, April 7, 2014

Day Trip 1: Tübingen

My second favorite town in Baden-Württemberg is Tübingen. It's an easy 40-minute train ride from Horb, and I truly enjoy exploring the town. Often my mother-in-law meets me there and we have Flammkuchen for lunch at a great cafe on the Marktplatz, walk around town and learn as much as we can, stop for a Cappuccino, and then return home. Last Friday we did exactly that because a new book has come out called Geheimnisse der Heimat: Tübingen (Secrets of home: Tübingen), and we wanted to see if there was anything new to learn. Indeed there was!

Tübingen is a university town with a population of 89,000 (24,000 of whom are students). It is rich with history, there being evidence of hunters and gatherers living in the area back in the Middle Stone Age. The "modern" history of the town begins around 1050 A.D. with the building of the fortress. Burg Hohentübingen stands proudly on a hill overlooking the town, and it is now used by the university (founded in 1477) for archeology and Egyptology classes, among others.

The geographical center of Baden-Württemberg is located in Tübingen, in a little forest called "Elysium," on the edge of the New Botanical Garden. Tübingen is a very picturesque town in just about every season, with the colorful houses lining the Neckar, the many Fachwerkhäuser, and its old world charm. There is a fair bit of up- and downhill walking on cobblestones to see the whole town, so it's a good idea to wear sturdy shoes.

So what secrets did we learn?

das Brot-Zimmer

Do you notice anything odd about the windows (rather, one specific window) of the building on the left?

I never had either, though these are two houses on the Marktplatz, and I've seen and photographed them before. Even if I had noticed, I probably wouldn't have wondered about the fact that the window on the 3rd story (im zweiten Stock) of the left building furthest to the right has white frames, whereas all the other windows of that building have brown frames. All the windows of the building on the right have white frames. Guess what that means? The room of the house on the left with the white window frames belongs to the house on the right. So how did this come about?

Mainly wealthy families lived on the Marktplatz. However, the owner of the house with the brown windows wasn't good with money and squandered his wealth. (Sounds like he wasn't a true Swabian...) This occurred during a famine when bread was especially expensive, and his children would have gone to bed hungry every night had it not been for a deal he struck with his wealthy and wiser neighbor. In exchange for bread (one version of the story says it was ONE loaf), the owner of the house with the brown windows gave his neighbor that room. The deal was recorded in the land register and therefore is still valid today. It's called the "Brot-Zimmer" (Bread Room).

Gehörnter Moses

On the end of one of the choir stalls in the Stiftskirche, there is a wooden carving of Moses.

But what is on his head? Are those horns? Yep. This is not the only depiction of Moses with horns - the most famous one is Michelangelo's statue in Rome. Why on earth would an artist put devilish horns on Moses? Language teachers will love this one: it stems from a translation error, and this was even (obviously) before the dawn of Google Translate. 

At the end of the 4th century, (later St.) Jerome was charged with translating the Hebrew scriptures to the Latin Vulgate. In the story of Moses returning to his people from Mt. Sinai, the Hebrew word "keren" was used to describe his face. "Keren" can mean "coronata" (radiant/beaming) or "cornuta" (horned), and Jerome chose the wrong one. Since his translation became the authorized version for the Roman Catholic church, there are many artistic images of a horned Moses to be found around the Christian world.

Huhn im Stein

If you didn't know exactly what you were looking for, you'd never notice this figure etched in the south wall of the Jakobuskirche.

Thanks to my photo, you can stare dumbly at it and wonder, like you did when your kids brought home a picture they drew in kindergarten, "What is that supposed to be?"

That, my friends, is a wildly flapping chicken, and here's the legend behind it. This chicken is presumed to have been carved into the church wall sometime in the 12th century in connection with a young family on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The family stayed overnight in Santo Domingo de la Calzada in an inn. The innkeeper's daughter made eyes at the travelers' son, but he did not notice her. Offended and enraged, the next day she stashed a valuable cup in his traveling bag and accused him of stealing. Her father notified the police, they stopped the travelers, discovered the cup, and the lad was sentenced to be hanged. His heart-broken parents continued on their way to Santiago. 

On their way back, they went through the town again, where they saw their son still hanging there, but quite alive. St. Jakobus (James) must have protected him! They dashed to the prefect, who happened to be at dinner and about to devour two roast chickens, to plead for the boy's release. The prefect declared, "That boy is as dead as these chickens!" And with that the chickens both began to flap about on his plate and somehow managed to fly out the window. Great powers were clearly at work, and the prefect let the boy go. Out of gratitude when he returned home, he carved the chicken in the wall of the Jakobskirche (St. James' Church).

For the skeptics among you, it has also been suggested that a market woman, whose stand was located there, carved the chicken in the wall behind her so people would know what she was selling.

der Marktbrunnen

On the market square near the Rathaus is this Brunnen (fountain):

In this photo the bottom part is covered to protect it during winter, and you can see the very unique Rathaus behind it. The bronze figure on top of the fountain is Poseidon, and it was created in 1948. The Marktbrunnen is much older than that, however.

The original fountain was designed in 1617, modeled after the Neptune Fountain in Bologna, Italy, and made of sandstone. Weather and time took its toll on the fountain and it started to crumble.

After World War II, the future Bürgermeister (mayor) of Tübingen arranged to have the Marktbrunnen reconstructed. Instead of using sandstone, however, he had the artist use melted scrap metal from war weapons. How poetically ironic: church bells all around Germany - including in Tübingen - had been melted down during the Third Reich to make weapons and ammunition. So the metal of bells that were created to call believers to worship God was turned into weapons that destroyed people. But after the war, those weapons were melted down again and became something beautiful. The Poseidon figure on Tübingen's Marktbrunnen was the first public structure created in the town after the war, and it became a symbol of peace for the citizens.

There are many more secrets to be learned about Tübingen, along with not-so-secret, but equally interesting details, stories, and history. If you come to southern Germany, I highly recommend a day in Tübingen.

These brightly painted houses line the Neckar River in Tübingen. Two buildings stand out (because of their architectural design, not their color). Can you find them? There are stories connected to those two houses as well!

Update August, 2014: 
I have added this post to the Expats Blog Hop Travel Edition at Young Germany.
You can view other entries here.

Bast, Eva-Maria and Heike Thissen. Geheimnisse der Heimat: 50 spannende Geschichten aus Tübingen. Überlingen, Germany: Schwäbisches Tageblatt, 2013.
Bachmann, Andrea. Tübingen: der Stadtführer. Reutlingen, Germany: Oertel + Spörer Verlags GmbH, 2010.

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