around the world – part 7 (ulm)

May 2004:

On Saturday I and a colleague drove to Ulm in southern Germany to visit the Ulmer Munster (Catholic Cathedral Lutheran Church at Ulm). This cathedral took about 600 years to complete beginning in the mid 1200s and finishing in the 1800s.  It has, apparently, the tallest spire in Germany and possibly Europe which one can climb to the top of.  We did.  780 steps later we found ourselves in a very small gallery about 600ft above the town square below.

The stair cases are tight spiral about 4 inches wider than my shoulders.  As I ascended I would periodically startle some poor unsuspecting pigeon who would flap off in a huff from the narrow windows which perforate the staircase. The first set of staircases are accessed from the vestibule directly beside the main doors to the cathedral and take you to a gallery over the doors, or about 120 ft above the plaza.  A second set of stairs centered above the main doors continue upwards bringing you to the bell tower. From here you can also see the catwalks just under roof of the naves. At this point you are about 160 ft above ground level. However, more steps await!

A third set of steps take you to the top of the enclosed portion of the steeple. Now you are about 550 ft above ground level and the remaining 50 ft are an open stair case to within about 20 ft of the very top of the steeple. At this last level, a very narrow balcony surrounds the steeple. To circumnavigate it you must move sideways with your back to the steeple as it is nearly impossible to pass between the outer side of the balcony and steeple. Anyone with fear of heights or vertigo should not attempt this! However, the view from the top was simply outstanding, with a panoramic of the entire countryside around, about 15 – 20 km.

Of course what goes up must come down, and oddly I think the return was harder on my legs than the climb up. By the time I reached ground level and for about 45 minutes afterwards, my legs were buzzing-vibrating.

Other miscellaneous observations: (1) Not surprisingly, summer in Germany means road construction. baustellezeichen_123_svg.pngThis means that while theoretically one may enjoy unlimited speed limits on the rural autobahns, in reality the frequency of road ‘improvements’ means that just as you are settling in for a relaxing 180km/hr tour of the countryside, around the corner comes the construction zone (baustelle) for the next 30km at 60km/hr!  Fortunately for those who enjoy the driving experience, there are plenty of twisty hilly back-roads to explore.

(2) After visiting the fortress at Wulzburg and attempting to understand the quite detailed historical vignettes posted around the perimeter, I now have an appreciation for the severity of the religious wars of the 17th century. This citadel was built between 1610 and 1660 and has 5 huge bastions with walls in some cases 30m (!) thick. Each bastion is oriented towards an approach route of the most likely threat, and a sign outside elaborates on the history.  Apparently the Markgraf (Count or Baron) of Weissenburg held slightly different religious views than his neighbours (who also held different religious perspectives from each other) so that he could never be sure which of his 5 neighboring Principalities would be allied with him one day or at war the next. It does seem though, that the Baron of Ansbach was a particular favourite since the bastion with the thickest walls is oriented in that direction!