The Palatine Chapel, Aachen

On the way back from the Netherlands, we stopped in Aachen specifically to check out the Palatine Chapel and the Aachen Cathedral.   The Palatine Chapel is an early medieval chapel which was originally part of Charlemagne’s palace.  Most of the palace no longer exists, but the Chapel has been incorporated into Aachen Cathedral.

This building is Aachen’s theater, and has nothing to do with the Cathedral.


This is part of the wall just outside the Chapel.  When we arrived, it was about fifteen minutes before the Chapel would be open for visitors so we walked around a bit.


A statue near to the cathedral called The Circle of Money.


This is the Aachen Rathaus (town hall), across from the Aachen Starbucks.


Germans really do love their ice cream.


The Chapel opened at 12:30 and we were inside soon after.  In the main entryway, there are pine cones dating from the year 1000.


This is the “She-wolf,” a Roman female bear from the 2nd century.  Recent research has dated this sculpture back to ancient Greece, claiming that it is part of a hunting scene.


The Cathedral administrators charge you €1 to take pictures with your own camera.  When you pay, they put a green band on your camera strap to indicate that you’re allowed to be taking photos.  This seems entirely reasonable to me.

This is the main octagonal part of Charlemagne’s chapel.  The main structure dates back to roughly the year 800.


The ceiling of the Chapel.


Stained glass with several items visible on the altar.  I’ll come back to these.


Detail in the ceiling near the main entrance.

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The gold box closest to the camera is the Shrine of St. Mary.  It contains four Aachen relics, which are taken out every seven years and put on display.   Behind that is the Adlerspult (Eagle stand), a brass music stand in the shape of an eagle.  The furthest gold box back is the Shrine of Charlemagne, and it contains the remains of Charlemagne, who died in the year 814.


The Shrine of St. Mary and the Adlerpult.


The Shrine of Charlemagne.


In the gallery upstairs is Charlemagne’s throne.  (Thanks to Robert for taking this picture.  You had to join a tour to go upstairs, and he did.)   Originally, the throne was white marble, but it was covered it in tar paper after the war and buried in sand-  a bomb attack blew out all the windows and they were doing their best to cover the inside from the elements.  The tar paper has left stains on the marble and these will not be cleaned for fear of damaging the marble.


This is the Aachen cathedral in its entirety.  The rounded cupola in the center is the portion containing the Palatine Chapel.


Have you ever been to the Palatine Chapel?





Document Neupfarrplatz in Regensburg

In Neupfarrplatz, one of the largest main squares of Regensburg, there is a big church called the Neupfarrkirche.   Tucked behind that church is a triangular metal structure containing a door.  The door contains a stairwell that goes down into Document Neupfarrplatz, an exhibit made of an archaeological excavation beneath the square which occurred between 1995 and 1997 .  The exhibit isn’t open all the time.  There are tours at set times, and you have to go to the Tabak shop across the way to buy your tickets before the tour.  It’s only €5, for a one hour tour in German.


Once you get to the bottom of the stairs, you’re in a large chamber with pathways leading off in other directions.  There is a set of tunnels which comprise part of a ring shaped underground air-raid shelter built around 1940.  These first two pictures show part of that structure.


Looking down the hall from the air raid shelter hallway, you can see part of the main chamber at the foot of the stairs.


Inside that first chamber are three glass cases containing small items from three different time periods of the excavation.    The first is a bronze figurine of the Roman god Mercury, from the second or third century A.D.

This statue is believed to have stood on the house altar of a high ranking Roman official.  This location was the Roman camp Castra Regina around 179 A.D.  Castra Regina was a fortified military base, and I’ve posted photos of the old fortress walls before.  The remains of Castra Regina lie here, six meters below Neupfarrplatz.


This pointy fellow is a bronze figurine of the high priest Aharon from the 15th century A.D.  This is from the medieval Jewish quarter, which also stood in Neupfarrplatz after the Roman Empire.  Southern Germany’s biggest Jewish community prospered here from the 8th century until February 21st, 1519, when the Jews were driven out of the city.    At the time of the expulsion, around 80 Talmudic scholars lived here.


After the explulsion of the Jews in 1519, the synagogue was demolished.  A wooden chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Zur Schönen Maria) at this location soon after.   The chapel became a center for mass pilgrimages.  The next  item pictured is a silver sign of pilgrimage from around 1520.

So much money was generated by the pilgrims that the foundations of a new larger Neupfarrkirche were set in 1540.  This is where the names Neupfarrplatz and Neupfarrkirche come from-  Regensburg became Protestant in 1542 and the pilgrimage church was reconsecrated as “Neue Pfarre,” the new parish church.


Opposite the bronze and silver items encased in glass is a walkway supported over part of the excavated structure.  These were cellar rooms – the archway goes to another room which had been converted several times.

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One of the more spectacular things found during the excavations were these 624 gold coins, buried around 1388.


Next to the gold coins is a golden ring with the star-and-moon seal of the medieval Jewish community of Regensburg.


This archway contains stairs which used to lead to the surface.


Above the stairs is a “window” embedded in the surface of Neupfarrplatz.  The window cost around €25,000 to install.


Here’s the window from above ground-  the people at this cafe probably don’t realize they’re sitting almost directly above hundreds of years of history.


Opposite the Neupfarrkirche is a white marble structure which shows the layout and position of the original medieval Jewish synagogue prior to it being destroyed in 1519.    This artistic representation of the old synagogue was created in 2005 by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan.  It was designed to be a “Place of Encounter, ” a symbol of Christians and Jews living together.  Hebrew lettering engraved in the space where the Torah was kept spell out the word “Misrach” to point to the east, toward Jerusalem.

The white marble is directly in front of an ice cream cafe, so it’s a popular place for people to sit and snack with friends on a sunny day.


So a Roman, a Rabbi, and a Protestant walk into a bar…   I’m just kidding.

Have you ever been to an archaeological excavation?

Hans Hummel

While I was waiting for my train out of Hamburg, I noticed an interesting statue-  a man in an oversized top-hat carrying two buckets.  A moment later, I noticed another one- identical in shape, but with different colors.  Within a few minutes, I had found four of them in that part of the station.

After I returned, I learned what was going on with these statues.  They depict Hans Hummel, the last water-carrier in 19th century Hamburg.  In 2003, one hundred identically sculpted statues were painted in different ways and then spread out throughout the city.  Some of them are still on public display, including the four I saw in the train station.

They’re numbered.  If I had known that sooner, I would have gone hunting for the others.

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Have you ever seen a statue of Hans Hummel?


A friend of mine wrote a short post this week on a certain blue-backgrounded social network about the fifteen year anniversary of the passing of a mutual friend. I realized immediately afterward that another funereal anniversary had just passed us by without my realizing it.  Someone very special to me passed away eighteen years ago.  Eighteen years and six days, actually-  the anniversary slipped by without me realizing it this year.

This surprised me.  In the beginning, it was never far from my mind, and for the first five or ten years I always tried to do special things on the anniversary of her death.  More recently though, the dates slide past without notice, and without as much pain.  I guess that’s a good thing, in the grand scheme of things, but it still makes me feel a bit like I’ve misplaced something.   My mind is built on tangents, though, and thinking about this led me to think about Johannes Kepler.

Bear with me here, I promise there’s a point.

J-Kep (shut up, I can call him J-Kep if I want to) came to Regensburg in 1628, and became ill soon after.  He died on November 15, 1630,  at the age of 58, and was buried here. Regensburg is swarming with things named after Kepler.  There’s a memorial house and museum, on a street named Keplerstraße.  There’s also a pretty nifty memorial for him near the Bahnhof which I wrote about two years ago.  There’s a pharmacy named after him, and some other places around town as well.    The one thing that you won’t find in Regensburg, however, is Kepler’s grave site.

Although he was buried here, the grave site was lost when the Swedish army destroyed the churchyard in 1633, during the Thirty Years War.  Kepler’s self-authored epitaph survived:

Mensus eram coelos, nunc terrae metior umbras
Mens coelestis erat, corporis umbra iacet.
I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure
Skybound was the mind, earthbound the body rests.

More than anything else, this makes me really want to find his grave site.   I know it’s not something I could ever really do- I’m not a mapmaker or a scholar or a historian-  but I hate to think of Kepler as simply having been misplaced, like we’ll find him next to some spare change between the couch cushions.

What’s the last thing you misplaced?  Did you check between the couch cushions?

Historical “Foot”-note.

One of my favorite things about living in this city is all the strange little bits of history that surround me.  I’ve written before about how Johannes Kepler lived here, and about how there’s a section of Roman fortress wall next to the McDonalds. The last Pope taught theology at the University here.

Napoleon Bonaparte also spent some time here after the Battle Of Regensburg which was fought between the Austrians and the invading French in 1809.  Napoleon was wounded during the battle, shot in his left ankle.  According to local legend, he recovered for a short while here before moving on to Vienna.

This sign is on the corner of my street, mounted on the front of the building.  I pass it every day, as I leave my apartment.  It says, “Hier ift Napoleon I  am 23 April 1809 bei der Beschießung der Stadt verwundet worden.”

Translated it means, “Here Napoleon Bonaparte was wounded in the bombardment of the city on April 23, 1809.”

Yup, I live on the street where Napoleon was shot in the foot.  History is amazing!


Does your city have any interesting historical significance?