When we come to the central place of Ulm, we see the Münster towering in front of us. In the South of Germany the cathedrals are called Münster, in the North ‘Dom’. It is the second largest example of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture in Germany after the Cathedral in Cologne. It was begun in 1377 and only completed in 1890, begun as a Catholic church and completed as a Protestant one! The builders were so slow that the Reformation took place and changed the denomination. That this fine church wasn’t destroyed during the war, has certainly seen by many as an act of God.
Take your time and look up, binoculars would be helpful, see the biblical figures round the portal, the gargoyles on the roof? Let’s go inside and have a look at the wooden choir stalls with the carved busts of the heads of the wealthy families whose pews they adorned. If you’re interested in the latest chic of the 15th century, you’ve got it here.
If you don’t suffer from vertigo, you must climb up the 768 steps to the top of the spire! I haven’t done so, because I do suffer, but from hearsay I know that it’s worthwhile. In the right weather conditions you can even see as far as the Alps.
I’m going to wait for you in the Stadthaus (City House) situated to the right in front of the Cathedral. It was built in 1997 by the famous American architect Richard Meier (who built the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles), is white and ultramodern. When the city council decided to forbid parking in front of the cathedral, to build a Stadthaus and turn the place into the ‘living-room’ of Ulm, the different opinions on what kind of architectural style would go with the Gothic cathedral nearly split the city.
I’m all with the decision to build something which represents our century instead of finding some historicising pseudo-gothic solution. The Stadthaus is simply wonderful, it houses the tourist information centre, a cafè and several rooms for meetings and/or exhibitions.
Ah, there you are with wobbly knees and pounding hearts! I think we should eat something, not only to calm down your stomach. Let’s go to the Fishermen’s Quarter at the Danube. There are some half-timbered houses from the 15th/16th century turned into restaurants or hotels.
On the way let’s pop into the Town Hall which was built in 1370 and look at the reproduction of the Taylor of Ulm’s flying machine hanging in the staircase. In 1811 Berblinger, a tailor, wanted to prove that he could fly like a bird. He jumped off a high wall and intended to glide across the Danube, but fell into it as the thermal currents above the cold water didn’t lift him up. In 1986 some engineers from the university built a copy and proved that it worked!
In order to digest the typical Swabian dish ‘Kässpätzle’, handmade noodles with fried rings of onions, covered by cheese, washed down with ‘Moscht’, apple cider, let’s go for a stroll along the river Danube. We see a wooden boat with a kind of hut in the middle lying on the opposite bank, a model of the ‘Ulmer Schachtel (box)’ , a copy of the boats with which many Swabian families emigrated to the areas of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (what is today Rumania) during the 17th, 18th and 19th century.
Due to a political decision made at a time when the iron curtain was seen as impenetrable up to Doomsday the descendents of those people have always remained Germans with the unalterable right to come back to the homeland of their ancestors - which they now do. Most of them don’t speak a German with which they can be integrated into the job market (although it‘s mostly better than that of the people ‘returning‘ from Russia after 200 years), not considering the fact that jobs have become fewer anyway. - One of the problems of present day Germany.
What now? The German Bread Museum! Situated in a building from 1592 which was used to store salt it houses a permanent exhibition of about 1.300 objects and works of art about the history and importance of bread, its manufacture and its use in all parts of the world. Think of a question concerning bread, it will be answered here!
Are you looking for a genuine souvenir? Take the Ulmer Spatz, the Sparrow of Ulm, you can find it in all kinds of material and sizes; it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it always has a stalk of straw in its beak. When the cathedral was built, some workmen were carrying a long beam of wood and tried to enter a narrow passageway marching forward side by side, not one behind the other. They crashed the beam into the walls beside the opening and didn’t know what to do. However could they get the beam into the building? Suddenly they noticed a sparrow carrying a stalk of straw trying to get into a gap between tow stones. I turned its head to the side and moved the stalk in tip first. AHA! That was the trick!
Up to today the people of Ulm celebrate their ability to watch and learn!