Germany Stories and Tips

Constance (Konstanz)

Travel Photo by IgoUgo member

The largest lake in Germany is the Bodensee, at its longest it measures 63 km and at its broadest 14 km, the deepest point is 254 m, which the country shares with Austria and Switzerland, the borderline runs invisibly through the water. The German shoreline is 173 km long, the Swiss one 72 km and the Austrian one 28 km.

Konstanz (~82,000 inhabitants) gives it its English name, i.e., Lake Constance. From the town where I live there are three possibilities to get to Konstanz, I chose the one which included a ferry ride. I went to Friedrichshafen, best known for having been home to the Zeppelin airship company, walked for five minutes from the station to the landing place of the ships passing the Zeppelin museum and found the booth with automats where one has to get the tickets for the catamaran. A man asked me why I wanted to go with the catamaran, it would cost me nine Euro extra, when I could use my railway ticket for the ship lying beside it without extra cost, it would start in ten minutes.

Why indeed? Only when I had got on the ship ‘Austria’ I thought about the time it would take in comparison to the non-stop catamaran, the answer was: two hours and 15 minutes instead of 48 minutes! So what, as nobody was waiting for me and it was the most wonderful sunny summer day with 26° (79°F), I decided to consider the voyage across the lake as part of my excursion and enjoy it. We passed pretty towns, vineyards and the famous flower island Isle of Mainau on one side and the Austrian and Swiss mountains on the other, sailing boats and seagulls in between. The ship had a restaurant, after eating a warm apple strudel with vanilla ice-cream and cream, I went back to the open sun deck, and with my feet on the railing I sent a friendly thought to the man who wanted to save my money

Entering the harbour of Konstanz we were greeted by the revolving statue of ‘Imperia’, a nine metre high female figure referring to a 16th century Italian courtesan of the same name. She’s got outstretched arms and holds two grotesque naked figures in her hands, one donning an imperial crown and the other a papal tiara, the insignia of worldly and religious power. Funny.

The railway station is right beside the harbour (to the left), and the tourist information in a building between harbour and station. I got a street map there but didn’t ask for a guide, I had already copied the info I needed from the well made homepage.

Back to the harbour and from there straight on into the Marktstätte, a wide street with some shops and one café beside the other with tables and chairs outside. It wasn’t term time, but I’m sure this is the area where the students meet (Konstanz has had a university since 1966). This street as well as all the others in the town centre are traffic free, the whole time I was strolling there I only saw some delivery vans. The streets are paved with cobble stones but not of the round kind, only the Cathedral Square has this hard-to-walk on variety.

At the end of the Marktstätte is a fountain with several figures the most interesting being a peacock with an enormous feather tail and three heads. This is an allusion to the Council of Constance which took place from 1414 - 1418, for reasons which I won’t go into here Christianity had three popes then, the council needed four years to agree on one pope only.

To the left of the fountain is the old town hall with frescoes on the façade and a wonderful courtyard, flowers on the windowsills and benches for tired citizens, very cosy. A bit further on and then to the right into the Wessenbergstraße where the Konstanzers can spend their money in small and pricey shops (the cheaper ones and department stores are mainly to be found in the Hussenstraße for which you turn left). Right at the beginning of the Wessenbergstraße is a square, the Obermarkt (Upper Market), on which an adjacent restaurant has got a beer garden, impossible to imagine that this was once one of the sites of execution in medieval times. I noticed a row of well kept houses on either side of the street, Konstanz wasn’t bombed during WW2.

Walking on in the direction of the Cathedral Square I passed St Stephen’s Church which may date back to a late Roman sacred building from the 3rd century AD, during the following centuries it has been repeatedly destroyed and reconstructed, so it’s a bit difficult to sense the genuine spirit of history, but it was here that the Council of Constance convened. The inside is adorned with many colourful frescoes, well worth a look.

The cathedral, the Minster of Our Dear Lady, built of grey sandstone, was also reconstructed several times in the course of history. Its two entrance doors are covered with wooden panels with fine carvings of biblical scenes, inside masterful artefacts from different periods catch the eye, what I liked best was the so-called St Maurice’s Rotunda in an annex: (from the town guide) "a round structure built around 940 as a replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was the starting and finishing point for great medieval pilgrimages, e.g. on the ‘Swabian Route’ to Santiago de Compostela."

It has no resemblance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem whatsoever, you can believe me, I’ve been there, but it’s much nicer. It’s unostentatious whereas the one in Jerusalem drowns in gold, silver and precious stones. I’m sure Jesus would prefer the one in Konstanz.

Behind the cathedral is the oldest quarter of Konstanz with pretty narrow and low houses, only one or two storeys high, flower pots stand beside the doors and on the window sills, creepers climb up the eaves gutters. With no traffic in the centre, Konstanz is not noisy, but the old quarter was dead quiet when I was there, the tourist groups obviously only go as far as the Cathedral Square, but I didn’t notice any locals, either. No human voices, no barking dogs, no blaring radio was to be heard. It was around 2 pm, I can only assume that the inhabitants had already had their lunch and were lying on their sofas for their digestion nap. I thought that seen from above, for example from the steeple of the Cathedral onto which one can climb and then step out onto an open balcony and look down (only writing about this makes me dizzy), or appropriately from a zeppelin Konstanz must look like a toy town.

And then I was standing at the bank of the river Rhine which comes from Switzerland, flows through Lake Constance and goes on being a German river until it flows into the North Sea in the Netherlands. I crossed the bridge which is located exactly at the spot where the Rhine leaves the Bodensee, I counted my steps and can tell you that it is about 100 m wide here. I had spotted the restaurant SeeRhein with an open terrace on the opposite bank and went there for a belated lunch. While I was sitting under one of the big trees I could see the glittering lake in the distance and ducks and great crested grebes diving for food nearby, I ‘let the dear God be a good man’ as the Germans say.

When I’m in a town for the first time and only for some hours, I’m not really interested in museums, I use the time to soak up the atmosphere, but on my way back to the station I wanted to at least peep into the Hus house and pay my respect, alas, I came too late, the woman in charge was just closing. Jan Hus (c. 1372 - 1415) was a Czech religious thinker, philosopher, reformer and master at Charles University in Prague. He was a precursor of the Protestant movement whose teachings influenced Martin Luther. The Roman Catholic Church considered him a heretic and excommunicated him in 1411, he was condemned by the Council of Constance, and burned there at the stake in 1415. Dark times, then. The Hus house is run by Czechs, (from Wikipedia) : „Today most Czechs describe themselves as non-religious, and among Christians more are Roman Catholics than Hussites, nonetheless Jan Hus is a national hero."

Then it was time to return to the station, I chose a different train route back home, no ferry any more, it would have taken too much time and would have been too chilly to sit on the deck outside.

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