First stop in Germany was Cologne. Pete was feeling loads better, so we opted to go on the walking tour of Bonn, since we’d already had a look around Cologne.
Bonn might have remained just another obscure German university town if it hadn’t been for WW2 and the division of Germany between the West and the Soviet Union. Germany’s capital, Berlin, was firmly in the Eastern bloc, and although the city itself was split between the USSR, French, British, and Americans, it was hardly a reasonable proposition as capital of West Germany. Politicians at the time wisely eschewed larger cities like Cologne and Munich as the de facto capital until the country could be unified. Konrad Adenauer, who came from Cologne and had been the city’s mayor, favoured Bonn over Frankfurt on Main. Even now, after the reunification of Germany and the return to Berlin as capital, some of the instruments of government remain in Bonn. But apart from that, it remains a university town, with a large population of students.
The city dates back to Roman times, when it was a garrison for a large contingent of troops. Our guide, Sebastian, told us the story of a legion of Christian soldiers who refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, and were subsequently punished. You can read the story here. Among the officers who were martyred were the two patron saints of Bonn, whose carved heads take pride of place in Bonn’s oldest Christian church. You can see the Romanesque structure of the building with its curved, unadorned arches. But the church is not open to the public. It needs substantial restoration simply to make it safe for visitors. Over the years the city fathers added to the building, including a tower which is sitting on top of the roof without any supporting infrastructure inside.
Bonn’s other great claim to fame is as Beethoven’s birthplace. You’ll see his name and likenesses of variable quality all over town. He only lived in the house where he was born for four years, when his parents needed to find different accommodation to cater for their growing family. Here’s a potted biography. Seems young Ludwig didn’t have a happy childhood and the comparison with Mozart’s upbringing is interesting.
Sebastian took us to the town’s main square, overlooked by the old town hall. You might have seen that balcony in the top picture in old news footage from the Cold War. But what I found most interesting were the little brass plaques in the cobbles. Our guide was a young man, aged around thirty. He made a point of saying to us that the old Fawlty Towers line (don’t talk about the war) was no longer a thing. Younger Germans were willing to confront their past. And those plaques are part of that. Each plaque is the name of a book that was burned in this very square by the Nazis in the nineteen thirties. For me, it was a powerful statement that would resonate with the young. I can almost see them asking, “What does this mean, Mum?” And the answer is descent into darkness, something we never want to do again.
Needless to say, there was a market set up in the square, with the usual wonderful selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and cheese. I love those places. But now it was back to the boat.
Nothing nasty happened today, not even anything mildly irritating. But then, we’ve only just begun.
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