Saturday, January 22, 2011

Muenster, Germany

To celebrate Billy's birthday we decided to take a day trip to Muenster, which is really very close to Bielefeld. If you drive, it would take less than an hour; if you take a train, it's an hour and 1/2. We can buy a train ticket for up to 5 people to ride unlimited within our bundesland (state) of Nordrhein Westphalen for 35euro. The ticket is good for the trains and also for the city trams and buses, so it's really great for a day trip somewhere.
Muenster is a really neat town. It was founded in 793AD. There are very old buildings and cathedrals right next to artsy modern ones. Like most cities in Nordrhein Westphalen, 90% of Muenster was destroyed by bombing in WWII, but the city has been rebuilt nicely, and most of the buildings were built to look the way they did before, so it retains that 'old' look. One of the largest universities in Germany is located there, and the headquarters building for the university is the old palace!
When the train got to Muenster, the first thing we did was walk to the Rathaus (town hall) to get a free English language guide of the city. The Rathaus is one of the crown jewels of Muenster for its beautiful architecture. It has a large room inside called the Friedensaal (the Hall of Peace), where negotiations took place to end the 30 years war, which also established the Netherlands as an independent country. Muenster still feels a responsibility to be a city that fights for peace and comprimise.
Next we went to the weekly Saturday market in the square next to a cathedral. They sell everything from handmade clothes to cheese to dog bisquits, but it's mostly food. There were so many free samples that you could almost walk through and be full and not have to buy anything! We bought some fish for lunch that was awesome.
Another notable landmark in Muenster is the Church of St. Lamberti. From the street you can see 3 cages hanging in the church tower. These cages held the bodies of 3 anabaptist leaders who were executed in the 16th century for being religious radicals. Muenster, like many cities in Germany, is Catholic. This is the reason the churches look much different than they do in Bielefeld, which is Protestant.
Another amazing cathedral is the St. Paulus Cathedral, which is about 800 years old. There is a huge astronomical clock inside that puts on a show every day at noon. We knew about it ahead of time and made sure we got there early to get a good view. It chimes and figures of the 3 wise men circle around and bow to Mary and Jesus. It's kind of amazing to think that you're watching a mechanical device work and look exactly the same as it did when it was built in the middle ages. There are other interesting things in that cathedral, like a statue of beggars that was condemned by Hitler for representing 'worthless people'. I bet Hitler never expected that 65 years later, the statue would still be there, and no statues of him would be.
One thing we love about Germany is the focus on nature in the middle of the cities. Everywhere there are trails and bike paths, and parks and lakes....which is surprising because the weather for half the year is not all that conducive to spending much time outdoors. Muenster tore down the Midieval walls that circled the city and built the Promenade, which is a belt of paths and parks that circles the whole city. You can use it to get most places, and to find your way back if you get lost. It's hard to get lost,'s a small town. We walked almost everywhere during our trip.
We're looking forward to more day trips like this in the future. Each city has similar elements, but a little different history.

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