Travelogue II: Rothenburg ob der Tauber


15 Juli, 2014 We took the slow train today to Rothenburg, my Hermann Hesse city. Real Herrgottswetter (Lord God’s weather) the entire afternoon–blue sky, clear sunshine, warm breeze. French Flammkuchen and Silvaner at a table on the cobblestones, someone playing a horn a few streets away.

Anyway, I wrote a lengthy post about the city here, which I won’t repeat. But I must re-post the pictures* of Tilman Riemenschneider’s Holy Blood Alter, which remains possibly the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen. “I’ve been taking students here for 28 years, and it never gets old,” said the professor. It’s amazing how a thing of carved wood can be so moving.











You look at this work of art and think, if this should ever be destroyed one day, through crime or accident or time or war, what a loss that would be. If it is possible to pray anywhere on this earth, then in front of this masterpiece would be the place. But then wouldn’t you be praying to art, to human creation, and not to God at all? 


*Pictures by Tim Coobac, who had an awesome camera. 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg is a Hermann Hesse city. I don’t mean the Hesse of Steppenwolf or Demian, all angstily modernistic–but the Hesse of Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game), perhaps, and especially of Narziss und Goldmund. The city dates from the 12th century, the height of the Middle Ages. There is something quintessentially Romantic, nostalgic, sweetly backward-looking about the place, all cobblestone streets and church bells and honey suckle trailing over windowsills.

Now, of course, Rothenburg is entirely given over to the tourist industry–“Postcard Germany,” as Dr. G. says. But one could still imagine coming around the corner to find an old cloister school, with a Chestnut tree in the courtyard….





K.H. and D. ended up in the stocks, to our Herr Professor’s exceeding amusement.

The city is still surrounded by the old wall. I walked nearly all the way around on it, with the red roofs of the town on one side and green hills on the other.



Our group, from the Burggarten looking back to the city.


But back to Hesse and Narziss und Goldmund. Those who have read the book know that Goldmund eventually becomes a master wood carver, and will well remember Hesse’s wonderful descriptions of his works. I think that Hesse must have been well acquainted with Tilman Riemenschneider, a wood carver from the 15th century who settled in Würzburg. We have seen many of his works over the last few weeks, but nothing to compare to the Holy Blood altar in Rothenburg’s St. Jakob Kirche. It is one of the most beautiful things I have seen, very possibly the most beautiful.

The altar stands alone up in the top story of the church, in the alcove behind the organ. The central carving is of the Last Supper, with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and prayer on the Mount of Olives on the side panels. No photographs can really capture it, but I am grateful to Tim for the shots below, which are far better than any from my small camera.

The reliquary cross at the center, which supposedly holds a drop of Christ’s blood.




If you ever happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Rothenburg, I exhort you to go and see it.

Addendum: Further investigation tells me that Hesse did indeed know Riemenschneider, and based Goldmund’s first carving master off of him. Faszinierend!