Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hildesheim: Not Just a Rosebush

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Hildesheim first entered our radar in the summer of 2009 when we were planning our road trip up through the center of Germany. Due to time constraints and the lure of brown attraction road signs for Goslar, we ended up skipping Hildesheim on that trip.

My visiting friend wanted to go to Ostfriesland on her trip here, as it features heavily in her ancestry. While planning the trip north, I noticed we would be going right past Hildesheim. We didn't make a specific plan to stop there on the way, but I was certainly hoping we'd get the chance - and we did, brief though it may have been!

Hildesheim's 1000-year-old St. Michael's Church and its cathedral are together a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Most famously, there is a rosebush outside the cathedral which is said to be 1000 years old.  They say that as long as the bush is flourishing, Hildesheim will prosper.  We definitely wanted to check that out - but we were too late.  We arrived at the cathedral 5 minutes after closing, and the bush is beyond a locked gate.  The cathedral is also under serious construction, so we couldn't walk around it.  Bummer! On top of that, we never even made it to see St. Michael's in the brief time we were there.  However, it turns out there's a lot more to Hildesheim than these two things.

Prior to the second World War, Hildesheim was considered one of the most beautiful towns in Germany.  During the war, they watched as nearby Hannover and Braunschweig were destroyed and knew their time was coming soon, too.  They wanted to preserve the beauty of the town however they could.  In particular, they were concerned about the Butchers' Guild House, an incredible 7-story half-timber building which was originally built in 1529.  Hildesheim wanted to take the building apart and put it somewhere safe to save it, but found this was impossible.  Instead, they carefully documented everything about it.  They did save parts of other historic buildings where they could - for example, marvelously detailed Renaissance bay windows.  (Renaissance architecture is not so easy to come by in Germany.)

On March 23, 1945, so near to the end of the war, their fear came true. Seventy-five percent of Hildesheim was obliterated, including the cathedral, St. Michael's church, and the medieval town center.

The cathedral and St. Michael's church were rebuilt soon after the war, as were the Rathaus and Tempelhaus, two buildings on the historic Marktplatz which were made of sandstone and therefore just severely damaged instead of leveled.  However, the half-timber buildings on the Marktplatz were replaced in the 50s with the sort of flat-roofed modern things that were in style at the time.

The Marktplatz remained so until the 1980s, when a couple of the businesses in the buildings there needed to move out for various reasons.  Hildesheim had never let go of its dream to restore the original buildings, and they decided to seize the opportunity presented by the businesses moving out.  The 1950s-style buildings were destroyed and the Butchers' Guild Hall, Wedekindhaus, and Bakers' Guild Hall were all rebuilt in the original style.  Of course, many old buildings in Germany were restored to their original glory after being destroyed in WWII, but there seems to be something extra-special about the towns who restored them later.  (See also: Dresden Frauenkirche.)  They couldn't restore them right away, but they didn't let the dream die.  Later they found the opportunity and the funds and they brought their old towns back.  It also proves that the skills to make beautifully detailed buildings are still out there - we think it can't be done, but it can.  (It's just really expensive.  Together, the restoration of the Butchers' and Bakers' Guild Halls cost about 7 million Euro.)  And the details on the Wedekindhaus and the Butchers' Guild Hall are just unbelievable.  Amazing.  In an interesting twist, the Butchers' Guild Hall has been painted on the front in a traditional style, but on the side with anti-war images and messages.  See my photo album below for more!  All photos embedded in this post were taken by my friend, but the photos on Picasa were taken by me.

Hildesheim Okt 11

A+++, would visit again!!

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