Getting to know Kempten
The basilica from near our hotel
The breakfast at the Bayerischer Hof was excellent - a lovely way to start the day with muesli, fresh fruit, a great selection of bread, cheeses and meats and good coffee, as well as the company of VT friends also staying there.
Having fun with the Romans
I then took a walk to the nearby archaeological park with Yvonne, Regina and Jon where we explored the excavations.
In the first century AD Kempten, then known as Cambodunum, was the seat of government for this region. Extensive excavations have taken place here and a number of sites made accessible to the public, dotted around this park which lies on the eastern side of the river Iller, overlooking the town centre.
Entrance to the site costs 4€ although access to the general parkland around the excavations is free. A walking route between the two main sites is well-marked – once you have worked out where to start!
The first part we came to was the temple area and I was impressed by how well presented the site was, with enough of it reconstructed to give a good sense of what once stood here without turning it into a theme park. In addition to statues of the various gods, there are a number of interesting artefacts on display including some beautiful jewellery that wouldn’t look out of place today. We spent quite some time here and could easily have spent even longer if we’d read all the information boards!
After pausing to check out the lovely views over the city we followed the suggested walking route which took us past the site of the forum (which has not been restored and is therefore really just lines of stone in the grass, though there’s an impressive statue at the entrance and a single column standing.
Site of the forum
In the baths
We then walked to the other main area for which your ticket is needed, the baths. These excavations are protected from the elements and are well displayed – I liked the touch of a pair of sandals left by the side of one of the pools!
From here we followed a steep path down through the woods which emerged right next to our hotel.
The path through the woods, and drinks in the hotel garden
After a coffee in the lovely hotel garden and a brief rest I walked into the town centre which was busy with lots of locals enjoying the public holiday for Ascension Day.
St Mang’s church
Outside St Mang's church there was a gathering of bikers as the church had been hosting a special mass for them. The square was crowded and I couldn’t really get good photos of the striking fountain here, the St. Mang-Brunnen – this would have to wait for another visit.
When I went inside though the church was peaceful and I was able to enjoy the calm and take some photos. This is the main Protestant (Lutheran) church of Kempten, which at one time (1525 to 1802) was divided into two parts: a Protestant Reichsstadt (free imperial city) and a Catholic Fürststift (attached to the Benedictine abbey). It dates originally from 1426 and has undergone several major renovations over the years, taking it from gothic to rococo to neo-gothic. It is for the most part simple and quite elegant, but with some colourful stained glass windows at the choir end and a scattering of Rococo cherubs looking down from ceiling height. I liked the delicately painted leaves ornamenting the ceiling of the choir. The wooden altar piece dates from 1896 and the pulpit from 1608.
Around the Rathausplatz
After leaving the church I checked out the market stalls in the Rathausplatz (set up I believe as part of the holiday weekend celebrations) and bought a pretty necklace at one of them.
Around the Rathausplatz
Did Charlie take my camera?
Then I met up with Anne Marie, Ann and Regina for lunch near the Rathaus. After checking out a couple of places (one of which looked promising but didn’t seem to be serving drinks) we settled on the Nova café. My mango and prawn salad was large with a nice dressing but a bit expensive (by local standards) at 15 euros, and the service was very slow with only one waitress for a large number of tables, all occupied.
This was the location for what was possibly the amusing incident of the weekend, though I wasn't amused initially! Ann and Anne Marie had left the café early to go back to the latter's hotel and Regína and I sat on for a while as I finished my salad and she her coffee. When we got up to go I realised my camera was missing. I went back to the first café we had tried, hoping I might have left it there and it been handed in, but no such luck. So I headed back to the Nova and to our table, more or less resigned to my loss, and noticing that Ann and Anne Marie had meanwhile returned. Regina had told them what had happened and where I was, and they were duly sympathetic. They regathered their belongings to walk towards me as I approached, and it was only at this moment that Ann realised that she had a Panasonic camera around her neck while her own Canon was tucked away in her bag! She had obviously mistakenly picked up my camera when leaving with Anne Marie and only just now realised her error. I didn’t know whether to be annoyed, relieved or amused, but the middle of these emotions prevailed!
Basilica of St Lorenz
Basilica of St Lorenz
After lunch, some of us went to visit the Roman Catholic basilica which is very impressive. It was built between 1652 and 1748 on the site of an earlier church, as the abbey church of the Benedictine Abbey in Kempten. When the monastery was dissolved in 1803 the church became simply the parish church of the town. The impressively tall towers are a 1900 addition and are perhaps surprisingly (well I was surprised!) made of concrete. The church was granted the title of basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
In the basilica
There is lots to admire inside. I especially liked the individually decorated choir stalls (these are rare plates of Scagliola, an artificial stone made to look like marble), and the unusual pure white relief carvings of the Stations of the Cross. The inside of the dome is very lovely too, with delicate gold carvings and almost pastel paintings, beautifully lit by natural daylight. Look out too for the carving of Jesus, weighed down not just by the cross he carries but also the massive elaborate pulpit on the wall above.
Altars either side of the main aisle each hold a rather disconcerting relic, the gold and jewel-encrusted skeletons of Saints Honorius and Innocentius. A VT friend has pointed me towards some interesting information on these. They are “catacomb saints,” who were regarded by 16th and 17th century Catholics as protectors and personifications of the glory of the afterlife. They have their origins in the discovery, in the mid 16th century, of the vast Roman Catacombs where an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 people (mainly Christians and many of them martyrs, persecuted for their faith) were entombed. The Catholic Church saw an opportunity to replace relics lost from churches looted during the fervour of the Reformation, especially in Germany, with these newly-discovered “saints”. They became the latest “must-have” for churches reeling from the battle against the spread of Protestantism. This article in the Smithsonian explains the selection process for the “martyrs”:
“For the Vatican, the process of ascertaining which of the thousands of skeletons belonged to a martyr was a nebulous one. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome. If any vials of dehydrated sediment turned up with the bones, they assumed it must be a martyr’s blood rather than perfume, which the Romans often left on graves in the way we leave flowers today. The Church also believed that the bones of martyrs cast off a golden glow and a faintly sweet smell, and teams of psychics would journey through the corporeal tunnels, slip into a trance and point out skeletons from which they perceived a telling aura. After identifying a skeleton as holy, the Vatican then decided who was who and issued the title of martyr.”
As to the decorations:
“Each martyr’s skeleton represented the splendours that awaited the faithful in the afterlife. Before it could be presented to its congregation, it had to be outfitted in finery befitting a relic of its status. Skilled nuns, or occasionally monks, would prepare the skeleton for public appearance. It could take up to three years, depending on the size of the team at work.”
Do read the Smithsonian article if you are interested – it is absolutely fascinating, if rather macabre.
Emerging into the light, the fountain outside on the Hildegardplatz is also worth a closer look. It was created in 1969 and has a boy and a girl standing by an apple tree on top of a column. Around the column water spurts from a ring – I loved the little birds on this, fashioned as if drinking from its waters. And around the basin below this column are fish and other water-loving creatures such as a frog, salamander and snake. These should also, it seems, be spouting water but were dry on the afternoon I took these photos, as you can see.
By the time we came out of the basilica it was almost 3.00 - time to register for the VT meet!
Registration took place at the Brauereigasthaus Zum Stift almost opposite the basilica. There were lots of people to greet and much excitement and photo-taking.
I was here for some time chatting to various friends and enjoyed a refreshing Weinshorle. I then decided to walk back to the hotel for a break and to freshen up for the evening.
The VT crowd gathers for another Euromeet
Alan, Martin & Jon ~~~ Fergy & Jon
Kirsty & Christian (our host) ~~~ Irina, Yvonne & Lori
It's interesting to reflect that at least seven nationalities are represented in these few photos, and there were nearly twenty different one at the meet. The spirit of Virtual Tourist is alive and well!
Euromeet first dinner
The first official meeting dinner was also at the Brauereigasthaus Zum Stift. We gathered in the beer garden where there were many more greetings and hugs, before moving into the room put aside for us where we sat at long tables. Although we had paid a set price of 15€ we were able to order any main dish (and later, I found, also a dessert), although drinks had to be paid separately. My dry white wine was very good, as was the food when it came (I had hake served with rice, spinach and a lemon sauce) but, perhaps understandably given the size of our group, it did take a very long while (well over an hour) and I regretted being tucked on the inside of the table where it was harder to use the time to circulate and chat.
Waiting for dinner
Amelie & DAO
Nathalie, Larry & Kirsty
By the time I had eaten the fish, and also my chosen dessert of Apfelstrudel, I decided it was time to leave, so Ann, Kirsty and I walked back to the hotel (my fourth time that day for this long walk) and I was glad to get back to my room for a much-needed rest!
Kempten by night, from near the Bayerischer Hof