Worms and Saarburg

Sunday 25th May, Wolfstein
Having sniggered in school at the mention of the Diet of Worms, this was a town we simply had to visit. We set off across the Odenwald, winding up and down the fir-covered hills. At times there were wonderful glimpses across the valleys, for example at Lautertal, where we stopped for a coffee on a thoughtfully placed seat overlooking the castle. We had left the Romantische Strasse for the Nibelungenstrasse, named after the famous legend set in the Burgundian realms of the fifth century in which the city of Worms played a leading part.


We dropped down into the Rhine valley and approached Worms across a bridge over the Rhine in which Hagen dumped the Rheingold, the treasure of the Nibelungs, and through an impressive medieval gateway.

Crossing the Rhine with the gateway to the city of Worms

City walls, Worms

We entered the town through another gateway, with a fragment of the city wall into which an ultra-modern high-tech, gleaming metallic Nibelung Museum has been incongruously inserted. These remains however did not set the tone for our visit. Worms is a modern city, having been badly destroyed in World War 2. The main monuments had however been restored, and these we dutifully sought out. The market square has a fountain dedicated to the hero Siegfried and a modern town hall, quite unlike the gothic and Renaissance gems we have been admiring elsewhere. It is dominated by the Holy Trinity Church, built in the 1720s.

Martkplatz with Dreifaltigkeitskirche, Worms

Marktplatz. Siegfriedbrunnen, Worms

Not far from the market square stands the Cathedral, a gem of German Romanesque architecture, very simple in the dark red sandstone common to the region. It had lost something of its dignity as one of its four towers was enveloped in a large white condom while it was under restoration. The decoration inside is largely baroque, but there are some beautiful sculptures removed from the cloisters when they were demolished, including a tree of Jesse dating from about 1500. Our visit was enhanced by an impromptu performance by a visiting choir who sang a couple of unaccompanied pieces before departing on a tour of the Cathedral.

Cathedral, Worms

Cathedral, Worms

Sculptures, Cathedral, Worms

Tree of Jesse, Worms

Visiting choir, Cathedral, Worms

The Diet of Worms was the imperial assembly of 1521 at which Martin Luther appeared before Emperor Charles V to defend the theses he had nailed to the church door in Wittenberg. His statement "Here I stand; I can do no other" has become famous and is quoted on the Luther monument. There he stands surrounded by his supporters, such as Duke Friedrich of Saxony, his fellow Protestants such as Melanchthon and his precursors, including the Czech Jan Hus and the Englishman John Wycliffe.

Luther monument, Worms

Luther monument, Worms

John Wycliffe flanking the Luther monument, Worms

But the experience that most impressed us in Worms was a visit to the Heiliger Sand. Located outside the former walls of the city it is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe with graves dating back as far as the eleventh century. It must also be one of the largest, with several thousand graves recording the Jewish community over 900 years. The graves are scattered under trees and the last were added in the 1930s. Somehow, miraculously, the cemetery survived the Nazi regime and is now well cared for. The old Jewish quarter has also been restored in another part of the city.

Heiliger Sand Jewish cemetery, Worms

Heiliger Sand Jewish cemetery, Worms

Tonight we are not in the campsite we had hoped to use as it has increased its price from 16 to 34 Euros for this weekeend. Perhaps it was as well, as there was a convoy of circus trucks parked outside the entrance and it was just beside an airfield where light aircraft were landing and taking off. It did however involve Jill in a sixty kilometre drive to the next campsite on our ACSI list, where we are parked beside an electricity pylon just below high tension cables. But we were far too weary to continue further. Perhaps the vibes will lull us to sleep.

Monday 26 May, 2014, Saarburg
Today we continued northward along the wooded valley of the Lauter, turning westward along the Nahe valley to arrive at the straggling settlement of Idar-Oberstein which sprawls along the Idar and Nahe valleys, dominated by towering crags on the top of which perches the inevitable castle – Burg Bosselstein. Cut into the rock below the castle is the so-called Felsenkirche. This was built between 1482 and 1484 by Wyrich of Daun-Oberstein. Of course there is a legend – where would Germany be without its legends? Wyrich loved the same damsel as his brother Emich, the fair Bertha of Lichtenburg. In a fit of jealousy Wyrich threw his brother to his death out of a castle window. Confessing his sin to a local abbot he was told in recompense to build a chapel at the spot where his dead brother's body was found. Wyrich worked many years at this task and when it was completed he asked God for a sign that his sin was redeemed. At once water gushed from the rock, forming a spring which still flows today. After receiving this sign from God Wyrich sank down before the altar – dead. All of which didn't do much for poor Emich and Bertha. Today the church is approached through a tunnel at the top of many flights of steps. This is because of the danger of falling rocks - or possibly falling brothers.

Felsenkirche, Idar-Oberstein

There was a good view down into the town which was very active in its business of producing and selling precious stones. The long pedestrianised high street was lined with shop after shop selling all kinds of stones in all sorts of settings, as well as geological specimens - indeed any sort of stone-related kitsch they could get away with. There is a mineral museum in the town with an important collection of excellent specimens.

View of the town from the Felsenkirche, Idar-Oberstein

Mineral Museum, Idar-Oberstein

Opportunist pigeons pick up crumbs from a baker's delivery van, Idar-Oberstein

We drove on up the Idar valley and out onto the Hunsruck ridgeway, traversing the open and isolated upland area we had first learned about in the gripping Heimat series shown many years ago on the BBC. We were delighted to rediscover the little 19th century chapel seen on our previous visit and the shelter built in the 1920s to shelter workers and their animals on the long journeys between their villages and the fields. Then down and down into the Saar valley and a return to Saarburg and a campsite by the little Leuk stream.

Shelter and chapel in the Hunsruck above Irsch

Tuesday 27 May, Saarburg
This is the third time we have visited this attractive little town with its castle perched on a crag above the river and the houses overhanging the Leuk stream as it cascades through the centre of the town, powering a series of waterwheels. We enjoyed wandering the streets and having a coffee and strudel (a patented recipe apparently) at a café in Little Venice just beside the waterfall.

Saarburg from the bridge over the river Saar

The only new thing we did was to visit the Staden, the lower village beside the river Saar, occupied by fishermen and mariners. Here from 1770 to 2002 the Mabilon bell foundry operated. The Mabilon family had come from Saumur on the Loire, at first itinerant founders, casting bells and canons wherever they were required. Both a canon and a bell feature on the arms of Urbanus Mabilon who set up the factory in Saarburg and later built a house on the Altmarkt, since taken over by a wine merchant and up for sale when we visited.

Coat of arms above the entrance to the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

The house of the Mabilon family on the Altmarkt, Saarburg

The factory was just as it was left on the last day of operation – leather aprons hung up, tools and equipment scattered around, the original grimy walls and floors – not a sanitised museum. An enthusiastic guide was giving a tour, but we were provided with an excellent handout and worked out the processes for ourselves. The drawing office was the key to the whole operation, designing templates for the different sizes of bells – the foundry could cast up to five ton bells – according a secret mathematical formula derived from many years experience. The core or inside of the bell is prepared with curved bricks coated with clay, guided by a wooden rib, a template for the shape of the bell.

A core being shaped by its template, in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

Templates and clay channels for pouring molten metal, in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

The clay, which is locally sourced, is carefully prepared and applied in thin layers, stiffened with hemp fibres. This is dried by a fire lit underneath its hollow core. A layer of graphite or wax is applied to the core. The shapers then apply the second layer of clay, with the aid of a matching template to make a complete model or false bell. Any lettering or designs are then applied in wax to the outside of the false bell. More graphite is applied to help the sections separate. This is followed by the application of a third thick layer of clay which forms the cope or outer mould.

Clay mixer in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

After all three parts are dry, the cope is lifted up by a pulley and the false bell broken up and removed. The exterior cope is than placed over the core again leaving a cavity to receive the molten metal, and on top of this is placed a separately prepared crown, from which the bell will be suspended, made from wax covered with clay, leaving holes to receive the molten metal and allow gases to escape.

The crown room in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

A completed wax crown in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

Wax crowns and moulds for lettering in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

Plaster moulds for decorations in the crown room of the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

The whole assemblage is heated to melt the wax and is buried into the earth of the casting pit to prevent the inflowing metal from breaking the mould. The bell-metal, 78 parts copper and 22 parts tin, is heated over furnaces fired at first by wood and then by high-grade coal mined in the Saarland. Channels are prepared for the metal to flow into the mould.

The furnaces in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg,

The casting is a solemn moment, usually attended by the clergyman who had ordered the bell and parishioners. A candle burns in a niche by the statue of St Joseph, a prayer is offered up and, with the words "In God's name" the master founder pours the molten metal from the crucible into the mould. It takes a few days for the metal to cool enough for the bell to be removed from the pit and the cope removed. It is then polished with sand and water and fine-tuned by a specialist. Meantime the clapper has been made from iron in the adjacent smithy and the bell is ready to be transported and hung.

The smithy in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg
Clappers from old bells, in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg

Finished bells in the Mabilon bell foundry, Saarburg. These are copies of those cast for Saarburg in 2002, among the last produced by the foundry

It was a wonderful opportunity to learn in such an immediate way about an ancient craft, now practised in very few places, but one which has been held in great esteem. The German poet Friedrich Schiller celebrated it in his famous poem "The song of the bell".

We have gleaned a little information on the results of the European elections which took place on Sunday. Apparently all Europe is in turmoil at the surge in support for nationalist candidates in several countries. Overall though they still form a minority, but perhaps they will cause the major parties to reconsider the domineering attitude of the European Commission. In other countries groups are lobbying for change – this is apparent from posters we have seen in Germany - but for changes that will take place within a united Europe. It would be very short-sighted for Britain to withdraw from Europe rather than fight for reform from within this important block of nations which has guaranteed peace within Western Europe for the whole of our lifetime.

Related links
Saarburg See entry for 20th June 2007
Saarburg See entry for 25th June 2010