Found: one (1) Nazi aircraft carrier, slightly waterworn

Here’s an item I noted and filed away this summer: back in July, a Polish oil company stumbled across the sunken wreck of the Graf Zeppelin, an aircraft carrier built (but never fully completed) by Germany shortly before the Second World War. (And here’s some additional speculation about its ultimate fate.) Although it never saw combat action and was scuttled in the final stretch of the war, it had the distinction of being the only carrier in Germany’s fleet. As usual, Wikipedia’s got the gritty details.

It’s a pretty monumental artifact of the war, and not surprisingly the Russians have been quick to lay claim to it. It’s also good fodder for those always-entertaining “what-if” questions: what if Germany had focused more heavily on its naval forces, supplementing its famous submarine fleet with a carrier task force or two? (Of course, as any Axis and Allies player knows, that’s just not practical–the money is much better spent building tanks with which to invade Russia, and even if Germany managed to launch a carrier, those pesky British would just immediately fly over and sink it.)

Mad Kings and stranger things

Prior to our trip to Germany, everything I knew about “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886, reigning from 1864 until his death) came from two sources: (1) The poster of one of his castles, Neuschwanstein, in the snow which is ubiquitous at all college poster sales; and (2) Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace, in which during Betsy’s stay in Munich just before World War I, a local girl tells her how much the Bavarians had loved their Mad King.

King Ludwig didn’t have any great impact on history, and most Americans probably don’t know much more about him than I did. But it seemed obvious that one of our stops on our trip would have to involve joining the mobs of people who every day queue up to see Ludwig’s two most-visited castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.

Somehow, during our rushed tours through Ludwig’s family home of Hohenschwangau, and his never-finished fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein, I got interested in him. He is one of those figures who doesn’t soon fade into dry obscurity like most other dead kings. One reason are the flamboyant castles he had built which still remain in the landscape; another is his mysterious death, always fodder for later speculation and wild theory.

But I think he’s just one of those historical figures whom everybody wants to love. Historians and laypersons alike are eager to spring to his defense. People see in this wealthy royal wastrel shyness, generosity, and vulnerability that elicits sympathy and liking–or maybe that’s just the way those who profit from Ludwig’s memory find it beneficial to portray him.

Anyway, read and find out if you feel the same. You’ll find a “detailed biography” and pictures, as well as tourist info here, also check out the Wikipedia entry. Also, even though he died over 100 years before the advent of the Internet, King Ludwig has his own website! What an amazing guy.

Finally, here is the Mad King history lesson I imbibed from the Betsy book mentioned above:

The second King Ludwig (a dull Maximilian came in between) had been gloriously mad, Tilda said. He was dark and very handsome. On top of the Royal Residence in Munich he built a winter garden where, clad in silver armor, he used to float in a swan boat like Lohengrin’s. This mad Ludwig was the patron of Wagner.

He built fabulous castles in lonely mountain spots. They often had French salons and gardens, for he was in love with Marie Antoinentte.

“But, Tilda! She was beheaded before he was born.”

“He loffed her,” Tilda declared.

He used to ride through the mountains in a carriage drawn by four white horses. In the winter his golden sleigh was shaped like a swan. He would drive all night through snow and storm. The villagers in their beds would hear him rushing by. Or they caught glimpses of him, his face pale, his eyes blazing under a diamond-studded cap…The peasants loved him, she said, in spite of his extravagances, and when he died…

“What did he die of?” Betsy interrupted.

He drowned himself, Tilda answered, because he was forced to abdicate. The peasants made a hero of him then. To this day young mountaineers wore his picture in their hats.

Happy Reformation Day!

We visited Wittenberg, the town where Martin Luther lived, taught, and…reformed, I guess, towards the end of our travels through Germany. We visited St. Mary’s Church, where Luther preached; the outside of the Castle Church, where the whole 95 theses thing happened 488 years ago today (though not according to these nay-sayers); and his house, which is now an excellent museum of Luther’s life and times. You can see all this stuff too, and more, at Lutherstadt Wittenberg’s Virtual Tour.

Read more about Martin Luther at this fun PBS site. Lots of documents authored by or about Luther can be found here.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

In Archaeology we learn that the best-preserved ancient towns are those which were destroyed in antiquity and never resettled. The same seems to be true of medieval towns, which is good news for the tourist trade, though not so good for the medieval inhabitants.

In the Middle Ages, Rothenburg was a free imperial city and one of the largest cities in Germany, with a population of around 6000. We took the fun and interesting Night Watchman Tour there. The info from this tour (in German–find info from the tour in English here) provides a colorful summary of Rothenburg’s history, daily town life, and the duties of the night watchman; as well as more recent history, including the town’s fate during World War II.

Rothenburg was finally conquered during the 30 Years’ War, and never regained its former prosperity. But with the rise of Romanticism in the eighteenth century, Rothenburg revived and once again became a properous town due to tourism.

Read more about it!
Photos & comments on medieval Rothenburg
Resources for Germany in the Middle Ages
Wikipedia on the 30 Years’ War: scroll down and check out the “external links” as well.
Wikipedia on Romanticism

A historicity city: Berlin

We recently returned from two weeks in Germany. We had a really good time, and also got some ideas for some Historicity subjects. Since we began and ended our trip in Berlin, I thought I’d begin with it.

We stayed in the Kurf├╝rstendamm neighborhood on the way in and out of the city. Apparently even Germans don’t try to pronounce this; we saw it abbreviated as “Ku’damm” everywhere (though curiously called “Ku’damn” here, maybe Lonely Planet doesn’t like it there). Ku’damm’s main reason for being seems to be the many malls, department stores, and boutiques lining its main drag, and is right across the Tiergarten from a bunch of historical stuff we didn’t see, such as the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

When I was in England several years ago, the scars of World War II were apparent in the urban landscape–remains of bombed-out buildings and entire towns and neighborhoods consisting of immediate post-war rebuilding. This was no surprise to me; the blitz was familiar to me from literature as well as from history classes. I was less aware of the devastating effect of Allied bombs on Germany in late WWII as well as after the war was over. Everywhere we went in Germany, one of the main points in every town was how much of the town had been destroyed in the war, and how the town had gone about rebuilding.

In the midst of Ku’damm is a bombed-out out church next to a tower built of blue glass blocks. Adjacent to the square in which the church stands is a big mall, the Europacenter, which houses the Tourist Information office. I asked the lady there what this was; she said that it was a church bombed in World War II and left standing as an anti-war monument. We went over and investigated: the church is the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in honor of his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and decorated inside with mosaics pertinent to the Hohenzollern family.

The church’s official site is here, it’s in German only. More on Berlin and the rest of our trip from us, hopefully soon!