Friday, March 26, 2021

a city rising from the ashes

#lostcities episode 10: Würzburg

Finally, to the city that left a hole in my heart when I was transplanted to the sticks, but there is a happy ending of sorts in that two of my children went there to study (for reasons unrelated to previous family history), so I have had plenty of opportunities to revisit in the 2010s (see eg this Flickr album or the relevant tag).

Würzburg, located on the river Main upstream of Frankfurt, was comprehensively reduced to rubble in WW II (see this aerial view from 1948), but much of it reconstructed sympathetically, so today you wouldn’t guess that it has arisen from the ashes. When my parents arrived there in October 1961, there were still ruins in every street. After a stay in a nearby village, they managed to rent a couple of rooms in Neubaustraße 8, half way between the eponymous church and the river Main. We had to swap those rooms for the attic in the same building at some point, which was probably illegal but very romantic (at least in my imagination).

The medieval fortifications of Würzburg, today presenting as a green belt, describe a semicircle closed off by the river, and Neubaustraße is just a couple of hundred metres off the bisecting radius that runs from the cathedral to the medieval bridge. Looking across the river, the vista from this street points straight at the Marienberg fortress on the hill opposite the old town. (Conversely, this photo shows the view from the fortress down into Neubaustraße.) I went to nursery in a small side road nearby, I learned to walk in the parks of the baroque palace (Residenz), just beyond the inland end of the Neubaustraße. I may not have appreciated it as a toddler, but the presumed grave of Walther von der Vogelweide (ca. 1170 - ca. 1230) is also in the neighbourhood, in the Lusamgärtchen behind Neubaukirche.

By the end of 1968, we all washed up in the middle of nowhere, at which point my great-grandmother at Bad Nauheim was the last city resident standing among my direct ancestors.

PS: A day after I posted this, Twitter flagged up the birthday of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (27.3.1845), who of course discovered X rays at Würzburg, in a laboratory on the northern side of the old town, where the street name Röntgenring as well a small museum and a memorial sculpture today remind us of the fact. Back in the 1960s, the University's chemistry labs, where I toddled about between open drains carrying flammable solvents (maybe accounts have been exaggerated a bit to scare me), were still located on Röntgenring. Soon after, they moved to the new campus on Hubland, a high plateau just south of the city centre. Right now, I hear chemistry is again planning a move to new buildings.

Würzburg 1960

#lostcities series so far:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916
  5. Rheydt 1923 - 1935
  6. Königsberg 1935 - 1945
  7. Aachen 1936 - 1940
  8. Idar-Oberstein 1940 - 1962
  9. Bad Nauheim 1945 - 1972
  10. Würzburg 1961 - 1968

Stay tuned, as I still have a bonus episode in reserve.

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