Schweinfurt & Würzburg 2009

17th July 09 - 21st July 09



It has been almost two years since I have been home to Cape Town, so when I heard that my neighbours from Tokai, Cape Town, who have traditionally always referred to me as their Hinternachbarn ("backside" neighbours, effectively), were to be visiting Germany, I decided to act and secured a Ryan Air booking to fly there a week after my return from the Lorelei prog music festival at St Goarshausen on the Rhine. Lily, wife of Ian Forbes, was born in Germany and was travellling to where she grew up in Schweinfurt, to stay with Erika and Robert, her family. I had hoped to take up an offer from an old friend, Reinhard Pohl and stay in Nürnberg but unfortunately, he and his wife were to be away on holiday.

The word ‘Schweinfurt’ itself is as prosaic as it can possibly be: “swine ford,” a shallow spot in the Main River for pig herds to cross. Its poet laureate Friedrich Rückert once half-seriously lamented something to the effect “You could have been Wineford, or Mainford, but no, you had to be Swineford.” But it will always remain an open question as to whether the name “Schweinfurt” actually has anything to do with swine. It is however, quite ironic, in a way, that the town has taken to the placing of numerous statues painted in bright colours all around the town, funded by local businesses.


Some of the numerous Schweinfurt swines dotted around town.

  I ended up booking four nights in a Youth Hostel in Schweinfurt, astounding, at my age. As things turned out later it was in such close proximity to where Lily was staying and thus worked out perfectly. My departure from Stansted Airport at 10h40 meant an early start, commencing with an hour and a half train journey from Royston via Cambridge after leaving around 07h00. Arriving early, my check-in went relatively smoothly, unlike the previous week, where I discovered that boarding passes have to be printed out on-line and brought to the airport, lest one wishes to incur a £20 charge. Two hours later, I was in the air, flight time being just an hour. Frankfurt (Hahn) is in the middle of the gammadoelas i.e nowhere, so after waiting for a transit bus (another 3/4 hour), I secured a seat and two hours later, arrived at Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof. The service in the Bundesbahn office was superb, a lady in uniform assisting and so, 20 minutes later and 38 poorer, I found myself on a high-speed ICE train bound for Würzberg, where I had last been in 1988.  The hour and a half the journey passed in a flash and after a connection of some 20 minutes, I reached Schweinfurt around 18h00.

Schweinfurt Youth Hostel.



Schweinfurt Rathaus (town hall) and market square.


Church with Adam and eve depicted above the entrance; Schweinfurt market square and the statue of poet lauruette Friedrich Rückert.

Schweinfurt (German for Swine ford) is a city in the  Lower Franconia region of  Bavaria in the south of Germany on the right bank of the canalized Main, which is here spanned by several bridges, 27 km northeast of Würzberg. Schweinfurt is first documented in the year 791, though as early as 740 a settlement called Villa Suinfurde is mentioned. The city joined Martin Luther's Reformation in 1542. It was again destroyed in the course of the Margravian War, in 1554.  In the Thirty Year's War it was occupied. At some point the inhabitants were reverted to Catholicism. Schweinfurt suffered from heavy casualties during the Napoleonic Wars of 1796–1801. Schweinfurt remained a free imperial city until 1802, when it passed to the Electorate of Bavaria. Assigned to the grand duke of Würzberg in 1810, it was granted to the Kingdom of Bavaria four years later. The first railway junction was opened in 1852. In the following years Schweinfurt became a world leader centre for the production of  ball bearings. This was to lead to grievous consequences for the city during World War II.  In 1939, Schweinfurt produced most of the Nazi Germany ball-bearings, and factories such as the Schweinfurter Kugellagerwerke became a target of Allied strategic bombing during World War II to cripple tank and aircraft production. Schweinfurt was bombed 22 times during Operation Pointblank by a total of 2285 aircraft. After the war Schweinfurt became a stronghold of U.S. military and their dependents.


Schweinfurt architecture.

I arrived exhausted at the Youth Hostel, having SMS'd them earlier at their request and was given a room all to myself, a touch fortunate for anyone else, I might add. Lily had told me via e-mail of a YH along the Main, which, it transpired later, as in fact a Guest House. Lily, bless her, had arranged for Robert's son Jörg to contact me to establish whether I wanted to meet up.

örg suggested via an SMS that the town hall (Rathaus) was a good bet, thinking that I was at the Guest House not far away. Luckily I had already showered because looking at the map, it seemed to be on the other side of the town centre from where I was located, so if I was to meet in 20 minutes, I had to shift it! I had no idea what Jörg looked like and unbeknown to me, Lily had told him I had short hair. Well, imagine his state of confusion when the only person who showed at the rendezvous point was this long-haired rock star lookalike. We circled one another tentatively before he boldly made the first move and enquired as to whether I was in fact who I was. We walked to a wine garden (which was nearer to the YH!) and I met Jörg's wife Heike and another couple. I ordered würst and a glass of local wine and tried to adjust to having to speak German again after so long. A somewhat eccentric waitress, an elderly lady, had asked me what I desired, and whilst gazing at the menu, I uttered a solitary "Mmm", to which she replied, "wir haben keine Mmm" (we have no "Mmn").  It began to rain though fortunately we were under shelter. Jörg went to fetch the car to pick us all up and I was dropped off at the YH in Niederwermerstraße. I SMS'd Lily to inform her of my location, to avoid confusion, thereafter turning in exhausted yet contented for the night.




Würzburg Residenz, a palace designed by several of the leading Baroque architects and famous as the former residence of the prince bishops of Würzburg; Erika makes a point to Lily.

Fetched at 09h30 by Robert, Erika and Lily after breakfast the Saturday morning, Lily had taken up Heike on her offer to take us to Würzberg for the day. First, though, Lily and I were dropped off in Schweinfurt town centre to while away for a few hours. We had so much to talk about that the conversation hopped from one subject to another haphazardly. Nonetheless, we were having fun and I wanted to know all the news from Cape Town. The conversation switched to out previous meeting some years before in 2002, when I had met up with Lily, Ian, Erika and Robert in Nürnberg and had behaved really badly, as I had been trying to work through emotional stuff with a girlfriend at the time. I had hoped that my current state of mind would allay any fears that Erika and Robert might have had as to how I would conduct myself this time around. We had a coffee and some cake and then walked to where Heike and Jörg lived in Neutorstraße. We drove in to Würzberg and walked through the gardens of the Würzburg Residenz, a palace designed by several of the leading Baroque architects and famous as the former residence of the prince bishops of Würzburg. The foundations of the Residence were laid in 1720. Heike had brought along a guide book and kept us informed. A wedding couple were in the process of having their photographs taken in the gardens. We passed Würzburg Cathedral. The first church on the site of the present cathedral was built as early as 788, and consecrated that same year by Charlemagne; the current building was constructed from 1040 to 1225 in Romanesque style.

View of Würzburg castle or Festung Marienberg, as it is known; Lunch at the Alte Mainmühlen on the Alte Mainbrücke.



Views of Würzburg and the Alte Mainbrücke from the grounds of Festung Marienberg.

Heike had arranged with Stefan, a nephew of Robert and Erika, whom I had met in South Africa when he paid Ian and Lily a visit, was keen to meet up. He seemed happy and contented and soon to be married. We all met up at the town hall near the Alte Mainbrücke, the old main bridge that leads into the city of Würzburg, adjacent to two larger bridges either side of it further along the river that also lead into the city (Friedensbrücke and Ludwigsbrücke). The great thing about the Alte Mainbrücke however, is that no cars or trams run across it, unlike the other two bridges. The Alte Mainbrücke is also the prettiest and most historically interesting bridge stretching over into the city. Irish monks Kilian, Totnan and Kolonat brought the christian teaching to Franconia as far back as the 7th century A.D. Martyred in year 689, the River Main has reached the halfway point to the Rhine when it flows past these three Irish saints on the Alte Mainbrücke. We stopped for lunch at the Alte Mainmühle, a restaurant situated at the end leading into the city.

Festung Marienberg.


Heike then took us on a walk all the way up to Würzburg Castle or Festung Marienberg, a prominent landmark on the Main river in Würzburg, which is the symbol of Würzburg and served as a home of the prince-bishps for nearly five centuries. It has been a fort since ancient times. In 704 A.D., the Marienkirche was built atop a former Celtic shelter, and in the 13th century it was surrounded by the first fortification. In May 1525, during the Peasant's War (Bauernkrieg), a peasant army of 15,000 men surrounded the fortification, which was the seat of the bishop of Würzburg, but could not penetrate the concentric walls built on a steep incline. When their leader, Florian Geyer, went to Rotheburg ob der Tauber in early June to procure the heavy guns needed to attempt to breach the walls, the leaderless peasant army that was camped out around the castle allowed themselves to be outflanked by a professional army in the service of the bishop. More than 8,000 peasants were either slaughtered or blinded on the orders of Bishop Konrad II von Thungen. In 1631, the castle was reconstructed in the Baroque style.

In the grounds and gardens of Festung Marienberg.


It began to rain heavily and we sheltered in the grounds of the castle, before taking in the view of the city from a vantage point at a garden enclosed by the walls of the fortress. As we looked down below, the steep embankment leading virtually down to the Main was covered in vineyards. On the way back, we stopped at a coffee shop, located on the opposite of the Alte Mainbrücke to the Alte Mainmühle. We charged back to Schweinfurt in haste, as Jörg had been preparing a Mexican dinner to which we had also been invited. Lil's treat were tubs of ice-cream, purchased at a parlour in Schweinfurt on the way back. It amused us that Robert and Erika had also joined us, at some protest, it would seem, after having felt somewhat "overlooked" at the expense of the foreign guests. Jörg and Heike have a truly beautiful flat, the 3rd storey of which (where the two kids live) also housing a small sauna which handyman Jörg  kitted out. Jörg is in the window framing business.



Lily and Heike pose for the photographer in the grounds of Festung Marienberg.

Massacres of Jews took place in 1147 and 1298 and expulsions throughout the Middle Ages. In the period of Nazi rule, almost the whole Jewish and Gypsy population of the city was wiped out. During World War II, on March 16, 1945, about 90% of the city was destroyed by some 225 Lancaster bombers in 17 minutes by a British air raid. Most of the city's churches, cathedrals, and other monuments did not survive, while the city centre, dating from medieval times, was totally destroyed in a firestorm in which some 5,000 people perished. During the next 20 years, the buildings of historical importance were painstakingly and accurately replicated. The citizens who rebuilt the city immediately after the end of the war were mostly women, known as Trümmerfrauen or Rubblewomen. Men were either dead or POWs. Würzburg's destruction was arguably more severe than was Dresden's.

[Home Page]


[Part 2 - Schweinfurt & Würzburg]


Links to other websites: