Stolpensteine: Poignant Messages from the Past in Bamberg

After a pleasant and low key stop in Schweinfurt, the Maria Theresa set sail late that evening for Bamberg. The Ramblers had enjoyed not having to be someplace particular with a group, for a change. While Schweinfurt was not the most spectacular place we visited, it provided a sense of a more normal German lifestyle, as we mingled with dozens of families enjoying their stadtfest.

Bamberg was, according to our Uniworld printout, a city that is quite unusual. A UNESCO heritage site, it has a fascinating old town that had many special cultural and architectural historic places from the last thousand years. It would also provide the Ramblers with their most thought-provoking moments of the trip.

Bamberg already was on the map in the 10th century and once served briefly (in the 11th century) as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Its most famous son, Heinrich II was crowned in its cathedral in 1012 AD. The Bishop of Bamberg wielded considerable power in the middle ages while Bamberg claims to have been the second German city to introduce the new process of printing in 1460.

Bamberg is also the last city on the Main River before the start of the Main-Danube Canal. After we left Bamberg, during the evening through the night and  into the following morning, the Maria Theresa would traverse a series of locks that would eventually bring us to the Danube. Since we stopped there on Sunday August 30, we would not be able to tour the cathedral, as it was closed to tourists because of Sunday Masses.

Walking into Bamberg with the Cathedral in background.
Walking into Bamberg with the Cathedral in distance.

Neither were the shops open, as the residents did not shop on Sundays. However, as it turned out there was much to see and do.

Bamberg is in the area of southern Germany where beer replaces wine as a major product, and beer consumption per resident is the highest in Germany. There are 10 breweries in the area, each with its own beer tower. The breweries themselves are called Bierstadts or Bierkulturstadts. Our guide later told us that in the old days, each brewery could only sell their product to people who lived within view of the tower, but now this is not the case. Germans are concerned about the protein content of their brew and many refer to it as liquid bread. Probably their most famous beer is Rauchbier, first brewed in 1536. It is supposed to have a smoky flavor, but the Rambler is not a beer drinker and the senior Rambler doesn’t imbibe at all, so I can’t attest to its flavor.

sabine our guide
Sabine, our wonderful guide in Bamberg

After docking around breakfast time, we assembled in our groups to board busses that would take us to town. Unfortunately the town center was not within easy walking distance as it had been the day before. We decided to go with the Gentle Walkers again; they were a pleasant group and it is better to be one of the faster folks in the slow group than the slowest in the fast one. We were later very glad we made this choice because our Bamberg guide, Sabine, was the absolute best we had on the trip. She was thin and wiry, intense and enthusiastic, and reminded me of a faculty friend back home. As it turned out, she was an art history professor.

After we had gathered around our guide, the four Uniworld groups scattered in different directions. Evidently all the guides had a different idea of what was most interesting about their city. As it turned out, of the four guides, only Sabine made a stop to show us a place we have have often recalled.

Along this quiet street, something awful had happened in the past.

We headed up a narrow, cobblestone paved street, towards the historic district when Sabine stopped in the middle of the pedestrian street and asked us to look down. There set in the middle of the stones were five polished brass blocks. She asked us to take a closer look and we saw that each was engraved with the name, dates and address of a person or family. There we had our first real look at the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks.  They held the names of individuals  who had lived along this street and perished during the time of National Socialism. We would later see several more.

Their creator, Gunter Demnig is a German artist who has made it his life’s works to memorialize victims of the Holocaust in front of the buildings where they once lived.

Our first stolpensteine, those they commemorated had lived along that quiet street.
Our first stolpensteine, those they commemorated had lived along that quiet street. Note: If you click on the individual blocks to enlarge them, you will be able to read them. The three lower blocks are parents and child.

Anyone can order one, but they are usually placed by the Stolperstein team. In Bamberg, the money to order the stumbling blocks was raised by the schoolchildren of the city. According to Demnig’s homepage, the cost for each is 120 Euros, and to date they have been placed in 610 walkways throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands,  Belgium, the Czech Republic, Norway and the Ukraine.

More about Bamberg tomorrow. If you are interested in learning  about Mr. Demnig and his Stolpersteine, I have provided a link. They provide  amazing and poignant memorials we will long remember.

www.stolpensteine.eu/en/biography/

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