September 12, 2009: Osnabruck Old Town

Today was the day that I set aside for seeing the Osnabruck Old Town – the historic district left standing after the bombings in World War II that flattened most of the city. Fortunately the Rathaus, City Hall, which is Osnabruck’s most important landmark was not hit.

I slept in until very late morning.  I need my sleep more than I need to be sightseeing, unfortunately, so I am giving up a bit of my free time in Osnabruck for rest but it is very important.  I feel pretty good today.  I got up, showered and heading right out to Hellern to go to the Wellmann’s bakery there for breakfast.

On my way I walked through the Mercedes-Benz dealership that is right across the street from the hotel.  I there discovered why I see so many MB and BMW cars driving around Osnabruck – they are practically giving these cars away here.  The prices are completely different than what we see in the US!  The fuel might be out of sight here (around $8 per gallon with is three or four times higher than it is in the US) but the cars are very, very cheap.  That explains why every car I see is high end and brand new.  Why buy anything else?

It was a beautiful day for a walk and I was out to Hellern in no time.  I got myself a black coffee and a streusel for “breakfast” as well as a cream cake to take back to the hotel to save for later.  It is only two Euro ninety for this light breakfast.  Not a bad deal at all and the coffee is excellent.

I walked back to the hotel, dropped off the food and checked my maps to be sure that I knew what it was that I was planning on doing while in town today.  Once I am away from the hotel on foot I am rather exposed to making mistakes so it is important that I have a good mental image of the city while I am exploring it.

My first project for the day is to reach the Old Town and the Heger Tor of Osnabruck.  These are in the city center.  I did not want to cover the same ground again that I have done the last few days so once I was just a little ways up Kurt Schumaker Dam I veered off to the north and took a tiny residential street and wound my way through a small neighbourhood that is, I imagine, relatively indicative of what urban Osnabruckian life must be like.  It was a really cute area and I can imagine being really happy living here.  The residents of Osnabruck are polled to be the most content in all of Germany so there must be something going right here!

I got to see a normal German school as well.  I walked right around in on my path so I really got a good look at it.  It seemed really nice.  So much nicer than American schools that I know.  It was right in the middle of a heavy residential area so I imagine that just about everyone can walk there and in just about no time.  It was set off on some huge campus like American schools, it was just like a lot of housing lots combined together into the school (and into a single, large building, of course.)  It was not a gigantic structure like American schools always are but was quite small and personal.

The area through which I walked was so quiet and peaceful.  It must be a great place to live.  While walking down the street I heard, for the very first time since being in the country, someone speak English without me prompting them to speak to me in it!  It was two children bicycling on the street.  The girl, maybe twelve, looked to be a babysitter or older sibling with a four year old on a bike with training wheels.  She said “You need to stay close to me now.” right as I walked by.  It was very strange to suddenly hear English in this context.

I approached downtown via Lotterstrasse and arrived right at the Felix Nussbaum Museum which is very famous here.  It is not in my plan to go to the museum today but I am definitely thinking about doing it tomorrow.  Everyone says that it is really fabulous and a must-see here in Osnabruck.

The Heger Tor is a large “victory arch” built in Osnabruck to commemorate the soldiers from Osnabruck who served at the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.  It was built in 1817, I believe, and marks the entrance to the Old Town here in Osnabruck.

Stepping into the Old Town is amazing. I was not prepared.  Now that I have been in Germany for several days I thought that I had a good feel for the place, at least for Osnabruck, but stepping through the arch took me from ultra-modern Germany (a Germany that has been completely built since 1946 and mostly built since 1970 and all with very modern styles) into a part of Germany still standing from the thirteenth century.  I was instantly standing in medieval Saxony.  It was a lot like standing in an ultra-realistic Disney World but at many times the scale.  It is actually quite a compliment to Disney that they have done such a good job conveying some of the feel of a place like this.  It was truly something to see.

I just wandered around the Old Town for a while without any real direction.  I managed to end up right at the Rathaus without any problem though in no time at all.  The Rathaus sits on a large, open market area (the Markt) and is definitely the center of attention in this area of the city.  It is both an active museum, open to the public, as well as the working seat of city government.  The building is really, really old which makes it so interesting that they still use it.  Parts of the building are left much as they would have been hundreds of years ago and parts of it have been re-outfitted to be completely modern and looking much more impressive than any government buildings that I have seen in the US.

I toured the market area and took a walk around the Old Town before doing any one specific activity.  I was having a great time just getting a lay of the land and seeing how this ancient town could still function in the same buidings that have been here, squished together far too close for car traffic, for hundreds of years.

I stumbled upon the Osnabruck Tourist Information Center and went inside to see if there would be anything useful in there for me.  I was only inside the bureau for a few seconds when I heard a voice behind me say “Hello, Mr. Miller.”  Boy did that ever catch me by surprise.  I don’t know anyone in this part of the country nor have I seen more than two or three people who could speak English (or let on that they do – WikiTravel warned that in Osnabruck there is a lot of resentment over the British occupation and that some people will refuse to speak in English if they think that you might be British.)

It turned out to be the front desk clerk of the Ibis Hotel where I have been staying.  She had seen me on the street going in to the tourist bureau and had jumper out of her car to follow me in.  Apparently I am pretty easy to spot with my shorts (I’m the only person in the whole country wearing shorts with it as cool out as it is) and carrying the Nikon D90 around (I am also the only person in all of Osnabruck carrying a real camera – literally, the only one – everyone stops and stares at me.)  This is the front desk clerk who was at the Ibis the first two evenings that I was in town so she had checked me in and got me my initial Internet access (Internetzugang) and had gotten me all situated to go to the Kalkriese so she had talked to me a bit.  It is still quite amazing that she remembered me enough to recognize me and know my name out of context on the street miles away from the hotel!  I had not seen her in two days so we had not just spoken or anything.

She helped me out by getting me a map of town and getting me the basic tourist information but in English which I had yet to have found.  That helped a lot.  Now I had some solid information on what there was to see and how I could go about finding it.  This was progress.  Most importantly she also told me how to find public restroom facilities in Old Town so that I would not have to give up my day when nature’s call prompted me to make a hasty retreat to the hotel!  Finding restrooms in Germany is somewhat more difficult than in the US.  That is one things that Americans do really well – making restrooms available.

Before going anywhere I went to the Plaza of the Treaty of Westphalia and sat by the fountain for a while studying the maps and guide so that I could orient myself.  The fountain is really cool and is right by several major attractions so it is a good place to sit and orient oneself when in Osnabruck.

Now that I know which attractions are free and which are not I am much better equipped to explore Osnabruck.  It isn’t that I mind paying for a museum but rather that I can’t read all of the signs and do not always know if I am doing the right thing or not.  I had poked my head into the Rathaus earlier but not seeing anyway to pay for a ticket I was not comfortable going in.  I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  Now I find out that the Rathaus Museum is free and open to the public.  So all I had to do was to stroll on in, which I did.

The Rathaus was a small but really cool museum.  What makes the building really important, besides being a very old historic structure in its own right and being the town hall of Osnabruck, is that it was here on the front steps that the Treaty of Westphalia was signed.

The Treaty of Westphalia is important for several reasons.  The obvious reasons are that it brought about the end of both the Thirty Years War as well as the Eighty Years War.  It also established nationality for The Netherland which is pretty significant.  Prior to the signing of the treaty The Netherlands was a jurisdiction within the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.  The treaty also formally recognized that Italy and Switzerland were no longer within the Empire proper.

This was all important but not nearly as important as what the treaty signified.  The treaty marked the first time the concept of “right over might” recognizing the now critical concept of national sovereignty and, more or less, permanently defining the basic borders of the European powers.  Until this time Europe, and the entire world, was run under the concept of “might makes right” and wars were a continuous function as rulers went through a never ending power-grab attempting to control as much territory as they possibly could.

In our modern world it is hard to believe that there ever was a time that this concept was not universally excepted but, in reality, this concept is extremely new and had never before been tried.  It is actually a European concept that has begun to spread to the rest of the world but in many places (Afghanistan, for example) we see that it has not yet taken hold in actuality.  It is actually amazing that after millennia of the universally excepted concept that a nation’s ability to kill the people of another nation determined its right to do so that in a very short time Europeans have taken that concept from the norm to being completely appalling and abhorrent.  It is similar to slavery which was abolished widely first in Europe after having been a universally accepted practice and in just a few hundred years it went from being the norm and accepted to being considered one of the greatest injustices possible to inflict upon another human being – even though many parts of the world continue to consider it normal.  The Treaty of Westphalia set the stage for all modern International relations today.  It established the modern concept of sovereignty.

It is really hard to grasp just what an earth-shattering change was made here on the steps of the Osnabruck Rathaus.  All modern thoughts of national ethics were established here.  The face of the world changed dramatically almost overnight.  Osnabruck is definitely a town involved in major changes!

After the Rathaus I crossed the square to visit the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Center.  It is a small museum on the same square as the Rathaus.  Remarque is most well known as the author of “All Quiet on the Western Front” which is one of the most important works of literature in the twentieth century and deals with the author’s personal horror having been a soldier in World War I.  He wrote a lot of other books, all but one of which were translated into English, but none approached the popularity of “All Quiet on the Western Front” which is required reading for a large number of American children in schools.

The museum was pretty small and hardly took any time at all for me to go through, especially as it was almost exclusively in German.  The Rathaus had had everything available in English as well which was very much appreciated.

After the two museums I decided to just explore the Old Town on foot and to take pictures.  There is a lot to see and the architecture is just amazing.

I walked for a while and took tons of pictures.  Then I stopped by a Wellmann’s that I found and sat out on the street having coffee and a pastry to relax for a little while.

I walked around just a little more and then set out up the hill to the northwest of Osnabruck to walk to the town of Westerberg where the University of Osnabruck’s main campus is located along with the university’s botanical gardens.

It was quite  a long walk and rather a steep climb to get up to the gardens.  I got a lot of exercise that I had not been intending to have gotten this late in the day.

The botanical gardens were free as well once I finally arrived.  They were rather large and appear to have been built into an old quarry so there was a lot of climbing up and down to do inside of the gardens as well.

While in the South American jungle greenhouse exhibit I overhead someone talking in English and said hello.  I ended up having a fifteen minute discussion with two elderly ladied, one from Osnabruck and one from Calgary.

From the botanical gardens I walked back to the hotel which was quite a hike away – at least going downhill this time.  By the time that I reached the hotel I was really soar.  My muscles were starting to ache.  I used Google Maps to attempt to figure out how far I walked today.  Google Maps put the distance between places that I went at fourteen kilometers but that was only the in-between portions and did not take into account all of the walking that I did in Old Town or at the Botanical Gardens which was a large portion of my day.  My estimate is that I walked between twenty and twenty-four kilometers today.  A really good day of walking if I do say so myself.

After freshening up I walked over to Subway and got a veggie patty sub – ordering completely in German for what it is worth.  I just did not have the energy to attempt anything else today.  I need something healthy, easy and cheap and this fits the bill.  I knew enough not to get mayo today.  I just got the sandwich, not he meal, and brought it back to the hotel and ate there.  I put on German television for about fifteen minutes just to check out the situation.  The sub was actually quite delicious.  It really hit the spot.

After dinner it was time to just relax at the hotel.  I bought my last day of Internet access and settled in for the night.  Tomorrow is my last, full day in Germany.  I extended my hotel stay so that I am not checking out until early Monday morning when I grab the train directly to Schiphol.

I had time to write up the SGL post but not enough to the get the pics edited and loaded today.  So I will be adding pics to this post as time allows.

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