Constance, a decayed city of 4500 inhabitants, instead of 40,000, which it once possessed, is remarkable for its antiquity, since its streets and many of its buildings remain unaltered since the 15th Century. Although situated on the left or Swiss bank of The Rhine, it belongs to Baden.
Today, the German city of Konstanz in the state of Baden-Württemberg, boasts 80,000 inhabitants and many of its ancient buildings still stand proud, even avoiding Allied bombing raids, during World War II, over 100 years after Murray’s visit, because of its close proximity to neutral Switzerland.
The next paragraph in Murray’s notes though hasn’t lasted the test of time:
It is connected with the opposite shore by a long wooden covered bridge, and occupies a projecting angle of ground at the Western extremity of the Bodensee or lake of Constance; its agreeable position and interesting historical associations make amends for the want of life perceptible within its venerable walls.
I’m often taken aback by how quiet and deserted, some would even say ‘boring’, many Swiss cities are, particularly at night time – especially given the huge disposable income of their population in comparison to more lively towns of a similar size across Europe – however this is not an observation that applies to Konstanz. True, it is strictly speaking, in Germany, and the Universität Konstanz opened in 1966, some 130 years after Murray’s visit, helping boost the population almost twenty fold, 12,000 of which are students, each seeking their nocturnal distractions. In fact, there’s now more Italian, Turkish, Romanian, Syrians and former Yugoslavians living there than the entire population back in 1837.
The wooden bridge may be gone, its steel replacement moving slightly down river, however the original bridge tower still stands proud and is home to the Fasnacht Museum.
The Minster is a handsome gothic structure, begun in 1052: the doors of the main portal, between the two towers, are of oak, curiously carved with a representation of the Passion of our Lord, executed in 1470 by one Simon Bainder.
Whilst Simon may not be the most famous carpenter in the Catholic world, I’d say that his huge 4m high wooden doors are truly magnificent and have stood the test of time, as has his name, which he has immortalised in a carving at the top of the frame. The twenty different portals display different chapters of Jesus’s life and must have taken years to complete.
The choir is supported by 16 pillars, each of a single block, and dates from the 13th Century.
The cathedral actually dates back to 1054, making it one of the oldest buildings in Germany, with a church on the site since the early 600’s. It is an incredibly impressive structure which has undergone many changes over the years, including the redesign of the choir in 1775, and numerous times since, as well as, more significantly, the construction of the imposing tower in 1856, twenty years after Murray visited.
At the time he visited, the cathedral would have looked like this portrait from 1819…
The pulpit is supported by a statue of the “Arch-heretic Huss;” and the spot where he stood, as sentence of death by burning was pronounced on him by his unrighteous judges, is still pointed out.
As previously mentioned at nearby Gottlieben in Route 7, the Czech reformer and national hero, Jan Hus, was executed on the same day as his sentencing, 6th July 1415, giving him no time for an appeal. The 6th July is now a national holiday in the Czech Republic, Jan Hus Day, and his memorial stands proud in the Old Town Square in Prague. He is largely seen to be the key reformer whose teachings led to Protestantism.
You may be wondering why such an anti-Catholic would be immortalised in a statue supporting a church pulpit, and you’d be right to. In the 1700’s and right up until Murray’s visit in the 1830’s, most locals presumed the statue of the “miserable wooden man figure that is made so monstrous and shapeless as possible” to be the image of Hus, and it was described in 1781 as such: “The common low mob sees the figure of Huss, hits him with their iron hobnail shoes in the head, in the eyes, in the chest, and spits full of holy zeal, the afterbirth of frenzied nonsense.” You can still see the damage to the statue to this day, however in a twist of the utmost irony, it’s not a statue of Hus at all, but, as determined shortly after Murray’s visit, to be that of the equally bearded Abraham, with his lamb. If only Simon Bainder hadn’t been too busy working on the doors, he could have made a much more life like statue of Abraham.
Robert Hallam, Bishop of Salisbury, who presided over the English deputation to the council, is buried here, in front of the high altar “under a tomb, which is very remarkable, as being of English brass; which is fully proved by the workmanship. It was probably sent over from England by his executors.
Bishop Bob was the English representative on the Council of Constance, the most powerful Roman Catholic church body in the world at the time, operating exactly 600 years ago, from 1414 to 1418, and was formed to end the schism caused after three different popes claimed to be the “real pope”, with bishops around the world forced to choose whether to follow Avignon or Rome. Because of his love of spaghetti and an allergy to frog’s legs, Bob opted for Rome. His tomb still has pride of place in Konstanz Cathedral, and the “English brass” sent over by his executors, which Murray refers to, was presumably the metal alloy, as opposed to the English-slang word for “prostitutes”. Although, that said, there were apparently over 700 prostitutes in a city with just 6,000 inhabitants at the time, catering for the 72,000 randy visitors who were typically less Biblical than they’d have you believe.
Two sides of the ancient cloisters, whose arches are filled in with exquisitely beautiful tracery, are yet standing. The other sides were not long since destroyed by fire.
By the side of the cathedral is a curious circular chapel, perhaps a baptistry, in the centre of which is a Gothic model of the Holy Sepulchre.
There are numerous chapels and rooms leading off the main choir and it’s easy to get lost, however the “curious circular” Mauritiusrotunde can be found out of a side door to the east of the cathedral. The small room is home to the “Gothic model” of the Holy Grave, a kind of religious Wendy House.
The chambers on the cloister portion of the ancient Episcopal palace contain many curious vestments and dusty relics of the past grandeur of the see.
I could have sworn I once had an Episcopal in hospital to clear “many curious vestments and dusty relics” from my testicles after being diagnosed with Epididymitis, however, after a bit of research, it turns out that the “Episcopal palace” was actually the home of the Anglican prince-bishop, a long line of rulers over Konstanz from 534 to 1821. It also turns out that “the see” is a religious term for the area over which he ruled, which, with hindsight, explained why I couldn’t find any nautical antiques, despite my best efforts to do so.
Behind the Cathedral, across the busy road on an island, is Murray’s next stop, Dominikanerinsel.
The Dominican Convent, now a cotton factory, is very interesting. The church forms a most picturesque ruin , in the earliest style of German Gothic.
The Dominican Monastery, built in 1236 and prison to Jan Hus in 1415, made way for the cotton factory in 1785. Having married into the the family of the owners, Eberhard von Zeppelin, the brother of the more famous Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and roadie for the 1960s legendary rockers, opened a hotel here in 1875 and it has remained as such ever since, now called the Steigenberger Inselhotel.
The cloisters are perfect.
The little island upon which this building stands was fortified by the Romans, and a portion of the wall, towards the lake, can yet be discerned.
Just across the park from the hotel is a building which is even more centre of attention than the impressive cathedral, the Konzil Konstanz (or Kaufhaus).
In a hall of the Kaufhaus (an ancient edifice, dating from 1388), looking towards the lake, the Great Council of Constance held its sittings, 1414-18, in a large room supported by wooden pillars. That famous assembly, composed, not of bishops alone, like the ancient councils, but of deputies, civil and ecclesiastical, from the whole of Christendom, including princes, cardinals (30), patriachs (4), archbishops (20), bishops (150), professors of universities and doctors of theology (200) besides a host of ambassadors, inferior prelates, abbots, priors, &c, was convened for the purpose of remedying the abuse of the church; and as those abuses began with its head, the proceedings were prefaced by a declaration, that a council of the church has received, by Devine right, an authority in religious matters, even over that of the Pope.
This collection of holier-than-thous was even more important than the Vatican back in 1414, with the Catholic Church being split between following either the Pope in Rome or the more popular, Pope in Avignon, France. The Council served as an interim ruler as the rest of the church got their act together. Anybody who dared question their interpretation of the Bible, would be tried in the Kaufhaus by this collection of power hungry zealots – in the name of God, of course – and sentenced to death – as that’s what He would have wanted, at least when He wasn’t in an all forgiving mood, obviously.
It exerted its influence in curbing the Papal power, by deposing the infamous John XXIII and Benedict XIII, and by electing in their place Martin V.
It’s hard to contemplate that this 630 year old meeting hall was, at the time, the equivalent of The Vatican today, basically reuniting the Catholic Church around just one pope in some sort of 1418 X Factor, yet, today, it is little more than a huge restaurant and event space. Even with religion growing less and less popular in the Western World, I still can’t envisage St. Peter’s Basilica becoming a pizzeria by 2614.
But there is one act of this council which fixes more lasting and odious celebrity than all the rest – the treacherous seizure and cruel murder of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, in spite of the safe-conduct granted to the former by the Emperor Sigismund, the president of the assembly.
Alongside, “thoult shall not kill”, the sneaky Council also choose to ignore “thoult shall not bare false witness” as they invited an unsuspecting Hus to a meeting at the Kaufhaus to discuss their differing interpretations of the same book, promising him no harm would come to him. His friends in Prague advised him not to go, and his best mate, Jerome, stupidly agreed to come to his aid, if he didn’t return, which was the case. Both would be burned at the stake after the Council Of Constance had read Jamie Oliver’s tips on how to grill properly: “Cooking well over fire takes some skill, but mastering those techniques will give you a special seat of honour among your friends.”
The chairs occupied by the emperor and pope, the Bible of Huss, the door of the dungeon, now destroyed, in which he was confined, the hurdle on which he was dragged to execution, and some other relics of the council, still remain in the hall, besides a collection of Roman and German antiquities, dug up in the neighbourhood.
I love the idea that Hus’s Bible would be full of circles and corrections in red ink, like a teacher highlighting where his pupil had gone wrong with their understanding of the subject. I could imagine him standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by the hundreds of judges, pointing at his book and protesting unsuccessfully “but come on guys, seriously, I can almost acknowledge your argument that, for whatever reason, God might have given them belly buttons, however, even if He did create Adam and Eve, do you really believe that snakes could talk!?!”.
Sadly, other than enjoying a great fish meal over a nice German beer on the terrace, the closest to the famous hall I have reached was when I tried to gatecrash a wedding reception, only for my darn Team Sky lycra cycling kit to blow my cover. I suppose, without an invite, I will never know if there’s still a defaced Bible, a broken door and a blood-stained hurdle lying around somewhere inside.
The house in which Huss lodged, bearing a rude likeness of him, is pointed out in the Paul’s strasse, near the Schnetzthor. He was thrown into prison soon after his arrival, in the Franciscan Convent, now a ruin, whence he was removed to a more irksome dungeon below ground, affording scarcely room to move, in the before-mentioned Dominican Convent.
Today, the Hus-Haus is a museum devoted to the Czech hero who is largely seen as being responsible for the creation of the Protestant Church. Although, as he was thrown into prison almost immediately after arriving in Konstanz, he presumably stayed he for less time than he actually paid rent for, not being able to give his landlord two months written notice to leave, what with hands being tied to a stake and all.
The field – outside of the town in the suburb of Bruhl, in which he suffered martyrdom, with a fortitude that moved even his judges and executioners to admiration – nay, even the place where the stake was planted, are still pointed out; and rude images of Huss and Jerome, formed of clay taken from the spot, are offered for sale to the stranger.
One can only hope the clay images were not made by the same carpenter who crafted the statue of Abraham in the cathedral. And you have to wonder who would actually buy one of these models. Perhaps, back in the 1830s, such figurines of historic characters were as collectable as Star Wars dolls were to kids in the 1980s. Hus easily being mistaken for Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as Abraham, with his long white beard.
Today, a church stands on the location of the field (at Lutherplatz) and, in 2015, a monument was erected in the middle of the road outside, marking the spot where he was executed.
Murray goes on to explain that the Austrian Emperor Sigismund would sign the peace treaty in Konstanz which would bring peace with Switzerland in 1474, after almost 150 years of fighting, including the Battle of Morgarten in 1315 and Sempach in 1386, presumably not tricking the Swiss into a false sense of security like he had Hus. Konstanz had belonged to Austria from 1549 up until 1805, when it was then transferred to Baden-Wurttemberg.
He also mentions Peterhausen, just across the bridge (see Route 7), and gives one of the best bits of advice I could still make to anybody visiting the city…
An excursion to the little island of Meinau, about 4 miles North of Constance, will well repay the trouble: it is decidedly one of the prettiest spots on the borders of the Bodensee.
Just 7km from Konstanz, Mainau, or “The Flower Island”, is surrounded by Germany, Switzerland and Austria, yet actually belongs to the Swedish royal family, following the marriage of Victoria of Baden to Gustaf V, King Of Sweden in 1881. It’s a stunning island of landscaped gardens and an enchanting butterfly house, with the most colourful blooms set out in ornate displays all year round.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN KONSTANZ:
The Hecht, or Brocket, and the Couronne Imperial, both good; but the latter is to be preferred as the posting-house. The other is the voiturier connexion.; and they do all they can to advise travellers to adopt that mode of transport, saying that you cannot rely upon finding horses, and the like.
Once a grand building and centre of attention, Hotel Hecht or Hotel du Brochet was the yellow building at Fishmarkt 21, home to the Brasserie Chez Léon restaurant. A plaque marks its wall, stating that Michel de Montaigne, arguably the most influential writer ever, stayed here in 1580. It doesn’t state if he took them up on their offer to hire a horse.
The Couronne Imperial, at Brotlaube 2A, is no longer a hotel but, from September 2016, will be Brasserie Colette from legendary German chef, and former Berlin gangster, Tim Raue, which will move into the premises formerly occupied by the Krone restaurant and coffee house. The golden crown on the building’s roof signalling its former use.
As previously mentioned, the former Dominican monastery, a factory when Murray visited, was converted by its owner, Eberhard von Zeppelin, intro what is now the 5 Star Steigenberger Inselhotel. Rooms cost from €195.
For hotels in Konstanz, the picturesque Hotel Graf Zeppelin was opened in 1835 as the Deutsches Haus, two years before Murray visited and possibly not established enough to make his recommendations. It was renamed in 1950 as a tribute to Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the airship pioneer who was born in Konstanz the year Murray’s “Hand-Book For Travellers In Switzerland 1838” was published. Rooms cost from €100.
Hotel Goldener Sternen, meanwhile, has been owned by the same family for the past 250 years.