Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Monday, July 28, 2014

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 1 / Golden Hall

GAPP Exchange Journal 2013
Part # 1 / Augsburg - The Golden Hall

Remaining City Protective Wall and Moat 
The Canals of the City's Artisan District

I was back in Deutschland for a second time as a chaperone with the German American Partnership Program's (GAPP) academic exchange with our partner school in Altötting, Bavaria.  Once again, I was representing Warwick High School, along with German teacher Frau Wendy Andrews with 19 students for a three week exchange.  2014 marked the 25th Anniversary milestone of the GAPP exchange between Warwick High School and König-Karlmann-Gymnasium (KKG) in Germany.  I decided to write about my experience this time by featuring some of the locations and adventures that were different from my first trip.  We will start off by visiting the industrial city of Augsburg, which is the most western city I have visited in Germany to date.  Wendy and I were guided on this day-trip by KKG teacher Annette Bock, who once lived in Augsburg and later attended college at the local university to earn her teaching credentials.  After driving by the university in the modern section of the city, we parked the car and walked toward the historical district of the old city.

    Canal Side Cafe in the Artisan District of the City
The first thing that showed the age of the city was the remaining protective wall first built by the Romans and expanded during the Middle Ages.  The creek at the base of the wall was actually the remains of the old moat, that once added an additional ring of protection.  Wow!  We walked into the old section of the city over ancient cobblestone streets.  Traditional colorful interconnected townhouses towered overhead to make efficient use of real estate.  Annette explained this section of the city once was home to craftsmen, artisans, and small industry.  The early machinery was turned by waterwheels fed by an extensive network of canals that remain today.  Overtime, the canals were covered over to make way for more vehicle traffic but people missed the historical connection with the canals that were first built by the Romans.  Amid local protest, the canals were slowly uncovered once again, despite the cost of modern convenience.  A small win for history!  The canals really added a romantic atmosphere to the lower part of the city, reminiscent of Venice in Italy.  However, as any proud resident of Augsburg could tell you, the city's complex canal network contains at least 600 bridges, more than Venice or Amsterdam.  Cars could still navigate the narrow streets but most people preferred to use bicycles or comfortable walking shoes, a choice which also benefits the environment.

Light Rail Lines of the Main Street / Maximilianstrasse    
The Ratskeller Tavern / Rear Plaza of Augsburg's City Hall

The city of Augsburg with 275,000 residents is the third largest city in the state of Bavaria behind Nuremberg and the capital city of Munich.  However, Augsburg is the oldest city founded by the Romans in 15 BC under the order of Emperor Augustus, which is for whom the city was named.  Annette continued to lead Wendy and I through the quaint canal district and eventually up a steep incline to the main street of the historic district known as Maximilianstrasse.  The first thing I noticed was the light rail passenger train that ran on tracks imbedded with in the cobblestone street.  The trains were visible throughout the day, running silently on electricity drawn from an overhead network grid of wires that were strung across the street, anchored within the exterior of the buildings.  We walked a short distance until we arrived at the mammoth Augsburg City Hall building that towered overhead with twin towers capped with onion domes.  However, before we could do any real sightseeing, it was time for lunch!  Annette chose to take us to a unique tavern located on the opposite side of the City Hall building within the cellar of the building.  We walked around the side of the building and descended a series of stairs to the rear cobblestone plaza where the Ratskeller eatery was located.  An area of outdoor seating was set up along an elevated patio that ran the length of the base of the building.  We chose a table under one of the bright orange umbrellas that shielded us from the hot bright sun.

The Golden Hall of City Hall, Augsburg
Wendy navigated the German menu for me, translating what was contained within each dish offered by the Ratskeller.  Within a short time, a platter was delivered for me containing sauerkraut, a rice ball, sausage links, a pork chop, and some other kind of meat on the bone.  It was a feast worthy of City Hall!  After an hour of good food, drink, and conversation, we were on our way back up the steps to tour the interior of Aubsburg City Hall building, which was built in 1620.  Inside was a small museum and gift shop but the star attraction was upstairs in a large concert hall size space known as the Golden Hall.  As usual, I had no idea of what we were going to see and was totally blown away by the rich golden visual spectacle before me.  The hall encompassed the entire top three floors of the building covering almost 6,000 square feet.  The walls climbed to a height of 46 feet, supporting a coffer ceiling of sunken squared panels richly adorned with murals and accented with gold leaf paint.  It was almost too much for the eye to absorb.  The brightly colored murals depicted the historical past, people, and economy of the city.  The Golden Hall is considered one of the most important examples of the German Renaissance period of architecture. It was beautiful!

The Golden Hall of City Hall, Augsburg
The fact that Augsburg was an important industrial center made it a prime target for allied bombing raids during World War II.  In addition to factories, the City Hall building was badly damaged and practically destroyed by fire, following the incendiary bombs dropped by the British RAF on the city.  Following the war, the historical building was repaired by 1955 with the exception of the Golden Hall, which remained a wooden shell.  The building as a whole had been refurbished in a much more simplistic style but as the 2,000th anniversary of the City Hall building approached, an effort was started in 1980 to restore the building's exterior and the Golden Hall to their original rich style.  Money was collected to help support the project, which was completed by 1985, just in time for the building's milestone anniversary.  The windows of the hall offered an excellent panoramic view of the surrounding city from above.  Legend says that a mouse is playfully hidden somewhere within the complex and intricate murals of the walls and ceiling.  We all searched but the challenge was almost impossible without knowing what the mouse actually looked like.  I think I invested a full minute and a half before giving up!  As I continued to explore, I discovered several side chambers where town council meetings might have been held.  Today the Golden Hall occasionally houses musical concerts and various other special events.  It was the most visually impressive space I visited during my three week visit.

The Golden Hall / Coffer Mural Painted Ceiling,
We left the Golden Hall and descended into the ground level to view the small museum of history that showed the evolution of Augsburg from Roman outpost to modern industrial center.  The economy of Augsburg continues to be strong, serving as the home for many successful companies including those manufacturing old school diesel engines to high tech electronic components.  Modern Augsburg is located just outside of olde city, beyond the medieval wall and out of sight, enabling the historic parts of the city to remain mostly historic.  As a result, Augsburg does not resemble the normal perception of how a city should look and feel.  The cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, extensive canals, outdoor cafes, elaborate fountains, and relaxed pace capture the charm and romance of Old World Europe.  Each city, village, and landmark I visited during my two three week visits to Germany and Austria had their own unique cultural personality, keeping each adventure a fresh and new experience.

 The View from the Golden Hall



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