Some months ago, I wrote on this website of our journey on the Eurostar train, which passes through the tunnel under the English Channel on its way to London.
I mentioned that this train journey took us past Cologne Cathedral, which was the tallest building in the world from 1880 to 1884, when it was overtaken in height by the Washington Monument. Cologne Cathedral rises to a height of only 516 feet. The Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. The disappointment felt in Cologne in 1884 must have been considerable.
Meanwhile, down in the southern German city of Ulm, the city fathers were working to disappoint Cologne even further. In 1890, Ulm Minster was completed at a height of 530 feet. After that, Cologne Cathedral was not even the tallest church in the world, much less the tallest building. And Ulm Minster is not even a cathedral, because it has never had its own bishop. It is simply a Lutheran church, because the people of Ulm converted to Protestantism during the Reformation. Ulm Minster continues to this day to be the tallest church in the world. Before pews were introduced, it could accommodate over 20,000 worshippers and the very distant Alps can be seen from the top of its spire.
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Late in November 2010, we visited the ancient city of Ulm, which lies on the border between the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg and which stands on the River Danube. We stayed in a little hotel sitting in the very shadow of the great church spire – or at least that’s where it would have sat had there been any sun during our visit. The hotel is owned by a Spanish family, who settled in Ulm over a century ago. We sampled some of their Spanish red wine called Sangre de Toro, which in Spanish means “blood of the bull”.
Perhaps a little embarrassed by our enthusiastic praise for this cheap plonk, our hosts then invited us to enjoy what they described as the best Spanish red wine. And what made it the best, we enquired? The answer given to us was that every grape used in the making of Celeste 2006, which was the name of the wine in question, had been picked at night. The grapes thus gathered were cool and at exactly the right sugar level to produce the finest wine. The bottle was labeled “Crianza”, which means that its contents had been aged for at least two years, a significant part of which had to have been in an oak cask. Celeste 2006 is a product of the Ribera del Duero wine growing region on the northern plateau in the Castile and Leon province of Spain. It is delicious.
The house in which this little hotel is located was used by the publishers of Johannes Kepler to publish some of his most important work. Kepler lived in a nearby house during last years of his life. He died in 1630 and his house was destroyed by World War Two air raids. Indeed, most of Ulm was destroyed at the same time. The church and the publishers’ house were fortunate to survive without damage. Johannes Keppler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. His fame springs from Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion, which describe the elliptical orbits of planets around the sun. These laws formed the basis for Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity a century later. Kepler’s thinking was revolutionary for his time, but he was not Ulm’s only genius.
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm in 1879 and his birthplace is memorialized, even though he was moved away at the age of three, when his father decided to start a new business in Munich.
Close to the great church on the Munsterplatz is another memorial. It is to the brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl. At the University of Munich in 1942, Hans had organized a group to resist Nazism and it was known as The White Rose. His sister Sophie, who became active within the group, taught kindergarten in Ulm and later worked in an Ulm metallurgical plant as part of her compulsory war service. The group wrote and distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets and also distributed copies of the sermons of Cardinal Graf von Galen, the Lion of Munster. In an earlier item on this website about the city of Munster in northern Germany, we mention the courage of von Galen in light of the fact that opposition to the regime at that time led to certain death. We described the survival of von Galen as a miracle. The truth of this is well demonstrated by the fate of Sophie Scholl. Simply for distributing this anti-Nazi material, she and Hans were tried, sentenced to death and executed. She was 22 when she was killed.