One of the disappointments of visiting Germany for a church art freak like me is that so much of Germany was destroyed during World War II. That’s especially true of the tall church towers, which were often used as targeting bullseyes for Allied bombers and artillery men. Moreover, although small towns along the French German border (especially in the historically disputed region of Alsace) had little or no strategic value, Hitler ordered that they be defended to the last man because they were the Allied entry points into Germany. Indeed, Hitler regarded Alsace as part of Germany.
Consequently, these towns, such as Breisach in Germany and Colmar, only a few miles to the west in France, suffered awful damage all out of proportion to their military importance.
So, in a way, it’s a real history lesson to visit these places to see a couple of things: what the locals were able to preserve from the bombardment, and, perhaps even more optimistically, what they’ve built up to replace what they lost.
So, in Breisach’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, you see a restored church to it’s original size and architectural basics, but with little or no inside decoration. The windows are all modernistic. The side altars all gone, the crypts collapsed. But, from pure luck, or from foresight, at least in Breisach, their magnificent carved wooden altarpiece was removed from the church and hidden. And so, it’s there again today for us to enjoy.
Also, there’s one sculptural tableau of the burial of Jesus which somehow made it through and has been reestablished on the left of the altar.
But perhaps even more joyful than the preservation of the old is the celebration of the new. Modernist sculptures proliferate in the old town center near the cathedral. And, even more remarkable, the old town well wheel pump from the water tower building (which also served once as the town jail and torture chamber) has been turned into a whimsical piece of modern sculpture that recalls Breisach’s history–both medieval and modern.
Unfortunately, it being Monday, the town’s well regarded museum was closed. But the outside of the building which faces a park along the Rhine shows off a few interesting bits of Renaissance era sculpture.
We visited Breisach as the first stop on our hosted Viking River Cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam.