Watch out for Militant Cyclists!
By Melissa Santley
Underneath the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, a medieval Muenster has been put to rest. Fortunately the citizens and town officials have refused to let its revered history remain in the past.
During World War II, bombing leveled over ninety percent of Muenster's old town, but the town has rebuilt and takes pride in its past. A native of the city put it to me this way: "You can't toss out the ash in order to carry on the fire."
Located in northwest Germany, Muenster is a city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state. You can get to Muenster by bus, train or airplane. A flight from Frankfurt will take under an hour, and will drop you off at the Muenster-Osnabrucke (FMO) airport. This airport services both Muenster and Osnabruck.
The bus (direction Stubengasse) is the best way to get to the city, costing around $3 while entertaining a lovely view of Muenster's flat countryside. Kilometer by kilometer, the landscape changes from modest countryside to bustling metropolis. I stepped off the bus at the main public transportation hub (Bahnhof) housing not only the bus and train stations, but Muenster's prevalent mode of travel, a bike station.
I checked into the Hotel Kaiserhof, Bahnhofstrasse 14. A typical room in a three-star hotel could range between $90-$150 per night. Hotel Kaiserhof was comfortable with a very pleasant staff. It is newly renovated with plenty of amenities except a swimming pool.
A single room at this hotel with breakfast is approximately $120 per night. For budget travelers, the hostel Jugendherberge Aasee Muenster, Bismarckallee 31, offers rooms for about $22-$40 a night. While traveling in Germany, I found that the prices of goods and services were comparable to that of the United States.
Although the U.S. dollar plummeted to its historical low against the Euro, throughout my visit. I am certain all Americans traveling in Europe at the beginning of December were a bit befuddled at their bank statements when they returned home.
Near my hotel, within a five minute walk to the left or the right I stumbled upon Muenster's promenade. This promenade borders the Old Town of Muenster. Once used for fortification purposes in the medieval times, this scenic stretch of land presently keeps Muenster's industrialization separated from the historical features in the Old Town.
Getting out on Two Wheels
The promenade primarily serves as a walkway and bicycle highway for Muenster's often contentious riders. It goes without saying in this city there are certainly more bikes than civilians. Muenster has 250,000 inhabitants and a little over 500,000 bicycles. Before reaching my wits ends with the constant chiming of bells ringing for me to forfeit my pedestrian right of way or learn that tire tracks can be fashionable, I decided to see Muenster atop two wheels and one loud bell.
As mentioned previously, the Bahnhof also has a bike station or Radstation. Here is where I picked my five-geared partner in crime for the afternoon. The Radstation is an underground part rental agency and part bike parking garage for those who cycle into the city center and walk to their professions.
The going rate for a one day bike rental is about $6 per day. From here I braved the chilly and damp December air to see Muenster in a historical perspective that does not pertain to the patrician, or political way of life; rather the origins of the modest countryside that greeted me when I stepped off the airplane.
My bike and I endured a few close calls while crossing the vehicle highway, Adenaureallee from the city center to reach the park around the large man made lake, Aasee Hidden beyond the rolling greens of the Aasee, the Mulenhof acts as a time portal into the village life of farmers, millers and craftsmen from the 17th and 18th centuries.
This open air museum offers guided tours (in English and German) of the original dwellings that include a farmhouse, a schoolhouse equipped with the same abacus dated from two centuries ago, and extraordinary windmill.
This museum is unique in that it exemplifies a resurrected village and its sustainability through a large windmill. When touring in and out of these fantastic buildings and learning about the different families that lived there, be cautious of the curious chickens and gregarious peacocks that are flitting about. Educational and definitely worth the trip over the hill (probably the only one Muenster) and through the woods to the Mulenhof.
Getting Lost on her Bike
On the way back to the city, my two-wheeled comrade and I got completely lost. Cycling through the woods behind the Aasee at dusk was definitely not a planned adventure, although I did discover a few overlooked attractions had I not lost my sense of direction.
Close to the Mulenhof there is an Allwetterzoo (All Weather Zoo). Come rain or shine any time of the year this zoo encompasses 3000 animals of 300 species. Also hidden in the vast countryside behind the Aasee is a museum highlighting the Westphalian's affinity with horses, the Hippomax Equestrian Museum.
I stopped here for specific instructions as to how to find my way back to the city. It is advisable to get a map of the area surrounding the Aasee, especially one including the many miles of hiking trails. Maps can be obtained at the main train station, at City Hall or at your accommodation.
Muenster is a city with many associations, a bicycle friendly city, equestrian sports minded, and also the "Justice Capitol" of North-Rhine Westphalia. This trademark dates back to the signing of the Westphalian Peace Treaty in 1648. Muenster's Town Hall is notorious for ending the grueling 30 Years War that ripped through Germany. For the first time in Europe, peaceful negotiations among international delegates brought an end to war.
The Town Hall, located in the Old Town on Principalmarkt, holds special significance for historians. Detailed Gothic architecture cling to the walls while the Hall of Peace where the Westphalian Peace Treaty was ratified houses framework dating back to the 12th century. A Golden Cockerel stands majestically in this hall. Legend has it, a councilor donated this work of art to the town at the beginning of the 17th century, shortly after his own cockerel flew off. This golden symbol convinced hostile forces beleaguering the town at the time their efforts would fail Holding a bottle of wine in it's belly, this cockerel is presented to distinguished guests as an honorary tribute.
Today Muenster has extended its rooted judicial structure as holding many government offices - it's known as a key administration center for North-Rhine Westphalia.
Since my bicycle and I have parted ways, I reverted to the good old pedestrian routine for touring the attractions of the Old Town. This side of the promenade has less bikers, but still be warned in Muenster a pedestrian is on the low end of the transportation totem pole. Within walking distance one can visit the Baroque island, choreographed by Muenster's leading Baroque architect, Johann Conrad Schlaun.
The island is comprised of St. Clemens Church, The Dominican Church and the Erdrostenhof (archbishop winter house). Schlaun also designed the Resdenzschloss, a noteworthy building that transformed from a residence for Muenster's rulers to the main administration building for the University of Muenster. In the heart of the Old Town is the Dom ( St. Paul's Cathedral) built in the early 13th century.
This cathedral's most famous treasure is its still functional astronomical clock (1540). St. Lamberti's church on Principalmarkt has three iron cages as a warning to Muenster's population of the rebellious Anabaptists.
The Advent season in Muenster is a time for celebratory Christmas Markets. My visit to Muenster in early December allowed me to catch a glimpse of this annual commerce ritual. Each year Muenster has five, with the most revered markets held on Principalmarkt. After my tour of the Old Town I stayed within the promenade to walk through the Kiepenkerl and Lamberti Christmas Markets, both on Principalmakt.
These markets sold many unique handmade porcelain and glasswares. They also dished out hot Gluwhein (mulled wine). Each market is charming with just enough Christmas cheer to not kill your Gluwhein buzz. Storefronts on Principalmarket are also in on the subtle Christmas cheer, scratching kitschy adverts for a wreath and a white light in the window to show their spirit.
Later on that evening I scheduled a date and we met outside St. Lamberti Church. This wasn't your typical date, but instead an insiders look at one of the oldest jobs in Muenster. Mr. Schultz led me up 200 stairs spiraling St. Lamberti's church steeple to witness his job nightly between 9 and 12 over the past 10 years.
Meeting the Watchkeeper
Although he has been put in command of watchkeeper for a decade, this has been a job in Muenster since medieval times. Muenster is one of three cities in all Europe to keep with this watchkeeper tradition. Mr. Schultz explained that this job is symbolic of Muenster always keeping an eye on its roots and how the city diligently creates jobs for its inhabitants.
The grueling ascend to Mr. Schultz's home made office at the top of the steeple didn't leave me as breathless as the view from the top. The thick damp air accented all the tiny white Christmas lights mixing with the golden cobblestone streets and gave Muenster a smoky mystical appearance.
Every half-hour Mr. Schultz blows his large horn four times out to the city. The first two toots of the horn represent the time, the third toot is to represent a fire watch, and the last toot is indicative of a look out for enemies. Tourists are allowed to witness this medieval activity and must schedule with Muenster's Office of Tourism.
Muenster's investment into the arts cannot be denied. Modern art sculptures are strategically and publicly located around the city. Each sculpture offers insight to its location and ties to the city. Most of the pieces were created for the Sculpture Projects executed by the Westphalian State Museum for Art and Cultural History.
Held every ten years beginning in 1977 some of the world's most famous artists were invited to create sculptures that represent Muenster. The first exhibition in 1977 was Eduardo Chillida's Tolerance Through Dialogue, a sculpture of two steel benches outside the Old Town Hall representing the Westphalian Peace Treaty.
The ten year exhibitions were controversial at first among the citizens, but the town officials enjoyed this avant garde portrayal and commissioned other pieces in between the exhibition years. A good way to learn of the relationships these pieces have with Muenster would be to go on a two hour guided bike tour set up through Muenster's Office of Tourism.
Nightlife in Kurvietal
This youth-driven city, with some 55,000 university students, would not be complete without nightlife. The student quarter, Kurvietal, filled with pubs, restaurants, a brewery, and of course a library. One noteworthy street, Kreuztsr, is the home of the oldest brewery in Muenster, Pinkus Mueller.
Along this street you will not find one residence but instead a meeting place for universtiy students to sit down and enjoy a beer ritualized over the last few hundred years. Such popular places include Cavete and Das Blaue Haus, but I saddled up to the restaurant inside Pinkus Mueller.
The low lighting set amidst original dark wooden fixtures retains its original 18th centure ambience. My typical Westphalian meal consisted of a hearty helping of German sausage smothered in a creamy potato stew. I struggled to indulge in the last bite of my "uber-bratwurst," but finished it off with the smooth texture from an organic hefweizen.
A more contemporary option for the evening would be to visit the formally known Old Harbor District. This Harbor of Creativity (Kreativki) is located at one end of the Aasee, and is also representative of Muenster's cultural and artistic investments.
The Harbor of Creativity is a breeding ground for Muenster's underground youth culture along with a few nightclubs. Private investors along with town officials have collaborated to create a contemporary art museum, artist studio space, jazzclub, chess club, cinema, theater, and plenty more artistic endeavors scheduled for the future.
Despite financial hardships over the last few years, Muenster has been a strong progressive force culturally and artistically with a keen sense of traditional preservation. A tour guide declared that "A Westphalian is like a cold blooded horse. Once he warms up to an idea, he will stop at nothinguntil reaching his ends. This is also true as to how they ride their bikes between destinations.