Saturday, 31 May 2014

Halle: Hanseatic Town of Salt, Handel, Five Towers, and The Spear of Destiny

Markplatz Halle
Marktplatz Halle and the famous Five Towers 
Halle in Saxony Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) has a history that goes back deep into the Bronze Age because of its importance as a place where salt was harvested. The preponderance of salt came to be in this area because of the presence of a geological tectonic fault-line, die Hallische Verwerfung, that runs underneath the marketplace. There is a geoscope in the market square where you can actually peer down at it - should you want to. It could be that the town's name is derived from a Celtic root that means 'salt' (compare Halle with the Welsh word for salt is halen). As could the tributary of the Elbe on which it lies, die Saale; (Latin sal, from which we get salt, Germans get Salz, the French get sel, and so on). However, the river's name might just as likely be related to the Proto-Indo-European *séles (the asterisk means it is a conjectured word) which means 'marsh'. We just don't know; it is all so long ago.

Whatever, it is upon salt that the prosperity of this town is built, leading to the development of a powerful, independent-minded merchant class in mediaeval times and becoming a member of the Hanseatic League in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Halle is also the birthplace of Georg Friedrich Handel in 1685, a fact you are constantly reminded of as you walk around the town.

Statue to the composer Handel in the Marktplatz, Halle
Statue to Handel on the Markplatz
I wonder if the women is listening to his Messiah on her headphones?
Statue of Handel, looking at the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen in Halle (Saale)
Handel looks at the church where he was baptised and had his first organ lessons.
Halle is known as die Stadt der fünf Türme because of the four towers on the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen (the Market Church of Our Dear Lady) together with the Roter Turm (Red Tower) campanile.

Roter Turm, Halle (Saale)
Roter Turm, Halle
However, the first tower a visitor to the Altstadt is likely to see - arriving from the direction of the train station (after a dreary walk through a hinterland of concrete civic architecture, bargain shops and 'ethnic' food outlets) - is the 44m high Leipziger Turm (Leipzig Tower). This used to stand next to the City Wall gate called the  Galgtor (demolished in 1819).

Leipziger Turm, Halle (Saale)
Leipziger Turm, Halle
Beyond this you are in the Altstadt
We visited Halle on a Saturday, and the Marktplatz was living up to its name with a busy, bustling market.

Halle Marktplatz
Halle Marktplatz on a busy Spring Saturday
Along with the usual fruit, veg, Wurst and craft stalls there was a bouncy castle, vegan and vegetarian food stands, and a cooking demonstration tent, and an old-fashioned tram:

Resplendent Old Tram, Halle Marktplatz
Old Tram, Halle Marktplatz
And of course, that Handel guy:

George Frederic Handel, Halle
Another view of the George Frederic Handel statue
Also there is the usual Roland Statue, which you find on the marketplace of all German towns that have gained an amount of liberty from their noble overlords. This one is a 1719 replica of a wooden one that dated back to the thirteenth century.

Roland Statue on the Marktplatz, Halle
Roland Statue on the Marktplatz, Halle

It was good amongst all this mediaevalism to note that the town is today still young and multi-cultural, as in this scene of a guy in brightly coloured African dress passing a group of punkish youths:

Multi-Kulti Markplatz, Halle
Multi-Kulti Markplatz, Halle
Dominating the Marktplatz is die Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen (Market Church of Our Dear Lady), also known (to save ink) die Liebfrauenkirche. This used to be two churches, from which only the towers remain. The eastern pair of towers used to belong to St. Mary's, which dated to the twelfth century and was the parish church of the merchants and traders of Halle:

Eastern Towers of the Market Church, Halle
Eastern Towers of the Market Church, Halle
The western pair of towers belonged to the even older, eleventh century church of St.Gertrude. This was the church of the salt-makers of Halle, and is here pictured from the Hallmarkt (salt market) square next to the Marktplatz:

Western twin towers of the Market Church, Halle
Western twin towers of the Market Church, Halle
If the two towers seem crooked to you, it is not your eyesight (or my camera) but because that tectonic fault I spoke about earlier runs right under them and sometimes the land slips.

How two churches became one came about through the threat of the Reformation. Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Magdeburg and Elector of Mainz, was a bit of a religious collector. In fact he acquired an amazing 8,100 sacred relics and 42 holy skeletons. His collection out-grew his spare room and he wanted somewhere to store his precious pile of holy body parts.

Meanwhile, a certain Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saint's Church, Wittenberg, and sparked off the Protestant Reformation which you will perhaps recall has a few things to say about the sale of indulgences and the trade in holy relics. It was through the sale of indulgences that Albrecht raised the money to buy his relics.

The good catholics of Halle thought that the best way to tackle the Reformation was to get the people excited about the mysteries of Roman Catholicism and to do this by building bigger churches of worship, with more elaborate symbolist decoration, and holding grander masses and services. So they decided to demolish the two parish churches and knock them through into one enormous one dedicated to Holy Mary Mother of God. Hey, and this would be a cool place for Cardinal Albrecht to store and show off his relic collection, which became known as the Hallesches Heiltum.

Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg
Engraved 1519 by Albrecht Durer, commissioned by Cardinal Albrecht
Used as the title page of 'the Hallesche Heiligthumsbuch (Halle 1520),  a book with woodcuts designed by Dürer's pupil, Wolf Traut, illustrating the reliquaries of Halle belonging to the cardinal.
Source: The Victoria and Albert Museum, England
Work began on the big new church in 1529-30 with the demolition of the nave of St. Gertrude's, and went on until the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen was completed in 1554. By this time, the town had become Protestant (in 1540) and Cardinal Albrecht had fled his residence in Halle on the Moritzburg and taken his relics with him to Aschaffenburg in the still Catholic Bavaria. His relic collection has been scattered and lost over the centuries, and now only about twenty relics - and these mostly fragments - have survived the test of time. Looks like Martin Luther had the last laugh, and his portrait and a memorial is pride of place on the wall between the two eastern towers.

Martin Luther memorial on the Liebfrauenkirche.
The two eastern towers were linked from the beginning by a bridge, from which a Watchman was employed to keep a look-out for fires in the town and ring the bells if danger threatened. In later years, the Watchman sounded a trumpet, and you can visit the small room he used to live in with his family in the tower and walk across the bridge. It costs 3€ to climb up the tower, but be warned that there are a lot of steep, narrow winding steps to the bridge at the top. The view from the top though is worth it:

Looking down on the Marktplatz from the bridge connecting the twin towers, Halle
Looking down on the Marktplatz from the bridge connecting the twin towers.
As is a closer look at the cupolas:


Off the marketplace, up one of the side streets, we found the birthplace of Georg Friedrich Handel, das Händel-Haus, now a music museum:

Händel-Haus, Halle
Händel-Haus, birthplace of Handel, Halle
I always found it strange that a composer born in the heart of Germany would go on to become the saviour of English opera, sacred, and choral music, but now it makes sense. In 1710 Handel took the office of Kappelmeister to Georg Ludwig, prince-elector of Hannover, who succeeded to the throne of Great Britain in 1714 as King George I. Handel provided the musical entertainment for the King whilst George was in Britain kinging it up, and liked the place so much he lived there the rest of his life. It is sort of curious to think that if any of Queen Anne's seventeen pregnancies had produced a surviving heir, then the Stuart line might not have died out, and the throne not passed to her second cousin George of the house of Hannover, and then English music would have been uninfluenced by the glorious beauty of Handel's many works.

Händel-Haus Musikmuseum, Halle
Entrance to the Händel-Haus museum
The maze of back-streets around here combine modern concrete Plattenbauten with relics of an earlier era.

Wurstladen, Halle
Wurstladen, Halle
It is not far from the Händel-Haus, up the slight hill, to the Hallescher Dom (Halle Cathedral). It isn't much to look at from street level, but apparently it looks quite awesome inside.

Hallescher Dom
Hallescher Dom
The Domplatz outside has a tinkling fountain surrounded by some rather scary bronze nudes that seem to be lurching out of a zombie apocalypse. I am sure that wasn't the intention of local artist Horst Brühmann who created this in 2012.

Brühmann-Brunnen auf dem Domplatz
Brühmann-Brunnen on the Domplatz
More interesting (to me, anyway) was a 1.5m diameter, 5 tonne sphere of calcite in front of the old Universitätsklinikum building. This so-called Reisenkalzitsphärite was formed about 47 million years ago and was discovered SW of Halle in the Geiseltal region whilst digging for Braunkohl. If cracked open, there would be enough crystal in that to keep Glastonbury New Age gift shops in business for a century!



We wanted to have a peek in the cathedral, but the entrance courtyard had been taken over by something weird:

A nightmare in bright blue and gold
A nightmare in bright blue and gold
It was all a bit bright on the eyes so we carried on up the hill to the impressive Moritzburg. This is a fortified castle that became the residence of the Archbishops of Magdeburg, including the relic fanatic Cardinal Albrecht.

Entrance to the Moritzburg, Halle
Entrance to the Moritzburg, Halle
Construction of the Moritzburg began in 1479 to consolidate a coup which led to the town coming under the control of the troops of the Archbishop of Magdeburg (Archbishop Ernest II of Saxony, only fourteen at the time). It was built on the site of a former Jewish settlement NW of the town centre, incorporating the town walls. Archbishop Ernest personally laid the cornerstone of his new residence on May 25, 1484 in a ceremonial procession and named the castle Moritzburg after Saint Maurice, the Patron Saint of the Holy Roman Emperors. The Magdeburg Dom is also dedicated to Saints Catherine and Maurice, where there is the oldest know depiction of St. Maurice (sculpted in the 13th Century).

St. Maurice also turned up in Cardinal Albrecht's relic collection, which he kept at Moritzburg whilst the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen was being built. In the collection was a full-sized reliquary of St. Maurice in a gold-trimmed suit of silver armour. The statue hasn't survived, but an engraving was made for the Hallesche Heiligthumsbuch - an illustrated inventory of Cardinal Albrecht's collection, and probably buyers guide - and a painting of it commissioned by Albrecht from Lucas Cranach the Elder. Here are the two side-by-side:

St.Maurice reliquary.
Left: engraving in die Heiltumsbuch, 1525-27
Right: painted altar side-panel by Lucas Cranach the Elder, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York
As patron saint of the Holy Roman Emperors, St. Maurice is depicted holding the Holy Lance or Heilige Lanze, the name of the lance that according to the Gospel of John pierced the side of Jesus when he hung on the cross and was infused with his blood. This holy relic was in the possession of the Habsburgs (who were most often Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire) and became known as the 'Spear of Destiny', not only giving its name to a 1980's rock band but also spawning numerous conspiracy theories about Hitler (that he invaded Austria to obtain the Spear of Destiny; that it ended up on board the sunk German submarine U-534 along with a horde of Nazi gold; that it was shipped to Antarctica in the closing days of the war for safe keeping, etc etc).

The courtyard of the Moritzburg is nowadays a peaceful place to relax away from the bustle of a Halle market-day, with a pleasant cafe.

Moritzburg, Halle
Some dude, Moritzburg, Halle

Moritzburg, Halle
Nice staircase, Moritzburg, Halle

Water-spout, Moritzburg, Halle
Water-spout, Moritzburg, Halle

Moritzburg, Halle
Archway to nowhere, Moritzburg, Halle

Courtyard, Moritzburg, Halle
Courtyard, Moritzburg, Halle

Entrance to the Stiftung Moritzburg, and the cafe, Halle
Entrance to the Kunstmuseum Moritzburg, and the cafe.
The Moritzburg is also now home to the Kunstmuseum Moritzburg, which is the state art museum for Saxony-Anhalt. It looks like it has an interesting collection of artwork, and in particular I would like to see the collection of German Expressionism, especially anything they have by Lyonel Feininger. I expect they do, as Feiniger created a remarkable series of paintings of Halle, such as this one of the market church:

The Market Church at Halle, Lyonel Feininger (1930)
Source: artsy.net
 But for now, no time to be wandering around art galleries, there is still a lot of Halle to explore!

We meandered NW of the town centre, along the banks of the river Salle, through the delightful Würfelwiese and Ziegelwiese; lovely parkland meadows to jog, or walk your dog, or just lie in the sun. We had been promised Drachenboote Rennen (dragon boat racing) today, but didn't see any. As we came to the cliffs of the Giebichenstein it looked like there were plenty of places to hire other kinds of boats, or embark on a guided boat trip.

Walking by the Saale river
Walking by the Saale river
We didn't feel like messing about on the river, and instead climbed to the top of the cliffs for a panoramic view of the tops of trees and the five towers of Halle in the distance - not very photographic, or particularly worth the climb.

Making our way along the northern edge of the Giebichenstein along the Riveufer, we found ourselves in the middle of a mediaeval market fair, a not uncommon experience in Germany. Here is looking down on it from the Kröllwitzer Straße bridge, which has two impressive, massive sculptures of a horse and an ox at the foot of it.

Kröllwitzer Straße bridge, Halle
Kröllwitzer Straße bridge, Halle

It's a mediaeval fair, so of course there were Dudelsack (bagpipe) players and drummers:

Mediaeval Festival, Halle
Nothing says mediaeval better than a Dudelsack player and drummer. Fact!
Looking down on the merriments were the ruins of Giebichenstein Castle. It is now one of the two campuses of the Burg Giebichenstein Art School, but it dates back to the town's defences of the 9th century, and was the residence of the Archbishop of Magdeburg after he had taken over ruling Halle and was waiting for the Moritzburg to be built.

Burg Giebichenstein
Burg Giebichenstein
The Saale meanders off northwards, and looks like it has more pleasurable riverside walking in store, but time was against us, and we caught a tram back into the centre of Halle.

Boat-trips on the Saale, Halle
Boat-trips on the Saale, Halle
On the way back to the town-centre we stopped off at the Opera House for a look at its neo-classical façade and enjoyable fountains.

Opera House, Halle
Opera House, Halle
Do you notice the giant drinking straws in the fountains? We kept seeing these a lot in Halle's fountains. What's that all about? No idea, but they did lend a bit of frivolity to otherwise formal water features. We saw them yet again, back in the town centre, at a fountain on the Hallmarkt:

Fountain with drinking straws on the Hallmarkt, Halle
Fountain with drinking straws on the Hallmarkt, Halle
It is quite a fun fountain without the straws, with some rather comic statues:

Hallmarkt fountain, Halle
Hallmarkt fountain, Halle

Hallmarkt fountain, Halle
Hallmarkt fountain, Halle

Hallmarkt fountain, Halle
Hallmarkt fountain, Halle
And so back up to the Markplatz beside the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen:

Roter Turm and Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen
Roter Turm and Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen
And with a few diversions to photo some other interesting buildings, back to the train station and the long journey home.

Wilhelm-Friedemann-Bach-Haus and Cafe Nöö
Wilhelm-Friedemann-Bach-Haus and Cafe Nöö

Down by the Mühlgraben
Down by the Mühlgraben

Some other nice-looking house in Halle; there's lots of them.
Some other nice-looking house in Halle; there's lots of them.
You can't expect me to remember what all of them were called, can you?
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me research the background history, but note to Google that I did not mean to search for the Hallé Orchestra or anything about Halle Berry!

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