Believe it or not, not everyone that travels to Ulm does so to check out their two exemplary breweries. Some crazed tourists go to view the tallest church in the world: The Ulmer Münster! It's not even a cathedral since they never had a bishop's seat but lo and behold, taller than the somewhat more famous but still shorter cathedral in Cologne. In fact, prior to the 20th century, this baby was the fourth tallest man-made structure in the world after the Eiffel Tower, Italy's Mole Antonelliana and the Washington Monument until came along a decade later.
The foundation of the massive church dates back to 1377 and work on its tallest tower halted at 100m in 1543 due to various economic, religious and political factors. Construction resumed in 1817 with its eventual completion in 1890. Miraculously enough, though most of the old town was destroyed during WWII bombings, the formidable church was scarcely damaged.
The steeple still rises over all of Germany at 161.5m with views of the Alps on a clear day. Well, you have to shell out €4 and more importantly climb its 768 steps for the privilege. We didn't even give it a thought since the fog was as thick as pea soup. Okay, a slight exaggeration but it was definitely not a clear day and it's unlikely you could see much beyond the city limits. Maybe worth €4 but not the climb. ;)
While many people might argue that the Ulmer Münster's interior could never match its overpoweringly large exterior this is just not the case. If anything, it seems even larger from within and secondly it is a perfect blend of spectacle and simplicity. While not overdone like those of the Bavarian Baroque variety, Ulmer Münster takes its power from large strokes like the immense vaulted ceiling flanked by sky-reaching Gothic entrances. Huge intricate stained glass windows add colorful and shed light on the stunning statures that adorn the central pillars. The carved oak pews are particularly impressive and amongst the most famous of the Gothic period. Though miraculously spared by the ravages of bombing, iconoclasts destroyed not only the main altar but also the church's original organ. The replacement was the biggest organ in the world for many years and is most famous as having been played by Mozart in 1763.
No great old German town would be complete without some wood-timbered houses and Ulm has quite a few clustered around a small neighborhood called the Fischerviertal and where would a Fisherman's Quarter be located but on the water. Most noted of these timeless structures is the Schiefes Haus which certainly seems like one of the most crooked houses in the world and attracts many tourists and their cameras trying to capture it. A stroll in this area is a must even though assume you will not be doing this alone unless you go out very early morning.
Much like most old towns in Germany, Ulm has an impressive Rathaus or Town Hall. Though it dates back to 1320, it was given a major facelift in the 16th century when colorful murals and an astronomical clock were added. Unfortunately, the building suffered major damage from bombing during WWII. It has been masterfully restored and acts as one of the town's main attractions.
This inconspicuous monument is supposed to represent the apartment building where the physicist Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879.
The building was quite new at the time, since it was erected in 1871. It was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War, in December 1944.
Einstein only lived here for a year and a half, after which his family moved to Munich. It is unclear if he ever returned to Ulm after that, but if he did it was only for brief visits.
In the 1929, on the occasion of Einstein's 50th birthday, the city of Ulm named a street after him. Einstein was somewhat amused by this, and wrote to the mayor: "I have already heard about the street named after me. My comforting thought was that I am not responsible for whatever is going to happen there." When the Nazis came to power they re-named the street because Einstein was Jewish, and after the war in 1945 the city changed it back again.
For Einstein's 125th birthday the city of Ulm commissioned an Austrian composer named Dirk D'Ase (born 1960) to write an opera called Einstein in Amerika, which was first performed at the Ulm City Theater on March 18, 2004.
The Adult Education Center (VHS) in Ulm is in a building called the Einstein House.
Today there is nobody named Einstein in the Ulm telephone book.
Second photo: In 2005 several temporary tin-can monuments were set up in Ulm to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's theory of Special Relativity. But the main purpose of these tin cans seems to have been to advertise local solar energy projects, and the connection to Einstein was tenuous at best.
The new Central Library in Ulm was opened in May 2004. It is on the Marktplatz (Market Square) near the City Hall.
The facade is made almost entirely of double glass walls, and the roof is in the shape of a pyramid with a height of more than 36 meters. On the fifth floor there is a readers' cafeteria with views of the city roofs and the Ulm Minster.
The building is cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter by a modern fuel-saving ventilation system.
Second photo: The Central Library and the Town Hall.
Third photo: Entrance to the Central Library.
This plaque on the Ulm City Hall commemorates the astronomer Johannes Keppler (1571-1630), who moved to Ulm in 1626 and lived here for two years.
During this time he published his "Rudolphine Tables", which formed the basis of practical astronomy for the next hundred years.
Today there are 13 people named Keppler in the Ulm telephone book.
Second photo: The City Hall, Marktplatz 1.
Here in Ulm is where the Danube (known in German as the Donau) starts to be navigable for river boats. Above Ulm you would have to have a canoe or kayak, but even then you might have to get out and wade in some places where the water is low (at least we did on our canoe trip in 1962).
There are now several dams along the Danube between Ulm and Regensburg, so it's more a series of lakes than a river.
The Danube is the boundary between the cities of Ulm, in Baden-Württemberg, and Neu-Ulm, in Bavaria, which means that the school children in Ulm have different vacations than their friends across the bridge in Neu-Ulm.
Second photo: There is a small ferry boat crossing the Danube from Ulm to Neu-Ulm, in addition to several bridges.
Third photo: Excursions are offered from May to October on this river boat, the MS Donau.
Fourth photo: Sign advertising the river boat excursions.
This attractive district is located between the Minster and the river. It has narrow streets and historic half-timbered houses, as well as hotels, restaurants, cafés and galleries.
Second photo: Fischerplatz, with the Minster steeple visible in the background.
Third photo: Café by the Crooked House.
This is another one of those small city theaters in Germany which were collectively awarded the title Opera House of the Year by the critics of Opernwelt magazine for the year 2004.
Okay, you can't expect to see any big-name opera stars here, and you won't get the really stunning new productions like the ones in Stuttgart or Frankfurt, but they do have their own opera and drama ensembles, and they provide a substantial schedule of operas, musicals, plays and ballets for over ten months of every year.
The Ulm City Theater was where the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan got his start as a young man, so the square in front of the theater is now named after him.
Second photo: The current building is a replacement for an older one that was destroyed during the Second World War.
Third photo: Entrance hall of the Ulm City Theater.
If you are a fan of architecture, I highly recommend a stop into Ulm to view this wonderful cathedral. There are tours available, and well worth the hike to the top.
The Ulm Cathedral is the biggest church in southern Germany with the world's tallest church spire (161m, 768 steps) and the most beautiful Gothic choir stalls in existence.
This statue of two men and three pigs is at the Pig Market, known officially as the Schweinemarkt and unofficially as the Saumarkt.
The inscription in the local dialect reads:
Dr Metzgr ond dr Baur
Handl om dui Sau
The butcher and the farmer bargaining about the sow.
The farmer is not getting a good price, I don't think. When you go to Ulm, have a look at the statue and see if you agree.
This protestant church was built starting in 1377 and is said to have the world's highest church steeple, measuring 161.53 meters from the bottom to the top.
Thanks to VT member Mariajoy for asking if this was really the world's tallest steeple, and wondering who had done the research. Well, when I was in Ulm I actually just took their word for it, but it turns out that Guinness World Records is one source of this claim. Also Ulm is first on the Wikipedia list of the tallest churches. Lincoln (England) would be second if their spire hadn't collapsed in 1549.
Actually Ulm's claim to fame may be short-lived, because if the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is finished on schedule by the year 2026, then it will be the tallest.
Second photo: The steeple of Ulm Minster.
Matthäus Böblinger is the architect of this wonderful structure, and it is wonderful to see this intricate detail that is carved into the structure.
It always amazes me to see the detail that older generations took to each of their buildings. It will be interesting to see if that detail comes back in the future.
The highlights of the cathedral are the late Gothic pulpit, the wooden choir stalls which are beautifully carved (by Jörg Syrlin dem Älteren) and the altar in the choir.
The choir stalls show, among others, Claudius Ptolemy, Pythagoras, Vergil, and several Sibyl figures.
A very special treasure is the Foundation Stone Relief (click on the link to read the story behind it).
The cast-iron mosaic windows in the choir are of outstanding beauty, but even surpassed by the windows of the so called Bessererkapelle south of (so: behind) the choir. They are from 1430 and show five eight-piece sequences of scenes from the Old and New Testament.
The organ has 98 registers and 8900 pipes.
I especially like – beside the Foundation Relief – the frescos on the wall to the choir.
The church also has some impressive bells. Gloriosa is the biggest and heaviest one. It was cast in 1956 in Stuttgart, and weighs 4912 kilos. It has the deepest sound when all the bells are ringing.
Every year at 7.15pm on 17 December the Gloriosa is rung for 15 minutes as a reminder of the bombardment of Ulm in 1944.
Until 1953 the bells were rung by hand, since then it has been done mechanically.
Admission to the Münster is free. You only have to pay a fee for climbing the spire.
No visits during mass and concerts.
Jan/Feb/Nov/Dec 9am – 4.45pm (until 6.45 during the Christmas Market)
Mar/Oct 9am – 5.45pm
Apr/May/June/Sep 9am – 6.45pm
July/Aug 9am – 7.45pm
Entry to the spire from 9am until one hour before the church is closed.