Don't worry, you won't catch this if you visit the town. But it is deadly. One of the deadliest viruses on the planet. And it was first seen in the wild here, in Marburg, when workers at a nearby industrial plant were accidentally exposed to it in 1967. It only infected 31 people, but it killed nearly a quarter of them. When you consider cholera only kills about 5% of its victims, you can get an idea of how potent it is.
Nowadays the Marburg virus has moved on, and is infecting people in other parts of the world. It was last seen in Uganda.
Fondest memory: Not the Marburg virus that's for sure!
The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm studied in Marburg from 1802 to 1805. The town honours their memory. The two became famous when they published their collection of fairy tales in 1809.
The tales were not invented by the two authors. They are a collection of tales and stories which used to be passed on orally from generation to generation. They are known all over the world now - Cinderella, the Bremen Town Musicians, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves... Many of these tales originate from Hessen. Some are of French origin - one of the brothers' best sources was a Huguenot woman from the Hofgeismar region north of Kassel who told them the tales her family knew through her ancestors.
A figure like Red Riding Hood, however, is as hessisch as can be. Red Riding Hood is a girl from the Schwalm, a region northeast of Marburg. The traditional Schwälmer clothing for young girls, as worn by the doll in the bookstore window, includes a red hood.
If you travel this region with kids, carry a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales and follow the traces.
River floods occur about once or twice a year. However, hardly anyone in town is really worried about them. The flood gates to Weidenhausen will be closed, the dam protects this low-lying suburb. The rest of the town is situated high enough to be safe.
The bike trails along the river will be closed if the water level is too high.
There is only one problem that troubles the car users among the citizens: a dramatic lack of parking space. The big parking lots in central Marburg are mostly located on the river terraces and when these are flooded, finding parking is difficult.
In each flood there is always someone who forgets to rescue his car from the river bank in time, to the laugh of the car haters in town.
Conclusion: don't park on the river bank if there are flood warnings.
You will notice a lot of blind people in the streets of Marburg, many of whom move around on their own with remarkable confidence. Marburg is the seat of Deutsche Blindenstudienanstalt, a school and study centre for the visually impaired. The university is equipped to support visually impaired students and enables them to get a university degree like everyone else. Many of them stay in Marburg after finishing their education because they know the town and find their way.
If you hear the tack-tack-tack sound of a white stick on the pavement, jump aside. These guys and gals know perfectly well where steady obstacles like lantern posts, stairs, houses are and move with enormous speed. Mobile obstacles, like you, better move out of their way...
Everyone in town is used to dealing with blind people. Sometimes one has to warn them when they run towards a puddle or a big pile of dog droppings, or pick one up who has lost his way in the middle of a busy street.
About all pedestrian traffic lights in town have acoustic signals that change sound when the traffic light turns from red to green and from green to red.
Next to Elisabethkirche and in market square small bronze models of the surrounding architecture have been put up. They can be explored with the hands. Explanations are given in both Braille and normal scripture.
Fleckenbühl, a farm in the countryside of Cölbe near Marburg, is a project for drug addicts who want to quit and find the way back to a sober, clean, drug-free life. Anyone who seriously wants to can come and stay and will find help. People are not sent or brought there by any authorities and they are not picked up - they have to reach the place on their own and out of their free will. The project offers help with detoxification and legal problems. The ex-addicts live together in the community on the farm and learn to deal with their problems. Everyone gets as much time as he or she needs. The project is successful. Many have been able to leave after a while and start a new life.
The project is happy about donations but their financial base are their own businesses. They operate an organic farm, a wholemeal bakery, organic grocery stores, a pottery, a painter workshop and a relocation service. The idea is giving people the option to work according to their wishes and talents, even do a regular apprenticeship to learn a profession, as soon as they are ready. They compete on the regional market with their products and services and work for clients 'outside' like any other business would. I have used their relocation service when I moved to Karlsruhe, for example.
Fleckenbühl website (in German)
Fondest memory: Fleckenbühl operates an organic food store in Weidenhausen, next to the bridge. They offer small warm dishes at lunchtime. Their wholemeal bread and cakes are yummy!!!!
Slate is a popular and common material both for roofs and facades. This stone can be split into thin but durable slabs. These are then nailed to a wooden construction. Roofs with complicated shapes, angles and corners can better be done with the small slate slabs than with tiles. Slate coatings on facades are often used on the side of the house that is exposed most to the weather.
A good slater uses the small stone slabs to create patterns, even ornaments, like the eagle in photo2.
Photos 3-5 have been taken in black and white on purpose to emphasize the graphic structures.
Marburg's old town has half-timbered houses from the 14th to the 19th century. A few general observations help to see the differences in construction and style throughout the centuries.
The oldest houses from the middle ages are those that have long timbers that extend over the full height of the facade. These are rare (photo 1 and 2).
Later on, the construction was built from shorter timbers, storey by storey. Each storey protrudes a bit further, both to enlarge the ground and for reasons of statics. This style was used in the 16th and 17th century, thus is not medieval any more (photos 3 and 4).
18th and early 19th century half-timbered houses had flat facades which were covered in plaster to make them look like stone buildings.
The later 19th century rediscovered the 'medieval' style. 19th century houses can be recognized by elaborate, colourful and often exaggerated ornamentation (photo 5). These are often the ones visitors will find most beautiful.
Elizabeth (1207-1231) was the daughter of the Hungarian king. At the age of four she was sent to Wartburg castle above Eisenach and betrothed to Landgrave Ludwig IV of Thuringia, whom she married in 1221. They had three children. The marriage did not last long, though. Her husband participated in the crusade and died.
Elisabeth's ideal was Francis of Assisi. Already as a countess she helped the poor, the sick and the needy whereever she could - to great dislike of her husband. The legend tells that Ludwig caught her on the way to the hospital with a covered basket full of bread and confronted her, but when he looked into the basket it was filled with nothing but roses.
After Ludwig's death Elizabeth had to leave the Wartburg. She took up residence in the castle of Marburg and joined the Franciscan Third Order. Outside the town she built a hospital and served the sick and needy with her own hands. Unfortunately she overstrained her forces. She died at the age of only 27 in 1231 and canaonized four years later. Her grave soon became one of the most visited pilgrimages in Western Europe.
Although Marburg has been protestant for almost 500 years and thus has long abandoned the worshipping of saints, Elizabeth's memory is still honoured and her holiday on November 19 commemorated even in the protestant Elisabethkirche. On the weekend after November 19 there is an open-air market (Elisabethmarkt) in the streets of the town.
Statues and reliefs depicting Elizabeth can be found in many places all over town.
"Other cities have a university, Marburg is a university", as a saying states. The town has 75.000 inhabitants, among them 15.000 university students. All well-to-do Marburger citizens have, according to another old saying, four things: a house, a garden, a pig and a student.
If you ask me where the university is I'll answer: Take a map of the town and a saltshaker. Shake the saltshaker above the map. Then you see the location of the university.
In other words, there are university buildings all over town. The administration is located in Biegenstraße. Many historical buildings in the old town are occupied by university institutes. Most science and some medicine faculties are however located in the new (ugly) campus up on the Lahn hills.
The university was founded in 1527 by Landgrave Philipp the Generous of Hessen and named after the founder. His portrait is depicted on the university seal. A year earlier Philipp had introduced, as one of the first princes in Germany, the reformation. The closed-down Dominican monastery buildings became the first seat of the new university - these have been torn down in the 19th century and substituted by a neo-Romanesque complex which is nevertheless still named the Old University, only the church has survived.
A town with so many independent young adults must have a lively nightlife. The old town is full of little pubs and buzzing with life, except during the holidays - you notice immediately in the streets when the semester is over. In August when most students are away the town is more or less dead.
Website of Philipps-Universität Marburg
The town's general appearance is formed by the topography of the landscape. Marburg is situated in the valley of the river Lahn in a river bend. The old centre is the hill with the palace on top. The old town (Oberstadt) extends along the slopes of this hill.
Already in medieval times a settle ment of the Teutonic Order was built outside the town in the valley bottom around the 13th century pilgrimage church of St Elizabeth.
A suburb on the opposite side of the Lahn bridge (Weidenhausen) also has medieval origins.
The town grew around the foot of the old town hill in the 19th century with new suburbs being built in the valley bottom, and later also up the ridge (Lahnberge) on the outer side of the valley. In the 1970s some neighbouring villages were incorporated into the town, so that Marburg's boundaries now extend to the back side of the hills.
The list of famous people who studied at Marburg University is long, very long. Even if the Wikipedia list is in German only, it gives an idea of how many famous people were “hatched” here. In general, Marburg was very famous and in a way also pioneer for medicine and science as well as humanities, law and theology. Many of the alumni kept and keep paying visits to their former groups or gave lectures at the different universities. I was extremely lucky to have Prof. Dr. R.W. Hoffmann as my thesis advisor, because this gave us the chance to meet three famous Nobel Prize in Chemistry awardees, H.C. Brown, Georg Wittig, where Hoffmann spent a post-doc year, and even Linus Pauling. And despite I was never interested in autographs of stars and starlets, but I have theirs in my diploma thesis.
Fondest memory: Among the alumni who gained world wide reputation for their work and discoveries are:
Robert Bunsen, chemist and „father“ of the Bunsen burner,
Otto Hahn, „father“ of nuclear chemistry,
Alfred Wegener, who published the continental drift mechanism in 1915,
Emil Behring, who discovered the diphteria antitoxin,
Ferdinand Sauerbruch, the famous surgeon,
Boris Pasternak, without whom we could never burst out in tears about the love between Doktor Zhivago and Lara,
Mikhail Lomonossow, the famous Russian scientist and writer, and
Gustav Heinemann, famous politician of the early ages of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Favorite thing: This reminds me a bit of London, although the plaques are not round. But they are at the walls of famous and important buildings and other sights to see. As they taken care of and mounted at the walls by Marburg’s officials, rule no 1 applies which is “no other language exists than German” (see my first general tip). Non-German speaking visitors might be able to identify famous names and read the year, but the rest is all good guess only. I seriously hope that Marburg’s officials change their attitude towards the existence of non-German speaking visitors.
Already when I was studying (1978-1989), the facilities for students were excellent. And they have improved over the years from what I have heard and experienced. I am visting my old university from time to time for no specific reason other than that I want to go back where I learned (scientific) values and policy (as opposed to the mendacious crap which is published and lived by the majority of today’s economy, that’s why I can judge the quality of food served in the canteens.
Marburg has two big canteens, one downtown on the eastern bank of Lahn river where Luisa Haeuser Bridge is crossing the river and one on Lahnberge for the science students. Both are excellent, and the prices are very much reasonable. From what I have read on the website of Studentenwerk (student service) they take care that the ingredients are ecologically safe and guaranteed. Well, this is easy given the farmland in Marburg’s surroundings. But it shows that they haven’t fell for the god of greed as many other institutions do these days. In addition to the canteens there are several cafeterias scattered downtown and on Lahnberge. However, it is not possible to eat in the canteens without a special cashless card, called Ucard. They are given only to students or university staff. I was invited by my professor, that’s how I came to eat here. But the cafeterias are for everyone.
Fondest memory: Studentenwerk/student service also takes care of the stundet residential homes, six of these and some with several houses like the “student town” on the slopes of Lahnberge. The homes have public rooms for reading, kitchens, TV rooms and depending on the house rather big rooms to rent. Five of the houses are located on or at the castle hill, in old houses, which makes it extra special to live there. The others are more of the typical apartment buildings. While I was studying in Marburg I lived in one of these for most of my time and liked it. We took care of each other, had cooking parties very often, which was fascinating because of the international students – we almost always ended up with thrilling international dishes.
Philipps University homepage lists the other facilities for students like computer centre, sports centre (big diversity in sports groups offered), facilities for blind students (Philipps University was a pioneer in offering equal opportunities for blind students) and many more.
As an university, I can highly recommend Philipps University and from the living aspect I think no other university location can beat this lovely town.
You might have realised that St. Elisabeth is being considered to be one of Marburg's most prominent citizen. That is why 800 years after her birth, year 2007 was celebrated as "Elisabeth year". A lot of festivals were held throughout the year and a special exhibition about her life was in display in the castle. Parts of the exhibits have been moved to the regular museum, parts are back in their original towns.
Elisabeth was a famous and fascinating woman. She was born in Hungary in 1207, was married to a landgrave of Thuringia at the age of fourteen. When her husband died during one of the crusades, she left Wartburg (Thuringia) and went to Marburg. Here she founded the hospital (based on Franciscan order) and took care of the poor and homeless. She died very young, at the age of 24 and was canonised 4 years later.
There is much more to her story than my few words. Read here and further down for more information and links.
Throughout all Marburg you will find tributes to her, little reliefs here and there, chocolate, sweets and cakes named after her and of course, the famous Elisabethkirche, where her bones are buried (most of them).
I wrote this tip in September 2006, but have exchanged photos and revamped the text (April 2009).
Walking up and down for sightseeing makes thirsty. There is no need to buy extra water bottles because the city is well equipped with fountains at every other road. Only make sure that it has a sign "Trinkwasser" (German for drinking water) or an icon with a cup. I also found fountains with a cup which was strikethrough. These wouldn’t be drinking water.
Some of these fountains are quite funny like the wild boar for eaxample. This one is at the castle hill, just when you leave the hill through the castle’s southern gate.
One remark about the fountain in my main photo: this is in Barfüßerstrasse (westward from market place and then on the right hand side where a tiny street leads uphill to the castle): the house next to it, to the left (west) was once a famous inn, Gasthof zum Bären, and Luther stayed here during Marburg Colloquy. But the inn is no longer in use, it is a shop by now and also the half timbered façade was plastered many years ago. I am not sure if Marburg’s officials would want to restore this house.
I wrote this tip in September 2006, but have exchanged photos and revamped the text (April 2009).