Yes, I know I still haven’t posted my Norfolk photos, but I’m hip deep in class preparations at the moment. However, October 3 is unification day, which is a public holiday in Germany. And since the weather was sunny and gorgeous, we took the opportunity for a day trip to the Teutoburg Forest, which not just has some lovely scenic woodlands and hiking trails, but also a bunch of interesting monuments which are mostly located on top of mountains for some reason.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because of the so-called Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, when a group of Germanic tribesmen led by Arminius, Chieftain of the Cherusci, attacked and decimated three Roman legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus, which ended the Roman reign in Northern Germany.
Ironically, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest did not even take place in the area known today as the Teutoburg Forest or “Saltus Teutoburgiensis”, as Tacitus called it. For it turned out that either Tacitus or the historians or both were wrong and the battle took place in Kalkriese near Osnabrück, some seventy kilometers to the North of the previously assumed site.
It did, however, leave the Teutoburg Forest with a striking 19th century monument to a battle that never took place there, namely the Hermannsdenkmal, a monumental statue of Arminius, the victorious Cherusci chieftain, rechristened as “Hermann” by 19th century historians, because Arminius was not German enough. The Hermann monument was an example of 19th century German nationalism, which resulted in several very big monuments dedicated to important men (and they were all men – the female statues are all goddesses) dotted throughout Germany. Other examples are the Berlin Victory Column, the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig or the Bismarck monument of Hamburg. Now I must confess that I have a weak spot for those monuments, even though I disagree with the politics behind them. However, they were fun places to visit, particularly as a child, when the political intent had long since evaporated. The Hermann monument is my favourite of the bunch, because how can you not love a 26 meter tall Germanic warrior with a winged helmet and a seven meter long sword? Who cares that he looks menacingly towards France, which is a neat trick, because given his location he has to look across the Netherlands and Belgium first and can only see France if he squints very hard. Okay, so he is an Arminia Bielefeld fan, but nobody is perfect.
Alas, I only got to see Hermann and his sword from afar during this day trip, so I don’t have any photos to share. However, both Wikipedia and the official site have more than enough to give you an impression of what he looks like.
But enough with the history, let’s have some photos, starting with another bit of false Romanism, namely the so-called Porta Westfalica, which is Latin for “gate to Westfalia”. The term does not originate in Roman times BTW, but is a 19th century faux Roman coinage. At Porta Westfalica, the river Weser passes through a gorge between the mountains of the Weserbergland and Wiehengebirge ridges. The “mountains” are not all that high, only 281 and 235 meters respectively. However, since they rise abruptly from rather flat land, the effect is striking. If you drive south on the highway A1, which passes through the gorge, you can see the Porta Westfalica mountains from quite far away. When I was a kid, I always thought that South Germany began at Porta Westfalica, because this was the point where you suddenly had mountains.
The Wittekindsberg, one of the two mountains flanking the Porta Westfalica gorge, also houses a striking monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I, which is visible from afar. The Kaiser Wilhelm monument is another example of the late 19th fashion for very big monuments depicting national icons and a popular destination for hikers and tourists. In my parents’ day, it was also a destination for school trips, but by the time I went to school the monument was no longer politically correct and thus no longer visited during school trips. Therefore I have to confess that I have never been at the monument, since my parents never took me either, cause my Mom got sick during a school trip to Porta Westfalica as a child and refuses to visit the monument ever since.
However, I got a really good shot of the Kaiser Wilhelm monument from the driving car this time around:
However, our destination for this trip were the so-called Externstones near Detmold, a striking natural formation of several limestone columns rising abruptly from the woody hills. The area around the Externstones has been populated since the stone age and has been considered a sacred place for almost as long. It is believed that the Externstones were a place of worship for pre-Christian Germanic tribesmen, but the evidence is sketchy. They were definitely used as a place of Christian worship in the early Middle Ages on and the rock contains grottos and graves as well as a relief of a crucification scene. Nowadays, the stones tend to attract pagans of all sorts. I spotted a woman dancing on the meadow beneath the stones.
The woodlands surrounding the Externstones are good for hiking. Some of the trails are quite steep though and I was thoroughly out of breath by the time I reached the top. There are further rocks randomly jutting out in the middle of the forest, though not quite as striking as the Externstones.