History truly is both complex and complicated. Ted and I originally signed up for Viking’s included walking tour, but when we were given the chance to extend it by 30 minutes to allow for the inclusion of some of Regensburg’s Jewish history, we jumped at the chance. Ever since spending July in Berlin, and experiencing the way that city deals with its troubled history, we’ve wanted to learn more about what happens in other parts of Germany.
Our tour was not focussed exclusively on Jewish history, but did highlight it whenever relevant – and it has been relevant for many centuries.
We started our tour by walking across the almost 900 year old (1135 AD) bridge spanning the Danube River. The bridge construction was begun at around the same time as the cathedral, but the bridge was completed in about 11 years, whereas the cathedral’s completion took more than 600. The bridge, after all, was necessary for trade; cathedrals depended upon sponsors.
Along with the Porta Nigra in Trier, Germany, the Porta Praetoria is the only partially preserved Roman gate north of the Alps. it served as the northern gate of the Castra Regina legionary camp, which was completed in 179 AD. The remaining portions here have been integrated into the Bischofshof (Bishop’s residence)
Hidden in plain sight among the beautiful buildings in Regensburg was a darker history. The city was not attacked during WWII, meaning that both its architecture and its history was left virtually intact.
Antisemitism in Europe was not new in WWII. Our guide told us that in the 13th to early 16th centuries in Bavaria, Jews were generally treated fairly, and even allowed into trades (as opposed to being restricted to moneylending and then resented for it). Unfortunately in 1519 there was a leadership gap and economic downturn, the latter of which was blamed on the convenient minority (Jews). Although not killed, they were forced out of the city in only 3 days, without most of their belongings. Most heartbreaking to us was that the Jewish cemetery was then destroyed and, since stone was expensive, its 5000 gravestones used as building materials. Somewhat unbelievable to us was the fact that some citizens used Jewish headstones as “trophy stones”, displaying them in their masonry. Despite all of that, Jews returned to Regensburg in the early 19th century and flourished until the mid 20th.
Below is a horribly antisemitic sculpture prominently built into a pillar of St Peter’s Cathedral in the early 15th century, belying the secular tolerance of Jews. The plaque retrofitted onto the church reads: “At the top of this pillar, which pointed to the mediaeval Jewish ghetto, is the mocking figure of the so-called “Jewish sow”. Shown is a pig whose teats are being pulled by Jews. This sculpture as a testament to a bygone epoch must be seen in the context of a long-gone time. In its anti-Jewish content, it is disconcerting for today’s observer.The relationship between Christianity and Judaism in our day is characterized by tolerance and mutual respect.” I wonder.
And yet, the cathedral is otherwise architecturally beautiful, and clearly meaningful to many. After today’s tour, I find myself looking at it differently than I did in 2013.