Ulm – Graffiti Paint & The World’s Tallest Church
Yggdrasil the Hymer motorhome is speeding down the Bavarian Autobahn in the rain. Current position – somewhere on the Munich ring road. The roads, as seems to be the case everywhere here, are busy, and drivers are reluctant to make space. Road works and hold ups are common and we have, just a few miles back, crept our way around an accident. Two cars spun to opposite sides of a four lane carriageway by a collision. The black one’s front left side ripped open like a can by a rusty knife. Nobody seems to have been hurt.
Jay keeps Iggy to a steady maximum of 90 km/hr, where conditions allow. Now and then he shouts crossly at another driver as they threaten our safety with dangerous maneouvres, or block our way with their determination to speed at all costs. Mostly he is calm and quiet. Focussing on the journey. On trying to understand strange signs we’ve never come across before.
The accident is a grim reminder as always of the biggest risk of our lifestyle. Every day on tour we set off into the unknown. New roads, new languages, new signs, new driving standards. People worry about their vans being broken into, or about being attacked. These things happen of course. But the biggest risk to van folk like us, has to be the one or two hours a day we spend with our wheels burning rubber.
Yesterday Iggy’s wheels burned rubber away from our friend David in Mosbach, and South to the small city of Ulm. We needed to pick up a selection of Grafitti paints for the Our Tree project, and I’d found an art shop in Ulm that stocked a popular brand. Grafitti artist Luke Brabants who painted our tree of life for us had given us a couple of cans of paint to get us started. We’d have been totally stuck without his help, but we needed some more colours as a big priority.
Ulm was just a nice distance away for a day’s drive. Slightly further than we would prefer, but we had to make up a little bit of time over the next few days to make up for lazing around for three days in Mosbach.
Right distance. On a route that left me an extra day to decide if we were heading for Salzburg or Innsbruck. It had Montana paints. There was a free Stellplatz beside a big park. And google threw up a picture of a pretty looking, old, cathedral type building. Boxes all ticked and we were on our way. Rolling up a few hours later into the free parking in Ulm. Thank you to the municipality – as motorhomers say in Europe.
Me being me, Jay barely had enough time to get the keys out of the ignition and pop the fridge on gas, before I was dragging him through the trees in the direction of the river. And not just any river either. Ulm was only sitting along the banks of the famous Danube!
In this world of fast things I’m not sure everyone would get excited at the thought of seeing the Danube for the first time. It’s just another river after all. A wide patch of water heading downhill and probably carrying boats of some sort. The world is full of rivers is it not?
And yes, indeed, the world is. But they don’t all have names I have heard spoken from my earliest days. Names that evoke images of bygone days. Of great journeys, crossing thousands of miles and many countries. From Germany’s Black Forest all the way to the Romanian shores of the Black Sea.
And today, by sheer chance, we were camped mere yards from it’s banks. Taking a journey that would, we hoped, see us travel through eight of the Danube‘s ten countries. Germany, Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.
I wondered if it would be blue?
Today, in the cloudless sky and baking heat it was definitely looking pretty blue to me. Marley dog didn’t seem to care much what colour it was – just so long as she could drink it dry. And she had a pretty fair shot at doing just that. She’s not a great fan of tap water is Marley. Much preferring to dice with death in every muddy puddle, lake and river she can get her tongue on.
In fact, so much did she like drinking the Danube that it was a slow walk along it’s banks into the city centre. Thankfully Jay and I had plenty to distract us from the heat while she dawdled. Between the river itself, the various water craft, the old city walls, the sculptures and the cafes, it’s a pretty nice walk indeed. And just when I was thinking to check the map the tall, lacy spire of Ulm Minster appeared like a beacon above the surrounding rooftops.
The heat seemed to be expanding inside my lungs by this point, and it was a relief to find it cooler in the streets approaching the church. And Ulm may truly be the easiest of cities ever to navigate on foot. The great spire of Ulm Minster is visible almost everywhere in the city centre. And it drew us, straight and sure, right to it’s carved and splendid walls.
I took photo after photo of the beautiful thing as we approached through picturesque streets of medieval timbered buildings. Here and there snapping a shot that managed to not include it. But it was difficult to resist the sight of it floating into the sky above it’s lovely neighbours.
To begin with we wandered past it’s great bulk, through the historical area, and then down to the beautifully frescoed walls of the old Rathaus.
Here, as in many places in our world, the old suddenly gives way to the new. Modern glass and steel, and contemorary shopping streets, stand where the rest of old Ulm was destroyed, in an air raid in 1944.
As we travel further across Europe we come again and again on these images of destruction and rebirth. We’ve walked the ruins of old Pompeii, rubbing shoulders with it’s modern twin. Compared the fortress villages and castles of Northern Portugal with the history “wiped by earthquake” Southern Algarve. And everywhere the walls torn by man. By cannonball and bullet. Sword and bomb. We see, we witness, and we carry on.
Hot, footsore and wondering where all the Eishaus are we head back for Ulm Minster. We haven’t had a peek inside yet, and the afternoon is getting old. There’s a lot of scaffolding around the church and we wander along the walls searching for an entrance.
It seems like a long time coming, but as we search we come across a stunning fountain. Possibly my favourite thing in Ulm. Though the green and pleasant park along the river by the Stellplatz probably just pips it to the post.
Google tells me it is not a cathedral, but merely a church. If anyone could ever sensibly use the word “merely” for Ulm Minster. A fantastic, mountain of stone carved lace, and the tallest church in the world.
It really is a beautiful building, both inside and out, and “church” just doesn’t seem quite adequate a word for it. But church it is, and one with the current, sad, claim to fame, of being slowly dissolved by men urinating on it.
Costly repairs have been made but, so I read, events in the surrounding marktplatz still lead to drunk men peeing indiscriminately against the beautiful old walls. The acid in their urine literally eating the stone away.
I am reminded again of the cycle of destruction and rebuilding we see as we travel. I feel a bit sad, a bit frustrated. Most of all a bit as though I am looking close up at fragments of larger things. Larger than people and much, much larger than me.
It’s time for home, and my musings are cut short as we come across the first Eis Cafe we’ve seen all day. Gloomy thoughts are forgotten as we laugh to see my name on it, and make our way back through the park and the riverbank to Iggy. My haven on wheels.
I try to work on the day’s photos, ready to write the blog in the morning. But it’s too hot. All the windows are open, but Marley is panting like a steam train. I feel my eyes sliding shut. Blink. Shake my head. Focus Fi. Focus…
And next blink it is morning. The heat has broken during the night while we tossed and turned in fitful, sweaty, slumber. Time for up.
The normal routine plays out as we walk Marley, eat breakfast, pack everything up for driving. And then Iggy is rumbling out of the Stellplatz and across the Danube. Into Bavaria, and New Ulm where we find the promised art supply shop in a busy retail park.
Poor old Marley pup is abandoned for an hour as we wander blissfully among all the enticing art materials. But finally we emerge, €43 poorer, but with a bag full of Grafitti spray paints. It’s a funny old life when all is said and done. Buying our first grafitti paints at the ripe young age of fifty four.
Or as Jay said… now all we need is a wall.