Basel (Day 3) – NOT!

The River Empress was supposed to dock in Basel last night; we planned to drop our bags there and use the rest of the day to keep exploring the city. But the French lock masters union had a different idea and held a one-day strike which shut down locks on the French portion of the Rhine, so the ship stayed in Strasbourg and we took a two-hour bus ride to meet it; it’s docked on a canal a few kilometers from the tourist area.

Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we took a walk along the canal and found a few surprises. The first was a small monument to the maritime force members who had died for France in wars between 1870 and 1966.

There were a dozen or so houseboats moored near the ship; many of them had gardens on deck.

We were near the end of the row of houseboats when I thought I saw the Jolly Roger…and I was right.

Our next surprise was a lovely Russian Orthodox Church, L’Église orthodoxe de Tous les Saints.

They had big signs in French and Russian welcoming visitors; they even have a restaurant as an additional attraction.

The inside of the church was surprisingly austere compared to any Orthodox Church I’d been in before; if I read their signs correctly, they are in the middle of a fund-raising campaign to add many additional decorations and icons, including on the ceiling.

We returned to the ship, which is currently sailing to Breisach, Germany. We’ve traversed two locks already, so I have high hopes of getting there!

Basel (Day 2) – Mostly Museums

The weather forecast called for yet another hot day, so we went out for an early walk before immersing ourselves in museums. We crossed the Rhine on the Mittlere Brücke and walked along the north side of the river.

There was another tactile model for the blind (and sighted), this one of Basel south of the Rhine, with the real thing behind it.

We saw another basilisk fountain – only 26 to go!

We crossed the Rhine again on [Wettsteinbrücke]I( which led us directly to the first museum we planned to visit, the Kunstmuseum Basel.

Our friends Brenda and Bob had already visited the museum and highly recommended the special exhibition Matisse, Derain, and Friends, which was in the “Neubau” (the new building). We’d entered in the old building (the “Hauptbau”), so we had to take the tunnel between the buildings.

The special exhibit was great – 9 rooms of mostly Fauvist paintings, taking up the entire second floor of the Neubau. There wasn’t a lot of commentary on the paintings (we chose not to get the audioguide), so they had to speak for themselves.

These two paintings were probably my favorites; I like the way they reference one another. There were actually four related paintings; maybe I’ll see the others some day.

Albert Marquet, Matisse Painting in the Studio of Manguin
Henri Manguin, The Model (1905)

I could fill today’s blog entry with photos of paintings (the public domain is a wonderful thing), but I’ll only add one more from this exhibition, André Derain’s “Boats in Colloure” from 1905.

If this show had been at the Legion of Honor or the deYoung in San Francisco, it would have been a madhouse; here, the rooms were blissfully uncrowded.

The rest of the Neubau contained art after 1950; we spent a while in a room titled “Monotony is Nice” dealing with “Minimal Art”. One of the objects in this photo is art; the other is furniture. Which is which?

One piece even invites visitors to step on it!

We enjoyed the exhibit and it left us smiling!

I wanted to explore the rest of the museum, so we braved the tunnel again and began working our way through the older part of the collection (starting with 15th Century works). We were running out of energy when we reached this still life and took it as a hint to do something else!

Harmen Steenwyck, Still Life with Skull, Books, Flute, and Pipe

We had a pleasant lunch at the museum’s bistro and walked back to the hotel for a brief break (and to feed our phones), then we headed out again, this time to the Basel Papiermühle, devoted to the history of paper, printing, and books. The museum actually still makes paper and prints books and sells them; it’s also interactive, so Diane and I got to make actual sheets of paper from rag water.

They had exhibits about the production and use of all kinds of paper, including toilet paper (on the wall across from the toilets, of course!).

Did you know that Germans typically fold their TP to use it, in contrast to Americans who usually crumple it?

The next floor up was devoted to writing and its development, including samples of writing from the 8th-15th Century, as well as this Megillah.

The interactive activity here let you write with a quill pen – Diane wrote a birthday card. She said it was hard to avoid creating blobs of ink!

The next floor dealt with printing and type; they had a full composing and typesetting room, as well as some smaller artifacts.

We had the chance to print our own postcard messages using relief printing – they didn’t let us do the inking, of course!

The final floor of the museum was devoted to bookbinding; we didn’t have much time to spend there, so I don’t know if there was an interactive element.

Basel has far too many museums to see in the time we had – perhaps we’ll return!

Basel (Day 1)

Everyone says that European railways, especially the German and Swiss railways, are always precisely on time. Not today – there was track and signal work and our train from Frankfurt to Basel left Frankfurt nearly 30 minutes late, and it kept falling farther behind schedule at every stop. Deutsche Bahn finally declared victory and terminated the train one stop early at the “Basel Bad” station instead of “Basel SBB” so that they could start it on its next journey on time.

Fortunately, our hotel (Hotel Märthof) was between the two Basel stations, so instead of getting on the following train to Basel SBB, our travel agent put us into a taxi which drove us directly to the hotel.

The hotel is a definite step up from Flemings, our hotel in Frankfurt. The room is probably twice as big, which gives us a little room to breathe for the first time on the trip. The location is nice, right off Marketplatz; we have Basel Cards which include free use of the public transit system, but I don’t expect to use that feature. And the Internet is enormously faster than it was at Fleming’s (uploads are much faster than at home, too).

It was nearly 4pm when we were ready to leave the hotel, which didn’t give us enough time to visit museums. The desk clerk suggested we walk up to the Basel Münster, which gave us a goal, and off we went.

We soon found ourselves walking through the University of Basel campus; it was founded in 1460 and still uses some of the original buildings (renovated, of course). Along the way, we enjoyed some new public art (Gänseliesel by Samuel Buri), a pleasant view of the Rhine, one of Basel’s 28 basilisk fountains, and the Natural History Museum‘s Halloween preparations.

Basel Münster is huge (about 200 feet high) and imposing. It was officially finished in 1500 and is the third church on this site. The interior was surprisingly plain, with no altar and no Jesus on the Cross; I guess that has to do with its being a Calvinistic church, but I really don’t know.

There is a good bit of stained glass; this picture of Jesus and the angels in a Star of David caught my eye.

We left the Münster proper and wandered through the cloister and the grounds.

We walked through the shopping district, but there wasn’t much to distract us – I was even able to avoid going into the Apple Store!

The Marktplatz was at the end of the main shopping street; it had the Rathaus (City Hall) on one side and a McDonald’s on the other (at least it was in a nice building!).

It was too late to explore the Rathaus, but I did pick up a brochure for their self-guided tour and we might look at it tomorrow.

I have to mention the “Singerhaus”, which is just across the street from Marktplatz.

The Fischmarkt Fountain is across from our hotel; it’s hard to get a decent photo because of all the trams and buses passing by.

We made a short trip to the Coop grocery store to buy some Swiss chocolate bars and returned in time to meet our group for a fondue dinner at Restaurant Löwenzorn. The restaurant has only been in business since 1874, but the building dates back to the 13th Century!

Jewish Frankfurt

Today, we spent a few hours exploring the Museum Judengasse Frankfurt, which is mostly devoted to the old Jewish Quarter of Frankfurt, the Judengasse. The population had mostly moved elsewhere in Frankfurt well before the Nazis came to power, and not much was left after the war. The foundations of several houses in the Quarter were discovered during the building of headquarters for the local public utility and, after much debate and protest, part of the discovery was preserved as the museum.

We walked to the museum from our hotel, passing a very interesting mural at the Tailor’s Inn and walking through the grounds of the Peterskirch (Goethe’s father is buried in their cemetery).

I wasn’t surprised to have to go through security to enter the museum; I was a bit surprised at how easy it was to get through. We did have to leave all of our bags and water bottles in lockers, though.

The museum has preserved the foundations of quite a few houses; some were owned by rich people, others housed people of more modest means. They tried to display a variety of artifacts, but they did lean towards the beautiful, like these Hanukkiot (notice that there’s no space for a Shammas candle on the second one – it burned oil, so it didn’t need one!).

For the most part, the artifacts were arranged thematically rather than by house. There was a lot of commentary in both German and English posted to help provide context – the Havdalah Candle holder and Spice Box were near one another.

They didn’t have any Torah scrolls (there were some books and other printed pages recovered from a genizah, though), but they did have a Torah breastplate on display.

The entrances to two mikvot had survived; you could walk down the stairs but, of course, there was no water in either one. The first mikveh below was a community mikveh while the other was in a private home.

There were exhibits about “Jews and Learning” (lots of books), “Jews and Music” (with recordings), and more. I was fascinated by this matzo cover, made and sold by “the widow Rösel, an old clothes-trader,” using discarded clothing as the material.

The Old Jewish Cemetery is next door to the museum. The cemetery was closed to burials in 1928 because it was full.

The outside wall of the cemetery is a memorial to the deported and executed.

Many of the gravestones in the cemetery were uprooted by the Nazis. Some have been re-installed around the inner walls of the cemetery; others were too severely damaged and were collected for honorable display.

We left the cemetery and headed to our final stop, the headquarters of the European Central Bank.

The ECB had been built around the old Grossmarkthalle, the city’s main wholesale market hall. That building had an additional use during WWII – the Nazis used it for the mass deportation of Jews to death camps. The sidewalk outside the ECB is a permanent memorial to those who were deported. There are many inscriptions along the sidewalk from victims, survivors, and witnesses – mostly in German, but a few in English, like this one from a survivor.

There is a plaque with all of the inscriptions, translated from German to English (and vice versa). Reading it was chilling.

We left the memorial to walk to lunch. You could see how the Grossmarkt had been integrated into the overall design of the ECB, as though it was just another building.

It was an unforgettable day.


When we awoke this morning, the River Queen was back at its mooring in Frankfurt where we’d boarded it ten days ago. We said goodbye to our new friends and set out with Dave Natale for his old home town of Braumfels, about an hour from Frankfurt. We stopped a few miles short of Braumfels for a first look at Schloss Braumfels.

We continued into town and took a little walk through the Herrengarten and paid our respects to Kaiser Friedrich III who had visited Braunfels during his brief reign in 1888.

We had a full tour of the castle scheduled for the afternoon, but we did go into the outer sections of the castle premises and looked at some of the nice houses (all leased from the Count of Solms-Braunfels).

I found it interesting that some (but not all) of the houses displayed an emblem signifying that they have fire insurance!

The town has its own well, with copious regulations on its use.

We had a light lunch and not-so-light dessert at Cafe Vogel to fortify us for the castle tour.

Dave had arranged for his friend Andrea to lead us on a special tour of the castle; he promised surprises, and Andrea delivered. She had a new practicum (student intern) who was on his first day of his assignment; I wonder what he thought about how the day went.

Andrea told us a lot about the history of the castle and the family. It was first built in the 13th Century and has been in the same family since then. There has been a lot of construction and reconstruction, and it continues today.

Photography is not permitted inside the castle itself; our tour included 14 rooms, each beautifully furnished. One of Andrea’s special additions for our tour was having us wear costumes; we were allowed to photograph that!

Andrea shared many stories with us – so many, that Dave had to ask her to let us leave so we could get back to Frankfurt at a reasonable hour!

It was a very interesting visit indeed.

We returned to Frankfurt and the Flemings Selection Hotel Frankfurt City. We were lazy and had a simple dinner across the street at the Eschenheimer Turm Restaurant – both of us had the salmon Flammkueche. It was inexpensive, tasty, and fast – perfect for the end of a long day.