My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
It's That Time of the Year Again
November arrives and with it the annual National Novel Writing Month. I've set up my progress bar on the sidebar again. Hopefully, it will fill up in sync with the required wordcount every day or even go up beyond it.
A sailing ship in the bay of Prora / Rugia
My motivation is still on holiday somewhere in the Carribean. It better show up tonight, or I'll send an armed search troop, and it won't like that. *grin*
The Flint Fields at Mukran / Rugia
The formation of the island of Rugia began about 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The area was a shallow sea in which the accumulation of exoskeletons of dead microorganisms over several million years developed a 400 metres thick layer of very fine limestone. In between the chalk, layers of flint formed. Flint is a sedimentary cryptocristalline form of quartz. Its mode of formation is still discussed; the most widely accepted hypothesis is that gelationous material, like the spicules of siliceous sponges, filled cavities in the sediment (holes bored by molluscs, for example) and later became silicified.
Coastal line of the 'Schmale Heide' spit
We have seen examples of the chalk cliffs of Rugia in this post
. Those are the result of the earth movements during the last three Ice Ages when glaciers from Scandinavia pushed across the area of what today is the Baltic Sea. Those glaciers moved large amounts of debris which accumulated in moraines at their fringes. The pressure upon the ground, in this case the chalk, was so great that it bulged in the places not covered by ice, especially during the last Ice Age. Those bulges would become the core islets of Rugia (see map linked in the post).
Northern end point of the flint fields
When the glaciers receeded, the Baltic Sea filled with meltwater (its detailed geological history can be found here
) and wind and waves led to a process of erosion that formed the steep chalk cliffs and the sandy spits connecting the islets. As the chalk cliffs with their layers of flint stone eroded, the chalk dissolved in the water, but the flint was only moved during severe storms because the pebbles were heavier than the sand which formed the core of the spits.
Flint fields at Mukran
Such great storms happened several times some 3,500-4000 years ago.The result were walls of flint (with some crystalline drifts of northern origin mixed in) that accumulated in the area where the Schmale Heide spit connects with the Jasmund peninsula. Originally, there were 14 flint walls of 1-4 metres height, running parallel to the coastal line. At the time they built up, those flint walls were
the coastal line (and the Jasmund Botten a bay). The sea level was about 1.5 metres higher than today; it has sunk due to the ongoing rise of the land.
Flint surrounded by juniper and heather
The flint fields are about 300 metres wide and 2.5 kilometres long. The fields and the surrounding juniper heath have been turned into a natural preserve in 1935. The flint fields had been free of vegetation until the afforestation of the Schmale Heide with pines in 1840. What was meant to stabilise the sandy spit (and worked quite well on the other spit, the Schaabe in the north of Rugia) caused problems for the flint fields which were soon overgrown with juniper and heath. Nowadays, they are kept free again, but around the fields the juniper, holly and other shrubs as well as some heath remain, creating an interesting ecosystem.
It is a nice hike to the flint fields, but unfortunately, I caught a really rainy day. The walk through the pine forest and juniper heath was still fine, but photographing turned out to be difficult without getting the camera wet, so I took only a few pics and didn't walk along the entire length of the fields. Well, compared to the midges that are said to abound in summer, the rain may have been the lesser evil.
Impressions from Rugia - Jasmund and Königsstuhl, Kap Arkona
The island of Rugia (Rügen in German) is a fine place for hiking and I did a good deal of that. Of course, I also visited the best known sights of the Königsstuhl (King's Chair) and Kap Arkona, the latter on a very stormy day. There are still tourists around this time of the year, but not as many as in summer. Here is the first post about some of the places I've seen.
Chalk cliffs on the Jasmund peninisula, seen fromt the water
When you look at the shape of Rugia (see map
) you'll notice that the mainland has 'caught' two other islands which are connected by small spits. The eastern peninsula is the Jasmund with its beech forests and chalk cliffs, the northern one is Wittow, a wind blasted land with few trees, but good ground for agriculture. The inland waters still connected with the sea are called Bodden
, the largest is the Great Bodden of Jasmund. The spits are the 'Schmale Heide' in the south and the 'Schaabe' in the north, both with wonderful sand beaches.
The famous Königsstuhl (King's Chair)
The Jasmund peninsula is a chalk plate that has been banked when the Baltic Sea rose, forming the famous row of chalk cliffs (more information about the development of the Baltic Sea can be found here
). The chalk itself developed during the Late Cretaceous era 50-100 million years ago when Pangaea broke up and the area - far into present day Germany - was flooded. The development of the spits by shifting sands happened about 3-4,000 years ago.
Viktoria's View (left) and Königsstuhl (right)
The part of the Jasmund between Sassnitz and Lohme has been created a National Park due to its beautiful beech forests and chalk cliffs. A good way to explore the cliffs is a ship tour from Binz or Sassnitz and
from the landside. You can best see their scope from the water, but the walk along the cliffs offers the most pretty vistas. There are stairs and ladders leading down to the beach, but due to the ongoing autumn storms they are often in bad repair and closed off for safety.
View from the Königsstuhl to the Viktoria's View
The forest and cliffs attraced tourists already in the 19th century. The cliff called Viktoria's View is named after the Princess Royal Victoria Louisa, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She married the future German emperor Friedrich III in 1858 (he only became emperor in 1888 and died soon thereafter, succeeded by his son Wilhelm II) - another of the many British-German connections. Viktoria visited Rugia in 1865.
On the Königsstuhl
The most famous cliff, the 118 metres high Königsstuhl - King's Chair - is named after an old legend which tells that the man would become King of Rügen who first climbed the cliff from the beach and took his seat on a chair which had been put on the cliff. The legend is already documented in the 16th century, but Rugia had long since been a principality and the prince inherited according to primogeniture.
View from Viktoria's View to the Königsstuhl
You get a great view of the Königsstuhl by being brave and stepping out onto the little skywalk above the Viktoria's View. Fortunately, it was a day with less wind and the skywalk open, and I did feel brave enough. Barely. But the photos I got were worth taking some deep breaths and not thinking about the hundred metres drop.
On the Viktoria's View cliff
Next I took a nice walk through the beech forest to a pretty little lake, the Herthasee (Hertha's Lake). That one, too, is connected with an old legend which goes back to Cornelius Tacitus' book Germania
(~ AD 98). He describes the worship of a fertility goddess Nerthus / Hertha who drives around the land on a waggon drawn by cows, which is then washed in a secret lake. Everyone involved in the ceremony was killed afterwards. The Herthasee is one of the locations that claims to have been the lake where Nerthus bathed. It looks mystic enough, but there is no proof for it having been a religious site.
The German goddess somehow gave her name to the ringwall near the lake as well, though that one is clearly a fortification from the time when Slavic tribes settled on Rugia since the 6th century, succeeding and maybe driving off the Germanic Rugii who had migrated into the island in the 2nd century AD and later continued south to the Danube, where they are mentioned among the allies of King Attila in 451. The old name of the remains of the fortification was 'Borgwall' which simply means 'castle wall'.
The most important of those Slavic tribes were the Rani or Rujani who first appear in the chronicle of Widukind of Corvey, where they are mentioned to have participated in a battle against other Slavic tribes as allies of Gero, the margrave of the eastern march, in 955. We will meet them again later in this post. The ringwall on the Jasmund is likely a bit older, dating to the 8th century. It was not part of the net of fortresses of the Rani on Rugia.
Inside Hertha's Wall, now overgrown with beeches
We continue to the Wittow peninsula where another famous chalk cliff can be found; the Kap Arkona. It is situated near the village of Putgarten from where you can either walk or take a little electric train. There is no parking lot at the cape (neither is one near the Königsstuhl, for that matter).
The day I went there a storm was raging and the lighthouse closed - probably no one would take responsibility for people flying over the rail of the platform. But one could still get close to the cliff - after several people climbed a barrier and didn't get blown some 40 metres down into the sea, I dared to follow. *grin*
Lighthouses on Kap Arkona; the old one to the right
Kap Arkona is known for its twin lighthouses. The rectangular one is the older, built 1827 by the well-known architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. It is quite pretty with its neo-classical brick facade, but with only 19 metres, it proved too low. So a new one was erected in 1901; that one is 36 metres high and still in use.
The way down the cliff
There is a way down to the beach (with rather rickety wooden stairs, truth be told), but with the high waves crashing ashore, it looked a pretty wet spot, so I went down but half of the way.
Storm around the cape
The Baltic Sea is non-tidal, so it's always there. :-) The ever changing mix of dark clouds and rays of sunshine made for some nice photos. I like the one above, though it doesn't really show the power of those breakers. It also doesn't come with the wind in you hair and the fragrant smell of seaweed and saltwater. It was a lovely day despite the storm.
View towards Kap Arkona
This one was taken on the way to the village of Vitt and gives a good view of the cape. You can see the sand washed into the water below the cliff. The Wittow peninsula is a windy land even on calm days, and during storms, the breakers will eat the material out of the cliffs and wash it westward to add to the spit called Bug. If not a shipping lane between Rügen and the island of Hiddensee (the little sea horse to the left on the map linked above) would be kept free, that spit would long since have connected both.
Marine navigation tower, with Jaromar's Castle to the right
There is a third tower near the cape, the marine navigation tower dating to WW2. Today it is used as exhibition and workspace for artists. To its right is another Slavic ringwall, usually called Jaromar's Castle. It once had been much larger, but the storms have washed part of it into the sea. The way on top of the remaining wall has been closed due to the danger of more bits breaking off.
Wall of Jaromar's Castle
Jaromar's Castle was one of three main fortresses of the Rani on Rügen; the other two were the Rugard near Bergen (not much is left of that one; I've been there) and Charenza near Gartz. The castle on Kap Arkona - which may also have sheltered the main temple - was conquered by the Danes under King Valdemar I and Bishop Absalon of Roskilde in Juni 1168. The other castles surrendered and the prince and his entourage accepted baptism (and delivered most of the temple treasure to bishop Absalon). The prince became a vassal of King Valdemar. In the years to follow, Rugia and the adjacent mainland was created the 'Principality of Rügen' under Danish rule; it was Christianised and a monastery founded in Bergen. After the wars of the Rügen Succession, the island fell to the duchy of Pomerania in 1355.
Old house in the village of Vitt
The charming little fishing village of Vitt, about a mile east of the cape, lies hidden in a cleft, surrounded by ash and elder, sheltered from the prevailing western winds and almost invisible from the plateau. The village retains its old, reed-thatched and whitewashed houses and has developed into a tourist spot. The place is no longer inhabited by fishermen and their families; instead there are restaurants and stands that sell knick-knacks. The houses are lovely, the commercialism less so.
The harbour of Vitt
But the little harbour is a pretty place. One can see Kap Arkona from the beach, and listen to the song of the waves. Once the fishermen went out for herring, but it has become so rare that fishing no longer pays off.
The next storm is coming
The next Rugia-themed post will be abut Binz and the Granitz area, the 'Schmale Heide' spit, and a pretty Romanesque church in Bergen.
A Few Days on Rügen
I'll be away for a few days, traveling to the island of Rügen near Stralsund for some hiking in the beautiful nature and enjoying the pretty 19th century spa architecture of Binz.
The new bridge from Stralsund to Rügen
I hope the weather forecast got it wrong; there's supposed to be a lot of cold wind and quite some rain. But those famous chalk cliffs would look so much nicer in sunshine. Better have a word with St.Peter about that. :-)
Hiking in the Harz - Bode Canyon and Rosstrappe Cliff
The Harz has some beautiful and even spectacular landscapes, from tree-covered mountains and semi-Alpine meadows to charming little valleys with sparkling rivers, from windswept peaks and cliffs to canyons with waterfalls and rivers whose brown waters gush over boulders in vivid currents, from caves and abandoned mines to natural lakes and reservoirs lying in silent beauty. Not without reason has most of the Harz been declared a natural preserve.
View from the Rosstrappe Cliff into the Bode canyon
I've been hiking there a lot - often together with my father - but only posted a small part of my photos so far. So there will be a series of Harz posts, among others, in the next months.
In the Bode canyon
This time I'll cover another combination of river valley and cliffs framing it, like the Ilsestein and Ilse Valley
: the Rosstrappe Cliff and the Bode Canyon which are even more spectacular, though there are not so many legends connected with them.
The Bode canyon is sometimes called the 'German Gand Canyon', but there are quite some differences. For one, it's a lot smaller. The canyon proper is only the part of the Bode between Treseburg and Thale; some 17 kilometres. The ravine is 140 metres deep around Treseburg and 280 metres at Thale, the river is between 7 and 25 metres wide; the downhill gradient of the river in the gorge is 100 metres. Second, the Bode canyon is much younger: 450,000 years compared to the 5 - 6 million years the Grand Canyon took in developing.
Rapids and whirlpools
The river is allowed to run unchanged in the canyon. There are parts with rapids and whirlpools, sometimes the river runs so close to the rocks that only a small part remains for hiking along it, in other parts the valley widens and the river runs more gently. The riverbed is littered with rocks in some places, in others the tree branches touch the water. A lovely and almost primeval scenery for hiking.
Sometimes the river flows more calmly
Nowadays the Rappbode reservoir system
influences the water regime in the valley. Extremes reach from an outflow of 350 m/s during spring floods to the river falling almost dry. Fortunately, a plan from 1891 to impound the Bode river in the canyon by a 150 metres high dam came to nothing. Instead, the valley became a natural reserve already in 1937, ecompassing 474 hectares.
Bridge across the Bode in the Hirschgrund
There is a tavern in the middle of the valley, with a nice beer waiting for a thirsty wanderer. I took the shot of the bridge from its terrace.
The microclimate in the Bode canyon varies a lot within a small area. Patches that are either sunny, shaded, dry or wet offer a lot of different vegetation and biotopes. The temperature is 1.5°C lower than the surrounding area, and there is a 150 millimetres higher precipitation. On a hot day, the valley is a slightly cooler place for a hike.
The Bode canyon
I've already given some information about the Bode river system in the post about the Rappbode reservoir. The river is 169 kilometres long; its two main headwaters, the Kalte Bode and Warme Bode (wich is indeed 2°C warmer than her 'cold' sister) rise in the Brocken Field beneath the Brocken summit at about 860 metres. They confluence shortly before they reach one of the forebay bassins of the Rappbode reservoir system, and leave the Wendefurth retention bassin to continue north-east through the canyon. After passing Thale, the Bode river runs through the Harz foothills and the town of Quedlinburg, and confluences into the Saale river near Nienburg.
Way along the river
The Bode cuts through some interesting rock formations in the ravine. There is the so-called Ramberg granite with quartz veins which rose to the surface about 300 million years ago. It dominates the highest rocks formations of the cliffs. Since the granite has a high share of feldspar, its colour is rather light; it looks like red sandstone in the sunlight. Other rocks are metamorphic hornfels and slate which developed in the contact zone of the granite. Those are much darker in colour. The oldest rocks - some 400 million years - are Devonian diabase and graywacke; those can mostly be seen in the bottom of the ravine.
Diabase rock formation in the valley
As usual, erosion has led to a lot of stones and boulders breaking off the cliffs which now litter the ground, their edges smoothed by rain and the floodwaters of the river. It was a game of 'pick your path' in a few spots.
Boulders on the way, again
One can climb up to the Rosstrappe Cliff, but one can also take the return hike along the river and drive up the mountain. We picked that option; a winding path covering a rise of 400 metres sounded a bit too much work for a hot day (not to mention we'd have to ascend again to get to the car).
There is a restaurant on the plateau behind the cliff, but while the Rosstrappe is a popular destination, it is not so overpriced and overcrowded by tourists as the nearby Witches' Dance Floor (Hexentanzplatz
Way to the Rosstrappe Cliff
The Rosstrappe is one of the most impressive rock formations north of the Alpes. The southern cliff reaches out into the Bode valley, a 200 metres granite wall that rises almost vertically from the bedrock. The views from the cliff to the Witches' Dance Floor, the Harz footlhills and the Brocken, as well as down into the valley are spectacular.
On the Rosstrappe
Near the Rosstrappe cliff are the remains of the refuge fort Winzenburg, a rampart of rocks and earth, surrounding an area of 25 hectares, which had been in use from the Younger Neolithicum to the Iron Age. The wall offered protection for men and cattle, and likely was a a sacred area during some periods. Not much is visible today. A lookout tower had been built in 1860, but it is no longer in use and not safe.
Other cliffs seen from the Rosstrappe
Besides the ragged granite formations we also get some fine examples of spheroidal weathering (for an explanation see the post about Ilse's Rock, linked above) on the other side of the ravine.
Rock formation with spheroidal wheathering
The Witches' Dance Floor plays a role in the legends connected with the Harz witches. They used to gather there before they flew off to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night. Its origins - according to legend and local websites - go back to a Saxon cult place where the old Germanic goddesses were worshipped on the night to May 1st. When the Christian Franks conquered the Saxons, those celebrations were forbidden, but still conducted in secret; hence the name became connected with witches.
View to the cliffs below the Witches' Dance Floor
No Harz hike without at least one legend. This one tells about the beautiful king's daughter, Brunhilde, and her suitor, the giant Bodo. But Brunhilde did not want to marry Bodo and sent him away every time. Yet he would not give in - today we'd call him a stalker. One day, Brunhilde was out riding on her white horse when she beheld the giant coming after her. She spurred the horse into a gallop and they raced along the cliff, Bodo in hot pursuit. But then she found herself at the edge of the abyss, with the sound of Bodo's steed coming closer. She urged her mount to jump the ravine, and luckily reached the other side. Only her golden crown fell into the river below. Where the horse landed, it left behind a hoofprint in the rock.
The rock from where the princess jumped
The giant Bodo jumped after her, but his horse failed and he fell into the gorge. He was changed into a black dog as punishment for his evil lust, and he still guards Brunhilde's golden crown in the valley of the river that bears his name.
The Rosstrappe proper (Ross
is an old German word for 'horse' and Trapp[e]
means 'step') which gave the entire cliff its name is a pear shaped hollow in the rock; 70 cm long, 55 cm wide and 13 cm deep. Some theories assume that it could be an old, man-made sacrifical bowl of Germanic origin since the plateau had been settled for 5,000 years, but there is no final proof; it could as well be a natural feature. But it's considered lucky to throw a coin into it. Most of them are 'European' cent pieces.
Another view into the Bode canyon
I'll leave you with two more photos of the Bode and Rosstrappe, just because I have so many pretty ones I can't decide which to use for the blog.
The Bode river, seen from the bridge
And here is a final shot of the spectacular cliffs framing the canyon. One wonders how the trees manage to cling to the granite - that's another difference to the Grand Canyon in the US.
Another view from the Rosstrappe
I got another hiking tour from that summer a few years ago, which will cover the Devil's Wall, another rock formation near the towns of Thale and Quedlinburg (where we stayed for several nights).
Drinking Water for Central Germany - The Rappbode Reservoir in the Harz
During one of our Harz tours we crossed the dam of the Rappbode reservoir and stopped, so that I could take a few photos. But there are no legends about princesses in caves this time, and the lake is sadly lacking in monsters as well; it's too modern for that.
The Rappbode reservoir had been built 1952-1959 as one of the prestige projects of the GDR. It is part of a system of six reservoirs, retention bassins and forebay bassins regulating the Bode estuary (the Warme Bode, Kalte Bode and Rappbode rivers) between the towns of Rübeland and Wendefurth. The catchment area of the Rappbode Reservoir is 269 square kilometres, that of the Wendefurth retention bassion 309 square kilometres; the whole system has a catchment area of 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 square miles).
Zoom to the other shore
The Bode valleys are very deep and narrow. Melting snow and rain in spring have led to more than one severe flood; the last one in 1926, causing great damage to the villages in the valleys. The first idea to regulate the floods by a reservoir dates to the mid-19th century. Those plans presented one large bassin that would have flooded part of the upper Bode valley and destroyed some of the famous rock formations. Later plans involved a system of bassins, not much different from the modern system, but lack of money - mostly due to the two World Wars - put the effort off several times.
The Rappbode dam has a base of 800 metres and a height of 106 metres, making it the highest reservoir dam in Germany. Its crown is 415 metres long. The content of the lake at maximum filling are 109 million cubic metres; the water surface is about 390 hectares.
On the dam wall
The main function of the reservoir is the production of drinking water for central Germany - 250,000 cubic metres a day. The reservoir also serves as flood protection and provides raw water for industry and agriculture. Both the Rappbode reservoir and the Wendefurth retention bassin generate electricity by a pumped storage hydroelectricity plant and turbines. The lake also offers fishing of eel, pike, carp, trout, perch and more.
The Wendefurth retention reservoir
The Rappbode reservoir dams the Rappbode, while the Warme Bode and Kalte Bode enter into the Wendefurth retention bassin beneath the Rappbode reservoir; the Bode river later confluences into the Saale. The Wendefurth lake is the only bassin of the system that does not produce drinking water; therefore water sports like sailing and swimming are allowed.
Wendefurth lake, wide view
A zip line across the Rappbode lake has been set up reccently, as well as one of the longest swing bridges in the world (483 metres). Those had not been installed when we last visited, but it's just as well since there were less tourists around, and I would not walk across a swing bridge a hundred metres above the lake anyway.