A Brief History of York (and where to find its remains)

York is a lot older than it looks. Situated in rolling plains at the heel of the North York Moors, downstream from the glacial valley of the Vale of Pickering, York seems fixed in time as a medieval city with later additions, but its past is much older than that. If you want a quick history to help you plan a trip to York, read on! This article covers everything from prehistory through medieval all the way to modern times, with named buildings/landmarks for you to find from each time period, too!

Prehistory

The city of York has a shorter prehistory than other parts of North Yorkshire, for example Scarborough. There’s nothing of it to see in the city, unfortunately, but the monolith in Rudston, near Bridlington, is one of several places in North and East Yorkshire where you can take a day trip to see some prehistory.

If you love the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, check out these 9 prehistoric day trips you can take from York.

Celtic York (Iron Age)

Nothing really remains from York’s Celtic past but we know about it from the Romans. York was located at the confluence of two Celtic tribes, the Brigantes who occupied much of what are now the counties of North and West Yorkshire, and the smaller Parisi tribe, who occupied what is now East Riding of Yorkshire.

Not much is known about the area that became York at this time, but it was probably a small settlement or trading outpost where the two tribes could exchange goods, since the Parisi’s main town was near what is now Brough, East Riding.

Ptolemy said York was already called Eboracum and under the Brigantes’ control by the time the Romans occupied. He may not be a reliable source since he was a Greek historian who lived in Egypt and had never been to England. His knowledge of Britain likely came from rumours and Roman propaganda, so take it with a pinch of salt.

Celtic buildings were biodegradable, made out of wattle and daub (big stick frames packed with manure reinforced with hay), so it is much harder to find the remains of Celtic settlements than it is to find Roman ones, which incorporated stone.

We get a lot of our information on the Celts from burials. The nearest Celtic burial site includes an incredible chariot burial in Pocklington, which was Parisi controlled. This site is currently being studied and they haven’t decided how to display the discoveries, yet.

Roman York

The Romans conquered Britain in AD43 after previous, failed attempts. It was 28 more years before they reached York, where they built a fort in the city of Eboracum. It was actually already a settlement (as we have just seen) but the Romans moved in and made it their own, first with a military fort, and then a civilian settlement.

Archaeologists think the Brigantes were originally working with the Romans but dissented over taxation issues, at which point the Brigantes had a short future with a lot of sharp things in it. The Romans took over Eboracum and made it a military outpost. Once the area was at peace, the Romans turned their fort into a walled city, still called Eboracum.

The Romans built the Basilica (administrative civic building with a courthouse) beneath what is now York Minster. We also have evidence of Roman baths, and some remains of other Roman sites in York, but a lot of it is probably built under existing buildings. Where a building is medieval, it is unlikely that we will ever find out what Roman things lay beneath it, because the new building has to be preserved.

Some people say the Multangular tower is Roman but actually only its base is. The council have it listed as built between 1250-70.

There are still Roman remains you can see in York. Check out this article on them!

Anglo-Saxon York

The Saxons renamed Eboracum to Eoforwic. Influences from this time include place names, such as the nearby Queen Ethelburga’s school. At the time, England was devolved into six kingdoms: Wessex, Essex, Sussex and Kent across the south coast; East Anglia, in modern-day Norfolk; Mercia, in the midlands; and Northumbria in the north. Little remains of this time. During this time, the first York Minster was built in 627. The original building was made of wood. This was replaced by the second Minster, a stone building completed in 637. This was extensively renovated in the 670s and the Minster library and Minster school were founded. This second Minster burned down in 741. Not to be deterred, the Saxons rebuilt it a third time (it was later destroyed again, by marauding Vikings in 1075).

Viking York

In 866, Ivar the Boneless brought an army of Danes to York. From East Anglia, they moved north through Bernicia and into Deira. In 875-954, the area was mostly controlled by Vikings with the occasional Saxon resurgence. The Vikings quickly established themselves in the area and while they were not even here for a century, they transformed York into England’s second largest city in that time. The old Roman wall was covered with earth and a huge wooden palisade was built on top to make it more effective at keeping people out. Viking coins were minted in York, the title “King of York” was created, and one Viking king (Guthred) was buried in York Minster, and the city was largely at peace again. The Viking rule ended in 954 with the death of Eric Bloodaxe, and the next ruler of York was an Earl, rather than a King, as the warring countries within England all became one large country. The Vikings did return and attempted to take Jorvik again but they did not succeed and the whole area returned to Anglo-Saxon rule for 110 years.

What’s left to see:

Across the river on Bishophill Jr, you can find the church of St Mary Bishophill, a 10th Century church. This is the only building left from this period.

Norman Medieval York

After the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, York suffered heavy damage during the harrying of the north, a programme aimed at subjugating the last vestiges of resistance to Normandy rule. The land around the city of York was razed, to make it impossible to grow crops there, and 150,000 people died. After starving out the resistance and paying the Danes to leave, William removed all Anglo-Saxon nobles and installed Norman rulers and York was rebuilt mostly the way it is today.

Important buildings you can see from the Norman medieval period include the Minster (current version 4.0) and the remains of York Castle (Clifford’s tower). The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens is from 1089. St Martin-cum-Gregory church, while it has been altered over the years, still has an 11th century nave which you can see from the outside. Further afield, on Lawrence Street, the 12th century tower of the Old Church of St Lawrence creates a mysterious silhouette in the churchyard of what is now St. Lawrence parish church.

There is also a secret building you can find if you are feeling adventurous. The Norman House is the ruined remains of a twelfth century house. Behind Stonegate, it is unmarked on Google maps. Those in the know will tell you to find an archway on Stonegate to access The Norman House. It’s actually a neat, black door, marked 52A. Presumably, this door was installed to protect the house from the local yoof and potential squatters. Info here.

Plantagenet Medieval York

The house of Plantagenet was a continuous line from William the Conqueror, but not known as such until Richard of York adopted the name. This era spanned 1216 to 1485 and was characterised by a long and bloody feud between the rival branches of the family: The house of Lancaster and the house of York. The city of York wasn’t greatly involved, the house of York was largely York in name only, but some locals do feel a loyalty to these kings – mostly called Richard or Edward – over the rival Lancastrian kings – the Henrys. This turbulent time is known as the War of the Roses, and references to this can still be seen today, as the White Rose of York is now an emblem for the whole of Yorkshire and none of the fighting took place in the city of York, which thrived and finished this era unscathed—by politics.

The Black Death In York

In 1348, The Black Death reached England and spread across the entire country before the end of the following year. It reached York in 1349. Higden of Chester travelled across the north of England and asserted that “scarcely a tenth of the population was left.” By this measure, York fared better than many nearby towns and cities; estimates suggest it lost 30-60% of the population. A more concrete number is difficult to calculate because York actively recruited more citizens from the surrounding rural lands, which added to the population.

The graveyards overflowed and plague victims were buried in huge mass unmarked graves in grassy ditches just outside the walls. An unreliable source suggests these victims were buried in the embankments, and still remain undisturbed, but this is not true. As we have already seen, the embankments cover the Roman walls (and this would be a bizarre way to bury the dead at a time when religious zeal was at its peak). It is far more likely that they were buried below ground level, perhaps where the former moat was.

In some parts of the city, houses and roads either side of the walls make it impossible for there to be undisturbed medieval burials in them. In what remains, it is doubtful the city had the space to bury around 10,000 people around the walls, which calls into question the higher death toll estimates.

Within the city, daily life was a balancing act between waste disposal and grand ideas. On one hand, St. Leonard’s Hospital was the biggest hospital in the North of England (with 225 beds compared to most hospitals having around 20) and the medieval Minster was a great Catholic cathedral. On the other, the streets were swamped with domestic and business waste and sewage, and the water was unsanitary. None of these issues are peculiar to York, however, and are representative of how people understood things during this time.

The evidence shows the presence of leprosy and other diseases in York, but largely health problems were due to poor diet, with iron-deficiency anaemia, joint problems, and rickets commonly found in skeletons from this time. When it comes to medieval hospitals, more is known about the buildings than the people or their ailments/infirmities, and St Leonard’s is no exception.

Things in the city from this time period are plentiful and include: The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall (completed in 1361), which was most recently an almshouse until 1900. The Shambles (the houses you see today date from 1350-1475), a former street of butchers. 2 Jubbergate, at the top of The Shambles, is a fantastic building from the late 14th century. York Barley Hall, a former priory which is now a museum. What you can see of York walls, the third version of the walls, was constructed during the fourteenth century with some accessibility modifications in Victorian times. You can also see the ruins of St Leonard’s hospital (destroyed during Henry VIII’s Reformation) in the Museum Gardens and even venture into its undercroft where there are some displays.

A grand example of the overlap between styles can be seen at St. William’s College, on College Street near the Minster. This impressive half-timbered building was built in the middle of the reign of Edward IV. It was the home of twenty-four priests whose job was to pray for the dead. Later, it became the home of the chantry priests of the Minster. At a first glance it looks Tudor, but the yellow brickwork belies the fact it is older.

Tudor York

The Renaissance in Italy spread to England by the reign of Henry VIII, with ideas such as humanism which would shatter the philosophy underpinning the state. The Reformation and subsequent swinging pendulum between whether the monarchy expected the population to be Catholic or Protestant in any given year caused deep rifts between people that probably began the decline of faith in Britain. Whether this was good or bad depends on your point of view.

Vernacular buildings (houses, shops, and other small projects) in Tudor York were timber-framed, with the wooden beams exposed on the outside of the building. The first floor often projected further into the street than the floor below, and many Tudor buildings were famous for their black-and-white effect between the dark timbers and the white daub between it. The roofs had a steep pitch and leaded glass windows, to avoid Henry VIII’s glass tax. Some buildings were brick-built rather than timbered.

You can see Tudor buildings in York at King’s Manor (the king in question being Henry VIII), A home built in the reign of Henry VII at 31 North Street (designated “Church Cottages” but this name isn’t findable on Google). 7, 8, 12, 12a, 41 and 42 The Shambles are also from the same time period as are 85-89 Micklegate.

For Elizabethan-era buildings, Mulberry Hall on Stonegate is exactly what people imagine when they think of Tudor buildings. Heslington Hall (about 2.5 miles out from the city centre) is a grand example of “high architecture” of the time, but you can’t go inside as it’s part of the University of York’s admin buildings. King’s Manor is older, more accessible and very impressive, situated between the Yorkshire Museum and the Art Gallery.

After the Tudors

The House of Stuart ruled England from 1603 to the eighteenth century, a time of great turbulence. During the Civil War, York’s walls had to defend the city as it became a Royalist stronghold, with the ousted King Charles even holding court in York after London became untenable. Soon, Republican forces marched on the city and laid siege to it. The Royalist army based at York burned the east side of the city down to buy time keeping the Republicans out. The city was badly damaged by the siege, which is why there is a sudden shift from ancient monuments to modern buildings in the east.

Financially, York struggled during this period, especially as the many soldiers in the city were waiting on back pay. A gunpowder explosion in 1684 destroyed York Castle, leaving only what exists today. This ended York’s military power for the time being.

There are a few Jacobean buildings, from the reign of King James I/VI, which look identical to the Tudor style but more dowdy. Examples include St Anthony’s Hall (also known as The Hospital of St Anthony) on Peasholme Green; 28, 30 and 32 Coppergate; the Dutch House at 9 Ogleforth; 35 Stonegate.

Eighteenth Century

After the repressive Puritanism and troubled times of the seventeenth century, the eighteenth brought back abundance, optimism and refinement to the city. The glass tax had been abolished and windows became ginormous. Ceilings also got higher, as new building methods using fired bricks transformed architecture and design. Buildings became light and spacious.

In York, the century began with the debtor’s prison opening in the severely-damaged York Castle in 1705. In 1740, York finally got a hospital again – the first since St. Leonard’s was ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The industrial revolution of 1760 largely bypassed the city. Where other northern towns such as Leeds and Bradford were transformed during this time, York was already a profitable city, its residents were largely gainfully employed in skilled industries which couldn’t be streamlined by factories yet, and only a handful of factories appeared over the next century and a half.

Barely touched by time, York’s city centre remained the same as ever, adding grand buildings to the streets but no slums or factories. Science came to York, and one notable scientist was the astronomer John Goodricke, the namesake of one of the University of York’s colleges.

19th Century

The first factory industry to come to York was in 1824, when the York Gas Light Company, who made lights powered by gas, founded their factory in Layerthorpe. Nothing remains of this. An iron foundry was set up inside the walls at Dixon’s Yard, Walmgate in 1837.

In 1829, tragedy hit the Minster when an arsonist motivated by religious delusions set fire to the building. The choir and the roof of the nave (the main length of the cross-shaped Minster) were severely damaged. Another fire in 1840 completely destroyed the roof and extensive repairs had to be made.

In two separate endeavours, Mary Tuke and Joseph Rowntree, whose families were well-acquainted, opened grocery stores in the 1820s. Mary Tuke developed a successful family cocoa business which was bought out by Henry Isaac Rowntree in 1862. When he got into financial difficulties, his older brother Joseph Rowntree invested, paving the way for York’s main industry for the next hundred and fifty years—confectionery.

A second confectionery company—Terry’s, of the chocolate oranges—predates Rowntree. Terry’s was founded in York in 1797, by Bayldon and Berry. Joseph Terry, Berry’s son-in-law, took over the family business in 1821 and, with his qualifications and experience as a pharmacist, created fruit sweets, candied peel, cough sweets and other medicinal sweets. Later, his successor, son Joseph Terry Jr, launched a line of cocoa products. The famous Chocolate Works on Bishopthorpe Road beside the racecourse dates to 1923, and you can still see it today, although it closed in 2005 when production moved abroad.

Other major developments to York in the nineteenth century include the railway. The line was first constructed in 1842, but the station, with its famous late Victorian architectural style similar to the old St. Pancras Station, was not built until 1877.

Industry wasn’t the only thing that transformed nineteenth-century York; between 1829-1851, the cholera epidemic plaguing Britain also deeply affected York. You can visit the York Cholera Graves on Station Road, in a graveyard just outside the walls en-route to the railway station. The outbreak was so severe, and people were so afraid of it, that the city stopped funeral processions taking place along narrow roads, in an attempt to halt the spread. Outdoor funerals were also mandated. These measures caused an uproar amongst people at a time when giving people a “proper send-off” had become almost an art-form and very specific etiquette and customs were usually observed. Fear of contagion caused widespread anxiety, which led to rioting, and in some cases, angry, frightened citizens threw coffins of the deceased into the river.

Where to see York’s nineteenth century past

The Terry’s confectionery shop is in St. Helen’s Square, opposite Betty’s. The business inside it has long-since changed to a high street store, but the building still has a fresco between floors two and three which says “Terry’s” on it. The Cholera Graves are still maintained by York Council and are beside the walls, across the road from the Memorial Garden on Station Road. The railway station is also on Station Road (funnily enough), and if you ascend the bridge between platforms, you can get a good view of the original construction of the roof.

Of the factories founded in the nineteenth century, only one building remains—the Nestle factory, formerly the Rowntree factory, out in New Earswick. However, the “Morrisons Chimney” (real name: The Destructor) still stands, alone and without any context or even a memorial plaque. It was the 55m high (180 feet) chimney stack used as part of the incinerator for destroying the city’s waste.

This area was still the old city tip a hundred years later, in the 1990s. The chimney was situated near where the city’s small, original power station was built, but the power station, and most of York’s industrial heritage, was destroyed in the early 2000s. It seems very ironic that York should know the value of the past better than anywhere, and yet they so readily threw an entire chapter of theirs away to make room for a shopping park on Foss Islands Road/Jewbury.

Modern history

York’s modern history is easy to spot because it really stands out among the backdrop of the mostly historic buildings! From the car park on Stonebow which is a controversially ugly example of 1960s brutalist architecture (and which isn’t a listed building, despite rumours to the contrary), to the war memorial and memorial garden near the train station, the past hundred-and-twenty years did not leave York untouched.

York’s Computer Museum

When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
A 1917-1920 wireless (radio) receiver device.

There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,”  “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds retro motherboard

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
This unassuming device is what was used to make punch cards (the input in very old computers).

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds punch tape
And this is some punch tape (which would have been done on a different machine to the one pictured above).

The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.

But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.

I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.

If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.

MsAdventure Gets Lost In The Alps

From my travel journal during my solo Interrail journey.  New to this series?  Start here.  Missed last week? It’s here.

“Where do I begin?  It’s 9:00 and I’ve already managed to do rather a lot today.  Whilst I sit in the comfy compartment of the train to Milan, let me recount the goings-on of this morning.”

I got up amazingly early at 5:25am and had checked out of the hotel in Zurich by 6:00.  At 6:20am I had found the Strassenbahn station, and I reckoned it would be a simple matter to get to the main station.  I was very wrong!  I got the S6, after asking directions, and was told I was one stop away, so I got off at the next stop.  No sooner than I had alighted the double decker train than I realized this clearly wasn’t the right station.  I got on the next train facing the same direction but it must have been the wrong direction to begin with.  Whilst I was on the wrong train, I tried to ask directions, at which point I noticed an interesting cultural aspect of Switzerland of which I hadn’t been aware.  Around Zurich, white people predominantly speak German, with French being the predominant language of multiculturalism.  Not only that, but the white German speaking people (I asked several of them across two floors and 2 carriages) were quite rude to me, and I was surprised about that because in Das Capital everyone I’d spoken to so far had been so nice!  I finally found a friendly couple from Senegal who were on their way to work.  I asked them if this was the right train to get to Zurich Central station, and they said it definitely wasn’t.

“Hey, sorry to bother you, do you speak French please?” I asked.
“We sure do!”  The lady said.  She wore one of those striped fabric pinafore-bib type things that are the uniform of carers and cleaners the world over, and a beautiful short red (marron red) wig that meant her hair was elegantly coiffed.
“Um… is this the right train to get to Zurich Central station?”  I asked.
“No, this is the train to St Gallen.  Don’t worry, just get off at the next stop, cross the rails and get the next train back to Zurich.”  She explained.
“Thank-you.” I said.
“You want some coffee?”  The man asked.  He was decked out in a blue shirt under a black suit, and very shiny black shoes.  He clearly took very good care of his appearance.  He held out a flask cup.
I had a sip.  It was good coffee.
“Thank-you, I have been walking around this train and nobody would help me.  How come the German-Swiss are so rude?”  I asked.
“Oh, that’s because they don’t really like French speakers.  They think we’re all stealing their jobs and what not.”  She explained in a lowered voice, although this floor of the carriage was empty, and we were speaking in French in a predominantly German area.
“Stealing… their jobs??”  I was flabbergasted.
“I know, it makes no sense, right?”  The man laughed.
“Where are you from?”  The woman asked.
“England.  You?”  I asked.
“We’re from Senegal.”  The woman replied.  “But now we’re from Zurich.”  She winked.
“And you’re going to work in St Gallen?”  I asked incredulously.  It’s a hell of a commute for minimum wage.
“We do what we need to.”  The man said, as if it was nothing special.
The conversation turned to other strange things the French-Swiss said the German-Swiss believed about French speakers, then the train began to slow, I said a hasty goodbye and descended the steps to the door. There was an announcement saying the train was about to stop, then I alighted into the most silent place in the world.

As the train moved away from the platform, I stood in 6 inches of snow and wondered whether I should have stayed on the train until St Gallen and turned around there, where at least if there were no more trains for the day, there’d be a nice cup of hot chocolate at a ski lodge somewhere (or something.  I’m not really sure what’s there).

No, I was stranded at a train platform that was buried under snow halfway up a mountain, with one building next to the station, that looked like one of those water inspection buildings.  Beyond that, there was nothing but snow and curvy trees in every direction.

There wasn’t a train timetable anywhere in sight.  It was probably buried under snow.  And there wasn’t anywhere to sit.  That was probably buried under snow as well.  In fact, there was no visible roads or any route to leave this train station and get to anywhere else.  For all I knew, this could be the train station at the end of the world, it’s sole purpose seemed to be as a turning around point for lost passengers such as myself.  There was, however, a station map, which claimed I’d somehow managed to get 30 miles away from Zurich on an alpine route.  Oops.

I was alone.  The temperature was very cold.  Of course, on a journey like this, I knew I was going to be exposed to a range of temperatures, so I’d tried to pack light and dress appropriately, but then, I hadn’t expected to be stranded in the Alps.  I was wearing a pair of tights (pantyhose), a dress that finished two inches above the knee (I still have this dress), with a short sleeved shirt underneath, and a wooly cardigan over the top, and my coat. My shoes were some of those Skechers hybrid trainers/ballet flats.

Lost in the mountains in Switzerland
The only building for miles. And the strange, curvy-tipped trees. That wire overhead belongs to the train line.

This was the downhill side of the station, lost in the Alps.
This was the downhill side of the station, lost in the Alps.

 

My hands were starting to go numb.  I could see my own breath and there was an icy patina growing on my coat.  I started mentally cycling though the things Ray Mears says to do if you’re lost in the mountains, and cursed the fact that I didn’t bring a tarp.

After over two hours, the train finally arrived.  It almost certainly was punctual, but the frequency of trains up here meant that this was the first train that had passed in all that time.

When it finally drew up to the platform, I wondered if it was a snow-mirage, brought on by the cold, and made sure I touched the train before stepping onto it, just to make sure I wasn’t stepping off the platform into thin air.  You hear some horrible stories about things that happen to people who get stuck on the train tracks at the wrong time.

Thankfully it was real enough and it was a cross-country one, so it took me straight to the Zurich central station with none of the messing around with small, local stations.  When I got off, I sat in one of the station’s coffee shops and tried to thaw out.

I will continue recounting the rest of this travel day here because there’s a lot more that happened today, and otherwise this post will be very long.

Sindelfingen’s Unexpected Medieval Centre

We were looking for the museum and rathaus (same building), standing on a street surrounded by concrete brutalist architecture of the square boxes variety. The city centre was very “modern” in the sense that it looked to all be built after the 1940s. Concrete – with bits of pebble stuck to it – seemed to be the last word in architecture. What did we expect from the town whose only claim to fame is that, being quite close to Stuttgart, it’s within driving distance of the Porsche Museum? I’d seen a list on some trip advising website (I forget the name) of “5 things to do in Sindelfingen.” By comparison, there were over 300 things to do in York, where I live, and I regularly can’t find anything to do here.

The concrete architecture.
The concrete architecture.

Why were we even here? After the hectic drive to Salzburg and the overstimulation from everything that amazing place had to offer, and a complete repeat of hectic drive and overstim combo courtesy of Rome, we had decided to find a town that had absolutely nothing of interest – but still had a hotel with a swimming pool. We’d both felt that, on our honeymoon, we hadn’t spent enough time in our swimwear. The next three days was supposed to fix that.

Sindelfingen had been our destination because we were looking for somewhere with no big tourism distractions. Somewhere where we didn’t feel bad for staying in. Where we didn’t feel compelled to get out and look around and take photos.

I think I have more photos of Sindelfingen than I do of Salzburg. It was awesome; a complete hidden find.

So, the morning after our first night in the delightful Hotel Berlin, another nod to “modern” (1950s) architecture, with genuine 1950s decor such as a wall to wall mirror with teak fitted nightstands, we had gone out in search of some of the things to do in Sindelfingen, mostly because it was ironic, in the unique sense of the word that brings humour to an otherwise dull situation.

The Hotel Berlin in Sindelfingen
The Hotel Berlin in Sindelfingen.  That’s my car camper!!!

The things to do in Sindelfingen had included: The “friendship fountain,” made with articulated creatures; the rathaus, the Porsche Museum, the Mercedes Factory (both of which are in Stuttgart), Breuningerland, the shopping centre, the museum, and a zebra crossing (zebrastreifen). We found the Friendship Fountain pretty much straight away.

This is the "Friendship Fountain" in Sindelfingen
This is the “Friendship Fountain” in Sindelfingen

The fountain was awesome and had these tiny little articulated (jointed) models around it:

A wolf, one of the articulated models that were part of the Friendship Fountain.
A wolf, one of the articulated models that were part of the Friendship Fountain.

A two headed dragon
A two headed dragon

Next, we looked for the Rathaus. It turned out to be tourist information, but we went in anyway and talked to the lady behind the counter, I asked “Wahre ist der Altes Rathaus, bitte?” and she gave me a very lengthy answer, and I don’t know if she even realised I didn’t actually speak German, we had a good long conversation, albeit a little one-sided. I did know what she roughly said – this was the rathaus, the internet kept getting it confused with the museum, the museum was in the old town and then something about opening hours. We thanked her and left. I would have liked to get a photo of one of the things in the gift shop – Monopoly: Sindelfingen Edition, but I didn’t want to offend the information lady and didn’t know how to ask in German.  The third thing to do was to see the museum. We wandered off in search of it, the picture on the internet had been spectacular and I wanted to see the building – timber framed, late medieval, couldn’t wait.

We got a bit lost at this point. Basically I saw a timber framed building and thought “that must be the museum!” and walked towards it. Then we saw this:

timber framed Sindelfingen haus

Mind. Blown.

So it turns out that Sindelfingen has this huge old town full of timber framed houses and they’re all really really pretty and you can walk around them and imagine you live there.

We wasted about an hour doing this. Not one singe mention of this on the internet on the trip advice website we’d looked at when we were in Rome deciding where to go next. Apparently Sindelfingeners think the town’s zebra crossing is of more interest.  We didn’t find the zebrastreifen though so who knows maybe it’s really special.

sindelfingen timber framed houses

As we were about to give up on the museum, we rounded a corner and saw a building with a bell tower. Guess what it was? The Old Rathaus – A.K.A the museum. So it used to be the rathaus and now it wasn’t so everyone in Sindelfingen and all the signposts kept pointing us away from it towards the current Rathaus.

The museum from the direction we approached in.
The museum from the direction we approached in.

It was closed. I couldn’t actually make sense of the opening hours because there were three different sets posted on the door (in German – nobody in Sindelfingen spoke English except our hotel receptionists) so I decided that since the lights were off and the door was locked, we were out of luck. That was fine, I had really wanted to see the building itself, not the stuff inside it, that would have just been icing on the cake.

The statue outside the Sindelfingen museum near Stuttgart Germany
The statue outside the Sindelfingen museum near Stuttgart Germany

An interesting doorway around the side of the museum.
An interesting doorway around the side of the museum.

We continued to wander around Sindelfingen to take in more of the timber framed houses, stopping off at the shopping centre for some more Balea silver shampoo for me to bring home (and lunch – schnitzels and chips), then we went back to our hotel, happy that we had found the very best and unexpected thing to do in Sindelfingen, that hadn’t been mentioned anywhere, and that the museum had been pretty spectacular from the outside.

The museum from another direction, looking even more spectacular.
The museum from another direction, looking even more spectacular.

Photographs of Salzburg, Austria

After a two day car drive to Salzburg, Austria, I arrived with a big list of things to do in Salzburg.  I was expecting it to be cold, but instead I found Salzburg to be a mountain-surrounded retreat bathed in brilliant sunshine with clear air and perfect light for photography:

The rathaus and a golden ball in the square

This big gold ball was a mystery, but it features heavily on Salzburg’s postcards and appears to be a bit of a landmark in Salzburg.

Mozart perfume Salzburg

These bottles of Mozart perfume were everywhere in Salzburg.  Presumably it’s a desirable thing to smell like a dead composer.  The tagline on all the posters was “the magic of a nice feeling.”  Mozart’s connection to Salzburg is that he was born here, at 9 Getreidestrasse.  I didn’t feel inclined to seek out the house Mozart was born in, since I was far more interested in how the environment shaped his early music; all over Salzburg you could see Mozart’s music in the landscape; the colour of the buildings contrasted with Salzburg’s bed rock, in which it was nestled like a flute playing alongside a cello.  Salzburg was light, airy, nothing that happened here could be truly terrible.  This flautesque beauty was the enduring mask covering a darker past.

the rocky hill salzburg is built on

It felt like most of Salzburg was roughly hewn from the living rock itself, and the difference in heights could be profound in places.

plaque commemorating Christian Doppler effect Salzburg

This sign gets louder as you walk towards it.  Sorry, it’s a science joke.  Seriously, though, it’s pretty awesome that Christian Doppler (as in, the Doppler Effect) used to live here, I was surprised as I’d thoroughly researched Salzburg before I set off, and there was just so much more to Salzburg than the internet had suggested.  Doppler died aged 50 but, like many of the “great men” from his era, he accomplished so much in his lifetime.  Known as a mathematician and physicist, his work on the Doppler effect (the effect that explains why police sirens to get disproportionately louder as they approach, then they suddenly go quiet as they depart) is how we understand red-shift in astrophysics, and that’s the primary evidence we have which supports the Big Bang Theory.  It was pretty exciting to see a reference to Doppler, the man who identified the origin of the universe, here in Salzburg, a place predominantly known for music and renaissance landmarks.  I suppose it’s the old saying that maths and music go together – where a place is known for music, it tends to also be known for mathematics.  Doppler’s tomb is in San Michele, Venice, so this is about as close as one can get to Doppler in Salzburg.  I’d much rather see a perfume named after Doppler than Mozart – it could get stronger as one got closer to the person wearing it, and fade away unexpectedly as they passed.  The tagline for advertising could be “Smell like the stars of the heavens” (Geruch wie der Gestern des Himmels) as a reference to his eponymous paper on binary stars (Uber das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einiger anderer Gestern des Himmels).

The fountain in the square Salzburg

This was one of two fountains that I was quite taken with in Salzburg, in Rezidenzplatz, the plaza where many tourists seemed to gather.  It was beautiful, with an aura of reflected droplets of water, and it could splash a person with water from twenty feet away.  The fountain below has to win points for sheer class in a public park, though:

fountain Mirabell gardens salzburg

I explained what the deal was with this second fountain in my post about Mirabell Gardens back in December 2014.

war memorial plaques salzburg

I think most tourists visiting Salzburg don’t know what these plaques are for, embedded into the pavement, four or five inches square, and starting to tarnish.  Tourists seem to walk around without even noticing them, which is tragic when you know what these are for.  Salzburg’s more recent history is painful to touch, a dark shroud suffocating parts of the city and extinguishing the joy and wonder of Mozart’s and Doppler’s birthplace.  Like when you see someone who has been in a horrific accident, and they keep assuring you that they’re fine… but it still just goes right through you, when you look at the wound.  Much of Salzburg was a profoundly beautiful place with a lot of happy tourist attractions, and you could probably get through an entire visit here without seeing traces of the Second World War if you wanted to.  But there were signs, and it was not very nice.  These plaques are for people who were rounded up and transported, telling the world where they were sent and what ultimately happened to them.  Deportiert means deported.  Ermordet means murdered.  Suddenly the tragedy of Salzburg is vividly real and tragic.  The plaques are to show where these people lived before they were labeled as undesirable.  On the plaques above, you will see this family was separated after they were taken; Irma and Arthur Bondy were both killed at Minsk, the capital of Belarus, by the Third Reich, which leads to a completely different picture of wartime Belarus than we are used to thinking about.  Otto Bondy was taken to Theresienstadt, the ghetto camp in the Czech republic, before being moved to Treblinka, the other extermination camp in Poland.  Rachel Rosenmann was taken to Lodz, the work camp also in Poland.  It is impossible to know when they died, only when they were taken, so whether their suffering was quick or slow, we will never be able to tell.  Just looking at that photo makes me profoundly sad.  Just as Mozart and Doppler are famed citizens of Salzburg who should be remembered for their work, the world should also know the names of all of these people who lived in Salzburg all their lives, then were rounded up and killed.  The people in these plaques were all aged in their mid-fifties.  There were so many of these plaques and I feel very guilty that I didn’t photograph them all, didn’t record every name and every fate.  Then I realized that the plaques do that.  They remember the people who were lost.  Salzburg found them and brought them home again, even if only in name.  When people say the situation with the refugees in North Africa is different to this, they don’t know what they’re talking about.  It’s hard for some people to remember that our side wasn’t actually aware that the Nazis were doing this to millions of people until some allied soldiers walked into Auschwitz when we liberated Poland.  The same thing could quite easily be happening elsewhere.

DSCF2477

This was a big castle.  I think it’s what most people go to Salzburg for.  We clomped up the hill, got to the top, enjoyed the view, balked at the entry fee and came back down again.  The view was nice though and the exercise was probably good for us after the two-day drive to get from the North of England to Salzburg.  There was also some sort of mechanical railway lift type thing (similar to the one at Snowdon).

Salzburg padlock bridge

On a millenial-aged bridge, this vast collection of padlocks evokes a different emotion – love.  In spite of all the horror of Austria’s 20th Century past, people in Salzburg have filled this bridge with padlocks, to show their love for another human being.  People in Salzburg understand suffering and loss, but the city itself endures, the people endure, and in the face of crimes against humanity of such magnitude, the city still loves, is still loved, and the pain begins to fade.  Perhaps if you’re less emotional than I, you could get through a visit to Salzburg without feeling the same way.

When we had run out of time in Salzburg, we reluctantly hit the road again (there were so many things we didn’t get to see) and headed onwards, towards Rome.  We never did find out what the big gold ball was.