Home > General > Living With Huns II: Trains and Buttered Brötchen

Living With Huns II: Trains and Buttered Brötchen

One of the more pleasant aspects of living in the Trier region is the architecture. Trier, as I have not been remiss in informing you, was at one time the second city of the Roman Empire. St Helena was born in Trier and Constantine the Great much preferred his mother’s hometown over Rome. Most days, when returning from grocers, I walk past St Nikolaus Church. A dreadful miscreation of the 1970s, it was built over a beautiful, if decrepit, Baroque church which in turn was built on the ruins of Constantine’s summer villa. The foundation stones can still be seen in the crypt, remnants of the bath can be seen – and touched – just beyond the church, nearer the cemetery.

From the church one can also see the former Konz train station. At one time a villa for military leaders of some standing in the region, this Renaissance structure has tragically seen better days. While structurally sound, years of neglect and oiks have conspired to the worst. The sandstone walls are covered with spray-paint and many windows are broken. Inside, graffiti is scrawled on the walls and the ceiling. Some oiks, it seems, have at least that much ambition.

When travelling by train to Trier one passes two minor train stations, Karthaus and Trier-Süd. The latter is unremarkable. It is a platform with an electronic billeting machine. The former, prior to neglect similar to that of Konz Proper, was one of the better examples of Wilhelmine architecture in the region. Although it lacks the pedigree of Konz’s former station, the current, parenthetically, being a utilitarian covered platform with a single electronic billeting machine, it is terribly underappreciated. For the longest time Germany’s 19th century architecture was not taken seriously and quickly disappeared in the post-war era. Sadly, many of the brutally hideous structures that replaced them still stand. Those that remain are finally taken somewhat seriously. As a result of this, there is increasing revulsion at the neglect shown by the now private owners of the former Karthaus Bahnhof.

Trier’s main train station has little to commend it, a 1950s structure which suffered an extensive renovation in the 1970s; it serves a strictly utilitarian purpose and does so adequately. There is a book store, a travel agency, a few billeting machines, a small and underwhelming bakery and a small store selling assorted candies, bottled water, tonics and cigarettes at inflated prices. Despite this, their coffee is relatively cheap and drinkable. Most days before returning to Konz I stop in for a quick cuppa. A cappuccino, café macchiato or “Milchkaffee”, a German interpretation of the café au lait costs a not unreasonable €1.60. A few of the clerks have begun to recognise my hideous visage and make my order with no need to ask.

Walking through Trier is pleasant enough, especially since the historic centre is a designated pedestrian zone. The main market is still active with local farmers selling their produce most days of the week. While perhaps marginally dearer than the grocers, the quality of their product is very much worth the few extra groats. There is a remarkable chemist’s located on the main market, Löwen Apotheke, has been in operation in the same building since 1241. Off the main market to the right, if walking toward St Gangolf’s Cathedral from the Porta Nigra, is the Judengasse. This is an unfortunate false cognate. Gasse in Germany simply means “alley”. It is the 17th century Jewish Quarter and former centre of Jewish life in the city. While small, it was historically influential. Trier was a centre of Jewish life in the Germanic lands and the mediaeval Frankish dialect spoken in the Trier region was influential on the development of Yiddish.

To the left is the Trierer Dom, the main Catholic cathedral. The foundation was built under Constantine the Great. The bulk of the structure is Romanesque; some of the chapels were completed during the Baroque. Many of the artistic flourishes and shrines are rococo. The Cloister is open to the public and is usually free of the crowds loitering about in the markets and even within the Dom. The Dom is home to a remarkable relic. Its prized possession is a robe, the robe ostensible worn by Christ during his crucifixion. Although legally classified as Roman Catholic by the proper authorities, I remain as sceptical of its authenticity as most experts remain of the Shroud of Turin.

The true symbol of the city, other than oiks passed out in pools of their own vomit in the city’s northern edge on a Sunday morning is the Porta Nigra. It is the last remaining of the four Roman gates protecting the city. Much has changed since the Romans built it. It didn’t even come to its present form until the 11th century when a hermit monk made it his home. Successive generations, especially those from the 1970s on, found themselves worthy of leaving their signatures and records of their love interests on the walls. Entrance to this structure is not free. A combination ticket can be purchased at the Simeonstift, the city’s history museum, entitling the bearer to entrance to both the museum and the Porta Nigra. When I went last, the lackadaisical ticket collector couldn’t be bothered to check my ticket so perhaps to say that entrance to the structure comes with a cost is somewhat too optimistic.

Walking north on Paulinus Straβe one can pass by the best ice cream shop in Trier. Sadly, they do not offer any of their ice cream spoons for sale. There is such a shortage of them in the city’s stores as we have all learnt from my previous piece on living with Huns. They would be able to have a corner on the market. There is a passable Chinese restaurant which serves Xiao Long Bao, a type of Chinese dumpling which can make me fall to my knees. Not far away is Dietz Bakery. The best in the city after Clements, they sell sugar pretzels throughout the year. A childhood favourite and the source of one of the more tragically comedic moments of my youth, if you wish to read about that please ask, I on occasion indulge in patisserian nostalgia there. Dietz also bake among the best Brötchen, miniature loaves of bread, in the region. My grandfather’s favourite, he wakes up early several times each week to drive to their Konz bakery. Sometimes, when fresh, I eat one with nothing but hand-churned Norman butter made with sea salt. For some reason, they simply taste best that way.

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Categories: General
  1. September 15, 2014 at 1:23 am

    Fascinating piece Christopher. I will be popping over to Karlsruhe early in the new year – hometown of my second daughter’s spanking new fiancee – and will be sure to nip across and have a look around.

    Great to discover a fellow fan of Xiao Long Bao. I was delighted to discover a Taiwanese restaurant in Chinatown which serves them regularly.

  2. September 15, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Christopher, if I may be so bold as to say, as a fellow TESL teacher, you seem to have coined a new word – billeting! It has a fine Continental flavour which I appreciate as much as the patisserie you describe! 🙂

  3. September 15, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Bravo: by all means, do. Karlsruhe, if you have never visited it, is possible among Germany’s most underwhelming cities. It was built strictly to be practical, not attractive or even pleasant. If anyone is in Trier while I am still living here please let me know and I will show you about.

  4. September 15, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Janus: a number of French words have crept their way into the local speech. Not elegantly spoken, by any means, but they are heard. Billeting seemed appropriate considering the location. That, any spell-check didn’t catch it.

  5. September 15, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Sorry Guys, but billeting is the present participle of a perfectly respectable English word which relates to the lodgement of troops. OK, it has its root in French, but it’s been around for yonks with that meaning.

    Ticketing is what you’re searching for. 🙂

  6. O Zangado
    September 15, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Mornin’ Christopher. I do like a good travelogue with my first and second coffee of the morning. Your descriptions of Trier remind me very much of some towns of Algarve, such as Faro and Olhao (should be an accent over the ‘a’, but the keyboard is fighting back), Algarve is dripping with history all the way from Neanderthal settlements to Sthpanisth invasions, but when the archaeologists dig it all up in the next millennium, they will marvel at the strange religious symbols that cover many historic urban buildings and all regional trains. Mosaics of Pompeii it ain’t and I would welcome a zero.tolerance approach whereby the untermenschen (another accent missing) are forced at gunpoint to lick the trains and facades clean.

    Janus . Apropos the above, I saw this gobbit recently and thought of you, ”Auto.correct, your worst enema.” 😀

    OZ

  7. September 15, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Bearsy: Germans do tend to enjoy military precision and following orders. Conductors also frequently bark orders at passengers.

    Oz: very true, both Trier and the Algarve have seen a lot, although to be fair to the Algarve it has much better weather and a much more interesting history. In Trier all we have is the lingering shame that we were consistently bested by the French. I like your idea. My proposal is that in one go these mutilated structures should be properly cleaned up and CCTV cameras should be installed. After a week, the recordings should be reviewed and the vandals rounded up. Decimate them, force the survivors to lick the trains and façades clean and leave the bodies hanging in cages to serve as a warning.

  8. September 15, 2014 at 11:12 am

    OZ, that’s Apple, my worst enema. 🙂

  9. September 15, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Bearsy, how true but seriously inapt when buying a train ticket!

  10. christinaosborne
    September 16, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Only just caught up with here! Life manically hectic, my partner in the community garden is away on hols leaving ludicrous industrial quantities of food to harvest and process.

    Anyway, I find it hard to believe that Trier allows all these ancient monuments to be defaced with graffiti and does nothing about it? Sounds incredibly unteutonic! Last time I was in Germany was the late 80s and it was incredibly clean and undefaced! Never been to Trier do you think it is different to the rest of Germany? Perhaps too near the bloody frogs?

  11. September 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    CO: Germany is not what you remember it. The trains are dirty and frequently late. I would like to think that it is just the Trier region, but it isn’t. Much of Germany is getting tatty. Many Germans are heading out because they can’t stand it and the ever-increasing bureaucratic tyranny any more.

    Luxembourg, even closer to France, is far cleaner and more well-organised than Germany. Germany has, sadly, become a shadow of its former self and has only remained somewhat viable because the travails of southern Europe have held the currency artificially low for Germany. On its own, Germany would be little better off than Italy at this point.

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