I have about 90miles left to get to Susanne’s in Schönheide – make that about 100miles to account for me getting lost in Industrial Estates and I’ve still got time to pause and look around at ‘sights’, as Susanne is away this coming weekend and not back until the Monday. Karin suggests Kronach as a good place to stop as the old city is still walled and intact and the Fortress overlooking the place is spectacular and is famous for never having been breached. It’s also not far, at about 20miles, so suits me.
So here I am, once again following the small rectangular cycle path signs, tacked to lamp posts, on a path sandwiched between the River Main (getting smaller now) and the railway. Don’t believe I’ll be seeing any more of those huge Cruise Boats. I’m being serenaded by a blackbird as I write this – so loud, even I can hear him!
As I passed Schürbitz, I saw a man coming out of a store clutching a traditional looking suit on a hanger. I paused to check out the store, which sold Bavarian costumes and couldn’t resist taking several photographs – I particularly liked the knitted jackets and hosiery. Get your lederhosen here!
Coming into Gruben, a Green Woodpecker swooped across the path in front of me – red head, green body – lovely splash of colour (and I’m impressed that I finally recognise a bird!). Not a few minutes later a hare dashed from the shorn grass into the long grass: so much more lippety-loppety than a rabbit. I’ve seen more hares on this trip than I’ve seen before in my life. And lots of starlings – spotting a starling in England seems a rarer thing than it used to be, but they’re common again in Germany. I’m seeing herons – big, dark ones, and Storks just about every day. Did you play ‘spot the heron’ in that photograph I took the other day? I’m seeing a large number of thrush size birds in the meadows – in fact, they might BE thrushes – but they have a dark tail, white bottoms and underneath, speckledy chests (not all over) and bluegrey across the wings and on the head. I could do with a resident ornithologist to tell me what all the passerines I see are too. Steve? Malc? Where are you when I need you? I can recognise a nuthatch now – I’ve seen several quite close up, climbing trees – one found a caterpillar in the bark and shook it at me quite triumphantly before disappearing around the other side. But I get confused with finches, tits, wagtails – and they fly off so quickly it’s hard to get a record of definitive markings. It’s fun to try though. I’ve been trying to identify a small bird with such distinctive colours I thought it would be easy: it had bright English mustard coloured chest and head and reddish back/wings and was fairly small – robin sized. Looking online, closest I can come to match it is a yellow hammer.
The landscape I’m passing now, is a cross between industrial – with lots of soil moving machinery in evidence, farmland and residential, interspersed with trees (I know – that just about covers everything, doesn’t it?). I’m still in a river valley but I’ve left the River Main behind and am following a tributary called the Rodach, then another tributary called the Haßlach took me into the outskirts of Kronach. As I crossed a bridge I paused to watch the ducks on an gravelly island in the middle of this river. Just as I was about to move on, a small mammal dashed off the island and started swimming to the bank – I watched it reach the side and climb out – it had a longish tail and stumpy legs and a flattish face. I’m fairly sure it was a water vole (as opposed to a brown rat).
Not long after I crossed this bridge I got my first sight of Kronach set in the hillside before me, impressive buildings crowned with the great Rosenberg Fortress flying its flag. Then I rode through a pretty park with fountains and statues to get to it. There are modern suburbs surrounding the central, medieval buildings and cobbled streets, of course, but the core remains intact and well preserved. I had to push my bicycle uphill across the cobbles and through stone arches to find the tourist information in the Rathaus (which I now know is the Town Hall, not an experimental maze).
The woman in the Tourist Information place was very helpful when I asked for cheap accommodation or camping. She told me there was a hostel in the Fortress itself – ideal! She also gave me some history crib sheets as the town is very proud to be the birth place of Lukas ‘Cranach’, the Elder – who I’ve never heard of, but who was a contemporary of Albrecht Dürer, who I have. (I’ve seen his paintings of “A Large Piece of Turf” and “A Hare” in the flesh, as it were, and been singularly impressed). Cranach, by all accounts, was prolific, successful and great friends with Martin Luther. I liked his signature – a winged serpent, with a ruby ring in its mouth. There were red versions of this painted on the pavements at various places around the city I noticed (probably marking important sites of interest – like where he was born).
Kronach, or its environs, has been inhabited for over a 1000yrs – that’s a long history! The city still has a wall (like Exeter) but only one gate remains – the Bamburg gate. Kronach used to be part of Bamburg – but, since 1802, has been part of Bavaria. I won’t bore you with details (I’m doing enough of that) – but suffice to say the history involved a lot of Princes fighting each other over territory and power – the usual stories.
The Rosenberg Fortress itself is imposing and has been added to over centuries. It has indeed never been breached and many a Prince has put it to siege and gone away defeated. There was one ‘sit-in’ by peasants back in the 14th century but that was the only time it came close to being invaded and the peasants were soon routed. The outer walls in the shape of a pentagon were added to in the 18th century - and the building was used as a POW residence for officers in the First World War – including one Charles De Gaulle! I thought that was interesting. He made two attempts to escape – though he was caught both times – and he obviously survived to go on to become President of France.
With all this history, I was expecting at least a few ghosts. There’s what looks like a prison right outside the Fortress – an old building with many cameras, lights and much razor wire. As I was walking back to the hostel past this place, late in the evening, a ghastly groan came from one of the blocked up and barred windows. But in the Castle itself? Nothing. Not a sausage – just a bit of noise from the wedding party from earlier in the day.
There’s a lot of activity setting up tents and marquees all around the Fortress ready for the “Crana Historica” Society’s Medieval (biennial) festival this weekend – I’d quite liked to have hung around for this – it looked to be interesting. But move along, move along – I’ve got a bit of a ways to go!