Singing in the rain

You people out there in blogland must think I lead the life of Riley and that the sun always shines! Let it be known that this is not so, but we live life as well as we can and the sayings “Every cloud has a silver lining” and “Have lemons – make lemonade” were made for us!

We spent a cool, rainy, drizzly and generally glum Sunday afternoon strolling through the old town of Constance, not 20 minutes away from us over the German border. A university town that has held a high status for centuries, once you have escaped the thrall of the attractively presented shops and head back to the oldest part of town, you will find a number of streets and houses that date as far back as the 13th century, blessedly untouched by wartime bombs or earlier tussles for power, beautifully maintained and particularly picturesque to our present-day eyes.

This is the Rheintorturm (Rhine gate tower), which we have passed probably hundreds of times in the car but never actually taken the time to check out more closely.

That there on the right is the land registry office for the town, obviously a later, more baroque structure (at least on the outside – it may be a lot older inside!). The tower stands a little further up-river from the modern, busy and traffic-filled bridge and was probably about the limit of width that mediaeval engineering could manage. It seems it was a toll-bridge, as there are the huge iron hinges of a gate on either side of the bridge opening, and the fact that there are rooms in the tower suggests some kind of offices, as well as the typical wooden look-out storey on the top – this is a very common style for towers and castles throughout the area south of Lake Constance from the 12th century onwards. In the  open part of the structure, the Count of Rohrdorf proudly announces his responsibility for building it around the year 1200 and no doubt took in a decent revenue from tolls!  


It also points out that the citizens of Constance held the town against the Spanish invaders in 1548 in a “bridge battle”. This puzzles me a little, as my research indicates that the town lost its status as a “free” town in that year, was annexed to the Austrian Habsburg kingdom by being gifted to Ferdinand and re-Catholicised… No mention of this battle or why the Spanish were there. All this was a result of the Treaty of Schmalkalden, something that has stayed vaguely with me since schooldays because I thought the name sounded funny. Anyway, presumably it has to do with the fact that Habsburgs ruled the mediaeval world and Charles V was not only the Holy Roman Emperor but at the same time Charles I of Spain… apparently he was actually Belgian. And they talk about a melting pot! It turns out that a lot of this was caused by the fact that the Americas had been discovered and transalpine trading routes were losing their importance – just goes to show what a domino effect can be set in motion by one event.

What’s more, Constance managed to be occupied by the Swedish during the 30 Years’ War (1618-48)!! I hadn’t really been aware that Sweden and Switzerland were ever that close – though of course both are famous for their neutrality in the intervening centuries. On looking all this up, I decided it is ridiculous that our A-level history syllabus tried to cover so much when just this period looks to me as if it could occupy someone for an entire academic career! Go look it up yourself ;o

And then, presumably under Napoleon, they came and tore down the bridge in 1799… 

That’s the tower, there on the left, with the Rhine flowing away from the lake ahead. In truth, the French general had ordered the bridge to be burnt down, but the citizens hastily took it down themselves before the French had finished their toilette…!

The tower now houses the Fasnachtsmuseum, as Fasnacht, or Carneval, is hugely popular in this region. I’m afraid it doesn’t much appeal to us, so we skipped a visit.

By the 1830s (and probably built before, but I can’t find anything on it), the County Court was well-established in another rather Baroque-looking building of grandeur: 

Personally, this is less my taste. Not 50 metres away, this little house caught my eye (and I see there’s a pic on Google Earth, too!)… 

How darling is that?! The shop has probably seen any number of trades over the years and is currently a holistic boutique, but wouldn’t it be fun to live upstairs in this tiny house?! I love tiny houses! Fine for me at 5’2″ but perhaps less so for my 6’4″ husband 😮

As the river Rhine opens out into the larger part of Lake Constance, you can follow the shore round to the south, where there is an island, separated from the mainland by only a narrow water channel. Originally, a Dominican abbey dominated the island, but these days, a 5* hotel chain has established itself as the top address in Constance. The cloister and the arched walkways around it are still well-maintained, with the walls painted with scenes from Constance history since there were houses on stilts, and including Kaiser Wilhelm’s visit in 1888. With this prime location, the hotel naturally boasts a large terrace looking out onto the lake, with its own small marina… my husband knows this well, since the electric battery on our small boat once happened to run out just as the Rhine meets the lake at this point and there was nothing for it but to allow himself to be stranded in a 5* hotel! By the time I got to him, he was comfortably ensconced on the terrace, his batteries plugged into the hotel’s outdoor socket, enjoying a rather delicious meal and charming the waitresses LOL. Always get stranded in style… to ogle the luxury!

This time, though, the terrace has been cleared for the winter and if you’re not up for one of the restaurants, it’s the Zeppelin Salon you need to head for, a very charming bar which was originally the sacristy of the abbey church, and they say, the birthplace of Count Zeppelin (not sure how that change came about!).  

Definitely just the place for a cup of tea or a glass of whisky and an opportunity to sit and watch the lake as the weather clears and where you can dry out after a day in drizzle – which, as I imagine you have guessed, we did!



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