Living History – Aschaffenberg, Germany
Aschaffenburg, (West) Germany, was my home for two years as an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army’s 3rd ‘Marne’ Infantry Division from 1981-83. Like virtually every place in Europe, ‘A-Berg,’ as it was known to the G.I.’s stationed there, had seen a lot of history. Over a thousand years had passed since Aschaffenburg was settled by the German ancestors of today’s townsfolk. The city, northernmost in Bavaria, sits aside a bend in the Main River, and is also called ‘Aschaffenburg-am-Mein.’
The year of my arrival, 1981, was celebrated as the 1,000th in the history of the local cathedral, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Alexander. This basilica church added some Gothic elements over the centuries, and has served as the center of town for all of its existence. The visitor can see elements that have been added over the centuries, like layers of strata in a rock formation, each telling something of the times that authored them.
The Sandkirche is another Aschaffenburg church with some history to it. Built during the Counter-Reformation era, it features art and architecture that survived World War Two intact – alone among they city’s churches. The Rococo style is ornate and one of the finest examples of its’ genre.
A Renaissance-era castle, the Schloss Johannisburg, dominates
the skyline and is one of the leading attractions of the city. The building complex and parkways take at least a full day to enjoy and appreciate.
The cityscape, especially in the ‘Old Town,’ is medieval in character and preserves the feeling, even amidst modern intrusions like electric lighting, an air of traditionalism that is charming and genuine.
Aschaffenburg did not lack for more modern attractions, however: It boasted an underground mall, a train station and a Hard Rock Cafe, among other evening hangouts frequented by locals and G.I.s alike. Some of the historic attractions, like the Heylands brewery, in operation since 1792 (closed in 2001), where one could enjoy ‘Aschaffenburg’s Grossest Bier,’ had attractions beyond the historic, especially for young G.I.s.
History is all around us; it is certainly easier to find in the Old World. However, it can be found virtually wherever one lives, and while it may span a millennium, it’s still history – and it’s there to be enjoyed, appreciated and passed on to the next generation.