Sailing the River Rhine Part 3: History and Horsepower in Speyer, Germany

Eric Anderson, MD & Nancy Anderson, RN

Speyer is the first German stop in our tour of the Rhine River. It's small in population, but large when it comes to attractions and museums.

Today Uniworld arranges a busy day for our first German town, Speyer. It has a population of about 50,000 but it seems bigger because there is so much going on. Speyer, one of Germany’s oldest towns, was an important center of Jewish culture about a thousand years ago but sadly and typically not much has been preserved. The first part of our walking tour, however, includes the old Jewish Quarter and we had access to the 12th century Judenbad, the ritual bathhouse for women that was constructed by the same masons who had built the Speyer Cathedral. It is the oldest and best-preserved relic of its time in Germany — and Frommer’s reminds us a “poignant, nostalgic reminder of a vanished culture.”

Jewish Quarter and entry into Maximilian Strasse

A walk along Maximilianstrasse passes many of the town’s historic buildings: the 1748 Old Mint, the 1726 Town Hall, and to the Dom itself, Speyer Cathedral, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bishops of Speyer had most of the rights of the town and its wealth and in 969 were given total control of the taxes and tolls. Acrimonious discord between the citizens and the Catholic Church followed for the next two centuries but Speyer ultimately became a Free Imperial City in 1294 with the right to mint its own coins.

Second image from top: the Old Mint. Third image: Town Hall. Bottom image: Dom Cathedral

A popular statue on the Main Street, Maximilianstrasse is the St. James Pilgrim. The bones of the Apostle James are thought by Catholic believers to be in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain and for centuries Europeans have chosen to go on pilgrimages to that location. Two routes go to the west through Speyer and Martin Meyer’s early 20th century bronze statue commemorates them.

The pilgrim, larger than life, portrayed as footsore and weary but determined

Two museums are within a 10-minute walk of the pilgrim statue. Closest is the Historical Museum that occupies several buildings. Expect to find furniture created by skilled Middle Ages craftsmen, medieval art, ceramic exhibits, clothing of former times and, of course, weapons of all ages.

The Historical Museum of the Palatine is immense. You could easily get lost

The Historical Museum of the Palatine is so immense that it can be difficult to find the right door and once you are inside you find very little of the information is posted in English so you find portraits of women who look like every man’s mother-in-law, and surprise! an identified bust of the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, an unidentified bust of a superior and smug woman who surely looks like Queen Victoria, and World War I army helmets

Some of the one million exhibits of the Historical Museum

The exhibits from The Great War are particularly touching. They include love letters written from the front to sweethearts with photographs suggesting that German recruits were no different from French, British, or American ones. Inexperienced and ill at ease. As the cynics say, “War is Big Business, Invest your sons!” The photo exhibits remind us that, even a century ago, munitions could be massive and the contents of an army doctor’s field kit so pathetically small.

Great War exhibits

The walk from the Historical Museum to the vast Technik Museum Speyer takes only five minutes and it is well signed. But it is easily found because of the billboards advertising its IMAX and the glimpses of its aircraft exhibits above the trees. You will walk past its Wilhelmsbau (and its “collection of curiosities”) and notice the L39 Czech jet trainer Albatross suspended in front of its hotel and, before you realize it, you are seemingly in an airport where planes are stationary in the sky.

The Technik museum’s surroundings are themselves interesting. It’s all part of the show.

A Lilienthal glider, for example, or a 1917 Fokker DR 1, a 1919 Mercedes-Benz “Knight” and a 1934 Mercedes-Benz 380K both in magnificent condition, a 1909 Gaggenau truck beautifully restored because this is Germany and because of the company’s early association with Benz. Here, too, a 1929 Packard Straight Eight coupe, a popular car with “the rich landowners in America.” And a Messerschmitt Bf 109 that along with the Junkers 87 Stuka dive bomber is probably the most remembered German aircraft of World War II. And a 1937 Jaguar SS, and a 1926 Lancia Lambada and a 1909 Renault Doppelphaeton (AS) and a 1953 Cadillac convertible but don’t expect them to be in order by date, just be like a kid in a candy store and enjoy the experience. None of those were photographed; there were just too many.

The vast Technik Museum Speyer makes a prodigious effort to cover its theme from huge steam locomotives to the midget submarine Seehund Type 127. It also has “Europe’s largest space museum.” Plan to utilize a lot of your free time here if things mechanical interest you

The Ford Lincoln Town Car with extensively airbrush painting was used by Camel Promotions 1999-2001 at events across Germany, often taking actors and musicians to award ceremonies. The decoration took more than 1,000 hours but got the Lincoln into the Guinness Book of Records as “the longest airbrush artwork in the world.”

The Guinness Book of Records Lincoln Town Car

Given the accolades German engineering gets from the world it is rather touching to see the respect the Technik Museum Speyer shows to other nations’ cars from Henry Ford’s famous Model T to two spectacular efforts for Britain separated by more than 60 years.

1923 Ford Model T, 1937 Bentley 4.5 van den Plas, 2001 Aston Martin DB 7 Vantage, the James Bond car

The Technik Museum successfully fits its machines into contemporary culture ending with a 1920 A20 “White Mars” motorcycle with its 952 cc two-cylinder boxer engine

Photography by the authors

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.