Magnificent Medieval Münster

“Ah, excuse me?” I said to the naked man who just walked into the sauna. He spins around, muttering “yes?” and I can see it from the corner of my eye swinging like a grandfather clock, despite trying to look away.

“Do you mind? Cover yourself up please, we are in a public place.”

He responded in bad English. “In Germany, we are no clothes in Sauna, yes?” He seemed genuinely surprised at my discomfort. The first live penis I have ever seen just happened in a sauna in Germany, so surprised was the least of my emotions.

I love saunas. I join gyms that I know has one just to gain access to it, but in Australia we wear swimsuits and cover ourselves with towels. It was pointless trying to make a point about decency, I was after all in his country, so I quickly got up and left, speed-walking back to my hotel room to have a cold shower. The male form is pretty disgusting, although this eighty-something year old man was probably not the best visual introduction to it.

I need to get out and about, shake it all off and so I rent a bike from the lobby and type ‘supermarket near me’ into google maps, happy that I purchased an international sim card in advance to give me access to the internet all over Europe. It’s Sunday and everything is closed in the small city of Münster, everything except the service station ten minutes away. I hope they have fresh fruit, I think to myself as I begin peddling.

It’s beautifully quiet as I ride the bike first through a cemetery, past the Schloss Castle and then down the promenade, the tall trees perfectly aligned as it snowed yellow, Autumn leaves and I feel a sense of gratitude that I found a cheap flight direct to Adana that ultimately led me here. There are bikes everywhere and I have been told that there are more bikes than people, something I am keen on promoting in Australia where people are so reliant on cars. I spot squirrels and chestnuts on the ground and smile at the fact that I am here, the cold rain drizzling on my face only adding to the appeal. I fill my backpack with apples – easily accessible here to my gratification – and ride toward the spire that I noticed needling out to the sky in the distance.

If there is one practice I love doing when I travel, it is getting lost in a new place, walking through winding streets and spotting things I know an itinerary would likely miss. What a place to get lost in! There is a perfect mixture between old and new, as medieval gothic churches gracefully collide with university buildings, and centuries old architecture now etched with fashion stores and boutiques. It reminds me of Venice, the planners here clearly intelligent and thought things through that I appreciated the overall experience.

Münster is located in the northern Westphalia region of Germany, and this independent city has a long history. Bordered right near The Netherlands, it officially became a city in 805AD after a monastary was built there during the reign of Emperor Charlemagne. The trade route with England made it a particularly popular position that by the late 13th century prospered as part of the Haneatic League, an organisation founded by wealthy German merchants to protect commerical and trade activities. By the 16th century, the region was controlled by the Anabaptists, considered radical at the time and who followed the teachings of Martin Luther, the latter however rejecting their distinctive movement. It returned to Catholic rule during the counter revival of Catholicism. The religious violence in the region continued and led to the devastation of the 30 years war, Münster well known for and very proud of leading the historic peace treaty of Westphalia in 1648, ending the violence.

This incredible history and prosperity has enabled this little city to build such architecture like the gothic St. Lamberts Tower, historic City Hall, and Prinzipalmarkt square. I am excited to see it all and despite the cold weather, I wonder through the cobblestone streets and notice people walking into a catholic church. Curious, I follow suit. It is my first time in a church service and it is incredible to witness the organ playing and the choir singing in the Münster Cathedral, a monumental church built with Romanesque towers in the 12th century. It was wonderful, especially the astronomy clock built in the 1540s, as well as the tomb of Clemens von Galen, fearless for standing against Nazism during WW2, but that did not stop the Nazis and by 1943 the city was bombed in a raid that crippled the city.

I feel a sense of shame and an urgency to remember my duty to being virtuous and for failing at it in so many ways, the echoes of Isaiah54 hovering around me as I listen to the priest blast out his sermon through a microphone to a packed audience. It was impressive to see that this small city continues to practice such old traditions together as one community and I couldn’t help but feel envious as I myself roam the world as a practicing Christian with no religion or institution, no church and no one to talk to. Just me and my bible.

There is so much to see in Münster and so much to understand about it’s history, but there is one thing that I found disappointing. All the walking historians who act as tour guides only speak German and so I did not have the opportunity to hear local academics explaining the history behind the monuments and buildings and to ask questions to improve my understanding. I was left to reading over the internet, something that I do anyway but can be challenging when exhausted after hours of walking and cycling. So I sit at a local boulangerie and order coffee and a traditional pretzel, using my phone to start reading about some of the things I had seen that I didn’t research about in advance.

The great thing about Münster is that it is that it is a small university city housing students from Germany and around the world that brings some additional life to this thousand-year old city. Young people need to be entertained, and so the city is filled with cafes and bars with live music, as well as hosting concerts and festivals. It makes for a perfect place to base yourself for raising a family, letting go of the hustle of the city for the rustling of the trees. It is a beautiful place to visit and well worth adding to your itinerary if in Germany.