Multiple trips to Worms are par for the course whenever I have occasion to visit Germany. It is my birthplace and even though I grew up in two nearby villages, I spent nine formative years there, attending high school from grades 5 to 13, inextricably linking my memories with this city built adjacent to the Rhine River.
It is well-nigh impossible to stroll through Worms without stumbling across clues of its long history, with archeologic digs proving human settlement as early as 5000 BC. After the passing of the Celts and the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century the area was the purported realm of the King of Burgundy and the Nibelungen, fabled Germanic peoples known for the all-too-human-traits of love, envy, greed, revenge, leading to murder and mayhem. Their trials and tribulations were immortalized in a great epic, the Nibelungenlied, recorded in the 13th century in Middle High German, and multiple monuments in present-day Worms depict its protagonists. Since 2002, the drama is re-enacted in an annual open-air festival attracting spectators from near and far.
The Roman Catholic Church erected its own monument. The Cathedral St. Peter was begun in the 11th century, on the site of a basilica from the year 600. It is one of a trio of Romanesque Imperial Cathedrals, including those of Speyer and Mainz, located south and north along the river, respectively.
The seismic event that rent the Christian church asunder also happened here: the Diet of Worms of 1521, in which Martin Luther was summoned before the Emperor and ecclesiastic hierarchy, in order to withdraw his criticism of the church which he had propounded in his 95 Theses in 1517. He did not renounce his beliefs, and Reformation and the foundation of the Protestant denomination were the consequence. Luther himself was rendered in stone for the ages and continues to proclaim from his pedestal, “ I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, it can’t be helped. So help me God. Amen.
Not far from the reformer rises the Church of the Holy Trinity, marriage chapel of my paternal grandparents. As was the case for many nearby buildings, it was bombed by the Allies in February 1945 and rebuilt with modifications in the 1950s.
Another victim of the most egregious chapter of Germany’s history was the Jewish synagogue. Originally built in 1034, it was destroyed in a conflagration in the so-called Night of the Broken Glass between November 9 and 10, 1938. It, too, was reconstructed and serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed, and a hopeful beacon to tolerance and peace. Miraculously, the Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands, with its oldest documented grave stone from 1076, survived the Nazi regime and continues to draw pilgrims.
As I amble through familiar, yet altered pedestrian zones with new storefronts, I am heartened to find my favorite book shop, displaced and downsized as a result of our Amazonized universe, but thriving nonetheless, having just celebrated its 100th birthday. As a teenager, I spent many hours here, and most of my allowance. I wend through parks, past benches that invite to linger under the canopy of stately trees, and in the presence of fragrant floral creations. I get lost in narrow residential streets endowed with their own character, find myself next to the former town wall which has been enlarged numerous times to protect the ever-growing community.
Often I let my gaze follow the current of the Rhine on its way to the North Sea. The flood of nostalgic recollections tastes sweet, but is laced with the inevitable melancholy which comes from the realization that I will have to leave again soon, that I am neither completely here, nor there — the problem of straddling two worlds.
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