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May 10, 2021

Germany: Hildesheim


Church of St. Michael in Hildesheim

The devastation of World War II left an indelible mark on much of Germany.  The Allies, particularly towards the end of the war, bombed Germany’s larger, strategic, and more industrial cities.  This left many populated areas as piles of rubble.

Decades after the war ended, Germany’s cities have been rebuilt.  With the reconstruction there was often great effort made to recreate the historic central cores.  Yet even after the rebuilding efforts the historic urban centers were never the same.  Though their essence was recreated, many of the details and the sense of age and history were lost forever in the post war rubble. 

Hildesheim in north central Germany is a typical example.  After the 1945 Allied air raids only 27% of the city’s houses remained undamaged.  The center of the city, which had retained its medieval character up until the end stages of the war, was almost leveled.  As in many places in Germany, priority was given to rapid building of badly needed housing; concrete structures took the place of the characteristic medieval buildings.  Some of the older structures were painstakingly reproduced over the decades, but in the end the city was left with a mix of newer buildings and a smattering of little too perfect older looking buildings.  It is a shame.  In its day the core of medieval Hildesheim must have been a wonder.

Hildesheim’s recreated marktplatz.

Still, if you ignore Hildesheim’s past and look past the building techniques used in its reconstruction, the city is in places very attractive.  It looks very historic.  Indeed its renovated central market square, the marktplatz, is jaw dropping, even if many of the buildings surrounding the square’s still original fountain date from the same time as Disney’s Germany Pavilion at Epcot.  But unlike Disney World there’s a particular look and feel of careful authenticity in Hildesheim.  Visitors can sit sipping their beers in the central square surrounded by stone and half-timber buildings and easily imagine life in this place five hundred years ago.  In contrast to Disney, Hildesheim’s marktplatz is not a construction of an imagined fanciful place that never actually existed.  It is instead a careful reconstruction of a place that once was.  It is an important difference.

Hildesheim’s two most notable landmarks did not escape the destruction.  The medieval churches of St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church also were damaged during the last months of World War II.  Indeed, the damage to St Mary’s Cathedral was so heavy that the church had to be re-consecrated after its reconstruction.  It was the only cathedral in Germany that had to be newly consecrated after its post war reconstruction.

It’s an odd mix of buildings in Germany.  There’s the new ones, the old ones, and the new old ones.  Sometimes it architecture works; sometimes it doesn’t.  And always the buildings serve a sad reminder of the devastation of the war.

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UNESCO inscribed “St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church at Hildesheim” on its World Heritage list in 1985.  In the inscription it is said that the churches represent exceptional examples of the Romanesque churches of the Holy Roman Empire.

Hildesheim, like many cities on our road trip, was a member of the Hanseatic League during the middle ages.

We visited Hildesheim in August of 2019.

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