Thinking back to my days as a young middle school student... back when the subject of Foreign History was utterly foreign to me... I would spend more time in class daydreaming about, er um, adolescent subjects than listening to the teacher. But there were those occasions when a certain factoid or two would catch my attention, less for their historical importance than their hysterical importance. One of those moments came via the mentioning of one of the most important, and most unfortunately-named, events in history: the Diet of Worms in 1521. Suppression of laughter was a hallmark of the middle school experience, but even our strict professor had difficulty introducing the topic with a straight face.
Since then, of course, I've learned to put aside this minor bit of amusement and have come to appreciate just how important that event was. It was the conference where Martin Luther made his historic stand against the Catholic Church, refusing to recant his beliefs, and thereby touching off the Protestant Revolution. The magnitude of this event was far-reaching, including several bloody wars.
So, I always had it in mind to visit Worms and see what it was like. I was surprised to find how humble this Catholic city was, and how at peace it was with its Protestant history.
Note: Before reading on, we should get the pronounciation right -- it is not 'WERMZ', it is 'VOHrMS'. Don't overdo the 'r'. So, stop thinking that the city was named after creepy crawlers, ok? :-)
Worms was a small city sitting on the west bank of the Rhein River, a short drive north of Mannheim. I found it to be a quiet, sleepy little town almost unaware of its own significance. It sits a little bit away from the major highways -- A5 and A67 are off to the east -- and a little bit south of the prime wine country, so it's easily passed by.
But it is a old and picturesque town that is worth seeing. Indeed, the antiquity of the city greets you openly in the form of the Weintor (Wine Gate, first photo) over the middle of the bridge crossing the Rhein. Large portions of the city wall also remain, as evidenced in the second photo. This part of the city wall was on the main drag leading past the downtown, and it contains the city museum. Other smaller sections of the wall are scattered about, many of them serving as overpasses leading into the altstadt, or as simple decor. As an example, the Martinspforte in the southeast, is a colorful section of the old wall that's been converted into a guesthouse.
Of course, the center of attention is with the Dom St. Peter -- the Worms Cathedral (third photo). I would have loved to capture a side or rear view, but unfortunately on the day I went a large section of the beautiful Romanesque dome in the rear was covered with a white tarp due to renovation. In fact, I remarked to my travel companion that the front of the Cathedral had an eerie ghost-town look about it. The grounds around the Cathedral were nice, but not extravagant. I was bemused by the coffin-shaped stones that lined the outside of a garden off the west side. But the interior was gorgeous, with extraordinary stone reliefs on the side wall. It was clear that the inside had been renovated, yet it didn't look 'new'.
But the Cathedral was not the only beautiful church worth visiting. In fact, while the downtown itself was smallish, with a pedestrian district about three blocks long, it was surrounded by several beautiful churches, each inhabiting its own market square. Also, next door to the Cathedral was the Rathaus, with an impressive blue and gold Zodiac-faced clock.
Worms' downtown was also inhabited by several impressive, if unusual, fountains. One of them is in the form of a wheel that rotates like on a bicycle. This bronze wheel had on one side reliefs of several major historical events in Worms from pre-medieval times to present. The opposite side depicted some of Worms' more prominent residents.
Of course, no Worms resident carried nearly the weight of good ol' Martin Luther himself, and the Lutherdenkmal (fourth photo) was designed to honor him. Not surprisingly, the denkmal was not located on any of the Church property, it inhabits its own marketsquare. Several famous Protestant figures are honored there -- including John Huss, who challenged the authority of the Church long before Luther. The outer ring of the denkmal holds the crests of the cities that first broke away from the Church and adopted Protestantianism.
On the day I went, the Lutherdenkmal was host to a Kinderfest, or children's festival. Much of the downtown was filled with families enjoying a mild, but cloudy day. There were children's activities everywhere, games and rides and activity booths. Face painting was going on somewhere, a number of kids were sporting cat-faces and the like.
If there was one activity that amazed me, it was the contest shown in the fifth photo. What is going on is that the kid at the top is building a single-wide tower of soda crates, climbing the tower as he went. While wrapped in a harness tied to the cherry picker, this eight-year old child was handed (later winched) a crate, which he carefully placed on top of the stack, then climbed it under his own power. The stack shown in the photo was five meters (5.3 yards) tall and consisted of 16 crates. He got two more on before the tower collapsed. Of course, with the harness, the tower simply tipped over beneath him, and he was safely winched to the ground. (Would you let your kid do that?)
Worms was a very nice place to go because of its history and scenery, and because it wasn't overrun with tourists that might go to the more popular locations. It's a good day trip for anyone living in the western part of Germany -- for those visiting Germany, I'd say the Cathedral and Lutherdenkmal are worth a detour on your way to or from somewhere else on the Rhein. But as you're deciding whether or not to fit it into your travel plans, don't let the strange name of Worms' most famous event deter you!
Trip taken 21 September 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin