From the Stone Age to the Space Age
Nordlingen Travel Blog› entry 22 of 126 › view all entries
My Bavarian hosts were adamant that I see one town in Ries Crater, just a few miles to the north of where they lived. Benno had some strange-looking rocks from there. Walter, Dieter, and I finally drove up that way - to Nordlingen. As ever-eager as the rest of us for a road-trip, Chaweng came along for the ride.
Nordlingen is unique. It is one of only two medieval towns in Germany still enclosed by a high fortress wall - and the only one still functioning as an active town. The original city evolved from a Roman castle in the first century but the oldest building today is the town hall, built of stone in 1313. It has endured additions and renovations over the centuries and remains open for business. The gothic-style St. George's Church in the center of town is the dominating structure.
We wandered narrow winding streets, and a good portion of the wall, and could actually see how Nordlingen grew. Outward from the center, buildings changed from stone to wooden timbers and mud plaster. Few of its brightly painted houses looked level, many leaned or bulged, and roofs peaked at odd angles as though built by drunken carpenters during Oktoberfest. Outer trim-work was in fact their timber frames. I could see how the modern-day Bavarian and Alpine shapes and styles of houses and buildings probably evolved from medieval towns like Nordlingen. With any renovations, current residents and business owners are required to maintain Nordlingen's original architectural styling and appearance.
Its medieval existence is not Nordlingen's only claim to fame. In 1960, scientists discovered that the stones of St. George Church contained a type of quartz (shocked quartz) that can only be formed by the heat and pressures of a meteor impact. It was previously believed that the Ries was an extinct volcanic cone but further studies proved otherwise. A meteor impact formed the 25 kilometer wide crater some 15 million years ago. Impact debris was found as far away as Slovakia. Nordlingen sits at ground zero.
The Ries remains the most well-preserved and researched impact crater on earth. In the 1970s Apollo astronauts trained in the area. The Rieskrater Museum houses a moon rock from the Apollo 16 mission.