Mad dogs and Englishmen in Osnabruck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOsnabruck is a great medieval town in Westphalia that goes all the way back to the days of Charlemagne. I was particularly interested in the old town hall or Rathaus, which sports a statue of the man himself. It was on the very steps of this Gothic building that the Peace of Westphalia was announced in 1648 between Sweden and the Reich’s Protestant duchies, thereby finally bringing to an end the unprecedented horrors of the Thirty Years’ War.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey reckon that up to a third of Germans died violently during those three decades and it really wasn’t until WW1 that Europe was torn apart so comprehensively again. In connection with that later conflict, Erich Maria Remarque, author of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, was born here in Osnabruck in 1899.

The 13th century cathedral, the Dom of St Peter, is suitably impressive with its triumphal cross and later Gothic high altar, and of course no German town is complete without its charming square, which was just getting ready for the Christmas market when I visited on Sunday. The Germans are always good at such festivities and I’m a great fan of their hot sausages and mulled wine.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe streets are charming and full of quaint taverns and other buildings that seem to have been lifted right out of a book of fairy tales.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI couldn’t resist having a coffee in this bar of course:

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also drove out to Bad Iburg, 8 miles to the south. The route took me through the still rather intimidating Teutoburg Wald (forest). It was here in 9AD that three crack Roman legions were annihilated by Germanic warriors. Sandal nails, old fortifications and bits of armour are still turning up there. The Romans’ legendary discipline and superior weaponry were neutralised by the unsporting guerrilla tactics adopted by the Germans, and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest has gone down in history as the point where Rome’s expansion was finally halted. For the next four centuries there was a military frontier that stretched across Europe, like an Iron Curtain, marking the edge of empire.

Anyway, the reason I went to Bad Iburg was to see the famous Benedictine monastery and bishop’s palace. These are huge structures which seem to rise out of the solid rock. The Rittersaal or Knights’ Hall has imaginative frescos that use innovative foreshortening techniques to create perspective, and there are portraits of old worthies bedecking the walls.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I’ll always remember about Osnabruck, however, is being savaged by an American Pitbull Terrier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was charmingly playful with everyone else but as soon as I patted its head it went for me and managed to clamp down on my abdomen before being finally wrenched off. I had a tetanus injection this morning just to be on the safe side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe unfortunate incident of the dog put me in mind of a poem by Goldsmith, the last line of which was used by Tom Stoppard for the title of one of his clever-arse plays in 1982:

Oliver Goldsmith, “An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog” (1766)

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene’er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

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