Inside the city clock. A day in the oldest city of Germany
‘If you left the square on your left-hand side, you would be hanged. If you took the road to the right you would be decapitated by sword. Of course that is a quicker way to die so people would pay to leave the square on the right.’
We are on the center square of Neuss called Münsterplatz and Rolf, our tour guide for the day, explains what happened in the Middle Ages on the exact location where we are standing. The square was used as a court and in those days torturing was one of the punishments.
We are in a German city called Neuss, located on the west bank of the Rhine. It’s close to Düsseldorf and is battling with Trier for the title ‘oldest city of Germany’. Neuss was founded by the Romans in 16 BC and therefore you can find a lot of historic Roman sites around the city. Today Neuss has a population of 158.000.
1.10 meter high wooden statutes
Münsterplatz is where we start our tour. We enter a building on the left and take some stairs. Rolf opens a door with his key. Inside we find 1.10 meter high wooden statues on a rail. We are inside the city clock!
The statues represent the home guard, which is a very important part of this city we notice throughout the day. Every day at 11:00, 15:00 and 17:00 o’clock the bells ring and you can watch the statues parade out of the building.
In the 10th century, the remains of the martyr Saint Quirinus, had been relocated to Neuss. A pilgrimage began to the shrine of St. Quirinus. Pilgrims even came from countries beyond the borders of the Holy Roman Empire. ‘It was pretty smelly in this church because there were a lot of pilgrims and no toilets. Also, many people brought their pets. Goose, chickens, everything wandered around in the church.’
Your name in the street
We continue our walk to the center of Neuss. We walk through a street named Krämerstraße, where we see names carved in the stones in the street. You can buy your own brick with your name in it for 150 euros.
We pass the city hall and the oldest house of Neuss (1571) just before we arrive at ‘Im Dom’ where we enjoy some lunch and very welcome beer (home-brew).
A couple of minutes later we find ourselves in a beautiful park. The rose garden is famous for its ‘first kisses’ according to our guide. Almost every single Neuss’ relationship starts in this rose garden, at least his parents’ did. The water tower is the next building we see. Underneath there was an ice cellar to cool wine, water and beer. The Blutturm’ (tower of blood) is the next up. It’s part of the city ancient city wall of which you can find sections in different parts of town. Just outside the center you can visit the harbor. It’s the only harbor in the world you can see from outer space
The Hanseatic League
The harbor is a very important part of Neuss. The city was part of the ‘Hanseatic League’ or ‘Hanse’: a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guild and their market towns in the middle ages. Neuss got it’s license in 1475 from emperor Frederik III. By working together the cities that were part of the Hanseatic League could protect and expand their trades. Products that where popular where metals, wood, herbs, woll, wine and salt. You can see and buy these goods still at Gewürzmühle Engels. If you want to visit the harbour, make sure you do it when the fish market is around.
Every year, in the third weekend of August, not only the harbor but the whole town is packed with people. 1.5 million people visit Neuss for its famous Schützenfest, a very German tradition. Every year a Schützenking is crowned, there are parades, flowers and music from parading marching bands. There are so many that they have to use a traffic light at the dock to sign everybody in time wen to start marching. You simply can reach everyone with just your voice. If you want to visit this annual celebration you will have to practice your drinking game.
We end our tour at the main square where we started. It’s almost three o’ clock so we can see the clock with the wooden statues parading around for 6 minutes and 45 seconds. Though Rolf has seen this show many times he still enjoys it like it’s the first time he sees it. This man did a lot for the city of Neuss, he even collected money to clean up the bells outside of the clocktower. ‘Because bells are supposed to shine.’
‘Prost!’ We toast with our glasses of local white wine to end this cool day in the city of Neuss. One of the oldest cities in Germany, maybe even THE oldest.
Tip: If you visit Neuss on Sunday July 2nd you’ll get the chance to see the famous Tour the France.