We remained docked at Xanten and travelled by bus to the town of Wesel.
Wesel, which is in Germany, was established over 700 years ago and is an historic Hanseatic town with a rich urban history. It is known for its idyllic cultural and natural landscape and for being situated next to 3 rivers, the Rhine, the Lippe and the Issel. It is in one of the best agricultural regions in Germany producing a large variety of products.
The Hanseatic League was a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe to protect their mutual trading interests. The first guild was founded in 1159 in the town of Lübeck and by the 15th century there were over 200 guilds. The decline of the Hanseatic League was slow, taking place between the 15th and 17th centuries. It was caused by the destruction of German monopoly, especially in the Baltic, and of the mutuality of interest between the towns.
We started our tour of Wesel at the Citadel which is on the southern side of the town. It is the largest preserved fortification in the German Rhineland. It was built in the shape of a 5-pointed star between 1688 and 1722. It was built by the Prussians, at the order of the Great-Elector or King Wilhelm I, who saw it as being of great strategic significance as both a supply centre and a barrier against King Louis XIV of France. It had the space to house 5000 soldiers. The fortifications of the citadel were completely destroyed between 1919 and 1920 due to the demilitarisation of the Rhineland ordered by the Allied forces following World War I. The citadel’s main gate was built in 1718 and it was reinforced with expansive works on its south and east side — probably around the middle of the 18th century. Today, the remaining buildings are used as a museum, archives and an art and music school. At the back of the Citadel is the drawbridge.
A monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I was built around 1900 and stood on the Kaiserplatz in front of the Wesel train station until shortly after the Second World War. In the so-called “iconoclasm”, the monument was toppled from its pedestal and damaged by unknown persons. Since then, the torso has been lying in the casemates of the Wesel citadel and the head in the city museum.
After our tour of the Citadel, we reboarded the bus and were driven into the historical centre of the town where the Großer Markt or Great Market is found. Also here is the Willibrordi Cathedral built between 1498 and 1540 and is the most prominent Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. A third point of interest in the city centre is the restored front façade of the town hall built in 1455 and was an example of the wealth and influence of the Hanseatic League. It was destroyed, along with the Cathedral, in WWII. Although restoration of the Cathedral began almost immediately the façade of the town hall was not. It was just renewed. In 2010 residents wanted the façade fully restored and they raised €1million and to this both the city and district councils each added another million making it possible for the restoration of the façade to look as it was 500 years ago.
We spent about an hour at the Cathedral as it was a most interesting place to visit. It was named after Saint Willibrord who was an Anglo-Saxon missionary and saint, known as the “Apostle to the Frisians” in the modern Netherlands. He became the first bishop of Utrecht. He was born in Northumberland around 658 and entered the monastery of Ripon under St Wilfrid. He preached the gospel in Friesland, Denmark and other regions and died at Echternach, Luxembourg.
Originally, it was a Roman Catholic Church but, following the Reformation in the 16th century, it was converted to Protestant. It is very large with 5 Naves and a number of columns on some of which are the names of persons who died in the 2 World Wars. In 1945 when Wesel was bombed by the allies, the Cathedral was very badly damaged. It took 50 years to rebuild but a few services took place in the damaged building. Around the inner rear walls are many photos of the Cathedral prior to the bombing, others of the severely damaged building and then some more showing the rebuilding processes between 1947 and 1994.
A baroque bell for the Cathedral was cast in Wesel in 1703 by Johann Swys. It bears a double coat of arms, the Prussian State coat of arms and the Wesel city coat of arms and on the upper edge a cherub frieze with garlands. This bell was severely damaged in the destruction of the church in 1945. It weighs about 1800 kg and has the tone “C'”. Today, it stands in the southern aisle.
The Bible which Martin Luther translated into German is housed in a glass case here. Some years ago it was stolen and was found some months later in a house being searched for other missing goods. In another corner is a small red statue of Martin Luther.
From there we walked to the main street of Wesel and saw a number of donkey statues all through the street. They were a variety of colours and all sorts of poses. The reason for their presence is that the donkey is the symbol of Wesel because the word esel is the German word for donkey. There is a standard joke where someone asks. “Who is the mayor of Wesel?” and the answer is “the donkey.”
At the end of the main street was one more monument, the Berlin Gate which was also built by the Prussians between 1718 and 1722. It is the last of 4 Prussian City Gates to remain in tact, with only the central part of the Gate being preserved. The rest of it was destroyed in the 19th century when Wesel was defortified.
We walked back through the Great Market which sells fresh produce and baked goods all of which are locally produced with the exception of the bananas which are imported from Uruguay.
We returned to the boat in time for lunch and in the afternoon the 2 of us went for a walk to the park we had seen when driving past in the bus. We followed a path which went down into what seemed to be a forest area. Unfortunately, it was impossible to go along this path due to how trees and other plants had grown over it. We then turned towards the river and watched the ferry tr avel back and forth bringing and taking pedestrians and cyclists to either side of the river. What was particularly interesting was, due to the strong current, it had to move sideways for about halfway across the river. On our way back we stopped in a small grassy area where there was a sculpture which reminded us of those on Easter Island, though it was not nearly as large.
We returned to the boat, passing a large restaurant which had become quite full while we had been out walking. Later that night we left for Nijmegen which we were to discover the next day.