The Palace and Cathedral complex with its many spires and turrets soar above the town of Merseburg, nestled along the Saale River. This complex is the highlight of a beautiful town with a sad history.
Merseburg is situated along Germany’s Romanesque Route, known for being a picturesque and historical stretch of land. The town certainly showcases some of this beauty, particularly the Palace and Cathedral complex.
The Cathedral treasury is famous for housing the Merseburg Incantations, some of the oldest written samples of the German language. The incantations contain heathen themes of protection spells and charms. How ironic that their final resting place should be in a Christian church!
Just across from the cathedral sits the 13th-century Palace, an impressive example of Late Renaissance styles. The castle hosts an art museum and a botanical garden. However, the most curious feature is that of an empty raven’s cage located in the courtyard. Made of stone, the cage is a memorial to an old German folk tale about a bishop and a raven.
The legend goes that the bishop mistakenly accused his valet of stealing a precious golden ring and had him executed. Years passed and one day, during a violent storm, the roof of the Cathedral was blown away, revealing a raven’s nest with the bishop’s ring in it. Seeing the error of such rash judgment, the bishop constructed the stone cage to remind him of his terrible mistake.
The bishop’s sad story is only one of Merseburg’s tragedies. The town was bombed heavily during the Second World War and saw some of the worst casualties. By the war’s end, 65% of its population had been killed.
The post-war years found Merseburg as a part of Soviet-controlled East Germany and industrialization became a primary focus for this once-romantic place. Relics of this time can still be seen in some of its museums, like the German Museum of Chemistry and the Aircraft Museum.
Nowadays, culture is thriving with festivals, musical performances and puppet shows. Merseburg is set to claim its place along the Romanic Road once again. :-)