Lakeside story

Lakeside story

The haughty Imperia revolved on her axis tantalisingly by the harbour. In her hands she held aloft two naked men — Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund. Crowd swelled and the tourists disembarking from the boats gaped at the statue, their digicams capturing the beauty for posterity.

This was my first sight on reaching the city of Constance, known by the Germans as Konstanz. Sited on the banks of the beautiful Lake Constance, this extraordinary German town has been drawing tourists like the proverbial magnet. Sun worshippers and water-sports enthusiasts arrive in droves to the town.

In the recent years, the lake area has become a Mecca for adventure seekers and serious travellers. Not surprising since the lake is bordered by no less than four countries, has fascinating mountains, picturesque vineyards, bountiful orchards and gently rolling hills around it.

It lies in the southern part of Germany between the Black Forest and Bavaria. An amazing view of snow-clad peaks of the Alps and the umpteen churches make it a bonanza for travellers looking for variety. Add to that the UNESCO sites, half-timbered houses, beautifully preserved palaces, magical castles and you have an unforgettable destination.

Uncrowned capital

Constance being the biggest town on the lake, it was just right that my journey around the lake began there. Also, the fact that the lake is named after the town, which is now a busy university town and happens to be the uncrowned capital of the region, made it imperative that I begin my tour there. What made it irresistible was that, I could walk across the few metres to Switzerland.

So close is Constance to the Swiss border that it escaped bombing during the World War II because the pilots of fighter aircrafts were unable to decipher where the town of Constance ended and the neighbouring Swiss town began. Their dilemma proved lucky for its residents.

Standing on the lakeside promenade, I gazed rapturously at the Swiss Alps in the distance and knew at once what had drawn writers and artists to its shores — Hermann Hesse and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff being a couple of them. Scores of cyclists pedalled past, their colourful helmets making a striking picture against the azure water of the lake.

Right across me, in the bistro outside the Konzil Hall, people burst into loud cheer as Germany scored yet another goal in the World Cup. Little did we know at the time that the German team would go on to win the much-coveted cup. The 14th-century building, a warehouse that hosted Constance canvas fair once, turned into an important venue from November 8-11, 1417.  The conclave convened here to elect a pope. It now houses a concert hall and a popular restaurant, to which I later returned for a repast.

Story lanes

The narrow lanes of Constance have hundreds of stories to tell. Some of them were narrated by Carola Berozin, my guide for the day. Pointing to the ornate fountain in the centre of the square, she explained, “The decorative figure of a three-headed peacock illustrates the confusion when three popes claimed to rule the clergy. During the olden times, this is where the market stood and fishermen sold their catch of the day.”

A warren of constricted streets spread out in many directions. Quaint wooden houses dating back to the 14th century had them in tight embrace.

An involuntary shiver ran through my body as we reached the Obermarkt Square, which was a medieval execution site. Here witches were burnt at the stake and criminals were executed. Now a busy place, it is flanked by a vividly painted house. In fact, there are many beautifully painted houses in the town. The Hausorden vom Goldenen Löwen with interesting frescoes on the façade is one of them.

Grim past, colourful present


Strolling past the 11th-century cathedral, my guide pointed out the glass pyramid under which lie the remains of the 3rd-century Roman fort called Constantia, from which the name of the town is derived. It was within the four walls of the cathedral that the historic sentencing of Jan Hus (Czech priest, philosopher, reformer) took place. A huge boulder known as Hus Stone marks the spot where he was burnt at the stake. A memorial event is held on the site every year.

Interestingly, the cathedral has a crypt dating back to the 9th century and a Romanesque Madonna that belongs to the 13th century. The painstaking task of climbing up the cathedral tower promised a delightful panorama of the town and the lake, but I had much more ground to cover. I made a stopover at an erstwhile monastery, now a luxury hotel, with fascinating frescoes.

A rewarding amble down the narrow alleys awaited me. Discovering nuggets and tales from the past, rubbing shoulders with revellers, I reached the harbour front for the promised repast. Seated there, I devoted the next few hours to enjoyment of the delectable cuisine, which was an interesting combination of Swiss and German flavours.

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