If you look at pictures of Bamberg, you will always see a beautiful half-timbered house on an island. This is probably the best-known and most important building in the city – the old Bamberg town hall.
It’s quite clear that I was almost magically drawn to this building. I made my way through the old town to see this beautiful building.
There is a legend about how the unusual building site for the town hall came about. I think it’s a great story:
Bamberg Old Town Hall – legend of its origin
There was a time when the citizens of Bamberg were very dissatisfied with their lord the bishop. They would have liked to be free citizens and not subjects, like the people of Nuremberg. They tried to enforce their wish with an uprising, but the bishop’s supporters put it down.
The citizens now wanted to reconcile with their lord and sent the mayor and the three oldest councillors to the bishop. They were to plead for mercy and pledge allegiance. But since actions speak louder than words, the mayor was to ask that the town be allowed to rebuild the burnt-down town hall. The mayor had hardly finished speaking when the bishop drove angrily at the group. Under no circumstances would he allow a house to be built on his land where plans against his rule could once again be made.
And what now …?
Somewhat disappointed, the mayor and the council withdrew. Long discussions followed on how to build a new town hall after all. A young councillor finally suggested that the new town hall could be built in the water. The bishop would not have access to it and it would not be built on his land.
At first, people laughed at the plan, but then they began to consider this possibility and finally decided unanimously to build it.
The citizens of Bamberg were clever …
The craftsmen drove hundreds of oak piles into the bottom of the river. In between, they piled up gravel, sand and earth until an island had been created. The foundation stones of the building were sunk and the construction slowly took shape. The hole prisons were built at the bottom, then rooms and halls – just as the master builder had imagined. Two bridges were planned to connect the building with the shore.
Clever was also the bishop …
The bishop observed the construction and was initially amazed at how his subjects dealt with his ban. However, he was pleased to see how energetically they were building the town hall. Nevertheless, he wanted to prove to them that they had not thought the plan through completely.
After the first section of the bridge construction had begun, he invited the mayor and the council to a meeting on the riverbank. There he first praised the construction. Then the bishop expressed his concern that he would find the way to the building very arduous. The councillors were rather corpulent and if they had to cross the river for each meeting and then climb up a ladder to the town hall, it would be very strenuous. The mayor pointed to the bridge construction that had begun and proudly announced that the bridge would soon be finished. The way would then be quite easy. The bishop then exclaimed threateningly that he would not allow the bridge to touch his land. With these words, he turned and walked away, leaving the baffled mayor standing there.
Now they needed a good advice …
The citizens tried to change the bishop’s mind for eight days. He rebuffed them and did not even receive their emissaries. Then he sent for the mayor and told him that he had reconsidered and would allow the bridge to be built on his land. In future, however, the council should bear in mind that the bishop and the people belong together and should not work against each other.
The building was now completed and the Bambergers continued to remain under the bishop’s protection.
So much for the legend about the origin of the town hall. Now for the hard facts:
Bamberg Old Town Hall – the location
On the old boundary between the episcopal mountain town of Bamberg and the bourgeois island town lies the beautiful building of the town hall in the left arm of the Regnitz. It is connected to the river bank via the Upper and Lower Bridges.
The first mention of Bamberg’s town hall dates from 1386, but the building was destroyed in a fire in 1460. The building that can be admired today was erected in 1461. The building is mainly influenced by the Gothic period. The half-timbered building on the southern side is still preserved in its original form. This part of the building attached to the bridge tower is called the Rottmeisterhäuschen and was the quarters of the leaders of the guards.
From 1744 to 1756, the town hall was remodelled in the Baroque and Rococo styles. The original façade paintings also date from this time, which I would like to discuss in more detail a little later.
The town hall tower is particularly striking. It has a baroque dome and ornate balconies (more Rococo). On the side of the town facing the cathedral is a coat of arms. It shows St. George as a knight.
The Upper Bridge, which leads to Bamberg’s Old Town Hall, dates from 1453 and has had to be renewed several times. From the Upper Bridge you can see Geyerswörth Castle and the Church of St. Stephen. The statue of the crucifixion group stands on the central pillar.
The Lower Bridge was destroyed in 1945 and replaced by a simple unadorned bridge. Originally, five figures decorated the bridge. Only one figure remains, St. Kunigunde, the wife of Henry II.
By the way:
If you stand on the Geyerwörthsteg, you have a fantastic view of Bamberg’s Old Town Hall.
During the day, both bridges are quite crowded; tour groups in particular are almost always standing here in such a way that it is difficult to get past. But if you walk along here a little earlier in the day, you will find it a little quieter.
About the façade
Johann Anwander created the façade paintings that embellish the town hall in 1755. He painted recreated scenes and architectural details on both sides of the building. Small figurative elements reinforce the illusion painting, leaving a sculptural impression on the viewer.
One should take some time and contemplate this beautiful painting at leisure. There is much to see here:
On one side, facing the mountain town, the four elements are depicted. On the other side, the artist has depicted the four seasons. Anwander has also figuratively dealt with the good and bad qualities of people. One can almost assume that he wanted to hold a mirror up to the bishop and the townspeople.
I was first made aware of the detail, which I find very bizarre. But if you look more closely, you discover a putto at one point on the façade, its leg protruding from the wall as a sculpture.
Bamberg Old Town Hall – current use
Today, the building is used as a museum. Here you can view the Ludwig porcelain collection, one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
In the collection you can find, for example, the development of Meissen porcelain invention – starting with Böttger stoneware to today’s porcelain mix. For fans of porcelain, there are also pieces from manufactories such as Fürstenberg, Nymphenburg, Frankenthal, Höchst or Berlin. At Christmas time, I read, 450 figures from the large baroque nativity scene from the Ludwig Collection are on display. If that’s not a reason to visit Bamberg at Christmas time!
The town hall also houses the rococo hall of the Bamberg councillors, which is still in use today.
For me, the old town hall in Bamberg is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and it is not for nothing that it is such a popular photo spot. I was only in the city for 2.5 days and took countless photos. Every time I walked past, I had the feeling that I absolutely had to capture exactly this view or this detail.
Obere Brücke 1