Regensburg's Historic Museum occupies the buildings of an old Minorite monastery and church. Many of the statues and tombstones that were in the church have been preserved and placed on exhibit. The permanent collection portrays the history of Regensburg; there are skeletons of Celts from the third century B.C., with bracelets and anklets around the bones. The Romans had a major fortress at Regensburg known as Castra Regina, and the archaeologists have collected wonderful relics around the city which date from Roman times.
In fact understanding the history of Regensburg has required a great deal of archaeological research, and the museum shows the result of this hard science. As in many European cities which arose from Roman settlements, parts of the old Roman walls and buildings are still standing, and displayed around the town. Then the archaeology has extended to understanding the settlement of the Bavarian tribes in the mid-sixth century and the Christianization of those peoples a hundred years later, Regensburg was made into a bishopric in 739, and within the next few centuries, hundreds of churches and cloisters sprung up all over Bavaria. All of this history is wonderfully displayed by the artifacts in the museum, including a number of Roman gravestones with the inscriptions deciphered.
The materials in the history collection, many on loan from Regensburg families, have allowed archaeologists to reconstruct Roman life to an astonishing degree. There is part of a house, reconstructed to show brick footings and apparently a furnace below, and a kitchen in which food could be cooked on a large platform. Jewelry, toys, tools, religious articles, weapons, are displayed, and a beautifully constructed model, about twenty feet long in its glass case, shows the Roman construction of the fortifications, using pulleys and long wooden cranes.
The museum continues the local history up into the last century; there is another intricate and beautiful model, this time showing how the city looked in the fifteenth century, with its wonderful fortifications, filled with churches and cloisters.
But the main reason for our visit was the special exhibition "Bavaria - Germany - Europe". It is split in two parts, in the Historic Museum, and in the Perpetual Diet Museum (lovely name) located in the old City Hall. The curators took a very broad view of the question, What is Bavaria? The exhibits are not arranged chronologically, but view this question from various perspectives: folklore, politics, agriculture, geography, education, theater, religion, demography, aristocracy, recreation, etc.
Moreover, each of these perspectives is given a brief, one-room treatment which prevents the viewer from becoming bogged down in a single aspect of the question, What is Bavaria?
The question is easier than the answers; we were reminded of the books we read last summer about Canadians' struggles to find a national identity and avoid being submerged in their huge neighbor to the south. In fact, the world is changing rapidly: global culture spreads; peoples emigrate and immigrate; inventions blossom; children intermarry. It's hard to hang on to tradition these days.
Some of the things that struck us from the exhibition: a parade of Nazi war criminals (the party was started in Bavaria); Oktoberfest mania; the rather sharp dividing line between Protestant (Lutheran) and Catholic denominations; the home of the BMW motor car; the traditional costumes with lederhosen, not too different from the Tyrol; the fact that 20% of the population emigrated in the early 1950s due to a dead economy which suddenly boomed in the late 1950s; the extent of the damage from WW II; the contrast between rural and wooded countryside, vast navigable rivers, and industrial, ancient cities; and the parade of faces of new immigrants from around the world.
We have noticed that Germans seem to have a tendency to speak more loudly in public than, say, Canadians or English; everytime a school group came by we moved to another room to avoid the teacher's lecture (it might have been different if it were understandable, but we're still struggling with the printed captions and our dictionary).
The remainder of the exhibit, in the Perpetual Diet Museum (the Diet was the legislative assembly that met in Regensburg for a couple of centuries) stressed the modern political changes, as Germany takes center stage in the European Union, for better or worse. This museum was full of the elaborate regalia of government, seals and keys and staffs and banners; Regensburg was briefly a Free Imperial City under the Holy Roman Empire. The museum was located in the old meeting hall of the Diet, which boasted some beautifully decorated rooms, reminiscent of the City Hall in Aachen.
Regensburg's long history is more obvious than in other cities because so many old buildings are still standing and because conservation and restoration is taken so seriously. But the city has a modern existence, and is much less of a tourist town than Passau. The citizens of Regensburg carry on their lives in the middle of historic treasures, which they respect but don't venerate. We did have one question: it costs a lot of money to catalogue and decipher and preserve these myriad treasures of the past; how do they pay for all the archaeologists and restorers and rebuilders and scientists?