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The Lessons of Regensburg

Regensburg, Germany
September 24-25, 1989

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We met Bettina on an evening train from Frankfurt to Geissen. She was a student in Regensburg, that evening on her way home to visit her parents. We were on our way to stay with friends of my aunt, but their line was busy when we got to the train station and there seemed to be no free hotel rooms in Geissen due to a large auto show. Bettina wished us luck and left with her mom, but came back to rescue us a few minutes later, having told her mother, "They don't know how to sleep."

They put us up for the night, then made us breakfast in the morning -- our first taste of homespun European hospitality, which continues to find us on our journeys. She invited us to come see her at school, so we stopped in a few weeks later, where she gave us a tour.

The town's 900-year-old bridge (along with the adjacent 900-year-old wurst restaurant) made an impression on me, as did the hotel that incorporated part of a Roman wall in its corner suite (the town was the Roman Empire's northern outpost along the Rhine). But among the most memorable things she showed us were statues that illustrated warnings to the townspeople who might not have been able to read. The first is a warning to girls, set along the staircase to a 14th-century dance hall. The man is offering her an apple, a token of his affection. She is flattered and lets her lamp drop. She therefore can't see that behind him is a rat's tail, a serpent and a frog -- his true intentions. The warning is clear to girls: don't let down your judgment.

The other expresses some healthy German skepticism of the church, from an old story where a fox dresses up like a priest so that the geese feel safe around him. He then drops his robe and feasts on them.