The Lessons of Regensburg
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.