What’s a Naked Lady Doing up on a Bull? Breisach, Germany…

Peggy and I are coming to the end of the blogs on our Rhine River cruise. Today, we will take you to Breisach, Germany. Our final Rhine River post will be on the Black Forest. After that, it will be off to the Nile! All photos in this post were taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of roof tops in Breisach, Germany by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Breisach was the final town we visited on our trip up the Rhine. It had everything we had come to expect: Color, history, and a great cathedral. I’ll get to the naked lady and the bull soon. And no, it wasn’t a new take on Lady Godiva. But I will give a hint: Naked ladies on bulls are a European kind of thing.

The history of Breisach follows the history of the other towns we have visited along the Rhine, dating back to ancient Celtic times, becoming part of the Roman Empire, and then part of the Holy Roman Empire with several countries laying claim since. The city saw extensive damage in World War II as the Allies invaded it from across the Rhine.

A photo from Wikimedia Commons of Breisach being attacked by Allied forces in 1942. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is burning at the top right side of the picture. 85% of the town was destroyed by Allied artillery.
Photo of St. Stephan's Cathedral in Breisach, Germany by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy and I went for a walk into Breisach to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral. This is a view looking up from the town. Obviously, the cathedral, like the town, has been rebuilt since WW II.
Photo of Outsell Gate in Breisach Germany by Photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Our trip up to the Cathedral took us through Gutgesell Gate. Built in 1402, it was destroyed in WW II and has since been rebuilt. A sign on the side noted that Pope Johannes was arrested here in 1415. It was a time when three people were claiming to be Pope. The ‘official’ church position out of Rome was that Johannes was an antipope. It’s bad for business to have more than one Pope. It tends to confuse the flock and worse— split the donations.
Photo of street up to St. Stephan's Cathedral in Breisach, Germany by photographer Curt Mekemson.
The steep walk up to the Cathedral past brightly painted houses was worth it on its own.
Photo of flower box in Breisach, Germany taken by Peggy Mekemson
Flower boxes added to the color.
Toward the top, the road narrowed to a walking path. I found this old doorway and couldn’t help but wonder what treasures (or ghosts) might be found behind it.
An intriguing coat of arms was found above the doorway.
Photo of St. Stephan's Church in Breisach by Curt Mekemson
The view of St. Stephen’s that greeted us as we finished our hike up the path. Construction of the church started in the early 12th Century.
Side view of St. Steven's Cathedral in Breisach, Germany by photographer Curt Mekemson.
We walked around the church admiring it from various perspectives.
These pockmarks on the side of the Cathedral caught our attention. I wondered if they had been left from the artillery attack during WW II. Turns out that they were from an earlier bombardment from 1870. Apparently the church has a problem with avoiding the line of fire.
This chamber challenged our imagination. First there was the fence with what looked like a cat sitting on top, which I found amusing. Then there was the strange sculpture inside…
The stone mason makes sense. St. Stephans was the patron saint of stone masons. But what about the strange figure on the right? The dark side of medieval Christianity was, uh, dark.
For example, the door to the Cathedral featured St. Stephens being stoned.
Photo looking down on Breisach, Germany by Curt Mekemson.
The hill on which the church sits, gave us great views down into Breisach, as was shown in the first photo and this one.
Photo of bull at Breisach Cathedral by Peggy Mekemson.
And then there was the bull emerging from the bricks…
Photo of Europa and the Bull at Breisach by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
…with a naked lady standing on top.

Of course there is a story. Similar sculptures and other representations of the bull and woman are found throughout Europe. An ancient Greek myth is to blame. The bull happens to be Zeus. And the naked lady? She’s Europa, a Phoenician princess who Zeus seduced. Zeus seducing a princess isn’t news. He had a thing for maidens. His challenge was that his wife (and sister) Hera, the goddess of women, marriage and childbirth, disapproved of such behavior. Zeus went to great lengths to hide his activities from her, one of which was to transform himself into various animals for his seductions. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Leda and the swan, where Zeus became a swan and seduced Leda. One version of the myth is that she laid two eggs, one of whom hatched into the beautiful Helen of Troy. With Europa, Zeus became a beautiful white bull who met the maiden while she was innocently picking flowers. Naturally, she had to pet his gorgeous white flanks and climb up on top of him (what maiden wouldn’t), whereupon Zeus charged off to the Mediterranean Sea, jumped in, and swam to Crete, where he had his way, so to speak. Minos, the King of Crete, was one of three sons born of the union.

The founding of the European Union led to renewed interest in Europa, given that the ancient Greeks named significant portions of Europe after her and the Europeans could claim that a 2500 year old myth provided some justification for the union.

We found several other things of interest on the hill:

This scupture had me scratching my head, but I figured it would make an excellent home for a bird, or possibly a raccoon.
Remember Mad Magazine and Alfred E. Neumann, the guy who always graced its covers? Now check out the dude on the bottom of the sculpture. I’m betting that the artist had a sense of humor.
This impressive sculpture of a water wheel/clock represents what is inside of the building it is attached to…
Photos of Water Wheel Building in Breisach, Germany by Curt Mekemson.
This is what the outside of the Water Wheel building looks like.
We found this fellow outside of the building. He seemed to be having a bad day. Possibly he had been a bad boy and was contemplating his fate inside…
A mural showed a prisoner being taken to the Water Wheel Building. It was used as both a prison and a torture chamber. Or, a prisoner might be assigned to operate the dreaded water wheel. Note the people screaming at the prisoner while others danced in the streets. It spoke to the times.
The huge water wheel located inside the building. The stools and the person sitting on the other side of wheel provide perspective. I’m not sure how the wheel was operated but human hamsters come to mind. The well is located beneath the wheel.
Photo of windowsill flower garden by Curt Mekemson.
But enough on dark images and thoughts, I conclude today’s post with another windowsill flower garden in Breisach, and…
Photo of Uniword Boutique river boat, the River Empress by Curt Mekemson.
Our riverboat, the River Empress, that was docked on the Rhine in Breisach. Next Monday, Peggy and I will return to our fall trip around the US. This time we will be in Custer State Park in South Dakota where the buffalo block traffic and the donkeys are bandits.

32 thoughts on “What’s a Naked Lady Doing up on a Bull? Breisach, Germany…

      • The valknut is a symbol consisting of three interlocked triangles. It appears on a variety of objects from the archaeological record of the ancient Germanic peoples. The term valknut is a modern development; it is not known what term or terms were used to refer to the symbol historically.

        Scholars have proposed a variety of explanations for the symbol, sometimes associating it with the god Odin, and it has been compared to the three-horned symbol found on the 9th-century Snoldelev Stone, to which it may be related.

  1. I loved both window box photos, although my favorite was the old door beneath the first window box.

    However: what intrigued me most was your explanation of Zeus, the women, the bull, and so on. That provided context for something I didn’t fully appreciate when I read The Alexandria Quartet — even though I found the passage hilarious. Pursewarden’s bit of light verse also makes for a nice bridge between this post and your coming posts about Egypt/Alexandria:

    “Zeus gets Hera on her back
    But finds that she has lost the knack.
    Extenuated by excesses
    She is unable, she confesses.

    Nothing daunted Zeus, who wise is
    Tries a dozen good disguises.
    Eagle, ram, and bull and bear
    Quickly answer Hera’s prayer.

    One knows a God should be prolix,
    But … think of all those different ******! “

  2. The face is certainly a ringer for Alfred E Neuman! Too funny. My fave perspective is that of those wonderful pitched roofs of Breisach. I also love the darkness. When I was a teenager, I had an old copy of Grimm’s fairy tales and I was delighted at how awful they are. The carved images of torture and violence struck me the same way. I think I like that those images reflect some reality, when these days we pretend reality is much prettier.

    • “When I was a teenager, I had an old copy of Grimm’s fairy tales and I was delighted at how awful they are.” Hmmm. 🙂 Speaking of which, Grimm’s fairy tales were tied to the Black Forest, which my next post is about. Nothing grim about my post however. If I had something, I’d throw it in for you. LOL
      Both Peggy and I really loved the roof lines in Europe, especially when we could look down on them.
      I looked up Alfred E. Neumann just to be sure after I had the thought.

  3. Curt, you and Peggy find the most wonderful art! I now realize that I’ve seen the lady and bull represented along the Rhine, but had no idea of the meaning behind it. And your guy who’s having a bad day – we saw very similar sculptures in Copenhagen. It must be a common motif of the time. Thanks for the lovely tour along the Rhine. Can’t wait for your Egypt posts. ~Terri

    • Thanks, Terri. One more Rhine River post— the Black Forest— then it’s off to Egypt we go. We’ll continue to alternate our Nile River posts with posts from our US travels this past year. Next up is the buffalo and donkeys of Custer State Park, South Dakota. Have you and James been there in your wanders Out West. –Curt

  4. I like Peggy’s description: weird and wonderful! What a display of photos, Curt! I love the brightly painted houses that remind me of the houses in San Francisco. The window boxes are pretty and the story of the Europa and Zeus was interesting. I had heard of them also, but didn’t know all the details. The church is beautiful and I also enjoyed your sense of humor along the way. Thanks for taking us on this lovely journey.

    • Glad to have you along, Lauren!
      SF is a little more Old World than most of the cities in America. That’s for sure.
      My humor doesn’t always work, grin, but I at least amuse myself. More coming up with my next post on the buffalo and donkeys of Custer State Park.

  5. Excellent and interesting blog!! Glad we met you in Egypt. (Currently doing laundry in Thessaloniki after our return from Macedonia and Kosovo.)

    • Thanks, Steve. It’s mutual on the meeting. Are you and Carol heading South toward Athens next or picking up a ferry out to the Greek Islands. Laundry is kind of like death and taxes, unavoidable.

      • I’ve wanted to go there ever since I became fascinated with Greek history and Alexander the Great back in high school and college, Steve. Enjoy Athens. Have you been there before?

      • We have been overwhelmed with Alexander “stuff”! The Macedonians think he is Macedonian which is distinct from Greek. The Greeks just think he is another great Greek! Skopje has the largest Alexander statue in the world and the Greeks are upset. We visited Phillipi which is where Alexander’s dad is from. Vergina was Phillipi’s tomb and rivaled some of the Egypt stuff.
        By the way I snagged a very nice Kosovo beer glass. Carol is over joyed!!!

      • The Greek and the Macedonians have been going at it for a long, long time, Steve.
        And I am sure Carol was overjoyed with your snagging another beer mug. Laughing. Yet, I think she supports you in your fantasy of having the world’s greatest collection of beer mugs…

  6. I love that the town was reconstructed as it would have been and not just rebuilt in the modern way.
    I also enjoy your cynicism re not having 2 popes because of having to split the donations. Always follow the money.
    And the story of the bull and the maiden – so the birth of the Minoan civilization came from randy old Zeus and some poor innocent female. Ha! I’ll never see it the same way again. It’s like all countries/civilizations/empires isn’t it – there’s always a legendary/fairy tale founding story from the mists of time that usually bears little relation to what actually happened.
    I really love the two photos looking down on the rooftops of the village – what a beautiful place.

    • As we wandered through Egypt, Alison, I was amused by how many of the pharaohs claimed direct descent from the gods. It was hard to be a god yourself without coming from a mommy or daddy god. The other thing that amused me was all of the immaculate conceptions. Jesus was not the first. 🙂
      I agree with you on the beauty of Breisach. Thanks. –Curt

  7. It’s sad that so much of that city was demolished in WWII, but I guess that’s what happens. It’s certainly beautiful now with lots of interesting views and things to see. I like the eclectic artwork. The history is fascinating, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your adventures, Curt. Great photos from Peggy too. 🙂

    • “but I guess that’s what happens.” Over and over and over, D. One of the tragedies of warped humanity. But still, there is much beauty.
      On another, fun note, I didn’t get any work done yesterday. I blame you. I started reading “The Necromancer’s Daughter.” You caught me. Grin.

      • Yay. I’m glad the book caught your attention! That’s so kind of you to read it. Of course, I’m doing a happy dance.

        And yes, war is nothing but tragedy – a waste of lives, innovation, beauty, and possibility. At least sometimes it ends with enemies becoming allies. There’s a bit of hope in that.

      • Kind isn’t how I’d phrase it, D. More like it was great of you to create the tale and devote all of the time and energy you put into it. Thank you. 🙂

        As for war, I’m convinced it’s an example of evolution gone bad. Unless our need for survival trumps our primitive instincts, I don’t have much hope for the future. Sigh.

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