Friday, February 29, 2008

Death 14th Century style




S took me to the City Hall, the old one on Thursday 21st Feb. It was raining in Nürnberg that day but we weren't daunted. Little schnu had been unwell for most of this past week but seemed reasonably able to cope with a morning out with her Mama and her Tante Mitch from Australia.

Besides, in the Rathaus, way upstairs worked her beloved Oma, so Schnu was also looking forward to be cuddled by her Grandmother too.

Below the Alter Rathaus, lie the creepy, low ceiling'ed Dungeons built to house criminals sentenced for trial (and inevitable execution) during the 14th Century.

It's dark down there. Very dark. The tour was all in German for me, but I received an english translation on a sheet of paper of the basics. S did as best as she could to translate what she could for me during the tour which goes for about 20+ minutes.

Imagine living in a hole in the ground where it is deathly dark. You are naked. You are given barely one meal of gruel and bread a day. If you are lucky and can bribe the guards, you can get coals to fill the tiny brazier in the centre of your cell, it gives you the eerie glow of warmth and light. Such a small cheer but totally worth the price you pay for it.

If you have been suspected of very serious crimes, you are taken to "The Chapel", which is a high vaulted room with a large round beam across the width of the room. On this beam are ropes. You are tied by your wrists to this beam and then winched upwards, the ropes winding around the beam above your head. You are left to hang there, maybe beaten, maybe managled around your neck and feet as well. You are possible poked with all manner of cruel implements in the freezing emptiness of this cavernous room.

If you didn't cave with that treatment and "confessed" to your sins, you were taken to tiny cells and squeezed in behind a low wall. You would sit as comfortably as you could with your hands firmly locked in front of you through the two small holes in the low wall in front of you. There was one hole in the centre of the floor through which you could defecate IF you were able to access it. It was hard if there were three of you side by side in that cramped space. The moaning and crying for mercy in the night still echoes throughout these sad chambers.

Grizzly, crude, impossibly inhumane by our standards today, these dungeons - all still in original and intact condition, remind me how cruel man is to mankind. What we don't understand, we persecute - viciously if allowed or sanctioned by our ignorance. Life for a 14th Century prisoner, be they guilty or innocent, was a tortourous experience in suffering.

While many today would suggest that perhaps we would have less crime if more punitive punishments were imposed on prisoners today, I don't believe them! If the kinds of hard punishments of the past could not prevent crime back then, they will not prevent crimes now.

Punishment that is violent and cruel makes people become even more violent and cruel. Yes! Society needs protection from those who have no social empathy or compassion or moral compass. However, our prisons today can be just as punitive in their approach to "rehabilitating" the criminal mind as they were back in the 14th Century on criminal bodies.

These days we seem to think that punishing a person through their mind and emotions is legitimate, just as 14th Century authorities assumed that beating a person with iron skewers and casting them naked into freezing blackness was legitimate.

Compassion begets compassion...at least for most sane people.

The actual tour through the Lochgefängnisse was interesting even though I could not understand the words being spoken by the tour guide. The passage ways were very low in places and the steps down into the cells themselves, were steep and uneven - a result of being hand carved I guess.

Freezing cold air from the street above poured down into the cells through long deep open vents. It would have been a nightmare down here for sure.

After visiting the Dungeons, S and I went for a walk through the Nürnberg streets in the drizzly rain. Schnu's grandmother had commandeered her beloved wee Granddaughter, so we were free agents. We found a wonderful chocolate shop and I spent the equivalent of a third world country's GNP in chocolates! Alcoholic ones too no less. Bat and I would consume these watching DVD's over the course of the coming days.

After that, we met with Oma and Schu in a tiny little retaurant in the heart of town called the Bratwürsthausle. Modelled on 14th Century Nüremberg Bratwurst shops, this one is popular, unique and serves totally awesome traditional Franconian food on classic Nürnberg "zinn" (pewter) plates.

It was a good day. Even the rain could not dampen my spirits...not like "The Chapel" did anyway.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your blog by accident, love the way you express yourself! Love the logic and the mention of compassion. Wish the rest of the world saw things that way!

Michelle said...

Wow! Thanks for the lovely kind comment. Welcome and I hope I keep writing in a way that means something for you :)