We had the most wonderful opportunity this last week to go visit Tanja Badenheuer, a good friend and old roommate of Kara's, in Friedberg, Germany, where she is currently working as a German teacher. Tanja was a most gracious host and let us all camp out in her front room for several nights, while playing a fantastic tour guide of her small but lovely city during the day.
On Halloween, Tanja had to work a fairly full day, so Kara, the girls, and I drove down to
In any case, as I was looking over the myriad of photos I had taken, I was struck first by the soaring majesty and power of the castle as shown in the large-scale wooden model depicting the fortress as it had been a little over 200 years ago. Massive masonry towers stood at each corner, and huge abutments defied any who might plan to attack. Medieval turrets, battlements, and crenelation were intermixed with fanciful residence halls executed in renaissance and baroque splendor. It truly must have been a splendid sight when in its full glory.
My photo journey quickly jumped two centuries as I went from pictures of the model to pictures I had taken of the actual castle. The once mighty towers had been blown apart by the French army during the thirty-years war, leaving parts of the castle appearing almost as if a section plane had been placed there by a behemoth architect, exposing wall thickness, floor levels, structural systems, et. al. Unmaintained roofs had disintegrated under years of storms and rain. Only facades remained of once-existent palaces, their windows opening to nothing but sky no matter which way you look through them. (Interestingly enough, the 280 000 - liter wine barrel in the cellar was still intact.)
The juxtaposition of the recreated model of the castle and of its actual current state sharply impressed my mind. I believe architects often like to think they are leaving a lasting mark on the world by giving physical presence to the creations of their mind. Yet no matter how thick we build the walls, from the moment the final touch is placed in any construction (and even before), all the forces of nature are working together to break it apart, to weather it away, to bring it down. Seeing masonry walls greater than 6 meters thick that had simply been split in half has a somewhat sublime and sobering effect on an aspiring builder. And as I looked over these images of ruin with thoughts of Piranesi rambling through my mind, I came to the very distinct conclusion that nothing, absolutely nothing, that we build can truly last forever. I could spend all the days of my life trying to build some monument to my existence, some proof that I lived in this world, that I was a part of this world, that I even attempted to contribute to this world, only to have it all reduced to rubble in a century, in a decade, or in a day. In
Does that mean we shouldn't build? Of course not. But perhaps it might also cause us to pause and consider how we invest our time in this life. In addition to building the physical, albeit ephemeral, structures of marble and stone, we must build the intangible, yet potentially eternal, relationships that give meaning to life.
In essence, I believe that the average you or me can have a more lasting impact on the world by loving a friend, by being true to a spouse, or by teaching a child, than Isadore or Anthemius had, even were they to have built a thousand Hagia Sophias.