The third day brought relief in the form of a planned outing to the Rathaus and a guided city tour. Though I was hardly enthused about the opportunity to glimpse the inner workings of the city government nor about the prospects of wandering from landmark to landmark in a clump of international academics, it presented an opportunity to watch else than old men read papers or students passing the other side of the window. With that in mind, I declined my fellow attendees’ offer to meet up before the hotel entrance and instead set off at an early hour to find my own, longer way to the Rathaus.
I had noted before leaving that many of the city’s streets bore on the Rhein. I was sure to come upon the river at some point and so decided to follow one of the city’s several avenues. Beneath the boughs, I measured my progress against the green lawn running between the aisles of trees to either side. The lawn’s considerable length here joined institute to church but in its other instances connected city building to monument or hotel to memorial. The lawn was long and progress slow.
A broad roadway paralleled the Rhein and thus separated the city from the river. The pedestrian crossing light lay in something of a stupor, so I attempted, from the safety of the curb, to measure at a glance the speed of the oncoming cars. Unbidden there came to mind the image of my slight, materially insignificant body rolling up over the car’s front. The imagining itself was hardly surprising, for I found myself, at regular intervals and despite my best will, caught in mental exercises wherein my fleshy vessel met its end in often grisly fashion. I could only consider this a further measure of training for my eventual end.
For better or worse, I managed to cross over to a riverside park that all Rhein cities share, at least in my mind: distended park, new stone benches, recently poured cement quays and walkways, choice remnants of waterfront fortifications, outdoor café or beer garden. The access path brought me before a set of public bathrooms, the doors of which, as best I can remember, had recently closed following a spate of hygiene and refuse incidents.
From there I reached water level and the broad gravel and earth walkway running beneath young sycamores. Fits of wind swept along the riverfront, and few were out, despite the autumn sun. I bent my way south in order to work my way back to the Rathaus, its backside giving on the river. To my right, a span of ornamental fortifications, as it were, sprung up every five hundred meters. Too low to keep a person out, the walls nonetheless sported a series of holes from which one could perhaps fire, as well as a series of archways to control access in and out.
A broader opening at each span’s center, flanked by stout, square pillars, presumably allowed carriage access to the riverfront; lions triumphant looked on passing vehicles from atop each pillar. Yet, with hindsight, the idea that these low walls served any defensive purpose seems ridiculous. Those walls bore many of the same characteristics as civilian builds I had seen elsewhere in the former empire: decorative alternative of white limestone and red sandstone, vaguely neo-classical ornaments, lines spreading out from the windows as they would from an all too regular, geometric sun. One and the same phenomenon can, in this way, present to different eyes endless variation, much as different phenomenon can present for certain the aspect of endless identity.