Wednesday, 12 October 2022

A Small Town in Germany

Tübingen is not, I think, a well-known stop on the tourism track. In a way, I hesitate to write about it in case I inadvertently turn it into one. Anyone who has stepped inside St Mark's in Venice lately and discovered each section of the church is now divided off by turn-stiles that visitors must pay to go through would ever wish to deliberately turn a place into a tourism magnet.

Nevertheless Tübingen could perhaps be a little better known among travellers who like old things. It is one of the few ancient towns of Germany that escaped severe damage in the Second World War. Its old centre is a charming tangle of cobbled streets and high half-timbered buildings. At almost every window there are cascades of flowers, brightening the scene even now in an already chilly autumn. 

So far, so picturesque. But there is something else that Tübingen possesses that sends it into the stratosphere of interesting destinations. It is the Museum of Archaeology in the Tübingen Schloss. 

Yawn. Archaeology. Little bits of stone. Ancient pieces of disintegrating rope. I know. And, yes, the collection at Tübingen does include such objects. However, it also includes these two things:

I acknowledge that at first glance they may appear a little underwhelming, especially when you learn that they are each only the size of my thumb, if that. 

But look again, equipped with this new piece of information: these two tiny sculptures were made 40,000 years ago. They are thought to be the earliest figurative man-made objects anyone has ever found.

I am overwhelmed looking at them with this knowledge in my mind. If the museum is to be believed, those tiny marks and hatchings were put there carefully, deliberately, thoughtfully, by a person sitting in a Schwabian cave 40,000 years ago. All that time ago, someone chose a piece of mammoth tusk, picked up some kind of instrument - what? a sharpened flint perhaps? - and decided to create an image, to sculpt something as a record of a creature they had seen.

Looking at the things that resulted from that impulse, I feel I am, if not time travelling, at least being given a glimpse, via what they created, of a human being who lived long ago - a snatched flicker, seen through a keyhole, of the deep, deep past.

What an exceptional thrill.


  1. I like that you were thrilled by those items, and I like that you even noticed them, and drew them to our attention.

    I have been to Tübingen, surprisingly. Back in 2013. I remember the challenge of finding a car park, an interesting meal near the river and (my husband) talking to some German diners, visiting an old church in the old town (Stiftskirche) and thinking it would be nice to spend more time there.

    1. It is not a town for cars, that's for sure. Surprisingly, it was a place for didgeridoos - or at least one didgeridoo obsessed busker who set up camp exactly where my husband found for a quiet cup of coffee, a quiet lunch and finally a quiet cup of afternoon tea. He began to feel he was being stalked and, after one hearing of the man's story of having gone to the Sydney Olympics and been inspired to spend his life going around Europe with a didgeridoo and a pair of powerful speakers to entertain the uninitiated, he began to wish Sydney never hosted the games.

    2. Sorry I didn't see this - blogger won't advise me of responses to my comments - but I have now read it and laugh at the leap from Sydney Olympics to didgeridu busker in Tübingen.

  2. What astonishing creations! And astonishing survivals – who knows what other wonders have been lost to the passage of time?

    1. My next-door neighbours and I as children spent a great deal of our weekends imagining we had found treasures and then going to the Natural History Museum where they would patiently point out that we had not found anything but pebbles.