“I’ve nearly approved of the idea of twinning, because places are inevitably matched with places like them. So if you live, say, in a stunningly beautiful medieval town… then you’ll be twinned with your exquisite European equivalent. If you live in Warrington or St Helens then you’ll be twinned with another industrial casualty.” Pete McCarthy, ‘McCarthy’s Bar’
I was interested to visit Speyer because this is the twin town of Spalding in South Holland and I had heard people talk fondly of it but had no idea of what it was like. And what a surprise as it turned out to be, a real gem of a place with a huge cathedral and a wide main street with gaily coloured buildings and a very pleasant vibrant atmosphere. And a very big car park, clearly sign posted (even though I did miss it the first time around, which was entirely my own fault) and with plenty of available spaces.
Speyer has been Spalding’s twin town since 1956 and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, you know, number 36, Rugby, will be twinned with number 87, Russelheim, and so on; or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of dating service and introductory agency. Who knows?
Anyway, the English city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin with another when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins (The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, beats this hands down however by registering forty-six twins). That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry and seems to me to be a bit greedy and unnecessary. Perhaps even more surprising is that Sherborne in Dorset, a town of only ten thousand residents has fifteen twin towns, that is even more excessive.
Speyer has a compact centre which is dominated by the Cathedral, a number of churches that would be impressive in their own right if they were not overshadowed by the cathedral and a well restored and maintained old town gate. In the cathedral, beneath the high altar, are the tombs of eight German emperors and kings. This is a seriously important cathedral and the laying of the foundation stone was the decisive impetus for the development of the town in the early medieval age. The cathedral was consecrated in 1061 but not completed until 1111. It was the largest church of its time and, in its monumentality and significance symbolised Imperial power and Christianity and it is one of the most important Romanesque monuments from the time of the Holy Roman Empire.
What I didn’t know was that Speyer has been so important in the development of modern Christianity in Europe because in 1529 the Imperial Diet met in Speyer and agreed to reconfirm the Edict of Worms of 1521 imposing the Imperial ban on the trouble maker Martin Luther and his followers, who were causing the church all sorts of difficulties by challenging the traditions of the Catholicism. This resolution caused great descension and the outraged imperial towns drew up a letter of protest which was delivered to the Emperor Charles V. This Protestation at Speyer caused the separation of the Christian church and is considered to be the birth of Protestantism and from this time on the adherents of the reformation movement were called Protestants.
I thought Speyer was really very nice with big open spaces, cobbled streets and I have to say a bit like being in France which as it is only a few kilometres from the border was not really all that surprising and I had to keep reminding myself that I really was in Germany.