Münster: the Promenade and the River Aa
At the end of July I spent a few days in Münster with traveling companion I.. It was the result of a glance at the map: Münster appeared to be closer to Rotterdam than Groningen. And yet we had never been there. A good reason to take a look. We found a nice, relaxed town, with lots of Kneipen and Biergarten. With old and new architecture and also with lots of greenery. Most noticable were the Promenade and the river Münstersche Aa.
Münster has a little bit over 300,000 inhabitants and is therefore about the same size as the Dutch city of Utrecht. The two cities are similar in other ways too: both are student towns with a lot of cyclists.
And just like Utrecht, Münster has a long and rich history. With a few black pages: relations with the Western neighbors were not always good. In 1534, for example, our compatriot John of Leiden established a short-lived reign of terror over the city. And in the disastrous year 1672 we were even at war with Münster. And with Cologne, France and England as well, so pretty much with all our neighbours. On the other hand, the Peace of Münster, which put an end to our Eighty Years’ War with Spain, was also signed here.
During the Second World War, the center of the city was largely destroyed by Allied bombings. But unlike in Rotterdam, the choice was made to rebuild everything in the old style. And that worked surprisingly well in most places. The result is a beautiful Altstadt, largely car-free, with many churches and other monuments. A town center that doesn’t seem to boast a vibrant nightlife though, but perhaps that was because all the students were on holiday.
If you see the treeless photo of the Prinzipalmarkt, earlier on this page, you wouldn’t think so, but Münster is a very green city. To the north is bird sanctuary the Rieselfelder, to the east is Waldfriedhof Lauheide. Within the built-up area there are the green banks of the Aasee. And let’s not forget the beautiful botanical garden in the Schlossgarten. It is accessible free of charge, which would be hard to imagine in the Netherlands…
But the most impressive sights in my opinion are two linear green structures: the Promenade and the river Münstersche Aa.
The Promenade is a 4.5 kilometer long avenue with four rows of lime trees that runs around the entire Altstadt. In the middle is a very frequently used cycle path, with on either side a path for pedestrians.
The Promenade is built on the former fortifications of the city. Those had protected Münster from hostile powers since the thirteenth century. But after the city was conquered a few times by foreign armies during the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763), it was concluded that these defenses no longer made much sense. In 1770, Baroque architect Johann Conrad Schlaun drew up a plan for a Lindenallee, which was completed in its entirety.
After two and a half centuries, the foliage is so dense that in some places cyclists turn on their lights during the day. In other areas the trees are a bit thinner and that has its causes. In January 2007, Hurricane Kyrill uprooted a thousand trees, mostly on the side of the Schloss. And during a thunderstorm in 2014, many trees were struck by lightning. But in Münster people are proud of the Promenade, so the vacant places have long since been filled. The ring is closed again.
For those who want to continue walking after a 4.5 kilometer tour of the Promenade, there is another green line: the Münstersche Aa. That river meanders right through the Altstadt. During our visit there was almost no water in it, but that will certainly be different in other seasons. There are no cyclists here and also other traffic seems far away. Along the river there is only a footpath between lush greenery. In some places, it’s hard to imagine being in the center of a medium-sized city.
We were on vacation and not on a working visit. But if I may draw a conclusion: in Münster you can see how much a city can benefit from a simple urban planning intervention. Even after a few centuries. And also that it’s a good idea not to close an old river for a motorway or a railway viaduct.