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August 13

J. Gresham Machen

This day in 1905 found a twenty-four year old J. Gresham Machen in Rothenburg, Germany. Having finished his studies at Princeton Seminary in May, he determined to spend time in Europe for the purpose of further study and clarifying his calling. He himself looked with great anticipation to “a fresh atmosphere, time to read and incentive to do so, and no exams.” Arriving by ship in Bremen, Germany, Machen procured his preferred method of transportation at that time – a bicycle. He traveled to Soltau, then to Brunswick and on to Goslar. Leaving Goslar, he rode some seventy miles in a single day over the Harz Mountains to the city of Muhlhausen. From there he went to Nurnberg and Rothenburg, completing a bicycle journey of 375 miles. As he viewed the walled city of Rothenberg, he gave a vivid description of its beauty. In a letter to his parents he writes as follows: “But within fifty miles of Nuremberg, there is something yet more curious, which the public only within the last few years has discovered to be one of the most remarkable things in the world. I refer to Rothenburg, a town of former importance, which the march of modern progress has left behind with a population of 8,000, living in the same old houses, on top of the same old hill and within the same old walls. Is it my duty to attempt a description of Rothenburg? I hope not … there is nothing left but for you to come see Rothenburg for yourself. The little river Tauber, in its course northwestwards to the Main, has hereabouts cut for itself a deep channel, which to you and Mother might perhaps be described as a mild form of canyon, but with green though steep sides. On one side of the stream, along the high crest of the hill thus formed, stretches the little town, entirely enclosed in its walls. The walls of Rothenburg differ from the walls of (for example) Nuremberg in that they still form really the limit of the city. In Nuremberg you have a set of walls stretching aimlessly about somewhere in the center of a good-sized modern city, and enclosing a portion of the modern town something like the ‘City’ in London. But in Rothenburg it is different. On the side next the stream, you find no houses at all outside the wall until you get to the bottom of the valley; on the other side, the town has burst its ancient bounds only in a few places. Rothenburg is still crowded together within its walls, and is therefore a walled town in a far more visible way than anything I have seen before.”

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