Urban Temporalities (City Walk 9)
— Sara Keller (ORCID 0000-0002-2506-2887)
Time and space are essential dimensions of the human existence, yet difficult to grasp and define. While science and technology aim at defining a universal time and space that can be measured physically (Euclidian space and astronomical calendar), artists, poets, religious actors and philosophers have in contrary underlined the flexibility, elasticity and multi-dimensionality of layers of space and time. “The Past, the Future, O dear, is from you; you should regard both these as one.” said the Persian dervish and poet Dschalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (or Rumi, 1207-1273). Today, the theories of physics invite us to revisit these, at first sight, ungraspable ideas of temporality(ies) from the point of view of natural sciences.
As social and human scientist, we are also encouraged to revisit the idea of time and to look at it from a more dynamic perspective: can we talk about temporalities (plural) rather than “time” and in doing so, how do temporalities relate to each other? How does time flow and can we still speak of causality (on retrocausality, see Guillemant 2014) Can we observe the overlapping of multiple strata of temporalities, the same way we discussed the overlap and connection of spatialities (on co-spatiality, see this glossary entry by Elisa Iori)
Engaging with temporalities counts as one of the objectives of our research group on Religion and Urbanity, since looking at temporalities and their interconnections is a promising topic for the better understanding of the mutual formation of religion and urbanity. How can urbanity be understood in terms of temporal rhythms (see the theory of “rythmanalyse” by philosopher Henri Lefebvre, 1961), and how can temporal discrepancies be observed in urban spaces? We are in particular interested to look at how different temporal strata connect, disconnect, reconnect, and ultimately unify or differentiate, merge or segregate.
Our 9th City Walk engaged with the topic of temporalities, whereby we addressed three main topics: the question of multiple memories with the visit of the new Synagogue in Erfurt, spatial unity and temporal multiplicity at the St Ägidien church and finally hierarchical temporality with the Christmas market as a significant urban manifestation of the Christian temporality.
Our first station was at the New Synagogue, consecrated in 1952 on the site of the destroyed Great Synagogue. The New Synagogue (as the Great Synagogue was since 1884) is located on the margin of the old city wall, while two previous Synagogues had been built earlier in the heart of the walled city wall (the Old Synagogue, 11th century and desacralized during the 1349 pogrom, and the Small Synagogue built 1840 and eventually too small for the growing Jewish community).
After the Second World and due to antisemitic circumstances in central Europe, the Erfurtian Jewish community drastically shrank, while the New Synagogue remained one of the few synagogues on the territory of the GDR, and the only one of Thuringia. In the early 90s, people with Jewish ancestry from the successor states of the Soviet Union had the opportunity to enter Germany as quota refugees. In this context, several hundred migrated to Erfurt, thus making again the New Synagogue of Erfurt the centre of a lively Jewish community. Our group was warmly welcomed in the New Synagogue and we were introduced to a very unique urban temporality, made of particular religious calendar, but also of events and memories that draw a different historical timeline.
We then moved to the St Ägidien church located at the eastern end of the Krämerbrücke, the oldest secular architectural ensemble in Erfurt and certainly the most picturesque one. The actual Krämerbrücke, a stone bridge over the Gera River, goes back to the 14th century and is built up with series of half-timbered houses. The ensemble is completed by a stone church on both bridgeheads, the Benediktikirche at the western end and the Ägidienkirche (or St Ägidien church) at the eastern end. St. Aegidien was first mentioned in 1110 CE and existed as a bridge chapel. When the wooden bridge was finally replaced by a stone one in 1325, the St Ägidien church was rebuilt, primarily for traders. On the ground floor there was a hall for trade, while the church nave was built one storey higher, as it can still be seen today.
The St Ägidien church reminds us about the entanglement between religious and profane life and the mutual impact of the religious and the economic temporal rhythm. While the Christian calendar dictated the calendar of festivals and fairs, the life of the church was depending on the timing of trade, trade transactions and traders migration.
Another expression of the connection between religious calendar and urban temporality can be experienced at the Christmas market, where we had our last station. During the medieval period, a synchronizing of major urban events and temporal milestones of the dominant religious movement can be observed in Europe. Market activities and fairs were for instance organised during Christian celebrations, such as the “Martini” or market of Martin’s day in November. Christmas and the Christmas market stands as another striking example of both religion impacting the urban temporality and the urban environment influencing a religious event.
How did Christmas become an important urban festival? The oldest record we have of the Erfurtian Christmas market goes back to the “Marktordnung” or market regulation by Prussian government in 1850 –a document that acknowledges an already existing urban institution that goes back to the Middle Ages. The 1850 Marktordnung mentions that the market last for 8 days and should finish on the evening of Christmas. „Kramwaren, Spielzeug für Kinder, Südfrüchte, Zucker- und Lebküchlerwaren und Obst, namentlich Äpfel und Nüsse“ could be sold out in this Christmas market, a list of products that reflects on the very bourgeois character Christmas took during the 19th century. Far from the loud pagan solstice celebrations (on the origin of Christmas, see Hijmans 2003), Christmas became an orderly event for families and children. Few days before Christmas, a market emerged on the Domplatz, in the heart of the city, as a temporary and marvellous city within the city, with its bright wooden huts and enticing products. A “Märchenwald”, or series of huts with puppets representing famous fairy tales, was added in 1958, further emphasizing on the children and family character of the Christmas market. It is striking that today, in the wake of the progressive secularisation of the late 20th century, the Christmas market remains the main event of the city of Erfurt, attracting sometimes more than 2 Million visitors (in 2019).
Thus, the Christmas market, that may look, at first, like a religious temporality imposed on the city, could instead be contemplated as an urban celebration that imposed itself on the Christian calendar.
To further explore the question of co-temporality, the UrbRel group is joining the “Erfurter RaumZeit-Forschung” research group at the University of Erfurt in the organisation of a conference scheduled during the second half of February 2023.
Sara Keller is a post-doctoral researcher in the research group “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779). She specialises in history of architecture and space, and currently works on water spaces in South Asia.
Guillemant, Philippe. 2014. La route du temps. Temps présent.
Rose, Astrid. 2020. “Christmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt, Alle Jahre wieder.” Stadt und Geschichte. Zeitschrift für Erfurt. Nr. 76, 3:28–29.
Rüpke, Jörg. 2022. “Christmas and Christmas Markets.” Urbrel Blog: https://urbrel.hypotheses.org/4041
Rüpke, Jörg. 2022. “Christmas in the City.” Urbrel blog: https://urbrel.hypotheses.org/587
Steven Hijmans. 2003. “Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and the Origins of Christmas” in Mouseion. Journal of the classical Association of Canada, XLVII, Series III, vol.3 No.3: 377-398.