German Gothic architecture in the late Middle Ages
One of the most daring architectural styles of all time, the Gothic, has left us over the course of 400 years the genius and skill of visionary stonemasons and builders in the form of sky-reaching stone vaults and spires.
The Gothic architectural style, which appeared in France in the 12th century, challenged the laws of physical forces with the aim of approaching the sky. Through the walls of colorful glass, the rays of light should come in abundance to illuminate the richly decorated church interiors.
The Gothic developed from the Romanesque and did not introduce a specific building typology, but rather a new architectural system for existing designs. The innovation consisted in the opening of the walls through glass windows, the weightless appearance and the light construction, which made higher buildings possible.
In the German Empire, most of the buildings were built in Romanesque style, with the first Gothic features beginning to show, which were derived from foreign building models. Built in this transitional style, the Elisabethkirche in Marburg (from 1235) shows a successful fusion of German and French architectural styles and is at the same time one of the first Gothic buildings on German territory.
With the beginning of construction of the five-nave Cologne Cathedral, with its three-nave transept in 1248, Germany joined the French High Gothic. It was not until the 19th century that the enormous building was completed and became one of the world’s largest churches. Almost simultaneously, from 1245, the Strasbourg Cathedral was also built, which also indicates an understanding of the Gothic building principles. The Lübeck Marienkirche, which became the first building of Brick Gothic through the use of the local brick, and the Ulm Minster, which was built in the 19th century, are of equal value. Completed in the 16th century, the tower became the tallest church building in the world.
The buildings of the High Gothic did not resonate in the subsequent buildings, rather a reduction of the richly decorated High Gothic buildings took place. Thus, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Late Gothic, also called German Special Gothic, arose, which broke away from the French model. It materialized into the simpler forms of hall churches, mendicant churches and brick buildings. The building elements typical of the High Gothic style, such as the choir aisle, chapel wreath, triforium, wimperge and pillar frets, were omitted.
Due to the alignment of the nave heights, the basilica became a hall church, and double-tower facades often became single-tower facades. A uniform spatial effect was achieved, both by the equally high and equally wide ships or the choir polygon as apses, which encompassed all ships, as well as by enrichments such as the star and net vaults, which prevented a clear demarcation of the yokes: instead of the usual crossing ribs, the vault was covered by a parallel lattice work.
Magnificent patterns developed in Austria, Bohemia and Saxony through the “winding rows”, sling vaults without load-bearing function, as in the case of St. Anne’s Church in Annaberg-Buchholz. The simplicity of the late Gothic was reflected, among other things, in the ribs stretched in the room and the thin pillars that reached to the vault.
The Gothic buildings, which for the most part belonged to the sacred typology and stood both for the glory of the clergy, as well as for an economic and technological boost. The resulting contrast between the magnificence of the sacred buildings and the misery of the majority of the population could hardly have been greater.
Even today, in the age of computers, high technologies and the overexcitation of our senses from all directions, Gothic buildings still leave us speechless.