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Steeples And Schnapps In Westphalia



IN the south Munsterland town of Werne, the towering Gothic steeple of the large, light-filled Hallenkirche was restored last year. When it was time for the reinstallation of the cross and the five-foot-high cock on top of it, the priest blessed them. Music blared while the whole town watched as workmen climbed the narrow steeple to put the top-heavy cock back and remove the scaffolding.

To celebrate the event, the priest gave out tokens for beer and Schnapps in the local Gasthof. Most everyone drank until very late. The next morning, the cock was gone. All of Werne was in tumult. By early afternoon it was found in the chicken coop of a nearby farm and the culprit tracked down as one of the men who had worked on the renovation. Quite drunk, late at night, he had clambered up the steeple, without scaffolding, and had taken the cock down. He said that it had been too dry a blessing, that the priest had not provided adequate drink.

That's the south Munsterland: full of laughter, daring and community life. Humor and optimism pervade. Undoubtedly it was the precise part of Westphalia that Voltaire had in mind when Candide's tutor Pangloss called the region ''this best of all possible worlds,'' where ''since everything was made for a purpose it follows that everything was made for the best purpose.''

A three-day tour south from the city of Munster - with stops in the towns of Soest, Werne and Cappenberg - proves the point.

In medieval times Soest was among the most important cities in Westphalia, which is evident in the many rich churches that still stand there. Within the walled part of the city one wanders on cobblestone streets and sidewalks, past an array of major architectural monuments, intricate parks, duck ponds, water mills and sturdy stone walls. The many half-timbered medieval houses have steep roofs covered with red tiles made from local clay. The passageways are arranged in a complicated pattern like a spider web. No two streets in town seem parallel; for those used to cities built on grids, it is easy to get a bit confused in Munsterland towns, though they are too small to get lost in.

One of the most raucous, high-spirited ''Last Suppers'' ever made, is in the large and airy Sta. Maria zur Wiese, a Gothic hall church built in the 14th and 15th centuries. A stained-glass window from about 1500, it shows the participants eating Westphalian ham (the head of the pig is on one plate, its tail on another) with pumpernickel from a large basket of country breads, and drinking copious amounts of beer and Schnapps.

The cathedral in Soest is the Romanesque St. Patrocli, built between 954 and 1230. The style is typically Westphalian, more straightforward than grand, almost a farm-style Romanesque. Over the side entrance there is one particularly engaging small tympanum - boldly cut with strong and lively forms for the animals symbolizing the four evangelists. Inside, the apse that faces the left aisle shows the way the interior must have once looked; it is carved with 12th-century painting that by itself warrants a trip to Munsterland. The simple pallette of dark blue, rust and gold is unusually soothing. The forms - particularly the oval border surrounding Jesus - are elegant and decisive. The softly colored apse, and the simple Romanesque arches and subtle decoration throughout the cathedral, relax more than overwhelm.

The nave contains some major art works. One of the thick 12th-century stone columns has a base made of two fantastic animals -one a mix in part of wolf and snake, the other akin to a dragon - that symbolize heathens and believers. And there is a Gothic portrait of St. Mattias holding an axe in which the holy man looks like a good honest local laborer, totally palpable.

Adjacent to St. Patrocli is a cloister remarkable for the sort of undecorated, eloquent forms that characterize Munsterland architecture. Then one reaches the St. Nikolai chapel, built in about 1200. The small building was constructed out of pale green stones that are covered with fossils of mussels, squid, snails and waterlily stems. The motif of the sea continues within; St. Nikolai was the patron saint of sailors and young maidens, and the chapel subtly resembles a ship. In a simple design made with two colors of stone - one a slightly pinkish beige, the other a warm white - the rounded ceiling is decorated with billowing squares that symbolize cloth sails, into which are looped vertical lines coming from the walls and suggesting ropes. The two chalky green columns resemble masts. It all has a riveting, simple geometry, and the tranquillity of very smooth sailing.

AT the end of the chapel there is an altarpiece painted in 1394 by Conrad von Soest, who was to Westphalia what Duccio was to Siena. Its deep reds and greens and golds are more intense versions of the colors of the building itself. The painting shows St. Nikolai giving gold to a bankrupt man's three wayward daughters, who will now be able to mend their ways and return home to their father. All the figures are highly animated, and the donor in the foregound looks like a great fellow to have a beer with, quite the opposite of the standard pompous image of a donor.

Sta. Maria zur Hohe, begun in about 1200, has extraordinary interior decoration that was inspired by the visit of a local artisan to Palermo. There are espaliered trees, fanciful birds and snowflake designs, mostly in muted reddish browns and tans on the pale beige sandstone. There is also a large (almost two-story high) cross made in 1205; it has on it a round, flat disk that represents the earth as it was then perceived. The complex relief sculpture has a richness and intensity akin to early Scandinavian art.

From Soest, which is on the edge of Munsterland near Sauerland, a visitor can drive through fertile rolling countryside, where sugar beets and wheat are grown, to the area around Werne. There are some important stopping points for art and architecture, and Werne itself when some town life is wanted. Except for the superhighways, most roads in south Munsterland go past scattered farms. The older ones come in twos, an arrangement that enabled people to help one another out. Sights along the way include a small monument, dated 1835, that marks the spot where the last wolf was shot in Westphalia. In Werne it's possible to visualize Westphalian community life as it was five centuries ago. The moat that circles half the town has areas where people used to congregate to do their washing. On one of the three main squares there are half-timbered warming houses -the earliest one extant was built in 1447 -where farmers huddled together on wintry market days. These are top-heavy structures, each story hanging over the one under it, in which the uppermost floor was used to store hay.

THE Werne farmers market -called the Simon and Juda Markt -has been thriving since 1362. The town has grown around it, and between 1512 and 1561 Werne's fine city hall was built on the edge of the marketplace. On a single market day in 1856 there were 300 horses, 500 head of cattle and 2,500 pigs for sale. Even on quiet days today, the marketplace has lots to offer.

Fleischerei Schlunz, a business that has been in the same family since 1851, sells every conceivable type of sausage, ham and headcheese, including a type of bologna in which the different colors of meat give each slice a smile face. They also prepare sausage arrangements like flower bouquets in which a bottle of Schnapps serves as the vase form. Four bakeries of note are near the marketplace. At Schulze-Bisping one finds more than 50 types of bread - ryes, pumpernickels and other whole grains - as well as a crusty farmer's bread baked over ashes in a stone oven and available only on Fridays; at Telgmann one finds great pastries.

Werne is the sort of town where foreign visitors are something of a rarity and receive a splendid welcome. After I bought some mopkenbrot and leberbrot at Schlunz - each of the brots is like a cross between scrapple and blood pudding but with flour and ready to eat - I took them into Puk Up'n Balken, a local Gasthof in one of the half-timbered houses, where the proprietor spread butter and rubenkraut (a honey-like substance made from sugar beets) on them so I could enjoy them the traditional way, with a beer.

In Cappenberg, some 15 minutes from Werne, the simple Gothic church houses one of the great monuments of German medieval art: a 12th-century bronze head of the Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa. Like a Titian portrait or a sculpture by Donatello it is only when one sees the original work that one understands why it has been reproduced so many times. Barbarossa's high-cheeked, wide-eyed face is one of the most determined yet quizzical visages of all times. It is not the only gem of the church; there is also a powerful 13th-century crucifix, an enchanting carved stone relief (circa 1315) of the princely brothers Gottfried and Otto von Cappenberg, and several extraordinary rows of ornate wooden choir seats carved in 1509.

The seats have rich designs full of highly detailed portraits of mythical and biblical characters - some demonic, some cheerful - and assorted gargoyles that make Grimm's villains look laid-back. The Cappenberg Palace, adjacent to the church, is an example of the quiet elegance of northern Baroque architecture, which can be seen throughout the region. Cappenberg is threatened by plans for extensive coal mining, which is being vigorously protested as well as enthusiastically supported, so it seems wise to try to see it fairly soon.

There are some fascinating stops on the way back to Munster. In the town of Nordkirchen is Schloss Nordkirchen, known as the Versailles of Westphalia. It is a vast sandstone and brick water castle with formal gardens designed by the Baroque architect Johann Conrad Schlaun (1695-1773). In the town of Ludinghausen is Burg Vischering, a medieval water castle right out of a fairy tale. It has drawbridges, a spiky turret, a chapel that looks as if it has a spell cast over it, and a room that has a trap door to the dungeon below.

Nottuln, a Baroque village conceived by Schlaun, has splendid sandstone mansions facing a canal, as well as a Blaudruckerei that uses the old Westphalian technique of printing from wooden blocks with an indigo dye on cotton or linen.

Haus Ruschhaus, on the outskirts of Munster, was the residence of Annette von Droste-Hulshoff, author of such works as ''The Hospice of the Great St. Bernhard'' and ''The Jews' Beech-Tree.'' She is considered Germany's greatest female poet. Schlaun built the house for himself in 1749, adapting his pristine and gently proportioned Baroque style to the form of a Munsterland farmhouse and coming up with a combination that is both humble and supremely elegant. It remains the country villa of a writer's dreams. We can easily see why Droste-Hulshoff wrote, ''I am a Munsterlander - and I approve of any stranger, whosoever he may be, who like me would never exchange his place of birth, where his beloved ones live and his ancestors are buried, with any other place under the sun.'' TIPS FOR VISITORS TO MUNSTERLAND Tours and Hours

The Municipal Tourist Office of Soest, telephone 103323, can provide the hours for the town's churches or arrange for a guide who will open them for you. Most shops throughout the region are open from 9:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. and from 2 to 6:30 P.M. Monday through Friday, and Saturday mornings. Accommodations

Among lodging and dining spots in the region are these:

Pilgrim-Haus (Jakibistrasse 75, Soest; telephone 1828), which was built between 1294 and 1304, has six guest rooms (single $43, double $70). Dinner is served every night from 5 P.M. Restaurant specialties are lamb and local dishes like blutwurst with raisins. Entrees $2.65 to $16 (prices throughout calculated at $1.87 to the German mark).

Hotel Baumhove (Werne; 2298), right in the middle of town, has a good restaurant open from 11 A.M. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and on Sundays only for lunch. Specialties include sulze (jellied pork); herring served with apple, whipped cream and cranberries, and, during Lent, a marvelous dish of herring and stewed graue erbsen (literally gray peas, which are chick peas). Entrees from $3.75 to $12.75.

Kreutzkamp (Cappenberg; 02306/6983) is a country inn and destillery built in 1654; nearby are woods with good walking paths.

Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege (Steinfurter Strasse 374, Munster; 213045 and 213046), an elegant water castle hotel and restaurant on the outskirts of Munster, is the fanciest place in the region. Single rooms are from $59 to $64, doubles $86 to $96.

Davert Jagdhaus (Amelsburen; 58058) is a fine restaurant and inn between Munster and Werne. Among the four guest rooms are singles that cost $27 and doubles for $48. Specialties in the restaurant include salmon tartar and carpaccio, and wild mushrooms. Meals cost $16 to $43 a person. - N. F. W.

Photo of in Nordkirchen, Schloss Nordkirchen, designed by Johann Conrad Schlaun; the altarpiece in St. Nikolai Church, Soest; detail over doorway of a half-timber house in Soest; a half-timber house; fresh bread from the Schulze-Bisping bakery in Werne (Herlinde Koelbl)