The Blackest of Forests and the Man who named Amerika

Martin Waldseemüller of Wolfenweiler near Freiburg was born around 1470 and later studied theology at the University at Freiburg. He was recruited into a group to prepare a definitive map of the New Worlds in 1505. Studying the discoveries of Vespucci, the group prepared a new map and published a treatise on map-making and geography called ‘Cosmographiae Introductio’ in 1507.

Waldseemüller’s map, the first new Map of the World, was printed. The massive map needed twelve separate wood-blocks for printing and was the beginning of modern map-making. It was the first map printed separately and not as part of a book, and the first finely detailed map in which the Earth is shown as being round and covering 360 degrees of longitude. The North and South American continents were labeled ‘America’ in honor of Amerigo Vespucci. Printed six years before Balboa discovered the Pacific and fifteen years before Magellan gave an accurate description of the ocean, the map showed the Pacific Ocean and even pin-pointed the exact location of Japan before Europeans actually sighted Japan in 1507. The map also showed the entire coastline of Africa.

Waldseemüller later produced a version of Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’ in 1513. He died in 1522. The map was lost for a long time, but a copy was found in a castle at Wolfegg in southern Germany by Joseph Fischer in 1901. It’s still the only copy known in existence. In late May 2003, the U.S. Library of Congress bought the map.

Another figure Freiburg is famous for is Berthold Schwarz, sometimes known as Berthold der Schwarze or Black Bart. He was a Franciscan monk and alchemist in Freiburg who, according to legend, was the first European to discover gunpowder somewhere between 1313 and 1353, which led directly to the creation of the first firearms. It is sometimes also claimed that he built or developed the first guns or cannon. The old statue in Freiburg of the monk Schwartz was damaged in war but was repaired and amazingly still stands today. However, in Germany today, Schwartz is now politically-correctly and officially described as “a man whose invention led people and individuals to ruin taking millions of human lives as victims” rather than as a great inventor.