A Travellerspoint blog

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Being a Tourist at Home

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Paris is great - but who can afford Paris all the time?
TGV in Karlsruhe central station

We all like to travel to distant destinations – but how much do we know about the surroundings of our hometowns? There is certainly a lot to discover at our doorsteps, no matter where we live. This is not a choice to be made – international travel versus staying in one’s country and region – but a combination of both is best.

Touring from home has several advantages. No packing, no luggage schlepping, no organizing who takes care of the house, waters the pot plants, feeds the pets and collects the mail. It saves money because you do not need to pay for accommodation since you sleep at home, and travel costs for short distances are usually low. It can be done without taking holiday time off work. A free day or just a couple of spare hours are enough to transform into a tourist and see one’s city with different eyes, or hop over to a new place nearby.

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Tram S4 in Eppingen

One summer, when I had no money left for travel, I bought a monthly pass for the entire KVV, our regional public transport network, and set out on a new day trip every day. My aim was to have travelled all train and tram lines at least once and to see as many of the small towns in our surroundings as possible. The KVV area covers parts of the Northern Black Forest, the Kraichgau hills and the southern part of Palatine and two border destinations in Alsace, so there are plenty of options. This was a well-filled summer holiday.

Then there are DB’s Länder-tickets, namely Baden-Württemberg-Ticket and Rheinland-Pfalz-Ticket, which both cover a lot of more ground in the respective federal state. And thanks to fast ICE, IC and TGV trains, the range of possible day trips extends into northern Switzerland and to many cities in Bavaria, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate. Karlsruhe is a transport hub with excellent train connections in all directions, both long-distance and regional trains and local trams. I have been living here for 15 years now, and I still have some unseen destinations left…

Russell the Wombat is my faithful companion on these trips and will make an appearance in my photos every now and then.

This blog is based on the seemingly countless number of destination pages I wrote for the now defunct Virtualtourist. The city of Karlsruhe itself will, due to the vast amount of material I have, not be described in here but receive its own blog at some point.

Destinations will come up at random and totally unsorted in here, because this is the nature of day trips: We choose a place to visit and off we go, and next time whe choose another destination which is usually unrelated to the previous one. No need to plan itineraries - another advantage of tourism from home!

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Coffee break and a postcard for Grandma

The "Postcard" layout feature matches this purpose perfectly. My little reports are like illustrated postcards sent from the places I visited. This reminds me of what i used to do when Grandma was still alive. She spent her last years after Grandpa's death in an old people's home. For lunch she used to sit at the table with five other ladies, and every day after lunch the six of them would go to their letter boxes together and pick up their mail. After I heard that there was some kind of undeclared competition among them who gets the most, and that Grandma boasted with postcards she received from her only grandchild (i.e. me), I took to sending her a postcard from each and every, even the smallest trip I went on, so she could be the star of the day as often as possible. She proudly collected them all, after her death we found the big pile in her room.

Posted by Kathrin_E 02:00 Archived in Germany Tagged karlsruhe Comments (5)

Ettlingen

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Ettlingen has preserved the charm of its historical centre in spite of rehabilitation measures in the 1970s that have destroyed quite a number of old buildings. What is left, however, is well taken care of. The major monuments and preserved houses are mostly baroque. Etllingen is small, so everything can easily be reached on foot . There are many romantic spots in the narrow lanes, along the river and in the squares to discover, and many outdoor cafes for a rest.
The old town extends on both banks of Alb river. The town hall occupies the central point by the river and the main bridge, overlooking the wide market square. The western part extends to the palace and its gardens. The tram line now cuts off the newer quarters further west from the centre. This area is quite busy with many small shops and a of old and new buildings. The market square is connected with the palace through a series of small squares.

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Schloss Ettlingen, a palace that belonged to the Margraves of Baden-Baden, contains parts of a medieval castle. Three rectangular wings were built in the 16th and early 7th century. In the war of 1689 the French troups burnt down the town and the palace. The widowed Margravine Sibylla Augusta had the palace restored and enlarged, she lived here from 1728-1733. In these years the Eastern wing was added. Its facade towards the courtyard shows elaborate baroque architecture and ornaments - but it is all fake. The columns and rocailles are all just painted. Even some windows are fake.
In summer the courtyard hosts the Ettlinger Schlossfestspiele, an open-air festival of theater and concerts.
The Albgaumuseum occupies the Southern and Western wing of the palace. It shows regional history, art by regional painters, a collection of oriental treasures, temporary exhibitions, and the former apartment of the Margravine. Unfortunately all the furniture was taken away in the 19th century, and there isn't much left of the original decoration either. (If you want to see the rooms of a baroque palace, better go to nearby Rastatt instead).

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Schlossgartenhalle, located next to the palace, is a modern hall for concerts, events and conventions. The building itself is of little interest to visitors but its roof garden is worth a look. Stairways lead up on the corners. The little garden on top is at the height of the roofs of the surrounding houses. You'll have a different view of the palace, the streets, into people's windows and backyards.

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The so-called Narrenbrunnen (Jester Fountain) outside the palace is dated 1549. The statue on top shows a jester in the uniform of a lansquenet. The relief portrait on one side of the pillar depicts Hans von Singen, the court jester of Margrave Philipp I.
The role of a court jester meant more than just making fun. The jester was the only one who was allowed to tell the prince even unpleasant truths, as long as he did so in a witty way. According to late medieval theology, the figure of the jester symbolized a godless, worldly life. The mirror became his attribute, as he is someone who looks only at his own reflection instead of god. Thus he became the one who showed the prince the mirror, reflected the prince's good and bad doings. That way he reminded the prince of his own mortality. The inscription at the sculpture's back recalls this warning:
LAS MICH UNVERAC[H]T / BEDENCK DER WELT WYSHEIT UND BRACHT / IST VOR GOT[T] EIN DORHE[Y]T GEACHT
(Don't despise me, remember, the world's wisdom and glamour is considered foolishness in front of God)

If you want a rest among trees and flowers, stop next-door at Rosengarten. The little park was planted in 1998 in the grounds of the former palace gardens. In the summer season it is full of blooming roses. Benches invite to sit down and relax. Best with an icecream, which can be obtained nearby at the icecream parlour opposite the palace next to the jester fountain...

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The catholic parish church of St. Martin is mostly a baroque building, the romanesque tower and the gothic choir derive from the medieval predecessor.
The baroque nave contains a surprise: The vaulted ceiling is covered with colourful modern frescoes by Emil Wachter, painted in 1987: Wachter is a renowned artist and has done many church interiors in Baden-Württemberg. He translated the baroque principles of ceiling frescoes into modern style. He tells biblical stories with contemporary elements, like the Prodigal Son leaving home on a motorbike.
The church is usually open in the daytime and can be entered from the southern side door.

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Ettlingen's town hall was built in 1737 with some changes in the 19th century. The baroque facades face the market square and the river. The adjacent tower, which is much older, serves as town gate from the bridge across the Alb. In market square a beautiful renaissance fountain is preserved.

The narrow pedestrians' gateway through the town hall's tower has a remarkable memorial to the victims of World War I. The names of Ettlingen's World War I casualties inscribed on its walls. From the outward side of the gate a soldier points into the passage: „Hie habt Ehrfurcht vor den Toten“ (Here have reverence for the dead) - this is a reference to the medieval monk sign pointing to the hospital (see separate tip). Towards the market square, a dramatic relief (Oskar Alexander Kiefer 1927) shows Death on horseback. While Death is swaying the fiery scythe above the soldiers, the Titans are fighting underground.

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The so-called Neptunstein is a relic of Ettlingen's distant past. The relief, dated to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., depicts the ancient Roman god Neptun, to whom the stone was dedicated by the guild of the Alb rafters. The white stone below contains a Latin inscription by the reformator Caspar Hedio written in 1554 which tells the history of the stone of Neptun and the foundation of the town. This stone here, however, is a 16th century copy. The original can be admired in the Badisches Landesmuseum at Karlsruhe.

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A statue of St Nepomuk guards the bridge behind the town hall, as it is common in catholic areas. Ettlingen belonged to the Margraviate of Baden-Baden, the catholic part of Baden’s territory. The town owes several baroque buildings, including the town hall, the facade of the main church, and parts of the palace, to Margravine Sibylla Augusta who resided in Ettlingen during her widow years.

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Discover the romantic spots along the river that runs through the town. The street next to the river's northern bank is like a promenade walk. Not very long, admittedly, but still pleasant. The bridges offer more views, especially in summer when they are ornated with blooming geraniums. Photogenic views can also be found from behind the church of St Martin.

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The quarter beyond the river has preserved its historical structure with small winding lanes, some dead end. The side streets are quieter here.
The eyecatcher on this side of the old town is the mighty steeple of the neogothic Herz-Jesu-Kirche, the second catholic parish church in the town centre.
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On the northern corner of the old town (corner Schillerstraße/Pforzheimer Straße), Ettlingen’s only piece of the old town wall is preserved, together with one single tower, which is named Lauerturm. You'll need some imagination for „romantic old-world feeling“, though, because these are major roads with heavy traffic.

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I am concluding with some romantic impressions caught on a summer evening and sunset and then under the full moon...

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Posted by Kathrin_E 02:16 Archived in Germany Tagged ettlingen Comments (1)

Bad Herrenalb and the Alb Valley

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Ettlingen is the gateway to the Alb valley, the northernmost of the valleys that lead into the Black Forest from the Rhine plain. The river Alb has a total length of 51 kms. Its source is at an altitude of more than 700 metres. The stream runs through a rather narrow valley first. This upper part is really remote, it has neither roads nor settlements and can only be explored on foot or by (mountain)bike. Bad Herrenalb, the spa town, is the first settlement. From there downstream the valley widens. It becomes an important axis of traffic in northern to northwestern direction for the villages in the surroundings, both by road and commuter tram. At Ettlingen the river leaves the Black Forest hills and enters the Rhine plain. It then runs along the southwestern edge of Karlsruhe until it reaches the Rhine near the suburb of Knielingen.

The forests of the Northern Black Forest won‘t match the image that visitors have in their minds. It consists of mostly deciduous trees, firs and spruces are the minority, so it is not „black“. International tourists rarely make an appearance. For the inhabitants of the Karlsruhe agglomeration, though, it is a popular destination for day trips, hiking and biking. The whole lower part of the Alb valley up to Bad Herrenalb is well connected to Karlsruhe's tram network. The line S 1 runs from Bad Herrenalb via Ettlingen to Karlsruhe, passes both Karlsruhe central station and the city centre and continues to the northern suburbs. Important stops are „Marxzell“ for the car museum and the village, and „Frauenalb-Spielberg“ for the ruins of Frauenalb convent.

The historical border between Baden and Württemberg ran through the Alb valley between Bad Herrenalb and Frauenalb. It crosses Klosterpfad, the hiking trail between the two former convents, about halfway. The sentry box and explaining signs on the path to Frauenalb are a recent addition, I saw them for the first time today (February 2015). One side is painted red and bears the coat of arms of the 19th century Grand-Duchy of Baden, the other site is painted blue and sports the royal coat of arms of Württemberg.

Tram S 1, the Alb Valley Line

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Tram stop next to Ettlingen palace
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Up the valley we go!
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Station hall in Bad Herrenalb
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Station building

The whole lower part of the Alb valley up to Bad Herrenalb is well connected to Karlsruhe's tram network. The line S 1 runs from Bad Herrenalb via Ettlingen to Karlsruhe, passes both Karlsruhe central station and the city centre and continues to the northern suburbs. Important stops are „Marxzell“ for the car museum and the village, and „Frauenalb-Spielberg“ for the ruins of Frauenalb convent.
The dead-end railway line up the Alb valley is not used by Deutsche Bahn any more. It has been entirely taken over by Karlsruhe's tram network, so the yellow trams of the S 1 now do the whole passenger transport. Besides, on some summer weekends an old steam train does tourist rides up there.

When coming from Karlsruhe, check carefully because the S 1 runs every 10 minutes in the city, but not all of them do the whole way, every second one ends in Ettlingen. Two trams per hour (daytime hours on weekdays) continue to Bad Herrenalb, the interval is 20 and 40 minutes alternating. In between there is one S 11 per hour which takes a different route through Waldbronn and Karlsbad to Ittersbach. In the evening and on weekends there is one tram per hour. Have a look at the timetable before starting your trip to avoid long waiting periods (lesson learned the hard way). And don't confuse S 1 and S 11.

From the train station in Bad Herrenalb at the end of the line, several bus routes start that connect Bad Herrenalb with the villages further up in the mountains. There is also a line across the mountain ridge over to the Murg valley and on to Baden-Baden. The train station is not manned any more, tickets have to be obtained from ticket machines. The station building now hosts Bad Herrenalb's tourist information office.

Practical hints:
Fares: A single ticket from Karlsruhe to Bad Herrenalb or back (5 zones) is 4.80 € (spring 2017). Groups up to five people travel cheapest with the Regioplus ticket for 19,60 € which is valid for one calendar day of unlimited travel in the whole KVV area.
Website: www.kvv-efa.de

Hiking and Biking

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The Alb valley has lots of options for easy to medium outdoor activities on foot and by bicycle. A network of marked hiking trails cover the whole Black Forest. From easy short walks to all-day hikes across the mountains, options are endless. The trails have little signposts at crossings, stating the destination and distance, and are marked with coloured symbols. You can start walking everywhere along the valley and select a short or long tour just as you like. Any path in the forest is a hiking trail that leads somewhere.

Traces of „Lothar“ are still visible, in particular on exposed ridges. Mentioning „Lothar“ in the Black Forest causes rather scary memories. „Lothar“ was the name of a gale that hit the Southwest of Germany and the Northwest of Switzerland with full force on Boxing Day 1999. The exposed heights of the Black Forest were heavily affected. The storm broke trees like matches and uprooted complete forests. The traces of destruction are still visible on the hilltops around Bad Herrenalb and elsewhere. „Lothar“ is a lesson to take global warming and climate changes seriously.

Thanks to Karlsruhe's extending tram network you can plan one-way hikes across the mountain chains to the adjacent valleys and return by public transport. The tram network allows one way hiking tours over the hills from one valley to the next. Arriving on the Alb valley tram S 1 you could either hike south to the Murg valley and take the S 8 or S 81 back, or north to Ittersbach or Langensteinbach and return on the S 11. The Murg valley line (S 8/S 81) connects to the Alb valley line (S 1) at Karlsruhe central station, the S 11 already in Waldbronn-Busenbach.

Hiking can be done throughout most of the year. In rainy periods and when the snow is melting the trails become muddy in some parts. In winter, snow is no hindrance, but if there is ice on the ground, take care. Having a detailed hiking map of the region is useful - these can be obtained from bookstores and from the tourist information. Comfortable walking shoes are essential. Ankle-high hiking boots are not absolutely necessary, the paths are generally easy to walk, but if you have them they won't be out of place. Depending on weather conditions, rain gear can be needed any season in these parts of the world. If you plan longer hikes, carry a drink and a snack.

For an easy bike tour, there is a bike trail along the whole valley. Bikes can be transported for free (on weekdays after 9 a.m., on weekends all day) on the trams, so you can take your bike up to Herrenalb and comfortably cycle back downhill along the river. Mountain bikers and hardcore cyclists will find roads and marked mountainbike trails up and down as many hills as they want.

Bad Herrenalb - Spa, Abbey Ruins, and Forests

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Bad Herrenalb is a tiny spa town cuddling into the upper end of the Alb valley among hills and forests. Herrenalb’s history begins with the foundation of a Cistercian monastery in the 12th century. Later a settlement grew around the abbey. Only ruins are preserved. The place is a nice option for a day trip, some hiking, seeing the remnants of the two monasteries, a walk in the Kurpark, a coffee and cake and a visit to the spa. Being stuck there for a four-week health treatment, however, might become a bit boring after a while...

A Kurpark, a beautiful park with paths that are easy to walk, many benches, pretty trees and lawns and flowers, often fountains and a duck pond and sculptures, is an indispensable part of a spa town. All of them have one to provide an area to walk for their visitors, also for the sick and disabled among them. Bad Herrenalb is no exception. The Kurpark along the Alb river invites for walks and relaxation. The park has many beautiful big old trees of native and introduced specieses, planted as solitairs surrounded by wide lawns so they had space to grow into full splendour.
The fountain behind the Kurhaus must be a natural warm spring. Any artificial fountain would have long been turned off in wintery conditions with temperatures far below zero. The water is still springing and has formed an ice cone that looks like a little volcano.

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Kurpark
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The ice volcano
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Kurhaus
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Water pavillon

Another indispensable institution in a spa town is the Kurhaus which contains the administration and therapeutic facilities and a cafe or restaurant, often also a ballroom, casino or similar - not sure about Bad Herrenalb in that respect. The Kurhaus in Bad Herrenalb is not big but the town is not big either... The backside of the building hosts a cafe with a big terrace facing the park. Sitting there with a coffee or tea must be an enjoyable pastime in summer.

The healing water from Bad Herrenalb's springs can be sampled for free. There is a fountain in the octogonal pavillon by the Kurhaus (open daily 11.00 - 18.00) where you can help yourself. Glasses are available for free but you can also bring your own glass, cup or bottle.
Important to know: „Saubere Gläser“ = clean glasses; „gebrauchte Gläser“ = used glasses. Grab one from the counter next to the first sign, and please return it after use to the second sign.
Recommended maximum consumption is 1 liter per day. Please don't ask me what the water is good for, or against... The taste is nothing unusual (not as bad as the waters of Baden-Baden).

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The Cistercian monastery of Herrenalb was founded in the 12th century. Having been an independent imperial abbey in the middle ages, it became property of the Dukes of Württemberg before 1500. It was destroyed during the 30 year war. The part of the church that was still intact became the parish church of the village which developed round the site. The separated monastery area is still visible although the surrounding buildings are mostly younger. Of the abbey church, the choir is preserved (which was included in the new 18th century parish church) and also the ruins of the Romanesque vestibule, the so-called „paradise“. A statue of a monk has been put up in the grounds. He is a big hit for photos…

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The site of the abbey church is now occupied by the protestant parish church which was built in 1739. It is much smaller than the original church. The gothic choir of the abbey church has been maintained and included in the new building. The interior of the nave has been redesigned in 1903. It got a vaulted, wood-panneled ceiling, ornamental frescoes, a new organ and new stained glass windows in the choir. Behind the altar there is a showcase with a model of the monastery as it used to be in its active times.
The medieval choir contains several tombs and epitaphs, among them the tomb of Margrave Bernhard I. of Baden, which fills the arcade between the choir and the left side chapel. It is dedicated to Margrave Bernhard I. of Baden who died in 1431 (date mentioned in the gothic inscription on the choir side of the tomb). He is depicted in full armour, accompanied by angels who hold his helmet and crest. The tomb is actually a kenotaph, i.e. a fake grave: It is and has always been empty - Bernhard was in reality buried in the collegiate church in Baden-Baden.
The monastery area can be visited any time for free. The church is open in the daytime hours.

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Bad Herrenalb holds an artisans market in the grounds of the monastery every year on the Pentecost (Whitsunday) weekend. Artisans offer their products, there is a wide variety of pottery and jewellery and woodwork and hand-made paper and knitting and... If you are in the area that weekend, this is nice to look at, and maybe you'll find a special souvenir. I would not travel long distances only for this market, though. Entry is free (it's a market, after all) but the prices of the products are not cheap, as can be expected for individual hand-made items of quality craftwork.

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The beautiful half-timbered house by the passage to the abbey grounds is a historical inn. A piece of 18th century pub wisdom can be found over the door. The Klosterschänke on the edge of the monastery area was built, according to the inscription above the door, in 1739, the same year as the protestant church. Note the text of the inscription, these are the wise words of an experienced innkeeper...
„Herein herein ihr lieben Gest / Wer Geld hat, ist der Allerbest.“ (Come in, come in, you dear guests / who has money is the very best)

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A thermal spa is also a must. The one in Bad Herrenalb is named Siebentälertherme. It offers swimming in thermal water from a natural spring, sauna and steam baths, also treatments like massages, aqua healing, water gymnastics and similar. For several years there have been talks about an upcoming renovation of the spa. I am not sure how far they have proceeded in the meantime.
The indoor pools' temperature is 30 °C and 35 °C, the outdoor pool has 30 °C.
I have to admit that this is not the best spa I've ever been in. The pools have some massage jets but that's about it, none of the bubbly water toys one finds elsewhere. I have not used the sauna but found the pool area rather boring after a while. The average age of the visitors must be close to 70.
Advantage 1: it was quiet and uncrowded, lots of space for a relaxed swim and no queues to get one of the jets.
Advantage 2: even a 40-something fattie like me can feel young and beautiful in there, I had a pleasant chat with a charming pool attendant ;-)) I was by far the youngest among the females present (except the employees, that is).
Website: http://www.siebentaelertherme.de

Frauenalb Convent Ruins

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Frauenalb used to be a convent of Benedictine nuns, founded in the late 12th century. Its history consists of a series of destructions and rebuildings. In 1598 the convent was closed down due to the all too worldly ways of life of the inmates. During the 30 year war it was reopened and a new convent established. Around 1700 the nuns first erected new convent buildings (1696-1704), then a magnificent baroque church (1727-1736).
The secularization of 1802/03 brought the final closedown. Church and convent buildings decayed afterwards. In the following years fires damaged the empty buildings, other parts were torn down to reuse the material for other building projects. The remaining ruin has become a remarkable landmark of the upper Alb valley. Open air (or better: open roof) concerts take place here in summer.
Visiting the ruins is free, they are accessible 24/7.

From the tram stop „Frauenalb/Spielberg“ it’s a walk of merely 3 minutes to the grounds of the convent. There is a good restaurant on the way, named „Landgasthof König von Preußen“, should you want to combine your visit with a hearty meal, or a coffee and snack.

Frauenalb is 5 kms from Bad Herrenalb, which is an easy hike along the valley along the so-called Klosterpfad - easiest downhill starting from the far end of the Kurpark, but uphill it is no big deal either because the ascent is very gentle. You can also include Frauenalb in longer hikes over the hills.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 02:27 Archived in Germany Tagged ettlingen bad_herrenalb albvalley Comments (0)

Rastatt: A Baroque Town and its Palaces

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Before 1700, Rastatt was no more than a small village of farmers and winemakers. In 1700 the Margrave of Baden-Baden chose the place as his new residence and started building the palace and a new town. The baroque plan still forms the appearance of the town.
Rastatt is one of those baroque residence towns that were planned and built „on the green meadow“ by an absolutist Prince. These new residences consist of a palace with the garden or park on one side and the town on the other, all based on one geometrical master plan, which is still visible in town today. The old town and the palace were not much affected by World War II, most of the architecture is still original.
Rastatt was designed after the model of Versailles around 1700. Note the three radial streets that meet in front of the palace - this is the same structure as in the town plan of Versailles. So this is truly a „mini Versailles“.

Rastatt Palace

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The palace with its fully furnitured state rooms is the town's main attraction. Rastatt Palace is the oldest baroque residence on the Upper Rhine. built from 1700 to 1707. Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden, the so-called „Türkenlouis“ (Turkish Louis) because he gained fame as a general in the late 17th century wars against the Turks, founded the new residence town in 1700. Since his old residence Baden-Baden had been destroyed by French troups, he decided to build a new residence on a flat terrain in the Rhine plain instead of rebuilding the hilltop palace in Baden-Baden. The plan of palace, garden and town is based on the model of Versailles and was designed by the Italian architect Domenico Egidio Rossi. That's how fashion goes - despite the fact that the French king Louis XIV. was the enemy who had the country devastated, his court and his architecture were taken as a model.

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The palace gardens extend north of the palace. They have been redesigned to give an impression of their baroque appearance. The wrought-iron gates are preserved. To be honest, though, these are not the finest baroque gardens in the country...
There is, however, more to a prince's residence than just the main palace. At least one, often more summer palaces, maisons de plaisance and hunting lodges belong to it, as well as parks, churches and the town. In the case of Rastatt, the summer palace in the countryside, named Favorite, is as well preserved as the main residence. Both are at least in parts originally decorated and furnitured. Then there is the tiny Pagodenburg, the Margravine's tea house on a terrace above the river Murg.

Practical Hints for Visitors:

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Visitors can see the state apartments of the Margrave and Margravine on the Beletage (principle floor) of the palace. These magnificent rooms are fully furnitured. They can be visited with guided tours only. The right side wing hosts the Wehrgeschichtliches Museum (Military History Museum) and a commemorative site for the freedom movements in German history.
Tickets for tours of the palace can be obtained at the visitors' centre, which is located outside the courtyard next to the ramp - watch out for the sign „Kasse“. Tours usually start every hour, depending on how many visitors show up. Rastatt is an off-the-beaten-path location, there won't be crowds although the palace really deserves more attention.
Photos are only permitted in the staircase and the festival hall, the other rooms contain too many delicate items that are sensitive to light.

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In addition to the 'normal' tours of the state apartments that last about one hour, the administration of the palaces and gardens in Baden-Württemberg offers Sonderführungen (special tours, in German) that present one special topic, are done by experts and last 2 hours. One of these tours takes place each Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the special tours can also be booked separately by groups. See the website for a list of the topics and dates.
The best tour I joined in Rastatt palace was the Baroque Dance Tour - a group of six people in historical costumes performed and explained baroque dances in the palace's festival hall.

Website: http://www.schloss-rastatt.de

Palace Church of the Holy Cross

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Palace chapel
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Margravine Sibylla Augusta depicted
as Saint Helena in the ceiling fresco

Rastatt's finest, most interesting and most valuable church has to be classified as Off the beaten path because it is hardly ever open to visitors. The delicate interior is in need of restoration and is thus shut away. I once had the chance to see it during a convention of art historians that took place in the palace. Apologies for the bad quality of the interior photos - it was rather dark inside and flash was forbidden altogether because of the light-sensitive frescoes and fabrics, only extensive photoshopping made details at least visible.
Margravine Sibylla Augusta, who had the church built, was both a lively baroque princess and a devoted catholic. From time to time she withdrew from the court for a while to undergo repentance and prayer. Her palace church, which also became her burial place, was directly connected to her living quarters.
The church was designed by court architect Johann Michael Ludwig Rohrer and built in 1720-1723. The most precious materials were used for all parts of the interior. A private chapel for sacred relics and a Scala Sancta, a sacred staircase according to the model in Rome, are connected with it. The ceiling fresco of the church depicts the legend of the Finding of the Cross by Empress Helena in the 4th century - pious Sibylla Augusta had herself portrayed as Saint Helena.
The original interior is completely preserved, including the embroidered tapestries still in situ on the walls and pillars. Restoration works are in progress or at least in planning, as far as I know. Let’s hope that this baroque jewel will some day be accessible to visitors.

Market Square, Parish Church and Town Hall

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Town hall
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Catholic church

The centre of the town is the rectangular market square (Marktplatz) between the town hall and the church. The town hall closes the western end of the market square, opposite of the parish church. It was built by Johann Michael Ludwig Rohrer and Johann Peter Ernst Rohrer in 1750. The gable bears the coat of arms of the town, the golden Weinleiter or locally Raste, a frame that was used to carry the grape buckets during the wine harvest. The town's name is said to derive from the word Raste, but this may be a rumour that originates in younger times.

The town's catholic parish church of St Alexander closes the eastern side of the rectangular market square. The baroque church was already planned and begun during the first planning process of palace and town in 1701/1702 but construction works were not continued until around 1740. The present church was finally completed in 1756-1765. The original interior is preserved. The church is open in the daytime.

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Rastatt's Christmas market takes place here in Marktplatz in the heart of the town, between the catholic parish church and the town hall. It is not big but the atmosphere in the baroque square is cosy. The Glühwein is good, and we got excellent grilled sausages, thin, crispy and 1/2 m long. If you like hot and spicy food, try the Feuerwurst, if not, stick to Rostbratwurst. Glühwein is cheaper than in Karlsruhe!
The Christmas market opens before the first Advent weekend and closes on the fourth Advent Sunday.

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Rastatt Christmas market Glühwein cup - note the design.
Even the palace looks very drunk on it...

Pagodenburg and Maria-Einsiedeln Chapel

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The tiny little palace is located on a terrace above the river Murg. It was built in 1722-1724 outside the boundaries of the town. The architect Johann Michael Ludwig Rohrer designed it as a tea-house for Margravine Sibylla Augusta. It follows the model of the Pagodenburg in the park of Nymphenburg palace in Munich. Not much of it resembles a Chinese pagoda except the curved roof, but it was meant to be a building in Chinese, or better Chinoise, style. It is surrounded by a baroque garden on two levels. Together with the adjacent Einsiedeln chapel it makes a fine ensemble.
No, the huge yellow tower is not part of the palace... The water tower was erected in 1901. The concave roof adapts the form of the neighbouring Pagodenburg.

The pilgrimage chapel of Maria Einsiedeln next to Pagodenburg is a few years older. Sibylla Augusta had it built in 1715. It was designed, also by her court architect Rohrer, after the model of the chapel of mercy in Einsiedeln/Switzerland.
The interior of neither chapel nor Pagodenburg is open to visitors but the ensemble is nevertheless worth a visit.

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Favorite – The Summer Palace

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Favorite, located outside Rastatt near Kuppenheim, was the summer palace of the Margraves of Baden-Baden who resided in Rastatt. Margravine Sibylla Augusta, who reigned after the death of her husband as proxy for her young son, had it begun in 1710. Her „favourite“ sojourn also hosted her collections of porcelaine and other art from East Asia. The palace is surrounded by a park with some side buildings. The park has been turned into a landscape garden later on.

The palace is located in the countryside southeast of Rastatt next to the small village of Förch. Direct bus connections are not very frequent. The nearest S-Bahn stop is Kuppenheim. From there it is half an hour's walk to the palace grounds. A bicycle is useful to avoid the long walk if you have one at hand; bikes can be taken on the S-Bahn for free after 9 a.m., by the way. Or go by car if you have one (I don't).

Sibylla Augusta's summer palace was begun in 1710. Court architect Johann Michael Ludwig Rohrer created the plans. The palace became the Margravine's favourite place to live whenever she could get away from the court in Rastatt. Here she enjoyed the pleasures of a princess's life, here she kept her collections of porcelaine and other arts.
The palace is small but it has three wings which surround a small front courtyard. Two long orangerie wings reach out into the park. The backside of the palace has a large terrace which overlooks the northern part of the park and offers a view of the Black Forest hills.
The facades of the palace have a unique design. The surfaces consist of small pebbles set in plaster.
Favorite palace has never been destroyed. Most of the interior is original and well preserved. The rooms are extravagantly decorated in all abundance of the baroque arts. The interior of the palace can only be visited with guided tours.

Model of the baroque garden - Rastatt

Model of the baroque garden - Rastatt


The once baroque park has in large parts been redesigned as a landscape garden with beautiful old trees, a pond, lawns and waterflows. The wide central alley with the accompanying orangerie wings and the side alleys are remains of the baroque design.
The four little houses along the oblong axis served as accommodation for the court chevaliers (the two in the middle) and housing for the gardener and the caretaker, the latter two are still inhabited. Away from the main paths a side alley leads to the Hermitage and chapel of St Magdalena.
The park can be entered for free. Not sure if opening times are 24/7 or if it closes at night, but definitely longer than the opening hours of the palace.
A small exhibition presents the history and development of the gardens around Favorite palace. One model shows the original baroque garden, the second model shows the landscape garden as it is today, so you can compare how design and fashion have changed. The exhibition is located in the head pavillon of the eastern (right) orangerie, at the end towards the palace. Entry is free.

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The Eremitage

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Baroque life had two sides - the luxurious life at court, the abundance and pleasure on one hand, the fear of death and devote piety on the other. The 'other side' was present in Sibylla Augusta's way of life, too. In a corner of Favorite park she had her spiritual retreat, the Eremitage with the chapel of St Magdalena, built in 1717. The Margravine was a pious Catholic. Now and then she would retreat from luxury for some time of repentance and prayer to atone for her sins.

Nothing against being a pious Catholic, but the good lady would exaggerate her exercises in a way that the average citizen of the 21st century will consider lunatic. She spent some days or weeks secluded in her hermitage, where she resigned from all comfort, prayed and flagellated herself and so on. She took her simple meals seated at a table together with three life-size wax figures of Mary, Joseph and young Jesus.

The interior of the Eremitage is only accessible with special tours that are offered on rare occasions. I once had the chance to see it thanks to a work commitment. Everything, including the figures, is still there. It is really really weird and almost scary. The strange atmosphere can already be felt outside the building. If ever you have the chance to go in, don't miss it.

Website: http://www.schloss-favorite.de/en/palace-rastatt-favorite/Brief-Info/285993.html

Posted by Kathrin_E 02:43 Archived in Germany Tagged rastatt murg_valley Comments (0)

Forbach in the Murg Valley

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I somehow fell in love with this little place in the Northern Black Forest. Forbach is located in the upper, narrow part of the Murg valley among steep hills. The village occupies the slopes and terraces in a bend of the river. The catholic church is a prominent landmark. Views of the village are always landscape views: the river, the mountains, forests and meadows form an almost theatrical setting.
Forbach is another of those hidden locations hardly anyone has ever heard of. The name appears on the displays of certain KVV trams on the lines S 8 and S 81 because they end here, but that is about the only occasion it is ever mentioned.
Which is a pity, in fact. When I read about the wooden bridge I thought I should have a look at the place. This was a summer evening well spent.
And when I had a guest to show round a bit of the Black Forest on a sunny spring day, I picked the Murgtal line once more and started with a walk round Forbach again.

The Landscape of the Upper Murg Valley

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Photographers: The best views of the village landscape
can be taken from the helicopter landing in front of the hospital.

The higher upstream you travel along the Murg, the narrower the valley. Around Forbach the hillsides are steep, the river is deeply cut into the rocks. The villages have been built on the hillsides, at a distance from the river bank because of floods. In summer the rocky river bed has little water but at the end of winter when the snow is melting or after a heavy thunderstorm in the mountains this looks different.
The settlements are widespread into the side valleys. They are part of the landscape, the views change all the time when you move around. In the background another village appears, Gausbach with its prominent modern church.

As I learned from the theme path along the river, the landscape around Forbach looked different some decades ago. There were more meadows on the slopes. Now most of these are covered with bushes and young trees. In former times these meadows were used to make hay for the winter feeding of the cattle. In summer the animals were pastured in the forests, no the meadows. The hay was kept in small wooden barns out there among the meadows and transported to the stables in the village when needed. The slopes are very very steep and this was about the only way to make use of these grounds.

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With the industrialization, less and less cattle was kept. The backbreaking work in the meadows was given up. Most of the hay barns have disappeared. However, nowadays efforts are taken to reestablish this cultural landscape. The meadows also have an ecological value as home to rare plants and animals and because they let fresh air stream from the side valleys into the village.
The meadows around Forbach are at least partly being cleared again. Hay barns are being repaired and rebuilt. Goats are the perfect helpers because they will eat any shrub or tree that dares to sprout anywhere. When the meadow is cleared it becomes a pasture for cows. They use a local race that is smaller and more robust (and produces excellent milk and beef).

Protestant Church

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Tram station and protestant church

The little white church on the hillside opposite the village is probably the first striking building that you'll spot from the train station. It is sort of an outcast, but a self-conscious one. Forbach is a catholic village. In the 18th and 19th century very few protestants were here, for example forest workers, or later civil servants of Baden. They were taken care of by the parsons of Gernsbach. A local protestant community grew slowly; only since the 1950s they have their own parson. On the eve of World War I the protestants built their own church outside the village. Its location high up shows nevertheless: we are here.

The Wooden Bridge

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From the tram stop there are two ways into the village across the deep-cut river bed. There is, first of all, the large modern bridge with the main road. However, the prettier route is keeping left and following the smaller street down the slope to the wooden bridge. The most photogenic view of the village can be caught from this side, a few steps further uphill after passing the bridge - best in the morning with the sun in your back. Then cross the bridge to reach the centre of the village.
Wooden bridges with roof exist not only in Luzern... Forbach is very proud of theirs. This bridge, unlike the one in Luzern, can be crossed by car traffic. The original covered bridge had been built in the second half of the 18th century. 150 years later it had to be closed first for traffic and then even for pedestrians due to damage. In the 1950s a tough decision was made: take down the old bridge and reconstruct it from new wood. So strictly speaking the present bridge is not even 60 years old. An inscription in the middle under the roof tells about the rebuilding and the latest renovation.
This oversized bench next to the villageside end of the wooden bridge has been made from some tree trunks. You have to climb the steps to reach the seat, and then you sit like on a throne. The little furball in the picture is Russell the Wombat as size comparison.

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The Village

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The village centre has many narrow streets and lanes and small squares, ups and downs, lots of well-kept old houses. Sidewalks only exist along the main streets, though, so watch out for traffic when walking the lanes.

The town hall is a rather plain building, i am inclined to date it to the 20th century. It is of interest to visitors because the tourist information is located in there, in room 1 in fact.

A funny detail: The mayor is named Kuno Kußmann. A guy with a big smile. Now what shall we think of a village that elected a „kissman“ as their mayor? Must be a friendly place!

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The village centre has lots of old fountains, big and small ones, that once provided the water supply for everyone. There is hardly a street without a fountain. Watch out for them. They are all different, some big, some small, some plain, some with sculptures, and all worth a photo. The water is running into stone troughs where horses and cattle could drink from. Some of these fountains have columns with stone sculptures of biblical figures. Finding the madonna on the fountain in front of the church is no surprise. The fountain opposite the town hall shows Moses with the Ten Commandments. The design of the little square is a modern addition: the water runs from the trough onto the pavement and forms a short „Bächle“. In a side street towards the wooden bridge there is a fountain with a neogothic fial, probably 19th century. I am sure there are more!

Another detail to look for in the streets are the religious monuments. Did I mention already that Forbach is a catholic village? Crucifixes and statues of saints have been put up in several places. These are usually private donations, witht he names of the donator(s) written on the pedestal. The wooden bridge of course has its statue of Nepomuk the bridge saint. It is not on the bridge, though, but on the villageside bank. Most beautiful in summer when he is surrounded by blooming roses.

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Catholic Church of St John Baptist and Cemetery

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The huge neogothic church on the hilltop look far too big for a village like this. Its two steeples are visible from almost everywhere and make a landmark in the 'skyline' of the village. The church was completed in 1891 and shows the typical late 19th century neogothic style. The architecture is rather urban than rural. Directions are unnecessary because the church is impossible to miss. It is enormous. Looks as if they have picked the wrong plans for the wrong construction site...
The square in front of the church (that picture should better be taken in the morning because of the light) is part of the design. The terrain rises rather steeply. It ascends in a series of low steps that lead to the main facade with the steeples, and towards the stairs that have to be climbed to reach the entrances. A fountain with the Virgin Mary on a column is placed on the lower end of the square.
The church can be visited. The main portal is closed but the doors through the steeples are open in the daytime. All I was able to catch of the interior was a glimpse through the inner glass door because people were praying the rosary and I did not want to disturb.

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The cemetery is located behind the catholic church on top of the ridge. Black Forest people seem to grant their dead a resting place with a view, I have observed the same phenomenon in other villages and towns, for example Gernsbach.
The tombs on the cemetery are mostly modern - the usual rule that graves are taken away after 20 or 25 years applies here, too. Anyway, a walk over the cemetery is pleasant because of the views to all sides. The grounds look ultra tidy with gravel on all surfaces between the graves.
Photographers: in the afternoon the finest pictures of the church are to be caught from the entrance of the cemetery and from the hedge on that side.

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World Record: Longest Wooden Plank

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The arrows indicate the plank on the wall

Forbach, or in fact the adjacent village of Gausbach which is part of the municipality of Forbach, is the holder of a world record which is proudly presented at Forbach station. In 2010 a team of (hobby) woodcutters sawed the longest ever registered plank in one piece from a 100 year old tree trunk. The total length of the plank is 45.15 metres, which clearly broke the prior record of 40.81 metres.
If you are waiting for a tram and bored, you can admire the world record plank on the wall of the tram garage. It is attached along the bottom of the windows. The entire length did not fit into the photo, there are a few metres missing on the right. There is a board with some photos of the event and an explanation which is easier to notice than the plank itself.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 00:18 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest forbach Comments (0)

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