The narrow side valley named „Allerheiligen“ (All Saints) used to be the site of a monastery. All that is left of it are the ruins of the medieval church, which form a romantic setting in a remote Black Forest valley.
Allerheiligen is best visited by car. The site is located near Oppenau and Ottenhöfen, just off Schwarzaldhochstraße (B500).
The Premonstratensian abbey dates back to the 1190s when a lady from high nobility donated the land for the foundation of the convent. The monks, or rather canons as the Premonstratensians aren’t monks, strictly speaking, stayed and ran the convent for more than 600 years.
In the secularization of 1803 the abbey, which then belonged to the bishopric of Strasbourg, was occupied by the Elector of Baden and closed down. The canons had to leave for good. Due to its remote location, establishing a parish would have made no sense. The church was given up.
During the following years the unused church and convent buildings were used as stone quarry. Only ruins remained of the gothic church. Parts of the choir and transept with one side of the central spire are still there, also the western porch and the arcade of the right side nave.
The Romanesque porch is the oldest part of the church, probably built shortly after the foundation of the monastery in the late 12th century. The church was renewed around 1400.
The ruins can be visited for free, access is possible any time.
Under the Romanesque porch
If you visit in winter, like we did, take care because there is no clearing done and ice on the ground may be really dangerous.
The former barn of the monastery now contains a small exhibition on the history of the Premonstratensian abbey and its destruction. The most interesting piece is a model of the whole monastery as it was before 1800. Entry to the exhibition is free. It is open from April to October.
The terraces of the monastery's baroque garden with their stone balustrades still exist. Little fountains enliven the basins on the different levels. A quiet spot to relax and enjoy the landscape. Under the winter snow it is hard to guess what the garden will look like in summer. Surely it has boxwood hedges like a baroque garden should, and the open water basins will reflect the blue skies...
The Seven Waterfalls
The war memorial
The creek named Lierbach that runs along the valley of Allerheiligen forms a series of seven waterfalls in a rock gorge a bit further down. It is a short hike to the falls but do not underestimate it. In the gorge the path is rather steep and consists mostly of stairs. It is safe to walk except in icy or very muddy weather conditions, solid ground and stone steps. No problem for people who are, like me, scared of heights.
There is another parking lot at the bottom of the waterfalls so you can leave your car there, hike up, see the ruins and go back down, or vice versa.
Sorry I cannot post any photos of the waterfalls here. When I last visited we could not go there due to ice and snow, and the time before I had not yet had a digital camera.
On a hilltop on the other side of the valley, the Schwarzwaldverein in 1925 erected a memorial for their members who died in World War I.
From the memorial you have a nice view of the valley and the monastery. Due to the icy paths we did not climb up, though.
Mark Twain's Visit To Allerheiligen
In the 19th century tourism began in the Black Forest. Visitors soon discovered this romantic location with the ruins and the seven waterfalls further down the valley. A hotel and restaurant was built, and Allerheiligen became a popular location for hikers and day-trippers, both Germans and foreigners. One of the most prominent visitors was the American author Mark Twain who reports about the place in „A Tramp Abroad“, a book which is half travel report and half fiction but entirely hilarious and fun to read. Recommended to everyone who knows, or plans to visit, this region.
Mark Twain tells us about a hike up to the monastery ruins and waterfalls of Allerheiligen:
The hotel where Mark Twain had his disappointing trout
"All our afternoon's progress had been uphill. About five or half past we reached the summit, and all of a sudden the dense curtain of the forest parted and we looked down into a deep and beautiful gorge and out over a wide panorama of wooded mountains with their summits shining in the sun and their glade-furrowed sides dimmed with purple shade. The gorge under our feet - called Allerheiligen - afforded room in the grassy level at its head for a cozy and delightful human nest, shut away from the world and its botherations, and consequently the monks of the old times had not failed to spy it out; and here were the brown and comely ruins of their church and convent to prove that priests had as fine an instinct seven hundred years ago in ferreting out the choicest nooks and corners in a land as priests have today.
A big hotel crowds the ruins a little, now, and drives a brisk trade with summer tourists. We descended into the gorge and had a supper which would have been very satisfactory if the trout had not been boiled. The Germans are pretty sure to boil a trout or anything else if left to their own devices. (...)
We went down the glen after supper. It is beautiful - a mixture of sylvan loveliness and craggy wildness. A limpid torrent goes whistling down the glen, and toward the foot of it winds through a narrow cleft between lofty precipices and hurls itself over a succession of falls. After one passes the last of these he has a backward glimpse at the falls which is very pleasing - they rise in a seven-stepped stairway of foamy and glittering cascades, and make a picture which is as charming as it is unusual."
(A Tramp Abroad, Chapter XXII)