A Travellerspoint blog

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Schweigen: Southernmost Point of Deutsche Weinstraße

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(Deutsches) Weintor in Schweigen

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View back to Wissembourg
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Paths in the vineyards
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Sunflowers in the fields
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The French-German border nowadays
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On the way to Schweigen
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Schweigen street view
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Protestant church
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Napoleon fountain
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View of Schweigen from Weintor
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Old wine press
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Beginning of Deutsche Weinstraße
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Wine barrel, dated 1935
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View of the Rhine Plain from Weintor

Schweigen is the southernmost of Palatinate’s wine villages, very close to the French border. The valley of the small river Lauter separates the Palatinate Forest from the first hills of the Vosges. The next town on the French side is picturesque Wissembourg (which will also receive an entry in this blog soon). Nowadays it is an easy walk or drive of about two kilometres between the two settlements.

We came over on foot from Wissembourg after a tour of the town. There are several paths through the vineyards, we took the shortest route along Rue Robert Schumann, which takes half an hour from centre to centre, because we were a) late b) hungry c) lazy. Other paths are a bit longer and lead higher up into the hills. Further up the view of the Rhine plain would have been wider. It was a sunny summer day and we were reminded that vines love sun and warmth more than some humans do. There is no shade along the way. Sensitive people should wear a sun hat or headscarf. I lent my little umbrella to one of my friends who was particularly suffering, to be used as parasol.

The EEC/EU has opened the borders. With the Schengen agreement in 1995, all border controls were abandoned. You simply walk along a country path and except for the two signs you won't even notice that you are crossing a border between two states. Aren't we blessed to be able to do this?
In former timest hat was different. History changes and borders change. This region has seen many many wars and changed owner several times. The French occupations of the late 17th century and the Napoleonic era are unforgotten.

The Napoleon Fountain tells of those times. It was originally located right on the border line between Alsace and Palatine. The village community of Schweigen erected it, as the inscription tells, in 1811 to celebrate the birth of Napoleon's son. The fountain has been transferred to the centre of the village later on and can be admired next to the protestant church. Similar fountains can also be found in Alsatian villages.

In Schweigen we had booked a table at a winery and restaurant for a hearty meal and of course the consumption of some local produce. There are several wineries with restaurants and taverns in the village where they serve their own wines with local food. I do not remember which one we visited.

The village is quite nice but not exceptionally beautiful. Schweigen's most famous monument is the huge Weintor („Wine Gate“) which marks the southern end, or beginning, of Deutsche Weinstraße („German Wine Road“).

Weintor: A Monument from the Third Reich

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The Wine Road originally led right through this monstrous gate. In the meantime a new road has been built around it and the gate passage has been closed to traffic, so visitors can walk around unharmed.

This oversized gate in its rough shapes looks like Nazi architecture and it is Nazi architecture. The eagle on the facade is carrying a wreath which contained a swastika. The swastika has been half-heartedly erased after the war but the outlines are still recognizable.

The wooden platform in the middle can be climbed and offers a view of the village and the Rhine plain. Access is free and open any time.
The side wings contain a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor terrace under chestnut trees, the tourist information office, and a vinotheque.

Deutsche Weinstraße - German Wine Road

There are lots of tourist routes in Germany nowadays but this is one of the oldest: The German Wine Road that runs through the wine region of Palatine at the foot of the Palatinate Forest. It leads from Bockenheim in the North to Schweigen in the South.

The route was established in 1935. Calling it the „German“ wine road does of course have a political background. This region on the left Rhine bank had been occupied by the French three times in history, the latest occupation had just finished in 1930. The economy was down, the new route was meant as amarketing campaign. It was also meant as a political symbol, claiming the region as German territory. One year later, in 1936, the Weintor was erected at the Southern end of the route in Schweigen, only a stonethrow from the French border. This was certainly and definitely a political symbol. Of course it was named "Deutsches Weintor" then.

Nowadays there is no politics behind it any more. The border to France, with Wissembourg as the neighbouring town, is open and almost invisible. The route is a marketing gimmick like the many other tourist routes all over the country. It connects many pretty wine villages and small towns, hard to tell which of them is the prettiest. They are all in good shape, houses well restored, vines planted in the streets and flowers everywhere. During the warmer seasons there is hardly a weekend without a wine festival happening somewhere.

Palatine, the Pfalz, is my favourite wine region in Germany. Ah the white burgundy/pinot varieties... It produces a wide choice of both whites and reds. Many excellent wineries are located here, but there are also the average and below average producers. The quality of each wine depends on the skills of the individual winemaker. Doing a bit of reading in advance is worthwhile if you are ambitious. The mild climate of the Upper Rhine Plain is also great for fruit, nuts and vegetables. Foodies, try the local cuisine.

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:22 Archived in Germany Tagged pfalz Comments (2)

Pforzheim: Searching for Gold in a Post-War Desert

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Pforzheim is a famous centre of goldsmith craft and jewellery making. Schmuckmuseum (Jewellery Museum) and the more commercial Schmuckwelten will let you indulge in gold and precious stones. Apart from that, though, the place happily qualifies as one of the ugliest cities in Baden-Württemberg. The traumatic date in its history was February 23, 1945 when almost the entire city was bombed to ashes and rubble. However, even before the war it cannot have been too picturesque. After the war, the main purpose was rebuilding the city and creating housing as quickly as possible. There was neither time nor money for great plans- The new Pforzheim is post-war and not much to write home about.

Or is it?

Instead of visiting the jewellery exhibitions, I went treasure hunting for traces of Pforzheim's history.

I searched and walked a lot, and not in vain.

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Arriving at the railway station, the first historical landmark the visitor cannot fail to notice is the art nouveau tower with its colourful paintings and the big clock faces. It belongs to an office building that was built in 1901-1903 for the district administration. Nowadays it is occupied by police headquarters. A few steps down the slope there is the site of the castle, of which little is left apart from the church.

Pforzheim used to be the residence of the Margraves of Baden in the 15th and 16th century. When the house of Baden divided the territory in 1515, one line named themselves Baden-Pforzheim for a few decades, later they moved to Durlach and became Baden-Durlach. Their castle resp. palace was located on a hilltop above the old town, which is now very close to the train station. The castle has never been very impressive. Most of it was torn down already in the 19th century, and the rest disappeared in World War II. Not much is left: one small building, the so- called Archivbau (archive building), one arched gate and a few low walls that indicate the extension of the castle, and a piece of the town wall. The only preserved tower of the medieval fortifications is Leitgastturm on the slope just below the castle grounds. A model of the castle's former appearance is on distplay in Stadtmuseum.

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The adjacent church, still known as Schlosskirche, makes a more impressive appearance. The late Romanesque church (13th century) suffered heavy damage in World War II but was rebuilt afterwards. It is a landmark in cityscape. Opening hours for tourist visits are unfortunately limited to a few hours on Thursday afternoon. A monument in front of the church recalls Pforzheim’s reformator Johannes Reuchlin.

Pforzheim’s city centre is not so promising. The town hall is probably from the 1970s, functionalism in its finest. In other words, a huge box. Two details are worth noticing: the clockface and the carillon that chimes a little melody every hour, and the person standing on the edge of the roof. At first the unsuspecting spectator may gasp and suspect a drama going on unnoticed by anyone else, but it’s a sculpture, not a real person, who is standing up there as if he was about to fall backwards off the rooftop.

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The square behind the town hall is named „Square of the 23rd February 1945“. A suspension bridge for pedestrians crosses the main street behind. This bridge has been named Gernika-Brücke after the Spanish city of Gernika (Guernica), which is twinned with Pforzheim – yes, the one that Pablo Picasso depicted in his famous painting. Both cities have in common that they were smashed to bits by air raids and many civilians killed in a brutal war – Gernika by German bombers in the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Pforzheim by British air force in World War II in 1945. Another twin city of Pforzheim is, by the way, Osijek in Croatia, another city with a particular war history.

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The fateful date in Pforzheim’s history, to which the city owes its lack of historical architecture and flair, is February 23, 1945. On this day the worst allied air raid hit the city. The centre was almost entirely destroyed. There is hardly a city or town in Germany that suffered, in relation to its size, more damage. A model in the Stadtmuseum shows what the old town looked like after the air raid – it is scary. After the occupation the allied commander, seeing the ruins, predicted there would never be a city again in this place. He was wrong, as reality proves.

The 23rd of February is a day of commemoration in Pforzheim every year, with church bells ringing and solemn memorial celebrations. A certain small neonazi group „celebrates“ the date with a pathetic nightwatch on Wartberg, which is always met with little sympathy among the majority of the population and much more numerous protest demonstrations.

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Crossing Gernika bridge you reach the modern theatre and the wide, pedestrianized square around it that leads directly to the gardens and promenade walk along the river bank. The rivers Nagold and Enz meet right here. In the triangle between the two rivers we spot a large modern church, the new Stadtkirche that replaced the destroyed old one in the 1960s. Its tall steeple is an eyecatcher.

The riversides invite to go for a longer walk or cycle along, away from car traffic. Further out of the city centre, foot and bike trails accompany the river banks. On a warm spring day like this, the walk along the river was especially pleasant. You can even hire pedal boats for a little cruise on the Enz at Bootspitz behind the theatre.

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The water and the accompanying green along the Enz attract many birds. They are used to people and traffic and are easy to spot, although they keep a certain safety distance.

My best spotting was a withe-throated dipper or water ouzel (Cinclus cinclus). Normally rather shy birds who live in rocky river beds, they have entered the city here. They like sitting on the rocks in the middle of the river, watching out for prey in the water. I apologize for the bad photo. The little fellows are constantly on the move, and their habit is dropping curtseys. So I was glad to catch at least a snapshot.

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A remarkable example of 1920s and 1950s architecture is standing on the southern bank of the river Enz: Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Heart of Christ Church) the catholic parish church of the city centre. The architect Otto Lindt from Stuttgart designed it in 1929. In the air raid of 23rd February 1945 the church was heavily damaged, but the western wall with the main portal and the steeple survived. Already in 1948 the rebuilding of the church began. The parish community again hired Otto Lindt for the planning. Lindt made some changes to his original plans to improve his work.
The interior is a wide oval hall under a dome. The beautiful mural on the wall behind the main altar, a relief in ceramics, shows the crucified Christ not on a cross, but on the Tree of Life, thus death and resurrection, Good Friday and Easter in one. It is a younger addition, created by the artist Wilhelm Müller in 1975. A few pieces of the 1920s interior still exist. To be mentioned: the two stone reliefs beside the doors showing St Theresa and St Antonius of Padova, 1929 by Edward Mürrle, and the statue of Blessed Bernhard von Baden in the baptismal chapel. The small stained glass windows in the wall underneath the gallery depict the stations of the Way of the Cross (1949).

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Following Nagold river upstream, we reach a larger park (Stadtgarten) and the Schmuckmuseum (Museum of Jewellery). The museum owns and presents a large collection of jewellery from the ancient Greeks to contemporary pieces. It also shows temporary exhibitions at regular intervals. The museum occupies a building in the typical architecture of the 1950s which has been named Reuchlinhaus after the reformator. Photography was not permitted inside the exhibitions, but here are some images of the building. The spiral staircase is remarkable, and very 1950s.

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The southern quarter on the hill above the Nagold Valley remained mostly undestroyed. This part of the city has a lot of 19th and early 20th century architecture, among them fine industrial buildings from the so-called Gründerzeit. All I have are quick snapshots from the car, sorry...

Further up the same hill there is an upscale residential quarter with beautiful villas. A friend, a local tour guide, drove us up there for a quick tour so we could get an idea that Pforzheim has pretty areas, too!

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Stadtmuseum in Brötzingen

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Brötzingen is a suburb in the west of Pforzheim that survived the war relatively unharmed and still has a notable ensemble of pre-war architecture. The village has long been incorporated into the city. Its centre includes the 18th century village church and parsonage, the 19th century schoolhouse, the art nouveau Christuskirche and some more older houses. The old village church, school and parsonage have been turned into the historical museum of the city. This is my no. 1 „Off the beaten path“ tip to see in Pforzheim.

The small village church was substituted by the much larger Christuskirche in 1912. Its oldest visible parts are late gothic but its origins date back to the 13th century. Between 1765 and 1770 the steeple and the nave were rebuilt in late baroque style after designs by Wilhelm Jeremias Müller, an architect from Karlsruhe who worked in the building department of Baden’s government.

The village school, now the main building of the museum complex, was built in 1854. It served as schoolhouse until 1888, and then was turned into apartments for the teachers.

The old parsonage buildings are located behind the church. The parsonage house now contains a cafe with beer garden in the front yard, and rooms for temporary exhibitions of the museum. A stairway leads around the house down into the backyard. Since all parsons did a little farming in former times, there are economy buildings, stables and barns in the back. One hosts a puppet theatre, the others are used by the museum as lapidarium. Don’t miss walking through the stable; you’ll discover a cute little baroque garden behind it.

The museum exhibitions are dedicated to different aspects of the town’s history, divided among the three buildings.

The old church presents the older times on the ground floor. Models show the state of the town around 1890 and a reconstruction of the castle. In 1447 the town saw the greatest celebration in its entire history, the wedding of Prince Karl, son of Margrave Jakob I, with Katharina von Habsburg, the sister of Emperor Friedrich III - four dioramas with thousands of tin figures show scenes of this event. A life-size classroom in the Latin school recalls the time of humanism and reformation. 3D pictures show the burning city in the wars of the 17th century; red and green glasses are provided. Some presentations look a bit old-fashioned and do-it-yourself but I enjoyed them even more because of that. Original late medieval frescoes are visible above the choir arch and in the sacresty.

The times of the Plague are shown in a panorama of the town, about 2 to 1.5 metres in size. It is a wooden relief with some mechanical elements, obviously handmade by some enthusiast some decades ago. It shows the old town of Pforzheim at night, with steeples and old houses and the watchman on a tower. When you approach it, some pieces start to move. A window opens, a light falls into almost deserted streets. The water is running down the little creek. Bats circle around the spire on the left. The full moon on a stick moves from left to right and back (wrong direction, LOL) The watchman is walking up and down behind the tower window. A rat is running around in a circle. And then, behind the house on the left, a cart with a coffin appears and slowly crosses the square to the right. When it is gone, a funeral procession goes the same way.
That thing is creeeeepy... and at the same time oh so funny in its old-fashionedness, despite the sad topic. This was my favourite piece of the museum. It can be admired in the choir of the old church. Take your time to watch and discover all the moving pieces.

The gallery of the church is devoted to the early 20th century. The reconstruction of an art deco cinema represents the 1920s. The focus is on the darkest day in Pforzheim’s younger history, February 23, 1945 when the city sank into ashes and rubble within a few hours.

The former school house shows an exhibition on arts and crafts with a number of rebuilt workshops, like shoemaker, saddler, potter and, of course, goldsmith and watchmaker. The upper floor shows how people lived in town and in the countryside.

The former stables and barns of the parsonage contain the Lapidarium with sculptures and reliefs. Temporary exhibitions are shown in the parsonage house.

Practical Hints:
Visiting the museum is free.
Opening hours: Tues to Thurs 14:00-17:00, Sun 10:00-17:00
Address: Westliche Karl-Friedrich-Straße 243
Directions: At the far end of Westliche Karl-Friedrich-Straße, about half an hour's walk from the city centre/town hall.
Several bus lines, No. 10 from/to the train station. Bus stop: „Stadtmuseum“

Further down the side street (Kirchenstraße) there is a beautiful 18th century half-timbered house. It hosts another museum, that of the associations of expellees from former German territories in the East.

Christuskirche, the next-door neighbour of Stadtmuseum, is the present protestant parish church of Brötzingen. The huge art nouveau church was built to substitute the old village church of Brötzingen, which had become too small for the growing western quarters of the city. It was built in 1909-1912, the later years of Jugendstil / art nouveau. Jugendstil decorations were often combined with baroque and neoclassical architecture and modern concrete structures in those years. The adjacent parsonage house and community rooms were built at the same time. The church does not seem to have regular opening hours. Next time I'll make an appointment to see it.

Gruschtelmarkt: Annual Big Flea Market

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Once per year, one Friday night and Saturday in July, the city centre of Pforzheim is turned into a big flea market. The pedestrian zone is filled with stalls, tables and blankets where people sell just about everything. For a very moderate fee per square metre everyone can occupy a spot and put stuff on sale. Professional merchants are just as welcome as private sellers.

A special area is reserved for unaccompanied children of 14 and under who can sell, for example, toys they have outgrown.

According to the rules the merchandise has to be used, second-hand stuff, no new products and no self-made products (browsing through the market makes me doubt, though, how strictly this rule is observed.)

The verb „gruschteln“ (the u is a long „oo“ sound“) is local dialect and means digging in piles of stuff.

The market is a big event in the city, with lots of people around, food and drink stalls, some accompanying events in the adjacent churches, and so on. Even if you don't plan a shopping spree it's fun to look around and people-watch.

The date for future markets can in due time be checked on http://www.pforzheim.de
Currently the whole concept is being redesigned. From 2017 onwards the market will take place on a Sunday (instead of Friday night and Saturday) and move from the city centre to the banks of the Enz. Next date: July 23, 2017.

And while we are discussing language matters, allow me to mention that the name Pforzheim is likely to cause chuckles among people from other parts of the country, in particular from the North because they don’t pronounce the P and just say „Forzheim“. We once tried to explain to a Dutch girl what is so funny about it, and when she finally understood she translated to „Pupjestad“. „Pforz“ sounds very much like „Furz“, so in English it would be „Fart City“…

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:17 Archived in Germany Tagged pforzheim Comments (0)

Weingarten: Wine, Flower Carpets, Lawnmowers with Whiskers

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„Weingarten“ translates to „vineyard“ - no surprise that there are more locations in the wine regions with the same name. This page is about Weingarten in Baden – not to be confused with Weingarten town and abbey in Upper Swabia just north of Lake of Constance.

Weingarten is hardly more than a village, but it has a pretty centre with the two sister churches and a handful of old houses along the open stream, and some side lanes with farm buildings.

The village is located north of Karlsruhe at the foot of the Kraichgau hills, right where the plain meets the hills, at the exit of the valley of Walzbach, a small stream that runs through the centre of the village. A walk through the vineyards offers a wide view of the plain.

The name is programme, as is the grape in the village's crest. Weingarten is a wine village. The hillsides are planted with vines. The local vintners' association (Winzergenossenschaft) is known for good dry whites.

From the station you have to walk through extended 19th and 20th century residential quarters first. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the centre of the village.

The centre has a couple of half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th century. The appearance is more that of a small town than a rural village. Due to its vicinity to Karlsruhe many commuters live here. Thanks to the S-Bahn lines S31 and S32, Weingarten is well connected both to Karlsruhe and Bruchsal.

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Walk'sches Haus is the most beautiful half-timbered house in Weingarten. It is located by the main bridge and in vicinity to the churches. These together form the most picturesque street view of the village. The house originally dates from 1701 but has been rebuilt in the 1980s. It is a country inn with a restaurant and guest rooms. The restaurant also has outdoor seating, in the courtyard and on a terrace by the stream.

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The two churches of Weingarten are positioned next to each other in one line, they sort of form a pair of 'sisters'. The two steeples are points de vue from the bridges over the little river. The panorama is best enjoyed from the twerrace below Wartturm. The two churches are turned towards each other - rather unusual to see a catholic church with the choir in the west.

Both are not as old as they seem: late 19th century. The former church in the centre of the village had previously been shared among the two confessions; the catholics used the choir, the protestants used the nave, until each confession was finally able to build their own church.

The protestant church is a rather plain sandstone building. Like many protestant churches it is closed outside services. The catholic church is open in the daytime and can be visited. The door through the steeple is open. The interior resembles mendicant churches of the middle ages. Paintings on the flat ceilings show the seven catholic sacraments. The church is in need of a renovation. There seem to be static problems about the building. A part of the nave is roped off, the choir has a net under the vaults, and the northern wall shows some cracks. (Footnote: there is a toilet in the corner opposite the entrance.)

The town hall of Weingarten is a building with interesting art nouveau facades. It dates from 1900. The facade towards the street has a little tower, a pulpit above the main portal (for the mayor to make speeches?), and the art nouveau shapes are mixed with scarce gothic ornaments.
A funny detail: on the corner there is a bust of a man in talar and beret who points at a book, and an inscription in gilded letters: „Geht dir Rath aus, geh ins Rathaus“ („If you need advice, go into the town hall“) - the pun works only in German. The book is inscribed „LEX“, in other words, it's the law.

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The street crossing in front of the town hall is the busiest in town but behind it there is a quiet courtyard in modern design. A narrow passage leads there between town hall and the icecream parlour in the house on its right. The courtyard behind the art nouveau town hall has been redesigned a few years ago. Rathausplatz is now called the „new middle“ of the village (a bit exaggerated but if they must...) It is a modern square, surrounded by the town hall and other houses, no traffic, thus quiet. It has a pizzeria and one or two other cafes/eateries with outdoor seating, and also the large open stairs and some benches for passers-by to just sit and relax.

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Why am I telling you about this?

Well, in case you find the icecream place next to the town hall on the right, buy an icecream cone and wonder where to enjoy it along that noisy busy unpleasant street - walk through the narrow passage between the town hall and the icecream place and you are right here. The benches and the stairs are perfect to sit down and enjoy your cold sweet treat.

Wildlife Watching in Walzbach

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Walzbach is the stream that runs through the village. It is canalized with stone walls, but the stretch downstream from the main bridge has grassy banks. One mill wheel is still turning, driven by the waters of Walzbach. The wheel is attached to Untere Mühle (Lower Mill), a former water mill. It is an „undershot“ wheel, i.e. the water hits the bottom of the wheel. This is not the original wheel, though. It is a recent reconstruction, dated 2002. The energy is used to gain electricity.

Here, in the very centre of the village, is the best spot to observe the animals that live in the stream.

Ducks, obviously. There is hardly an open water without wild ducks hereabouts. There are mallards and mixes with domestic races. (Please don't feed them, you are not doing them any good.) Cutest in spring and early summer when the little ducklings are there.

There is another species at home in Walzbach and if you are lucky you get to see them: nutrias or coypus (not to be confused with muskrats, which look similar but are a different species). These large rodents originate in South America. They were and still are bred in Europe for their fur. Some escaped, some were set free on purpose, so the species established in the wild although the Central European climate is not perfect for them. Nutrias are feeding on plants and the ducks obviously did not consider them a threat. Birds and rodents happily share the stream and its banks.
I had no idea there were nutrias in Walzbach but the large number of people who were lining up by the stream and staring into the water made me do the same, so I spotted them right below where I was standing, to my surprise and joy. A family of mom and dad and eight half-grown kits, fluffy little things...

Cuteness alert!

The family was *the* attraction of this holiday afternoon. People were standing along the railings looking down into the river bed and watching them. They even got some carrot bits as extra treat - in other words, people want them to stay.

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A Walk through the Vineyards

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The best starting point for a walk or hike through the vineyards is Wartturm. The watch tower on the hill, known as Wartturm, above the village was built in the 16th century. Palatinate soldiers used to stand guard on it. After war damages it was renovated in the 19th century. The large sandstone relief of the angel on the wall dates from 1956, it is meant as a war memorial. The tower is open only on Sunday afternoons. It is used for exhibitions, and there is the look-out on top. The view of the village can also be enjoyed from the terraces below the tower any time.

From there, continue across the cemetery and follow the road further uphill. It is only a short walk to the beginning of the vineyards. The sunny hillsides above Weingarten that face south and west are planted with vines and orchards. There are some paved trails that can be walked, which is herewith recommended because of the view over the village and far out into the Upper Rhine Plain with the hills of the Palatinate Forest in the background.

Most local vintners are members of the Winzergenossenschaft (winemakers' association) because their patches of land are too small to do everything on their own. There the grapes from their small vineyards are assembled and processed. Winzergenossenschaft Weingarten is known for good whites of different varieties (give me the white burgundy resp. pinot types any time...) that go well with a meal of, for example, fish or asparagus.

All trails lead through the vineyards first. There, an 'educational path' is marked with signboards that provide some information about grape varieties, a vintner's works, and so on. This information is very brief and basic, though, hence you don't miss much if you don't read German. This trail is nevertheless recommended because of the views. From the hillside you are overlooking the village and the Upper Rhine plain. This should also be a nice place to watch the sunset. On hot summer's days this will be tough, though. Vineyards are always planted on the sunniest and hottest slopes. You'll be better when your reach the forests.

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Wine making is a backbreaking job. We easily forget how hard the vintners and their helpers had to work for that fine drop in our glass. Weingarten honours the namesakes of the village with a small monument that is easily overlooked, but touching if you have a closer look at it. The sandstone figure, hard to tell if it is a man or a woman, carries a heavy load of grapes on his (her?) back. Face and posture express how tough it is. The sculpture is located in Durlacher Straße, corner Kirchstraße in the curve uphill (Kirchstraße meets Durlacher Straße twice, it is the southern corner, not the one next to the churches).

Animal and Nature Park

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The so-called Tier- und Naturpark is a tiny zoo which is operated by the local bird protector association. It shows mostly domestic animals, like sheep, goats, ducks and chickens, a small herd of fallow deer, and a variety of exotic birds from canaries to parrots.

The herd of fallow deer inhabit a wide paddock. The light brown coat keeps those white dots during all their adult life, unlike other kinds of deer and stags that have them only during their youth. The herd consists of one grown male, six or seven females and some half-grown calves. The boss is keeping watch while the ladies are resting.

This is not a zoo one would travel far for. It is also not the best-kept zoo I have ever seen, although the living conditions of the animals look acceptable. Visitory are mostly local familes with small kids. However, if you are in the village and have children to entertain, it is good to know about this. There is also a cafe/eatery in the bird park.

Entry is free. Sorry can't find anything about opening hours. The part with the bird cages can be closed off but the paddocks of the larger animals seem to be accessible any time. The zoo is located east of the village behind the old cemetery, at the end of the street named Waldbrücke.

The old cemetery of the village has long been given up, only a handful of old graves are still there. The plants of the forest are reconquering the area. This is the „nature“ part of Tier- und Naturpark. Birds of the forest can be observed here. A trail leads through the cemetery grounds and further on to the animal paddocks of the little zoo.

From the entrance gate and the top of the wall you have a pretty view of the village with the two churches and the watchtower on the hill and over the valley to the vineyards of Katzenberg.

Flower Carpets at Corpus Christi

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Weingarten has a very active catholic parish community. It has become famous for a tradition on the holiday of Corpus Christi, which is unique in our region. The route of the procession is decorated with flower carpets. The priest who carries the monstrance with the sacred host, and only he, walks on them. Carefully, so the pictures are not damaged.

The carpets are made from flowers, loose petals and leaves by volunteers from the community during the night before the holiday. The pictures are designed by a local artist, there are new ones every year. The delicate works stay in the street as long as they look nice, i.e. not for long. If you want to see them, the afternoon of Corpus Christi is the time to visit.

This is, in fact, not a local tradition although it is becoming one, and even many villagers don't remember any more how young it is and where it came from. The making of flower carpets is popular in Transsylvania and was brought to Weingarten after World War II by Romanian-German refugees who settled down in the village.

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Mass begins at 9:30 in the church. After mass the procession is formed, which carries the sacred host around the church and back in; the end of the service happens again inside the church. Afterwards the community are doing the „Churchyard Hock“ with food and drink, benches and tables in the square and a band playing until around 12:30-13:00. The different groups in the parish run the stalls and prepare the food. So if you want a drink or a grilled sausage/burger/Maultaschen or a fresh wafer for cheap prices, stop by, buy a coupon and get what you want - the party is open to everyone.

The Corpus Christi Flower Carpets of 2011

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The main picture shows two hands breaking the bread. The inscription refers to the Holy Communion.
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A detail: the pattern is made from boxwood and sage leaves, petals, peat.
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A picture of the incense holder, created by the children's group.
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The procession leads to the main entrance of the church. The last picture in the carpet shows a rainbow, the symbol of God's treaty with Man.

Weingartner Moor Nature Reserve

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Weingartner Moor is a swamp landscape in the Rhine plain south of Weingarten. It is actually an old river bed. Until the end of the ice age the rivers Kinzig and Murg ran along here. Since they changed their beds and broke through to the Rhine further south, the former river bed became a swamp.

These wet lowlands are of high ecological value and thus a protected nature reserve. They are a mix of wetland forest, reeds, ponds and streams and home to many endangered specieses of amphibia, birds, insects and plants. Centuries ago large parts of the Rhine plain looked like this.

Visitors can enter the area on foot but on the marked trails only. If you have the chance, join a guided tour that explains the particularities of nature. There are no regular tours but sometimes nature groups in the region organize one. I once had the chance and this was very interesting.
Bring and apply moskito repellent...

Posted by Kathrin_E 11:09 Archived in Germany Tagged weingarten_baden Comments (6)

Wissembourg: Romantic Overkill, Alsatian Style

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Wissembourg, Weißenburg in German, is situated just beyond the French-German border. The history of the town was German (well, there was no Germany in those times, so let’s say part of the Holy Roman Empire) until the late 17th century, then it became French property. Further on the government and the border lines changed a couple of times. The changes of history have left their marks. Like in most of Alsace, the culture is a mix of French and German-Alsatian although French has become the predominant language. The cuisine has adopted the best of both...

The roots of the town lie in the early middle ages with the foundation of the Benedictine monastery, a free imperial abbey with a lot of influence and wealth. Later on the town developed around the abbey. The old town is very well kept and its inhabitants, and its tourist office, have a sense of beauty and romanticism... Old houses, flowers, the little river, narrow bridges... certain views can be called a romantic overkill.

The town is rather small, however, and the main attractions can be seen in half a day. Add time for lunch and a coffee break, a leisurely stroll and a rest on a bench on the ramparts, and you have a perfect day trip destination.

From the train station it is a short walk into the old town through a little park. The footpath leads through a medieval gate next to where the river Lauter exits the town wall. The building by the river used to be a water mill. A large millstone has been put up on the footpath as reference to how the powers of the water have been used in former times. A barrage controlled the current.

The Lauter canal runs right through the town and was used for various purposes. A few steps further upstream by the bridge, steps lead down to water level. The spot has been covered with a roof to provide some protection from the weather. This is where the women of the town used to do their laundry in the water of the river.

From this spot, all streets lead into the old town. My preferred route is keeping right along Rue des Écoles. In the square on the left there is the synagogue, a small 1960s or 1970s building. The gothic architecture on the right is more spectacular. This is the former Dominical church. now known as Centre Culturel Le Dominicain. The monastery was closed down in the French Revolution. In recent years what was left of the church and convent buildings has been turned into a cultural centre.

Then we reach Rue Nationale, the main street of the town. A tall stone building from the renaissance era, now seat of a bank, is the first eyecatcher. Rue nationale has many little shops, some cafes and restaurants. I am particularly fond of the bakeries. Perfect if you want to treat yourselves to sweet cake or pastry, or to an Alsatian speciality, a cake named Kougelhopf.

Most pâtisséries sell Kougelhopf, cakes from yeast dough baked in a round mould with a hole in the middle, a very typical shape. The Kougelhopf (in German: „Gugelhupf“) is a traditional Alsatian cake with raisins and almonds. They have it in different sizes, I also saw (and bought and tried) a very small one-person variety, good if you just want to taste it. However, Kougelhopf is not as sweet as other cakes. It is not supposed to be served with coffee or tea. The appropriate drink to have with this cake is a dry Gewürztraminer, a variety of white wine that has a flowery, perfumed flavour. In Wissembourg I also found a sweeter variety, entitled „Kougelhopf douce“.

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The Northern Quarter and Protestant Church

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Instead of following Rue Nationale straight to the town hall and the abbey church, I suggest a loop through the lanes on the other side. The quarter between Rue nationale and the ramparts is the best preserved part of old Wissembourg. This is a residential quarter with authentic flair, narrow streets and historical houses, some half-timbered, but most built from stone and covered in plaster. The pale reddish and ochre colours are typical for Northern Alsace.

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Above some doors the winemakers‘ sign is displayed. The sign of two crossed knives in the shape of a sickle is displayed on several houses all over town, also in other quarters, for example in the side streets of s'Bruch. These are the typical vine-dresser’s knives and indicate the houses where winemakers used to live, probably (I guess) members of a certain guild.

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The prettiest half-timbered house in this quarter, if not in the whole town, is certainly Musée Westercamp in Rue du Musée, at the foot of the northern ramparts. The woodwork of the facade is decorated with elaborate woodcarvings. The museum seems to be closed for good, nevertheless I recommend walking by for a look at the building.

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The alleys finally lead to a little square with a medieval church, Église de Saint-Jean, the Church of St John Baptist. In the middle ages it used to be the parish church of Weißenburg while the abbey church served for the monastery alone.

In 1536 the reformation according to the Strasbourg reformator Martin Bucer was introduced. The church stayed protestant until 1684.

Due to the laws of Louis XIV it then became a simultaneous church which was used both by catholics and protestants. In the revolution it became a „Temple of Reason“ but since 1802 it has been the sole property of the protestant community.

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The originally Romanesque church underwent profound changes throughout the centuries. To obtain more space the pillars and vaults have been removed and the room covered with a flat wooden ceiling. World War II has caused notable damage but the church has been repaired. The sacristy contains precious 14th century frescoes but these can only be visited throughout limited hours on Saturdays. Otherwise, the church is open daily.
For the best view of the church and the adjacent old parsonage, climb the ramparts.

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Ramparts Trail

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A self-guided tourist trail leads along the remains of both the medieval and the 18th century fortifications. It is well marked and the different attractions are all explained, detailed in French and a short summary in German and English. The whole walk takes about an hour. Maps (apologies for the lousy photo) that show the trail are put up in several spots so you can pick any part you are interested in.

Photographers, I recommend this trail even if you are not that much into military history because it leads to many fine viewpoints.

The trail touches the medieval wall with towers and gates along the south and southwest, the gate tower and the romantic canal in the Bruch, and the 18th century ramparts along the northern edge of the old town.

In the late 17th century Louis XIV annexed the whole Alsace, which was confirmed in the peace treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. Weißenburg became Wissembourg, and it became a border town. In the 18th century its fortifications were enlarged and modernized. Parts of the baroque fortress with its high ramparts are still visible along the northern flank of the old town. The ramparts trail shows them. The Tour de la Poudrière, a tower on the ramparts, was keeping watch of the city gate. On the outer side the dry moat and contrescarpe are well preserved. The ramparts used to be bare, they are now covered in trees and serve as park and promenade.

The medieval Stephen’s Gate that lead into the town from the north disappeared from the light of day in the 18th century when the French built the much bigger baroque ramparts above it. Excavations in recent years unearthed the arches and walls of the gate. These are visible from the ramparts trail.

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The Town Centre

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Triangular Place de la République is the centre of bourgeois Wissembourg. The two main streets, Rue Nationale and Rue de la République, meet here and make the triangular square (huh?) a prominent location in the townscape. The baroque town hall (1741-1752) occupies the northern side. During my summer visit it was still decorated for the celebration of July 14, the national holiday and anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution, judging from the abundance of French flags and garlands. The coats of arms in the gable have been removed. I wonder whose coats of arms have originally been under the golden crown.

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The street in the third corner runs towards the bridge over Lauter canal that leads into the realms of Weißenburg Abbey. On the left side just before the bridge there is the house with the fanciest roof in town: Maison du Sel, the former salt storage. The timberwork of the huge roof is crooked and twisted in an amazing way – best view is from Place du Saumon beyond the canal. Maison du Sel nowadays contains an upscale restaurant. This area between Place de la République and the abbey has a number of restaurants in various price scales – plenty of options to try any Alsatian speciality from Flammkueche (Tarte flambée) to frog legs, depending on the preferences of the individual concerned.

Weißenburg Abbey

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In the ground plan of Wissembourg the division into two separate entities is still visible: There is the bourgeois town, and there is the abbey. The canal divides them; the ‚borgder‘ is most obvious along Quai Anselmann. Administration as well as religious denomination were different: While the town joined the reformation, the abbey stayed with catholic faith.

The majestic Romanesque and gothic abbey church is Wissembourg’s main sight. The Benedictine Abbey of Wissembourg, or Weißenburg, used to be one of the wealthiest and most influential monasteries in the middle ages. Its status was that of a free imperial abbey. The gothic abbey church still tells of its great past.

Later Weißenburg became property of the Bishops of Speyer, who included the Weißenburg coat of arms, the golden gate on red ground, in theirs. In the French Revolution the abbey was secularized, the convent buildings partly demolished, most of the church furnishing taken away. The church became the catholic parish church of the town in the 19th century.

Most of the present furnishing like altars, pulpit etc. is not medieval but 19th century historism. Among the church’s art treasures are to be mentioned: the gothic Sepulchre of Christ in the southern side nave, and the 13th/14th century stained glass windows in the choir.

The great organ on the gallery in the west is in a miserable state and has not been played for at least 40 years. Donations are being collected for its restoration.

The gothic cloister has been demolished after the closing of the monastery in the French Revolution. Only one and a half wings are preserved at all, and these are lacking their gothic vaults and the tracery is damaged. Tombstones of abbots and monks have been lined up against the wall.

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A little chapel off the cloister is the oldest part of the abbey that still exists – it may well be the oldest building in the whole town. The architecture is early Romanesque. The chapel was consecrated in 1033 and dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, the patron saints of the abbey.

In summer 2009 the chapel was used for an exhibition of contemporary religious art with paintings, in 2010 they were having a new exhibition with reproductions of paintings by Caravaggio. For the first time I was able to enter the chapel instead of just peeping through the grille.

This chapel hosts a tiny picture which is of great significance in the world of art history: The little round stained glass piece with the face of Christ was created around 1060/65 and is one of the oldest known stained glass paintings. It was discovered in the abbey church. The original has been transferred to the Musée de l' oeuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg. The one in the chapel is a copy, inserted in a modern stained glass window depicting an abstract cross.

While the cloister and convent have been demolished, other buildings in the abbey grounds are still standing. They have been dedicated to new purposes. The present sous-prefecture may have been the abbot’s or guests’ quarter. The row of barns round the corner rue Stanislas/place de Saumon is easily recognizable from the big gates and high roofs. These must have been part of the abbey’s economy buildings.

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Jardin de Stanislas is a small shop near the abbey church. It is situated at the back of a well-kept garden in baroque style with boxwood hedges and old fruit trees. Enter the garden through the gate in the wall opposite the entrance of the abbey church. The garden is worth a look and (photographers!) provides a pleasant foreground for the southern facade of the church.

Keep in mind that this is someone’s private garden and not a public park. Stay on the path that leads to the shop, and keep your hands off the fruit, no matter how yummy it looks... I admit it took me a lot of self-restraint not to steal a sample from the Mirabelle tree but I succeeded...

There used to be a very pretty shop selling arts and crafts, decorations and knickknack in these premises. Unfortunately this shop has closed down. In the meantime a florist shop has been opened, which I have not yet seen. But I assume that with these new tenants the garden will be kept better than ever.

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The name of the shop referred to the Polish King Stanislaus (Stanisław) Leszczyński who spent some of his exile years in Wissembourg together with his daughter Maria, later the spouse of King Ludwig XV, and Queen of France. After losing his crown to the Saxon Elector August the Strong, Stanislaus and his family moved from country to country and hardly stayed anywhere for more than a few years. In Wissembourg they inhabited Palais Stanislas, a baroque town palace which is now occupied by the town hospital.

s’Bruch – Bitche: The Most Romantic Part of Town

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Another small waterflow encircles the back boundaries of the abbey grounds. Behind, the most beautiful quarter of Wissembourg is awaiting visitors‘ cameras. Bruch, Bitche in French, is a medieval suburb that developed outside the town along the river Lauter. This is the cutest part of the town. If ever you see Wissembourg photos showing a canal and old houses and lots of flowers on tiny bridges, this is where they were taken. A romantic overkill, if ever there is one... The photos speak for themselves, don’t they?

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The spot where the river Lauter enters the town on the western side and divides into two branches has been heavily fortified with a gate tower known by its old German name of Hausgenossenturm. Next to it a river lock controls the amount of water that flows either into or around the town.

A short walk further upstream from Hausgenossenturm outside the old town you reach Walkmühle, an old water mill that now is an upscale hotel and restaurant. The name tells that this mill was not used for milling grain but for the fulling („walken“) of wool, felt, or fabric.

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We have reached the far end of the old town. The return could, for example, lead through the side streets of s’Bruch to Grabenloch. The meeting point of two river branches on the southern edge of the town has been heavily fortified in the middle ages. To this very day it is still known by the German name. Only very small openings in the wall allow the water to pass but no boat would get through. This is where the most impressive remains of the medieval fortifications are preserved. A little park with foot and bike trails has been created along the moats.

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A footpath leads over a small hill and past Palais Stanislas; it allows a view into the garden. Then continue along Rue Stanislas until the end of the street. On the left you’ll spot the crooked roof of Maison du Sel again, but I recommend keeping right instead because there ist hat one hidden viewpoint which is easily missed, but should not be missed. The very one that my start photo has been taken from.

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In Rue de l’Ordre Teutonique, I noticed the entrance to a small passage underneath a house, named Schlupfgasse, with a sign that announced a picturesque view of the river Lauter 20 m behind.

Curious me could not resist checking that out.

This spot is well hidden, if you find it, walk in!!! You come along a narrow footpath between walls and end up on a small bridge across the stream. The view goes straight to the spire of the abbey church and... voilà!

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Posted by Kathrin_E 04:10 Archived in France Tagged alsace wissembourg Comments (2)

Elwetritschen Hunting in Palatine

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Elwetritschen or Elwedritschen (d and t sound alike in the local dialect anyway) are a species of bird-like creatures that are endemic to the forests and vineyards of Palatine. You will come across their traces everywhere, and if you keep your eyes open you may even spot some in Neustadt’s old town. They are very famous and subject to a lot of research in the field of tritschology. They are also known in the region called Oberpfalz in the Northeast of Bavaria, which used to be under Palatinate rule, and in some parts of the USA that have a lot of inhabitants with Palatinate roots. Probably the first immigrants from Palatine brought some with them across the Atlantic.

Elwetritschen are crosses between chickens, geese or ducks with elves and goblins. Due to their goblin ancestry, their eggs grow with the development of the chick. They are mostly nocturnal and feed on grapes, that’s why vineyard owners are not too happy about them.

On the other hand, they are said to be extremely tasty. Any caught Elwetritsche ends up in the cooking pot or on the grill immediately. That explains why no photos of them exist.

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Elwetritschen hunting is always done in the darkness of the night, best after the consumption of a certain amount of local wine. The birds are very shy but at the same time very curious. You need a lantern to attract their attention. They will come and look. One of the hunters has to hold an open sack while his mates act as drovers and make noise in the forest around him. The frightened Elwetritschen will then hop into the sack to seek a dark refuge, and all it takes is closing the sack and carrying them home.

In other words, be prepared for everything if you are invited to go on an Elwetritschen hunt. The 'drovers' will soon disappear and assemble at the nearest pub to wait for the most probably unfortunate hunter and his empty sack...

... in other words, these birds are closely related to Yetis, Bavarian Wolpertingers and Australian drop bears.

However, they are part of the cultural heritage of the region. They have inspired artists and artisans to give them fantastic shapes and faces. Often they are depicted as females with breasts and long hair. In Palatinate souvenir shops you will find them in all materials from plush to pottery. The most impressive art work about them is the Elwetritschen fountain in Neustadt. A local Volkshochschule even offers a class where you can obtain an Elwetritschen hunting licence. The zoo in Landau has them on display, and in Speyer a whole museum is dedicated to them. I have not yet seen the Elwetritschen Museum but it is high on my To-do-list.

Elwetritschen Fountain in Neustadt an der Weinstraße

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The spitting Mayor
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The opposition

A monument has been set to Palatine’s famous fairytale birds in the middle of Neustadt. The shy nocturnal creatures come to life in the middle of the town. The sculptors Gernot and Barbara Rumpf have created it. The couple is famous for their fancy fountains. Their works can be found in many towns, but they live in Neustadt, so this was a ‘home match’. The Rumpfs gave their Elwetritschen figures striking human qualities and features.

There is the fat Queen of the Elwetritschen sitting on the edge of the fountain.

The town mayor, teeth bared, and the leader of the opposition in the town council, both spitting water at each other at regular intervals.

Elwetritschen chicks munching grapes.

Also on the edge of the fountain, there is a group of eggs in different sizes with a chick just hatching.

Of course there is also a hunting scene with sack and lantern - you can have your photo taken as successful hunter, holding the sack while the Elwetritschen are jumping in.

My first photos were taken in winter when the water was turned off. In the meantime I finally made it to Neustadt in summer and caught some pictures with the water turned on.

On the one hand, the fountain is more impressive and picturesque with water. On the other hand you can approach the figures more closely and see the details better when there is no water and no danger of being spit at by the mayor.

One Elwtritsche has even gone astray and ventured into the main square. She is somewhere around the sandstone fountain in the middle of the square.
Approach her carefully in order not to frighten her...

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Posted by Kathrin_E 14:55 Archived in Germany Tagged pfalz Comments (4)

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