A Travellerspoint blog

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Gochsheim: Apple Blossoms in the Kraichgau Hills

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The Kraichgau northeast of Karlsruhe is a landscape with rolling hills and picturesque villages. There are few small forests, the hills are mostly covered in fields and orchards, so you have wide views of the open landscape from every hilltop.

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My favourite season to visit is in spring when the fruit trees are in bloom. Autumn and ripe apples along the way are also worth taking into consideration. I do not recommend hiking the hills on hot summer days because there is too little shade due to the lack of forests.

Many towns and villages have little castles and palaces. This landscape has a particular history. It was not part of Baden or Speyer or any larger territory around. Instead, it was home to several noble families who were Reichsritter (imperial knights) and ruled independent territories, subjects to the Emperor and no one else. These independent territories consisted of hardly more than one or two villages and the surrounding fields, but anyway. Nobility lost its independence in 1803 but many of these dynasties still exist and thrive, they play an important role in public life.

Gochsheim is one of the most beautiful among these settlements. Due to its location on top of a rather steep hill it has a significant skyline. Small as it is, it qualifies as a town. The town was founded by the Counts of Eberstein in the 12th century and was granted city rights by Emperor Friedrich II in 1220.

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Gochsheim Castle and Church

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These two buildings are the landmarks in Gochsheim’s skyline. The castle in Gochsheim belonged to the Counts of Eberstein. The family has long been extinct. Only one wing of their castle is still standing. There used to be a second, larger wing parallel to the smaller one but this part has been demolished. The complete castle on top of the ridge must have been even more impressive than it is now. The two wings framed a courtyard with wooden galleries along the first floor. The family crest of the Counts of Eberstein is attached above the portal. It is a so-called speaking crest: „Eber“ is a male pig, thus the crest shows a black boar.

The castle hosts a museum about the history of the town and the counts. A model in there shows what the castle used to look like while the main wing was still standing.

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Gochsheim shared the fate of most towns and villages in the Upper Rhine Valley: It was burned to ashes by French troops in the Palatinate Heritage War in 1689.

Of the medieval church, only the steeple remained. The present church was built in the 18th century on the old foundations. The half-timbered baroque top of the steeple also dates from this rebuilding while the stone walls underneath are still medieval.

The town hall next to the church is also a late 18th century building, dated 1773, though with older parts.

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If you happen to walk around the church and the castle, have a closer look at the school behind the church, in particular at the porch. The roof is supported by two wooden beams which are ornated with woodcarvings. They show two funny figures, the teacher and the naughty boy. The building is dated 1905 on the gable. The figures are most probably from the same time. The boy is stealing apples from a tree, feasting on his prey. The teacher is threatening him, finger uplifted in that typical teacher gesture and stick in hand. Is it meant as a warning to the children who enter the school? On the other hand, the boy's face is one big naughty grin... The teacher may shout at him as much as he wants, he is too far away to actually reach and hit him.

Apples have always been important in Gochsheim…

The Dry Walls - a Nature Reserve

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The steep southern slope of the town hill below the castle is stabilized with stone walls and terraced gardens. Since it is exposed to the sun all day it has a very warm microclimate.

The stone walls have become home to plant and animal specieses which usually live in the Mediterranean but are extremely rare North of the Alps. The small ecosystem is researched and protected and gained the status of a nature reserve, known as „Gochsheimer Trockenmauern“.

The garden terraces are private property and cannot be entered.

There is one public path through the stone walls, a steep stairway that leads from the road below up to the castle, church and town centre.

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The foot of the slope is the starting point for two worthwhile walking routes.

The Footpath along the Creek

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A narrow grassy footpath leads along the creek in the valley south of the old town hill. There are three options to access it but all are a bit hidden.

By the bridge east of the old town near Gasthof Krone you can walk through a passage under a building to reach it.

The other options are from the main street along the foot of the old town hill where the stone walls are and next to the former town gate and executioner's house.

The path leads along the back gardens of the houses along the street. There are some chickes, lots of vegetables and flowers. Some old houses have been built on the remains of the town walls. There is also a rebuilt tower which once protected the (demolished and gone) gate where the street entered the town.

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The Panorama Walk

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The old town of Gochsheim is most impressive from the south. Castle, school, Bürgerhaus and church stand in line on top of the steep ridge. The panoramic view is best enjoyed from the opposite hill. After crossing the stream, a gravel path leads uphill. It continues along the edge of the hill and leads through orchards with apple and pear trees – breathtakingly beautiful in spring when the trees are in bloom. On the hilltop the landscape views open up in all directions. Grain and canola (rapeseed) fields cover the hills.

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And even more in the evening under a full moon with nightingales singing… They have a large population of nightingales in the hills around Gochsheim. These birds have become rare in Germany, but here they seem to find perfect conditions. There was a whole chorus of them.
Nooo, I am not confessing my secret romance here! Back to more prosaic topics…

Hiking in the Kraichgau Hills

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The hilly landscape of the Kraichgau offers lots of options for easy hikes. Bike tours can also be done but due to the ups and downs of the hills biking is more strenuous than walking.

Forests are rare and small. Most of the landscape consists of open fields and orchards. This means lots of wide views from the hills over to the Rhine plain and the larger hills of Stromberg and Heuberg.

The open landscape means hardly any shade. Hiking here is not recommended on hot summer days. The Kraichgau hills are most enjoyable in spring when the fruit trees and the canola fields are in bloom, and in autumn with fall colours and ripe fruit.

The only danger: ticks in the grass. This region is a high-risk area for FSME and Lyme infections. If you plan to leave the paths, tuck your pants into your socks and check regularly. On light-coloured uni pants a crawling tick is easiest to spot.

Three S-Bahn lines run through the Kraichgau: the S 31 and S 32 from Karlsruhe/Bruchsal, they split up in Ubstadt-Weiher, one proceeds to Menzingen via Gochsheim, the other to Odenheim. The third is the S 4 via Bretten to Eppingen and Heilbronn. Hiking routes can easily be planned between S-Bahn stops and lines. www.kvv.de has the details about the public transport network.

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:54 Archived in Germany Tagged gochsheim kraichgau Comments (1)

Bretten: A Poor Doggie, and the Town’s Greatest Son

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Bretten is a quaint town in the Kraichgau hills, about half an hour northeast of Karlsruhe. Its old centre has preserved an authentic flair with small alleys and half-timbered houses. So far hardly in the focus of tourists, it is a worthwhile day or half-day trip. In 2017, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it may receive more attention than usual, though, because it is the birthplace of a certain very famous person… But more about him later.

Bretten’s old town is a maze of small alleys. The town is small enough not to get lost altogether, though. Photographers will find many pretty street views with little old houses, a bit of timberframe, and one or two towers showing up in the distance. There are the steeples of the churches, two medieval watchtowers along the town wall, and the gables of the old houses. The old town is located on a slope, so topography changes the views and perspectives all the time.

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View from Bahnhof

Reaching Bretten on public transport is easy from all directions. Bretten is the train, or rather tram, hub for the Kraichgau region. The tram line S4 between Karlsruhe and Heilbronn crosses the line S9 between Bruchsal and Mühlacker at Bretten Bahnhof (train station). From Karlsruhe centre, the S4 takes you to Bretten in about 35-40 minutes depending where you board. Eilzüge (express trams) are faster. KVV tariff applies.

Bretten is not too big and the old town can be reached from Bahnhof on foot in about 15 minutes. If you are on the S4, though, you better stay on the tram one stop further and get off at „Bretten Stadtmitte“ which is just 5 minutes walk from the edge of the old town.

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S-Bahn in the station, stop "Stadtmitte", and the view of the old town from there

On the way from tram stop „Stadtmitte“ into town I came across this Graffiti, and found it so funny and interesting that I want to draw your attention to it. I assume that the building behind has some function in the town's supply of drinking water. The outside wall has been painted with an artwork in graffiti style that includes the chemical symbol for water. „H2O“ is depicted in large letters made from pieces of fancy plumbing. A big wave of water seems to splash over the wall.

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Brettener Hundle: The Doggie of Bretten

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The little dog is the hero of an old legend which has no historical background but is very popular in town. Once upon a time, it tells, Bretten was besieged by a large army. The situation was desperate, food was scarce and military powers were not sufficient to drive the enemies away. There was no help from outside to be expected. Only a clever trick could save the town.

One of the city councellors had an idea: Let’s collect all available food, take a little dog and feed him, and when he is round and fat send him outside the town gate to the enemies. They will then believe that we have food in abundance and breaking us by starvation would take a very long time.
The trick worked, the enemies ended the siege and left. Disappointed and angry as they were, though, they cut off the poor doggie’s tail before they sent him back. The grateful citizens erected a monument with a statue of the little dog who rescued their town from falling. (I hope they also treated the doggie’s wound. Posthume fame alone would not have eased his pain.)

The original doggie is sitting on top of a historical fountain in Melanchthonstraße, not far from the Western town gate. The gable of Stiftskirche also bears a statue of the little dog (third photo from left). New copies of the dog statue can be spotted in some private gardens (photo on the right).

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The Town’s Most Famous Son

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On February 16, 1497 the first child was born to a certain Georg Schwartzerdt, armorer of the Elector of Palatinate, and his wife Barbara, the daughter of Bretten‘s mayor. It was a boy and they named him Philipp. The family inhabited a house in market square, so the boy will indeed have been playing around the fountain as depicted in the fresco.

Young Philipp was a talented boy. He was soon sent to the Latin School in Pforzheim where he studied all classical subjects including ancient Greek. Johannes Reuchlin, the humanist and Pforzheim’s reformator whom I mentioned in my entry about Pforzheim, was his great-uncle, by the way.
Nowadays Philipp would probably have translated his name into English and make it „Blacksoil“ to sound cooler. However, in the times of humanism, Latin and Greek were the fashionable languages among intellectuals. His teacher translated his last name into Greek and Philipp would then use that new name for the rest of his life. Under that name he has become famous to this very day: Philipp Melanchthon.

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After his studies at the universities of Heidelberg and Tübingen Melanchthon moved to Wittenberg, where he became professor of the ancient Greek language at the age of 21. He was fascinated by the theology of Martin Luther and became, after Luther, the second most important protagonist of the Wittenberg Reformation. The rest is history, as we say.

Sometimes I wonder, what if Melanchthon has translated the Bible instead of Luther. The language of Luthers Bible had a vast influence on the development of what we now call High or Standard German. Luther was from Saxony and his language was Saxon, the upper-class Saxon German that court and authorities used. Had it been Melanchthon, the whole of Germany would be speaking Badisch now…

Melanchthon left Bretten at the age of 11, after the death of his father, and has not returned except maybe for short visits. The town is nevertheless proud of him and cherishes his memory. His father’s house where he was born does not exist any more. Around 1900 the large neogothic Melanchthonhaus was erected in this place. A statue of Melanchthon can be found in front of the main church, another in opposite the (sic) Melanchthongymnasium. Of course they also have one inside Melanchthonhaus.

Melanchthonhaus

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The largest and most striking building in Bretten’s market square is the so-called Melanchthonhaus. The huge sandstone gable dominates the square. This is the place where Philipp Melanchthon was born in 1497.

The building is, as the neogothic architecture betrays, a lot younger and has nothing to do with his original birthplace. The original house of the Schwartzerdt family was destroyed in the fire of 1689 and nothing is left of it.

Melanchthon’s 400th birthday in 1897 was the occasion to build this house as a memorial hall, library, museum and research centre. Construction works were finished in 1903.

The interior is decorated in all splendour the late 19th century was capable of. Would Melanchthon himself have liked this style? Good question. In Wittenberg he inhabited a rather plain townhouse without much decorum.

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When the neogothic Melanchthon House was built from 1897 to 1903 to commemorate the reformator's 400th birthday, the ground floor was designed as a memorial hall to Melanchthon and his colleagues. Life-sized statues depict the most important reformators: Luther, Bucer, Jonas, Brenz, Bugenhagen, Calvin, and of course Melanchthon himself, front and center. The frescoes on the walls show scenes from Melanchthon's life, including the young boy Philipp in Bretten's market square, the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 where Melanchthon handed the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Karl V., the opening of the high school in Nuremberg in 1526, Melanchthon's visit to his hometown Bretten in 1524, and Luther's visit to his friend's sickbed in 1540.

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The memorial hall is part of the museum. The upper floors contain both permanent and temporary exhibitions around the life and work of Philipp Melanchthon.

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From February to November Melanchthonhaus can be visited. Please check the Melanchthonhaus website for up to date information on opening hours, current exhibitions and events: http://www.melanchthon.com/ The complex is also the seat of Melanchthon Academy, a scientific research centre that does research projects on history, theology and arts, conferences and lectures, exhibitions and publications. Their seat is the hidden modern annex, reachable through the new side entrance. Their activities can also be found through the website.

Market Square and Old Town

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Marktplatz is the heart of the old town. It is surrounded by a number of interesting buildings. The largest and most striking is the neogothic Melanchthonhaus. Next to it there is the town hall. The opposite side has a group of pretty timberframe houses from the era around 1700. The market still has its original triangular shape that originates from the medieval town plan. All buildings around date from after the fire of 1689, though. The only older piece is the 16th century fountain in the upper corner.

The sandstone fountain in market square is crowned by a column with the statue of a knight in full armour. His shield depicts the Palatinate escutcheon. The statue represents the governors of the town, the Electorate of Palatine. The date 1555 is inscribed on the column.

There were a couple of goldfish in the fountain - I have no idea whether they are official residents, or if somebody simply had emptied their aquarium into the basin to get rid of unwanted pets.

Bretten’s „old“ town hall in market square is not as old as it may seem. The town must have had a splendid medieval town hall, but it was destroyed in the fire of 1689 together with most of the town. A provisory was built soon after, but a real town hall was only erected almost a century later, in 1787. This building soon became too small, so it was extended and refurbished to its present shape in 1888. The facades in „German Renaissance“ style are a product of 19th century historism.

If there is an „old“ town hall there must also be a „new“ one. The new town hall, a few blocks away, is a modern concrete and glass building probably from the 1970s or 1980s.

Bretten has quite a lot of half-timbered houses everywhere in the old town. The most impressive ensemble is probably the northern side of market square, all built around 1700. Others can, for example, be found in Melanchthonstraße and in the alleys further downhill around the two churches. The cutest ones are in my humble opinion the little houses in Friedrichstraße.

Because you asked: No, these houses are not medieval: Bretten was, like most cities and towns in the Southwest of Germany, burned to ashes in 1689 by French troops. Hence all of them were built around 1700 and later. Young Melanchthon has not walked past any of these.
This real estate between the two churches has been the seat of the bailiff, the representative of the Palatinate government, since the middle ages. The first Amtshaus was a medieval stone house, then extended and refurbished over the centuries, which was then destroyed in the fire of 1689. Rebuilding it took some time. Finally, in the 1780s, the impressive neoclassical building complex was erected. After Bretten became property of Baden in 1803 it became the seat of Baden’s civil servants; that’s why the rooftop terrace bears the large crest of Baden. Nowadays the building hosts the local law court (Amtsgericht).

A small museum tells about life in Bretten in past centuries. Gerberhaus (tanner’s house) is located on the edge of the town by the stream, a typical location because this craft requires a lot of water and causes a lot of bad smell. The timberframe house is the oldest preserved residential house in town, built around 1585. Thanks to its location on the edge and next to running water, it survived the big fire of 1689.

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Gerberhaus

In the 1980s the house was to be demolished in order to make room for a parking lot. A private initiative of Bretten citizens saved it. Research showed not only its age, but also the intact structure of a typical house of „farming citizens“, people who lived in town, worked in their craft and at the same time farmed their fields outside the wall.

The house was then restored and turned into a museum, together with the adjacent part of the town wall and gate arch. The exhibition shows the history of the tanners’ craft and the daily life in old Bretten. The museum is open on Sunday afternoons only.

The Churches

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Stiftskirche, the oldest and largest church in town, is one of the few buildings that survived the big fire of 1689. Its oldest part is the bottom of the steeple, originally the keep of an early medieval castle. The gothic nave and choir were separated by a jube as befits the church of a convent of canons.

The first and second reformation in the 16th century turned the church into a Calvinist parish church. After the peace treaty of Rijswijk (1697) the church was, like many churches in biconfessional Palatine, shared by Calvinists and Roman Catholics. The choir was closed with a wall and became the catholic church while the Calvinists used the nave.

The simultaneum lasted until 1938, when the catholic community completed their own parish church. Stiftskirche is now the main parish church of the Protestants in town.

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I cannot figure out if the Stiftskirche has any regular opening hours for visitors outside the services. Except once I have always encountered locked doors. During my most recent visit I finally found the main church open for the first time. The interior was a bit of a disappointment, though. The whole nave has been cleared from anything historical, it is all modern, wide and vast. The only exception are the old tombstones attached to the walls of the southern transept which still has its gothic vaults.

The huge new organ fills the former choir entirely. The room appears more like a concert hall than a church. In front of this huge instrument the altar, or rather communion table as we are in an area with calvinist tradition, almost disappears. Forgive the blasphemy, but this piece of furniture reminded me of those folding tables that are used for pasting wallpaper. The (also new) flat ceiling is painted with an abstract fresco that suggests the shape of a cross or the sun or a shining figure in the sky - at least it adds some colour to all this emptiness. In other words, you won’t miss too much if you find the church doors locked.

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Kreuzkirche

Kreuzkirche, the former Lutheran church, the smaller of the two churches, was built around 1700. Since Lutherans and Calvinists united to one protestant parish in 1821, the community has taken the larger Stiftskirche as their main church and this one is hardly in use any more.

It is said to have a beautiful baroque interior, but I wonder whether it is ever open to visitors.

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St. Laurentius

After sharing Stiftskirche with the Calvinist and then United Protestant parish community for centuries, the Catholics were finally able to build their own parish church from 1936-1938 on a patch of land by the Northern edge of the old town. They dedicated it to St Laurentius.

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The architecture is an example of the „retro“ style which was popular in times of the NS regime. The facades are rather plain. The interior is a wide hall with a low side nave along the Northern wall. The choir has a pseudo-gothic vault while the nave is covered by a wooden ceiling with carved and painted beams. The higher middle part consists of cassettes painted with abstract symbols of faith, trees and animals. The mural in the apsis was added in the 1990’s; I have no information about it but it looks a lot like it’s a work by the painter Emil Wachter. This church is, unlike its protestant sisters in town, open in the daytime.

Towers and Fortifications

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Pfeiferturm
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Simmelturm

Once upon a time Bretten was surrounded by walls, gate and watch towers. Most of them are gone. Along the creek on the southern side and in the southeastern corner parts of the wall are preserved, Three towers of the town’s medieval fortifications are still there. Two of them are complete and appear in the town’s silhouette, the third is a torso.

The tall Pfeiferturm on the Northern side of the old town is hard to overlook. It used to be the strongest tower. Its origins date from the 13th century. Through its history it has been damaged and repaired countless times. In former times it was accessible from the wall only, now there is a new entrance on the ground floor.
The tower can be climbed for the view; the key is available at the tourist information office and at the town hall.

Only a stump is preserved of another tower on the uphill side, named Frauenturm.

Simmelturm in the southeastern corner of the old town is smaller than Pfeiferturm and harder to spot. The tower has a crooked and worn-out look which tells of how much it has been through in its history. In former times it protected the Southeastern corner of the town. A stretch of town wall is still attached to it. A little park around the tower invites to sit down and rest.

A plaque on the wall recalls the Battle of Brettheim (Bretten) in 1504, the most dramatic event in the town’s history. Every year during Peter-und-Paul-Fest the battle is re-enacted here in the meadows around the tower. Peter-und-Paul-Fest is a big medieval festival which is celebrated in Bretten every year on the first weekend in July - but this deserves another visit and a separate blog entry!

The Town's Coat of Arms: Are We In Bavaria?

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The coat of arms of Bretten will look oddly familiar to anyone who has ever visited Munich or other places in Bavaria. However, Bretten is not in Bavaria and has never been ruled by Bavaria. The lozenge pattern in blue and white originates from the Wittelsbach dynasty’s armorial bearings. One branch of this dynasty ruled Bavaria, the other governed Palatine. Due to their close relationship both lines used the same escutcheon with the lozenges and the golden lion on black ground. The magistrate of Bretten has adopted the territory‘s as their town coat of arms.

Posted by Kathrin_E 03:45 Archived in Germany Tagged bretten kraichgau Comments (0)

A Pilgrimage: Moosbronn and Michelbach

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Moosbronn - this is almost the total length of the village

Here is another, very off the beaten path for tourists, suggestion for a combined hiking and sightseeing trip in the Northern Black Forest. Moosbronn and Michelbach are both parts of the municipality of Gaggenau, but separated from the main town. Both have preserved their village character. While Moosbronn is, first of all, a place of pilgrimage, Michelbach qualifies, to me, as one of the most beautiful villages in the wider surroundings of Karlsruhe.

The alternative to hiking is the KVV bus 253 that connects both villages with the station in Gaggenau and thus the Murg valley S-Bahn S 8 and S 81. The bus departs in the square opposite the station (Gaggenau Bahnhof). Buses run hourly until very late in the evening, they depart in Gaggenau on the full hour. The ride to Michelbach takes 6 minutes, to Moosbronn via Freiolsheim 20 minutes. The road to Moosbronn leads over the mountain ridge and is rather scenic, even with some views over to the Rhine plain. If you don't want to hike all the way to Moosbronn, or hike only one way, the bus is a convenient alternative. KVV tariff applies. If you arrived by S-Bahn, your ticket is also valid on the bus. Moosbronn also has regular bus connections to Ettlingen and Bad Herrenalb.

Moosbronn

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Moosbronn is located in a tiny side valley high up in the mountains between Murg and Alb valley. From Gaggenau centre one has to cross the rather steep ridge of Mahlberg. Moosbronn is a small and quiet village. Walking the full length hardly takes five minutes. The village is surrounded by lush green meadows and forests with plenty of options for hiking.

The most striking feature of the village is the pilgrimage church of Maria Hilf which attracts a lot of visitors. These make the living for three or four inns. The catholic church runs two houses that accommodate groups. The church is impossible to miss in the small village. It is open daily from 9.00-19.00, in summer until 20.00.

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Pilgrimages to Moosbronn began already in the late 17th century in times of the Turkish Wars. Legends tell of a farmworker who got stuck with his horses and wagon and cried to the Madonna for help, and Mary helped. The first sanctuary was just a small chapel, built in 1683. Since it attracted more and more pilgrims, a laarger church was needed. In the 1740s the present church was erected. Franz Ignaz Krohmer, court architect of the Margrave of Baden, desinged the plans. The sacred image of the Madonna is displayed in the retable of the main altar. It was painted after Lucas Cranach's Madonna with Child.

The second most striking feature is the stud farm and riding centre of Mönchhof where Icelandic horses are bred and trained. The house next-door is a shop which is specialized on equipment for Icelandic horse riding.

The Border That Cut the Village in Half

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The village of Moosbronn, tiny as it is, used to be divided in two by a border that run right through the village. Since 1660 (when the Counts of Eberstein died out) one half belonged to the Margraviate of Baden-Baden and later the Grandduchy of Baden, the other to the Duchy, later Kingdom of Württemberg.

The division also influenced the religion: Baden's half was catholic, Württemberg's half was protestant. After the end of the two states the border still existed as border between two governmental districts within the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg. Only in the administration reform of the 1970s Moosbronn was finally reunited when both halves became part of the municipality of Gaggenau.

The historical border stones are still there. They show the crests of Baden on one side and Württemberg on the other. A marked hiking trail (Grenzweg) follows the former border. In the middle of the village a stone obelisk marks the location of the former border. On some old houses you'll see the crest of the respective state.

Pilgrims Trail from Michelbach to Moosbronn

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... or vice versa, I walked it the other way round.

The little church in Moosbronn and its sacred image of the Madonna is a popular destination for regional pilgrimages. Processions on foot from Michelbach are done on some holidays, and many people visit on their own.

At three locations there are small stone shrines with images of Mary and baby Jesus, private donations from the 18th and 19th century.
The trail is marked with a little picture of the church in Moosbronn and named Wallfahrtsweg (pilgrimage trail). It is signposted but sometimes you have to look twice to see the signs, usually nailed to trees. The pilgrims trail is not one of the large wide paths, it is the small and steep trail that crosses the wide paths.

The distance between Michelbach and Moosbronn is given as 3.5 kilometres, which sounds like a relaxed hike. I was in Moosbronn and did not feel much inclination to wait for the next bus. The weather was glorious but not too hot, and 3.5 kilometres did not sound too bad, so I decided to walk. At first the trail was wide and comfortable, leading through meadows and orchards (this applies to the Michelbach side, too). However, the route soon leaves the big path and takes a narrow, uneven trail straight up the steep slope. The highest point is Mönchskopfsattel on top of the ridge between the two villages at an altitude of 525 metres. The descent to Michelbach was a lot longer but just as steep. (Well, a pilgrimage has something to do with repention, eh.)

Unfortunately I was wearing my trekking sandals (I had not planned to go hiking, after all) - it was doable but far from perfect and far from safe. I recommend wearing closed shoes, not necessarily hiking boots but comfortable walking shoes with soles that have a good grip.

Michelbach

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Michelbach is the most beautiful among the villages that now form the town of Gaggenau. It is cuddled into a side valley among the hills. A mountain ridge with Mahlberg and Bernstein as highest elevations forms the background. The older part of the village stretches along a stream named Michelbach (surprise surprise) at the bottom of the valley. Newer residential quarters have grown on the slopes above.

Michelbach is known for its beautiful and well restored half-timbered houses. Flower pots in the streets add to the atmosphere. The village is well taken care of, it has won a couple of prizes in countrywide „Beautify Our Village“ competitions.

Some houses are still working farms, others are just residential houses. Two marked walking routes present the village, its history, attractions and particularities which are explained on signboards (in German). The prettiest part is along the stream. The street leads gently up until you reach the Gumbe at the end of the village, a small pond that is a nature reserve and a leisure ground with barbecue and a Kneipp basin etc.

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The current of Mühlbach stream has long been used. There must have been more water mills in the past - one is preserved, about halfway from the village centre towards the Gumbe and the upstream end of the village. Some of the water is lead in a wooden flume a lot further upstream which has less decline than the stream itself, hence this water reaches the top of the mill wheel several metres above the stream's water level and this drives it. The wheel is not un use any more, though, and does not turn. The former mill is a residential house now. When I took my photos, there was an old man sitting on the verandah by the water, relaxing in his deck chair and snoring happily. I think the inhabitants can do without the noise of a mill wheel.

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Some houses still have them: little stone huts in the courtyard that contain a baking oven. While other villages have one or two large baking houses that were used by the whole community, here the farms each had one of their own or maybe for a handful of families. The ovens were separate buildings outside the houses because of the heat and the danger of fire. Having them in the street, easily accessible, makes sense. I found two in Rotenfelser Straße, round the corner from the church, but there must be more.

The catholic parish church marks the centre of the village. It was built on a terrace above the main square. Its history dates back to the middle ages, it is one of the oldest parishes in the Murg valley. Only the bottom part of the steeple is left of the medieval church, though. The nave was substituted by a larger one in the 18th century which then underwent further changes in the 20th (date 1936 above the portal). The interior is a wide hall without much atmosphere. The four altars and the pulpit are in baroqze style but they do not fit together, they look like an exhibition in a furniture shop. It is hard to tell how old they really are because the catholic church art still uses the baroque style to this very day. The church is open in the daytime. If you walk past anyway, you may want to have a look inside, but it is not worth a detour.

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The Walk from Michelbach to Gaggenau through the Streuobstwiesen

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Paved paths lead through the orchards between Gaggenau and Michelbach. I had missed the bus in Michelbach and would have had to wait for almost an hour, so I decided, despite my tired feet, to walk the last leg back to Gaggenau and the tram home instead. The gentle slopes offer a great view into the Murg valley, which is already rather wide in this part. Many apple trees are growing in the meadows. It was beautiful in autumn. In April when the apple trees are in bloom it must be absolutely lovely.

There seems to be no exact translation into English for the term Streuobstwiese, so let me use the German word. It describes a traditional type of cultural landscape around villages: grassland loosely planted with fruit trees of various varieties: apples, pears, plums, walnuts, cherries etc. The grass is mown only once or twice a year and can be used for making hay. The trees require some cutting in early spring and the harvest in summer or autumn depending on the type of fruit. Otherwise they are left alone. Pears and apples from the trees are, for example, the base for the making of „Moscht“, the local variety of cider.

These meadows are home to many specieses of wildflowers, to many insects, small mammals and birds and form a valuable natural habitat. They are very important for the ecologic balance. Many animals appreciate the hollows in old trees for nesting and refuge. The wide variety of specieses makes Streuobstwiesen precious natural reserves, as well as being useful to the human owners because of their fruit. In former times they covered wide areas. Industrialized agriculture made them redundant. In the 20th century many of them disappeared to make room for more efficient ways of farming. In recent times they are being re-established in many places, though, for their value in the protection and conservation of nature.

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Streuobstwiesen can be found on the lower, gentle slopes around the villages in the Murg valley. Paths and small roads allow easy walks. In spring, the blooming fruit trees and the wildflowers are a beautiful sight. In autumn, a walk through Streuobstwiesen is nourishing. Warning, these trees belong to someone, so don't rob the whole harvest. However, I see nothing wrong in picking up a fallen apple or two from the grass under a tree and enjoying it on the spot.

Through the suburbs of Gaggenau I finally reached the station and jumped on the S-Bahn. With the bus I would have made the same train, so the walk did not cost me extra time. After this, for my habits, rather long hike I appreciated the seat on the tram...

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:18 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest gaggenau Comments (1)

Knittlingen: Hometown of Alchemy and Schlager

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Knittlingen is a tiny town in the Kraichgau hills. Judging from ist size, you would call it a village - but for almost 200 years it has had the status of a town. Located between Bretten and Maulbronn, Knittlingen is an easy stopover along the way between them. The town is quite rural in its appearance. Many residential houses are old farmhouses. Its historical centre has several dozens of fine half-timbered houses, some well restored, others not so.

Knittlingen claims to be the birthplace of Doctor Faustus, the real Doctor Faustus, who was an alchemist in the early 16th century. However, there are three other towns and villages that also claim to be his birthplace. Who knows.

However, and that's for sure, Knittlingen is also the birthplace of Die Flippers, one of Germany's most successful Schlager bands, who started their big career in 1969. Two of the three band members are still living here. Their music fits into this place. Somehow time stood still here, in particular if you decide to go shopping...

Knittlingen's historical centre covers a hill, not too high but the ascent is notable. It used to be surrounded by a wall and moat to protect the town from attacks. Both are gone, but the oval ground plan of the town centre still reflects where it was. The church, the old town hall and the wine press(!) occupy the highest point of the hill. Knittlingen is a wine town. In the middle ages it belonged to Maulbronn Abbey. Later it became property of the Duchy of Württemberg.

The old town can be explored on foot in half an hour. Its dimensions are small. Despite several destructions in the wars of the early modern era, quite a number ofhistorical stone buildings and half-timbered houses are preserved. The place is entirely untouristy, though. They try a bit of marketing, but I don't think that the town gets too many visitors. If you want to see „authentic rural Germany“, here it is.

The old town extends along the streets Marktstraße and Kirchplatz, Untere Gasse, Pfleghof, Fauststraße, Seestraße, Brunnenstraße and Gaisbergstraße. As I said, it is small...

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In the 18th century houses were marked with signs that represented the owner's profession. I found these here in Untere Straße but I am sure that there are more in other streets, too.

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The first two photos belong to the same building, a large winery and a cooper's workshop. The tools compass, hammer, and two others I can't identify, together with a barrel - indicate, I think, a cooper's business. Above the cellar door on the side, there is a barrel depicted: Does it translate to, „The wine goes in here“? Jacob Plag, whose front door you see in the third photo, surely was a butcher.

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The most central building in Knittlingen is neither the church nor the town hall, but this rather plain stone building. It was constructed by Maulbronn abbey, the owner of the village, in the middle ages as part of the Pfleghof, i.e. their economical estate within the (then) village. T

his building hosted the wine presses. The size indicates that large amounts of grapes were harvested here and brought in for pressing.
We are in a wine region - priorities must be set!

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The town's parish church has its origins in the middle ages, probably in the 13th century. The late gothic choir dates from the 15th century. The wars of the early modern era did not spare the church, though. Repairs and refurbishments were necessary more than once. The village being property of Württemberg after 1504, the reformation was introduced and the church became Lutheran.

To the west, the hill suddenly makes a rather steep descent, so from that side the steeple appears most impressive and higher than it actually is. Unfortunately the church was not open (I wonder if it ever is outside services), so I cannot tell you anything about the interior.

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Every year on May 1, a May Tree is set up in the centre of the town, which then remains over the summer and fall. It is a high tree trunk crowned with a fresh spruce or fir tree. The trunk is decorated with little scenes from daily life and professions in former times. These here look rather home-made, really cute. I am not sure what the dolphins on the top bar are referring to, though. The May Tree adds that little extra that makes the ensemble of church,. old town hall and wine press the perfect postcard puicture.

This photo, the one at the top, must have impressed the photo people here on Travellerspoint, as it was one of my first pics that got featured... Who would have thought that this little place would receive so much honour and attention.

In the Footprints of Doctor Faustus

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Johann Georg Faust, the real Doctor Faustus, is said to have been born in a house next to the church in Knittlingen around 1480. He became a (in)famous alchemist, astrologer, healer and magician. His death occurred under mysterious circumstances in Staufen im Breisgau around 1540 - legends tell that the devil came to collect him. Most likely one of his alchemist experiments went sadly wrong.

The historical figure inspired Goethe to write his most famous drama, Faust I.

The half-timbered house on the corner of Kirchplatz is known as Faust's birthplace and marked with plaques. This is not the original house, though. The present building probably dates from the 16th century.

The baroque building next to it used to be Knittlingen's Latin School. Nowadays it hosts the Faust archive and library, which can be used for research. The house is also used for temporary exhibitions, concerts and lectures.

The old town hall is the most beautiful half-timbered house in Knittlingen. Its present shape is owed to repair and rebuilding in the early 18th century after it had suffered substantial damages in the wars of the 17th.

In modern times it became too small for aven a small town's administration. In the 1950s the new town hall was built on the grounds of the former Thurn und Taxis post station at the opposite end of Marktstraße.

Since then the old town hall has been the seat of the Faust museum. The museum shows, according to the desciption on their website, a permanent exhibition on the life and myths of the historical Faust. We came at lunchtime on a weekday, though, so we could not visit the museum.
Opening hours: Tues-Fri 09.30 - 12.00 and 13.30 - 17.00, Sat, Sun and holidays 10.00 - 18.00
Website: http://faustmuseum.de

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Shopping like in the 1970s

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We laughed our heads off when we found this shop window in the centre of Knittlingen. The goods on display look as if they have neither sold anything nor received anything new since about 1985, and many pieces are even much older. The shop sells various stuff including papetries and school supply, books and maps, some clothes and swimwear, toys, bags and suitcases, household items, and model trains.
The board games looked familiar to me - I actually owned one of them in my childhood, in exactly the same box. One of the schoolbags, the orange one, reminded me very much of my own that I had when I started school in 1972. Or do you need a road map of Yugoslawia…?
Swimwear fashion has also changed *a bit* in recent decades. The books in the window are self-help books for parents of schoolkids (it was September and the new schoolyear just about to begin); they also look very much 1970s. At least, prices are already in Euro.
The shop was closed and no one there, so we did not offend anyone with our laughter. One of our party later went back when the shop was open. He returned very happy, having found some items for his model train that weren't available anywhere else any more. He said the shop is owned by a very old lady who probably keeps the business running after the death of her husband, and who has somehow lost contact with modern times.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 06:17 Archived in Germany Tagged kraichgau Comments (2)

Vrooommm Santa Claus! Basel on St Nikolaus Day

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„Santa Claus“ is actually Saint Nikolaus and his holiday is December 6. In Basel they call it „Samichlaus“, and it is an important event. Basel is full of santas that day, respective the Saturday that is closest to Dec 6 (in that year Dec 6 was on a Saturday). Nikolauses, or rather Nikoläuse to use the correct German plural, are everywhere in the shops and streets. Kids can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage with Nikolaus. One was in a canoe on the Rhine. Later I even spotted a dragon boat with some 20 Nikolauses rowing, unfortunately it was too far away to take a photo. There was also kind of a barrel organ festival in the city with musicians everywhere. And the Christmas market is on.

The Nikolaus's dress is usually the same as the Weihnachtsmann respective Santa Claus wears: red coat and pointed hat with white furry borders, long white beard and so on. Only those who 'work' for churches will wear a bishop-like outfit that resembles the original Saint Nikolaus, bishop of Myra.

Nikolaus often comes with a companion, Knecht Ruprecht or Schmutzli. The guy in black is the counterpart of good Nikolaus who can be Nikolaus' helper but also the scary one who punishes bad deeds.

Many shops have their own Nikolauses distributing sweets to children. Most are dressed in the usual Santa Claus outfits. Some look different, though. The strange blue creature is the mascot of a shop in Basel. They dressed him up with a Santa hat for the occasion and let him distribute sweets to the kids. Understandably the littlies were scared of him, though...

In one square, three men dressed up as The Three Holy Kings or Magi were collecting money for a charity project that helps homeless people. If anyone threw a coin into the hat, they would bang their sticks on the hollow ground of the little stage.

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Harley Niggi-Näggi Parade

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However: Forget everything you ever heard of reindeers, sleighbells and stuff. Modern Santa Claus rides a Harley!

The Harley parade takes place on the Saturday closest to St Nikolaus Day, December 6, at 5 p.m. The city centre stops its shopping activities, people line up on the sidewalks to see the „Harley Niggi-Näggi“ parade.

This event is organized by the North West Switzerland chapter of the Harley Davidson club to raise money for charity. They do a parade through the city centre to Marktplatz, where they will then collect donations.

About 40 or 50 bikers dress up and decorate their bikes with incredible imagination. You hardly see the bikes underneath all that Christmassy decoration. Absolutely hilarious and not to be missed.

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Santa and Mrs Claus go biking together

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How many Christmas trees fit on a Harley? At least four.

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One guy dressed his motorbike in fur and turned it into a donkey. So shall we call it a "Harley Donkeyson"?

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Another transported a whole herd of plush reindeer.

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Other use artificial fir garlands, glittery ornaments, blinking chains of light in all colours.

In case anyone wonders about safety: Yes they do wear helmets underneath. Yes Police accompanies the parade and keeps spectators out of the way.

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My recommended place to watch is in the middle part of Freie Straße (the pedestrianized shopping street) between Streitgasse and Bäumleingasse, because the parade passes here twice. They come from Barfüßerplatz, turn right into Freie straße, then do a loop through the side lanes and return along Freie Straße towards market square. The parade passes quickly, hence it’s good to see them a second time.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 23:49 Archived in Switzerland Tagged christmas events basel Comments (0)

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