A Travellerspoint blog

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Merkurberg

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Merkurberg seen from Hohenbaden castle

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On the summit

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Merkurberg is the "house mountain" of Baden-Baden. Its summit, at an altitude of 668 metres, offers a beautiful view of the Oos valley with the town, the mountains of the northern Black Forest and over the Rhine plain to the Vosges. A network of hiking trails start from the top station of Merkurberg funicular, so if you feel like exercise you have plenty of options. If you prefer taking it easy, enjoy the view, walk a bit round the summit, watch the hang gliders, stop for a coffee at the cafe in the top station.

Originally named Großer Staufenberg, it was renamed Merkurberg after an ancient stone relief of the Roman god Mercury had been found here. A copy is put up on the summit.

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View to the north over the Murg valley

Merkurberg Funicular

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Climbing Merkurberg can be done easily by funicular. It runs every 8-15 minutes depending on demand.
You can buy tickets either from the souvenir shop in the station or from a ticket machine. KVV tickets are not valid on the funicular. The return fare is 4 € for adults, 2 € for children (spring 2017). One-way tickets are also available, should you want to hike up and take the funicular back down, or vice versa.
The funicular is remarkably steep, 54% in the top part of the line. To reach the bottom station of the funicular, take bus 204 or 205 from the town centre, 205 also runs to/from the train station. Each of them runs only once per hour, so check the timetables in advance.

Hang Gliding

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Merkurberg has become a popular hang gliding base in recent years. A big gale in 1999 (the infamous "Lothar") has left large clearings in the forest around the summit and the local hanggliding club has, in close contact with the authorities and in regard of protection of nature, been able to establish two starting points, one to the west and one to the northeast. On fine days there are often hang gliders around and you can watch them from close by.

In case you are a hang glider and want to fly from Merkurberg: Yes you can, though not 'just like that'. Apologies because I do not know a thing about hang gliding except the one fact that I will NEVER even think of trying because I’m scared of heights… But I have read the information boards on the mountain top. So this is just second-hand information, but better than none at all...

The base on Merkurberg is controlled by the local hang gliding club named Schwarzwaldgeier, the "Black Forest Vultures". Everyone can fly there but you must have a licence, buy a day membership and be instructed about the area by one of them. Check out their website and/or contact them for terms and conditions and all details: www.schwarzwaldgeier.de

Watch a Hang Glider Take Off

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The parachute is already unfolded on the grass. The pilot is preparing his clothing and equipment.

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Safety check: Are all lines tied where they belong?

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The wind fills the parachute and he is ready for takeoff.
Russell the Wombat is watching.

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A small jump and off he goes.

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In the air over Baden-Baden.

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:35 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest baden-baden Comments (0)

Pirmasens: Once Upon A Time There Was A Wealthy City

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Pirmasens is a town of 40.000 inhabitants, hence not very big, but it is the centre of the southernmost part of Rheinland-Pfalz along the French border. Just like Rome it was built on seven hills. The surrounding region is quite rural, large parts covered in forest, so a town this size feels like a metropolis. The nearest real cities would be Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken, but getting there takes 35 minutes to an hour depending on route and means of transport. So Pirmasens happily plays its role as regional metropolis, on a low level, though, judging from the selection of cheap chain shops in the pedestrian zone as well as the kind of people hanging out there. The streets became suddenly lively in the early afternoon when school was out, though. There are several large schools in the town centre, and children and teenagers commute in per train and bus from all over the wider surroundings.

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Heraldic symbols of Hessen and Hanau:
Lion and Swan on the spire of Lutherkirche

Until 1736 Pirmasens was part of the County of Hanau-Lichtenberg and hardly more than a village. But after the death of the last Count of Hanau, the territory became property of Prince Ludwig IX of Hessen-Darmstadt, who chose Pirmasens as his residence. While his father ruled in Darmstadt, the young prince took the chance to implement his dream in his own little property: build up an army. Ludwig was a soldier through and through. Instead of building a baroque residential town with a huge palace and gardens and all kinds of beautiful instalments, he turned Pirmasens into an army base. Just like the Prussian kings, he preferably recruited Lange Kerls, very tall guys. Tiny Pirmasens grew into a garrison town in short time. The present main square is the former parade ground. Military buildings dominated the town. Ludwig’s own palace, which does not exist any more, was rather plain and modest. The majority of the population were soldiers and their families, who received benefits to build houses and settle down. The flourishing of the town ended when Ludwig died in 1790. Some buildings, like the two protestant churches and the town hall, still tell of the Hessian era.

These buildings from the 18th century were the reason why I went to Pirmasens on that clear, sunny spring day: I needed their photos for an article about the County of Hanau in a history magazine.

Around 1900 Primasens experienced its second boom. The city became centre of shoemaking in Germany. Shoe factories settled all over town. Several factory buildings are still visible, most of them are now used for other purposes or empty. Since 1970, however, the production has been transferred to cheaper locations in Eastern Europe and overseas, and the shoe industry broke down. Few of the local companies have survived. The town’s economy has never recovered.

Pirmasens was heavily destroyed in World War II, so apart from a few rebuilt/repaired historical monuments the general appearance is post-war, and it has that certain atmosphere of a city whose economy is going down the drain. I admit that I am not too big a fan of this city – but since it receives so little attention I thought I’d grant it a page.

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Walking Into Town

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The train station is located on the northern edge of the city centre. There are local buses but the distance is walkable, so I did not bother with bus connections and waiting for them.

The station square is connected with a small park on the opposite side. The park isn’t special – a gravel ground, some benches, surrounded by trees and lawns and a few flower beds, and some bits of railway track as decoration. In spring, though, it has its moment of glory. The trees are Japanese cherries with big white, ‘filled’ blossoms. When they are in bloom the place undergoes a magical transformation for a week or maybe two. And I was there in this moment.

Down the street a fancy silver building catches the eye. This could just as well be a modern hotel or convention centre, or the office complex of some insurance company, but in fact it is the central fire station of the town. The building was completed in the year 2000 and has been the centre for all fire brigades, professional and voluntary, in Pirmasens and its suburbs since then, providing space for the equipment and cars and all modern technology they need. The tower serves for storing and drying the hoses.

The same street passes the finest Gründerzeit building in Pirmasens, the old post office, dating from 1893. It has an elegant neo-baroque facade with high arches over the portals. The inscription „K. B. Postamt (Königlich Bayerisches Postamt)“ refers to the era when Palatine belonged to the Kingdom of Bavaria from 1815 to 1918.

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Nowadays the building is used for cultural events and conventions.The front yard has been recently redesigned. It offers some benches and steps to sit upon, pleasant in warm weather (but it sadly lacks an ice-cream parlour to get a cool sweet treat). The statues represent two women carrying their goods to (or from?) the market and having a chat on the way. Some historical photos on the wall at the upper end of the yard show the building and the Imperial Post Services around 1900. The current post office is located round the corner in a rather ugly 20th century building…

Exerzierplatz

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New town hall

The largest square in the city centre is the former parade ground. Prince Ludwig IX. had it installed to exercise his troops. In the 1870s a school building was erected on the western side of the square, which was later on turned into the new town hall as the baroque one in Schlossplatz became too small.

The square has been redesigned in the post-war era. A row of modern colonnades surrounds it. The circular inner part is decorated with an ornamental pavement in the shape of a star or flower. A large fountain occupies the middle. The high steel sculpture in the centre is the eye catcher. I am not sure whether the abstract, ornamental peak has any significance or is just an ornament. Outside the colonnades trees have been planted to add a bit of green.

The square would be the perfect spot for a nice beer garden, a cafe, or an ice cream parlour with outdoor seating – all three of them would be even better. Sadly, all they have is a fast food place in one corner which has some tables out. A wasted chance to make the pretty square livelier.

Johanneskirche

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The church in the corner of Exerzierplatz was built from 1750 to 1758 as the parish church of the Reformed, i.e. Calvinist, community. The County of Hanau-Lichtenberg was a Lutheran land. The Calvinist confession was not tolerated. Only here in Pirmasens they managed to obtain freedom of faith, their own parson and church due to the fact that many soldiers came from other territories and the number of Calvinists among them was large.

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The church’s name has nothing to do with neither John Baptist nor the Evangelist, but refers to Johannes (Jean) Calvin the reformator. At first it was known as the Reformed Church, then as the Upper Church, until it received its present name in 1931.

Johanneskirche does not seem to have regular opening hours for visitors, at least I can’t find anything and have never found it open either. However, you don’t miss much if you don’t see the interior. In World War II the church suffered severe damage. The facades and steeple were rebuilt in their original shape but the interior is entirely redesigned in modern style.

Lutherkirche

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The Lutheran parish church was built in the years 1757 – 1761 since the previous church was in bad shape and too small for the growing court and garrison. It substituted the old parish church which became too small and wasn’t „representative“ enough as court, garrison and town parish church. In World War II it was heavily damaged, but then rebuilt in its original shape.

It is located in Hauptstraße, the main street of the town which is now pedestrianized and Pirmasens’s main shopping area. Since the street does a slight bend at this point, the steeple is the eye-catcher in the street view. The back side has high substructions because of the steep slope.

The building attached to the steeple of Lutherkirche, with a baroque facade from red sandstone, is now the parsonage. It was built around 1760 together with the church and served as school building for the garrison, i.e. for the children from soldiers' families. Many soldiers got married, built their little houses and settled down in Pirmasens. This was encouraged as the Landgrave needed inhabitants for his new capital.

The gilded weathervane on top of the steeple was meant as a political statement, directed at the big neighbour France. It shows two heraldic animals: the lion of Hessen and the swan of Hanau-Lichtenberg, as shown in the photo further up.

In the old residence and capital of the county, Buchsweiler in Alsace, Landgrave Ludwig IX. was not allowed to have soldiers or use heraldic symbols to display his ownership of the land. In Pirmasens, which was located outside the realms of the French King, he could do as he liked. The symbols of his government are impossible to overlook. Anyone who approached the town from the French side would spot the gleaming lion and swan on top of the spire in an instant. The coat of arms, brightly coloured, appears over the main portal of the church in addition to that.

The church shared the fate of vast parts of the city: being destroyed by World War II bombs. After the war the church was rebuilt but the interior received an entirely new, modern design. The pulpit is the only surviving piece of the original furnishing which is still visible. The nave now has a common longitudinal design with the altar in the chancel and one gallery on the opposite side.

Originally, though, the interior had a transversal layout, with pulpit and altar attached to the longitudinal side opposite the main entrance (which is the reason why this church makes an appearance in my doctoral thesis, but let me spare you a long academic discourse on that phenomenon).

A plaque on the left side of the chancel refers to the burial place of Landgrave Ludwig IX, the founder of the garrison and the church. Ludwig and the Lutherans at his court used to attend service in this church, so it was more than a simple parish church, it was the court and residence church.

A display in a showcase gives testimony of World War II destruction. The church’s silver, chalices and plates, were rescued from the rubble. After careful restoration they are now on display inside the church. Flattened and banged and broken as they are, they tell us more about the horrors of the bombardments than words ever could.

The church is open on weekdays from 11.00 to 13.00.

Hauptstraße: Pedestrian Zone

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Hauptstraße, the „main street“, is pedestrianized and the town’s main shopping area. I found shops to be mostly the usual chain shops of cheap to medium range, though, not much to write home about. The same applies to eateries. The architecture is mostly post-war.

Halfway it crosses Schlossplatz with the old town hall its impressive stairway and cascade leading up to St Pirmin’s Church. The steeples of the two protestant churches, Lutherkirche and Johanneskirche, and the little spire on top of the old town hall appear as points de vue along the slightly curved street. The northern and southern end of the pedestrian zone are each marked by two sandstone pillars. These are remnants of the baroque town gates.

A couple of interesting sculptures and fountains can be seen along the street, for example the Shoemaker Fountain in front of Lutherkirche, and the Bismarck monument off Schlossplatz with a statue of St George.

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Shoemaker fountain and Bismarck monument

Old Town Hall

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The Landgrave’s Schloss is gone but the main square is still named Schlossplatz. The baroque old town hall in Schlossplatz also dates from the era of Ludwig IX. and the rise of the garrison town. It was built a decade later than the two protestant churches, around 1770. The sandstone facadeis inserted into a row of post-war houses now.

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The gable displays the coat or arms of Hessen, the striped lion in red and white on blue ground, held by two lions. It is surrounded by cannons, military trophies and banners as a reference to the status as garrison town. One of the banners shows the gilded „L“ monogram of Landgrave Ludwig IX.

The magistrate and administration have moved to the larger new town hall in Exerzierplatz. This building now hosts the town’s historical museum. As it is closed on Mondays, I could not visit it, though.

Stierbrunnen and Schlosstreppe

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This is probably the most spectacular townscape that Pirmasens has to offer. Schlossplatz and Schlosstreppe still bear this name although the Schloss (palace) is long gone. The low-lying square used to have a stairway that lead up to the palace. The location on the hillside has afterwards been occupied by the catholic church of St Pirmin, whose double steeples and facades dominate the view.

The stairway has in recent times been redesigned as a modern fountain and cascade with stairs along both sides (unfortunately the water was turned off). I don’t know who the artist was – I can only suspect Gernot Rumpf; the style would match his works. The giant head of a bull at the top is the dominating feature, hence it is known as Stierbrunnen. The swans at the bottom refer to the coat of arms of the county of Hanau-Lichtenberg, their mechanical elements to the industrial history of the town.

The large Catholic Church of St Pirmin on the hill above Schlossplatz and Stierbrunnen is not as old as it pretends: The neo-gothic basilica was only completed in 1900. After severe damage in World War II it was rebuilt in modern style with some preserved neo-gothic parts, the steeples in particular. The porticus with its tall arches is new, but underneath you’ll see the sculpted portals of the pre-war church. Unfortunately the church was closed when I passed, so I cannot tell you about the interior.

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St Pirmin watches over the city

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:07 Archived in Germany Tagged pirmasens pfalz Comments (4)

Stuttgart: A Day at Wilhelma

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Stuttgart is the proud capital of Baden-Württemberg and locals think it is the greatest thing on Earth. Non-locals are a bit more critical. World War II has spared one single small street of the old town, which is off the beaten path and looks rather run down now. The two palaces, the arcades on Königsplatz and the main church have been rebuilt, the rest of the city centre is almost entirely post-war, so please don't expect too much old-world flair. The city is great for shopping. Stuttgart is on the list of any car freak because of Daimler-Benz and Porsche. There are some good art museums and cultural life as befits a city of half a million inhabitants.

I have to admit that I am not a fan of Stuttgart. Not only because I live in Karlsruhe - these two cities have been rivals for long, even more so since Baden and Württemberg had to unite into one federal state in 1952. The Swabian dialect is, well, particular, and so is Swabian mentality.

There is one place in Stuttgart, though, that I really love: the Wilhelma! The vast grounds include the historical park with its buildings in moorish style, the zoo, and the botanical gardens and greenhouses.

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„The Wilhelma“ is widely known as the zoo of Stuttgart, but it is more than just the zoo. The vast grounds began their career in the mid-19th century. King Wilhelm I of Württemberg had himself a park designed. The buildings in the gardens show the then fashionable „moorish“ style. After 1880 the park was opened to the public and became Stuttgart's botanical garden; the historical greenhouses give testimony of those times. Only in the 1950s the first animals arrived, and the Wilhelma became Germany's only zoological-botanical garden.

In other words, there is a lot to see. The Wilhelma kept me busy for the entire day. There are the greenhouses with their displays of plants, the Moorish Garden, the outdoor gardens. There is the zoo with all kinds of animals that are a „must-have“ for a zoo of international standards, the aquarium, the Amazonas house, the butterfly house, the farm with endangered old races of domestic animals, the upbringing station for orphaned youngsters, and so on.

Prepare for a lot of walking. A round tour is marked that takes you everywhere, but keep your eyes open, the signposts and hence the route are easily missed. This main route is entirely without steps (side paths have stairs, though) and suitable for wheelchairs and prams, but make sure you have a powerful „horse“ to push, as the terrain is hilly with ups and downs and long distances.

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The Moorish Garden

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The Moorish Garden (Maurischer Garten) is the core of the historical gardens, designed for King Wilhelm I of Württemberg around 1850. The „moorish“ style was popular in those times, its model were the buildings from the Arab era in the South of Spain, in this case the Alhambra in Granada (the Wilhelma gardens were known as the „Alhambra of Stuttgart“). The garden is entirely surrounded by arcades and pavillons and accessible through a number of gates. The Northern side towards the hill is occupied by the long row of the tropical greenhouses. The southern wing which contained the moorish festival hall has been destroyed in the war and substituted by the modern aquarium and the crocodile house.

The most beautiful season to visit the Moorish Garden is a certain phase in spring when the magnolia trees are in bloom. The end of March and the first half of April is probably best - each year is different, so it is hard to fix a date. Magnolia blossoms are sensitive to freezing temperatures, so their beauty may quickly be ruined by a frosty night. My photos were taken in mid-April, a bit too late: the petals were already falling, but I got an idea what the garden would have looked like in full splendour.

Autumn colours are also beautiful. This series was taken in mid-October:

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The middle of the Moorish garden is occupied by a round basin which hosts a large collection of nymphaeas from all over the globe - they say, the largest collection in the world, but well, in Stuttgart they love superlatives...

The basin is most beautiful in summer and early autumn. The flowers come in various shapes and colours from white to pink, purple and blue.

These photos were taken in October, there were still many nymphaeas in bloom then. The lotus flowers already showed their characteristic fruit, as shown in the last photo. This shape is well known from Egyptian art.

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The Zoo

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Who is watching whom?

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Since the arrival of the first animals in the 1950s the zoo branch of the Wilhelma has been growing and thriving. They have all the usual specieses of animals a big zoo 'must' have, and also some rarities. Wilhelma is amodern scientific zoo run according to international standards and participating in worldwide breeding and conservation programmes.

A number of modern, roomy animal houses and wide outdoor enclosures have been built in recent years. Donations from companies and private hand have enabled the zoo to expand and modernize - you can tell that there is a lot of money in Stuttgart.

One of the finest recent acquisitions is perhaps the rocky landscape for bears, ibexes, mountain goats, beavers etc.

A focus in the collection seems to be on birds, I especially liked the large halls where they can fly freely and you walk among them.

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The new ape house has been opened in 2013. Bonobos and gorillas now have a roomy home where they live in family structures. I am not so sure how well I like the matter-of-fact modernist design of the interior with concrete, steel bars and ropes instead of wood and trees, though.

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Happy foster mum

Wilhelma is known for their hand-raising of ape babies, in particular gorillas. If ever possible, the littlies stay with their mothers in the group, of course. However, babies that are orphaned or rejected by their mothers must be taken care of by zookeepers. They also take in such babies from other zoos. Usually two or three youngsters of similar age are kept together. A part of the ape house is their “kindergarten”. You can watch them playing together and the zookeepers interacting with them, feeding, playing, cuddling.
Cuteness alert!

A construction site will soon make one of the „dark spots“ obsolete: the narrow old house for pachyderms. Currently the two elderly elephant ladies Zella and Parna inhabit a narrow post-war building, but the problem is being solved: Very soon they will be enjoying themselves in a much bigger home with fine outdoor areas that have been designed to meet the needs of senior elephants. The hippopotamuses and rhinos, currently also kept in not-so-pretty housing, are going to move, too.

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Watching Wildlife

Let me start with a quote from the Wilhelma website:

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Wilhelma is also held in high esteem as living quarters by wild animals that do not belong to the fixed stock of the zoo. Fox and hare meet up on the meadows in the night; during the daytime visitors notice above all the many birds: grey heron and storks are permanent guests at Wilhelma. Sometimes swans land on the ponds, mallard ducks are always there. Special visitors are green-legged moorhens, nuthatches, woodpeckers, tree-creepers and kingfishers. And the famous yellow-headed amazons are always appearing with a good deal of screeching in the trees at Wilhelma. Our visitors enjoy the lively activities of the „ordinary“ blackbirds, titmice and sparrows all over the park. Even squirrels, white weasels, martens and hedgehogs have found their paradise at Wilhelma, which supplies them with food and lodgings in the best of city locations.
Source of quote: http://www.wilhelma.de/en/animals-and-plants/animal-zoo-visitors.html

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The areas outside the cages and enclosures are buzzing with animal life, too. Keep your eyes open and there may be some surprising encounters. Good thing is that these wild animals who visit the zoo regularly are used to human visitors pointing cameras at them. You'll get a little closer to them than under normal wildlife circumstances, so take the chance for a snapshot. I am showing my best pictures here. All these are wild animals who move freely in and out of the zoo grounds, except the peacock who is a zoo inhabitant but also free to move all over the grounds.

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My favourite catch is the photo of the squirrel. It was sitting in a bush by the path and so busy nibbling on a nut that it let me approach to less than one metre of distance, my head and camera immersed in the branches of the same bush.

Insektarium and Butterfly Hall

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A favourite of mine is the butterfly hall, which is a greenhouse with tropical plants where the butterflies fly around and you walk among them. Big colourful tropical butterflies in many different specieses.

You can watch them feeding on flowers and assembling on the fruit plate, resting on leaves, flapping their wings. Flying foxes share the hall with the butterflies.

A good zoom helps if you want to take photos. Humidity is high inside the house, so the pictures may turn out rather „foggy“ at first until the camera has acclimatized.

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Pupae are displayed in a glass showcase so you can watch the butterflies hatch. When they are ready to fly they will then be released into the big hall.

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The butterfly hall is part of the Insektarium house that presents various genera of insects and also centipedes, spiders, scorpions and other arthropods. If you have a dislike for certain kinds of these creatures, better not look into all the showcases...

The most fascinating ones were, to me, the locusts in weirdest shapes, walking sticks and walking leaves – sorry no photo because of bad light conditions.

The Farm

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The „Demonstration Farm“ (Schaubauernhof) presents domestic animals and their wild ancestors: goats, pigs, horses, chickens, donkeys, sheep, rabbits, cows... quite interesting to compare the results of domestic breeding to the origin. A small exhibition in one of the stable buildings explains the development and changes from wild to domestic.

The domestic animals mostly belong to old races which have become rare with today's industrial farming and are on the brink of extinction. The zoo participates in breeding programmes to preserve these races and the genetic material. I especially loved the pigs: the race, Schwäbisch-Hällisches Schwein, named after the town of Schwäbisch Hall, is local and originates in Württemberg. These are pretty pigs with black heads and bums and whiteish-pink in between. One sow had a litter of ten and the piglets surely caused 'action'.

It is not a working farm, of course, but designed in the shape of farm buildings. Part of it is the children's zoo, where you can enter the enclosures and meet sheep and goats. These, and only these, may even be fed, but only the special food from the distributor for 50 cents a box.
The farm is located at the very back of the zoo grounds on the hilltop, a long way from the entrance and the historical gardens, but it is worth walking all the way up.

The „show farm“ is a popular attraction with visitors. Nevertheless there are currently (2017) plans to close and remove it. A new home for the elephants is to be built in its place. They want to build up a large breeding herd then. The current elephant house is pathetic and a change is necessary. The Wilhelma has no room to expand, that’s also obvious. Exotic animals are given preference over domestic specieses. But it would be a pity not to have these cute and interesting creatures any more. Decisions are not yet final, let‘s see.

Practical Hints:

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Pavillon at the main entrance

The gardens and zoo are open every single day of the year. Check the up to date opening hours and entrance fees on the website, as well as current events, the latest births, etcetera. One ticket is valid for each and every attraction in the park.
Website: http://www.wilhelma.de
Opening hours: Cash desk at the main entrance daily 8.15 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.
Entrance fees: Please consult the Wilhelma website for the different tickets and tariffs.
Getting there by public transport: underground line U14. The stop “Wilhelma” is located right outside the main entrance. From the city centre and the central station, it takes you there in a few minutes.

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:15 Archived in Germany Tagged stuttgart wilhelma Comments (4)

Zoo Landau

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Since we have just been discussing a zoo, here is another:

The zoo in Landau is not very big but excellent. It is run as a modern scientific zoo according to IUCN standards. The zoo takes part in several breeding programmes of endangered specieses and administers the international breeding register for the Philippine or Visayan Spotted Deer (Prinz-Alfred-Hirsch).

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Male Philippine spotted deer

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They have animals from all continents but only a selection of specieses, as space and conditions allow. In the middle of the town the zoo cannot expand. Tigers, zebras, penguins, chimps are there, for example, but no elephants or lions.

Bears used to be there. After their old bears died of age some years ago, though, the zoo decided not to get new bears but give their large enclosure to the tigers instead. Now the tigers have a roomy home in the far corner of the zoo. This enclosure is built into a bulwark of the former fortifications, in fact - hence the high brick walls.

They rather show less animals but keep them well. In my opinion this is a very good approach.

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At the same time the zoo is a place of leisure and entertainment. It seems to be popular among local kids, there were lots and lots of families there. Visitors may feed some of the animals but only healthy food (pellets) that has been bought at the zoo. Signs at the enclosures state clearly where visitors can or cannot feed the inmates.

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A zoo school group learning about the bennett wallabies

Landau zoo was one of the first that started educational programmes for children. They have a renowned „zoo school“ where schools can book lessons about about animals, nature, care for the environment and so on, which take place in the zoo. During the school holidays and on weekends they also offer activities and courses for children. The zoo school has received its own building in the zoo grounds a few years ago. In the meantime they have won several UNESCO awards for their work.

The zoo is located just north of the town centre within the walls of the 18th century fortress. From the market square it is a walk of less than 10 minutes.

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Some years ago I was able to attend a very special event in the zoo. The foundation of a women's service club was celebrated with an "Tropic night". They had set up a big tent smack in the middle of the zoo. A large bonfire was burning, and a group of young guys were playing African drums. The decoration was done with utmost ingenuity. Each table had one particular animal as topic, and they had designed miniature landscapes with sand and stones and plant material as habitat for toy animals of the respective species. At the entrance each of us had to draw a card with the image of an animal to find our table and seat. We had a buffet dinner in the tent, and then the zoo let the jaguar put on a little show "hunting" a big piece of meat that they hung into his cage, illuminated by one single spotlight. The weather was cooperating and we experienced an impressive and atmospheric summer night party.

This event was allowed only thanks to very special and very personal connections, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unfortunately I did not take photos then. That was before my activities on travel websites...

Practical Hints:

Opening hours: March - October 9.00-18.00, November - February 10.00-1600 (hours of the cash desk. Visitors can stay in the zoo grounds until one hour after the closure of the cash desk.)
Entrance fees: adults 8 €, seniors 7 €, concessions 6 €, children 4-12 years 3.50 €. Different family and group tickets available, also a combined ticket for 3 zoos (Landau, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe).
Website: http://www.zoo-landau.de

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Posted by Kathrin_E 23:34 Archived in Germany Tagged landau pfalz Comments (1)

Landau in der Pfalz: History between France and Germany

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Rathausplatz

Landau is the centre of Southern Palatinate, a town of 43,000 inhabitants. Not exactly a tourist hotspot but worth a closer look. History has seen several destructions, several changes of border and nationality between Germany and France. Since it is located within convenient day trip distance from my home, half an hour by train from Karlsruhe, it is easy to hop over for an afternoon.

Landau is situated on the small river Queich. In case you need to know a river with a name that starts in Q, for quizzes, games and such, here is one...

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Laundau's history as a town begins in times of the Staufer dynasty who built a castle in what is now the northwestern corner of the town centre. After 1308 the castle was demolished and the material used to build a wall round the whole town. For a short time Landau obtained the privileges of a free imperial city. Only one tower is left of the medieval fortification, the so-called Galeerenturm. It is located in the place of the castle that used to be in the northwestern corner of medieval Landau. The castle was demolished in 1308 and the stones were used to build the medieval town walls. These were torn down when the French built the baroque fortress under Vauban. Only this tower remained to be used as prison. Soon it was nicknamed the „galley tower“ instead of prison tower, and the name stayed.

Since France under Louis XIV annected Alsace in 1672/78 the area around Landau has been a border region. Being the largest town into the area Landau had quite some military significance. In 1689 Landau shared the fate of most towns and villages on both sides of the Upper Rhine: French troops burned it to ashes in the Palatinate Heritage War.

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Deutsches Tor, part of the French fortification

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The left Rhine bank was then occupied and kept by France for some years. The French military engineer Vauban turned Landau into a huge baroque fortress of enormous extent. The stones of the medieval town walls were used in the construction. Not much is left of the ramparts and bulwarks, though. The impressive two gatehouses, French Gate and German Gate, give an idea of the measures the fortification had. It covered probably more ground than the town itself.

Deutsches Tor is one of the two remaining gatehouses in Vauban's huge fortification which was built around the town in 1688-1691. The sheer size gives an idea how huge the ramparts must have been. It was named the „German“ gate because it is pointing north, towards Germany, as opposed to its southern opposite which was named the „French“ gate.

The outward gable bears a relief of Louis XIV's symbol, the sun, and his motto. The ideology behind: just like the rays of the sun reaches and warms everyone equally, the reign of the good sun king means well-being for all his subjects. A popular symbol among absolutist rulers.

The building is unused and in a sorry shape. Seems the town does not know what to do with it. It is surrounded by a well kept garden with lawns and blooming flower beds, though.

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Französisches Tor

Französisches Tor, the “French gate”, is pointing south, towards the mainland of France (Landau WAS part of France when it was built) and thus named the „French“ gate. The building is, unlike the neglected German Gate, well restored. It hosts a restaurant. The location is much closer to the lively town centre and pedestrian zone and far more attractive.

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Post-war times have brought a drastic and great change in politics: After being almost constantly at war for centuries, the two neighbouring nations France and Germany have become the closest friends and allies. Both gatehouses have received inscriptions and memorials that point out the French-German friendship. The stone monument in the garden next to Deutsches Tor shows two pairs of hands building a stone column. The sculpture was a donation of Ribeauville, Landau's French partner town, in 1987. It is entitled „Contruisons ensemble“ - Let's build together.

Landau was restituted to Palatine shortly before 1700 (in the peace treaty of Rijswijk in 1697, to be exact). Rebuilding the burnt town took its time. Three blocks in the old town were laid down to create a wide square. Rathausplatz is now the centre of city life. In the mornings, not sure how often per week, a farmers market is held here. The square is also the venue of the Christmas market.

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Marktstraße

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Previously, Landau had had no central square. The backbone of the town plan was a long market street, or street market, that ran through the entire town from north to south. A series of minor streets cut through the street market at a right angle. Even the modern town plan still shows this very old structure and the former market street is still named Marktstraße.

Marktstraße and several of its side streets are pedestrianized and this is where the shops are. Landau is actually much better for shopping than one would expect, especially for lower to medium budgets. There are several small local shops that don't exist in the large cities where the chains have taken over more or less everything.

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Back to history… Landau was once more conquered by France again in the Revolution Wars. Until 1813 the entire left Rhine bank remained French territory. A fresco on a house in Kleiner Platz recalls the good news when the bailiff announces the victory of the German coalition over Napoleon.

The repeated French occupations have nevertheless left traces in the culture of Palatine, in particular in the language. The regional dialect includes a large number of words with French origins. Most striking is the notorious "alla" at the beginning of a sentence, used in the sense of "all right" or "let's go" or "so be it"; linguists disagree whether it derives from French "allez" or "alors".
Someone once told me about his dog catching a "Lappi" (lapin) - a rabbit.
"Mach keine Fisimatenten" ("Don't make a fuss" or "Stop this nonsense") is one of the most peculiar. This is said to originate from "Visite ma tente" ("Visit my tent") - parents warning their daughters not to accept such invitations from French soldiers...

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The town hall in the main square was built in 1827 and originally housed the offices of the commander of the fortress. The equestrian monument in the square depicts the Bavarian Prince Governor Luitpold - the one who took over government when Ludwig II. was declared mad. In the 19th century Palatine was a Bavarian province.

Landau remained a military centre in the 19th century due to its location by the border and was again a significant base in the German-French War of 1870/71. In the 19th century the French baroque fortress was taken down and new military buildings were erected.

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Several military buildings dating from the 19th century are preserved, like the Red Casern which is now used by the university or the former barracks which have recently been turned into a shopping gallery and named Quartier Chopin.

The streets along the river Queich had probably been neglected for a long time. Modern town planning has decided to create a promenade walk with little bridges, with cafes and shops, benches and flower pots and such.

This looks still very new and has not yet been accepted as much as the planners hoped, it seems. But there is potential...

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What is left of Old Landau?

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Throughout the centuries Landau got its share of fires and destructions. Being a fortress it was even more involved in wars. Not much is left of pre-1689 Landau. Only one quarter of the old town has never been severely damaged and still has a notable amount of architecture that dates before the big fire of 1689. These few blocks are located right north of the main square and east of Marktstraße around the old warehouse (Kaufhaus), the Chapel of St Catherine, and the Frank-Loeb House.

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The Kaufhaus (warehouse) served as the town's centre of trade from the middle ages. It was also used for meetings and dancing. The earliest known mentioning dates from 1315. Its present appearance derives from profound changes aroudn 1840 when it was refurbished according to the ideas of 19th century Neo-Romanesque historism. Facades and the stepped gables were renewed. The building was turned into a theatre and concert hall. In the 1990s it has been renovated and now serves as cultural centre.

The eastern facade is covered in a modern mural. It shows the invention and naming of the „Landauer“, a type of horse-drawn carriage with a cover that folds to the front and back. Such a carriage was (first??) used by the Austrian King Joseph I. during the siege of Landau in 1702 and thus named after the town. The fountain in front of it shows scenes from Landau's history - which take a bit of time to figure out, though.

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The small church behind Kaufhaus named Katharinenkapelle (Chapel of St Catherine) was built in the mid-14th century for a community of Beguines, religious women who served in nursing. After the Reformation it was used for several profane functions. Since 1872 it has been used by the Old Catholic community of Landau, since 1959 they have been sharing it with the Lutheran community.

Restoration works discovered medieval frescoes on the inner walls of the choir. They depict scenes from the Passion of Christ. The crucification group above the arch also looks medieval but has, according to rumours in art history textbooks, been faked by the restaurator...

The little church is open in the daytime. The open door and a massive assembly of signs invite passers-by to enter, see the church, rest and pray.

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Frank-Loeb'sches Haus, the prettiest residential house of old Landau, located in Kaufhausgasse, was begun shortly after 1600. Its four wings surround a beautiful courtyard with wooden galleries. Just walk in. The courtyard has some tables that belong to a little restaurant and winery. The building is used as a cultural centre and memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Before World War II it was inhabited by Jewish families. The name „Frank“ might ring a bell. Indeed, the great-grandparents of Anne Frank used to live here after 1870.

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Stiftskirche, the main protestant church of the town, originally belonged to a convent of Augustine canons. Their old church next to the castle in the old town soon became too small, so the new one was begun soon after 1300 in the new suburb south of the river Queich. Nave and choir were consecrated in 1333. The steeple was, according to an inscription on the wall, begun in 1349 - just before the first plague epidemy hit Europe. In consequence, its completion took more than a century. The baroque top was added in 1715.

Already in 1522 the reformation was introduced. The canons were limited to the choir while the protestant parish used the nave. The simultaneum lasted until 1893 when the new catholic church of St Mary was completed.

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Not to be missed: the sacresty at the far end of the left side nave with its medieval frescoes.

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The catholic parish church zum Heiligen Kreuz (of the Holy Cross) used to be the church of the adjacent Augustine monastery until 1791 when the monastery was closed down. The gothic church was built in the typical plain pattern used by the mendicant orders, no steeple but just a tiny spire on top of the choir for the bells.

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The church has been hit by World War II bombs. The architecture has been repaired in its former shape but most of the furniture, the windows, the organ are modern. The stone baptismal font, dated 1506, has been brought here from the Stiftskirche.

The three wings of the baroque convent buildings adjacent to the church surround a beautiful cloister. It is an oasis of peace in the town centre. The late gothic cloister dates from the 15th century and has been integrated in the new baroque convent buildings that were erected in the mid-18th century. Old tombstones have been put up along the walls.

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The garden in the courtyard with the fountain in the middle has been planted a few years ago by initiative of Landau citizens. Benches invite to rest.
The quiet cloister is used for meditation services and concerts and the so-called „talks by the fountain“, meetings about religious topics.
World War II bombs have hit the complex and destroyed the eastern wing. A stone memorial on the wall recalls the 38 people who died in an air raid in that very spot.

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The square behind church and convent is named Edith-Stein-Platz. The reference to Edith Stein is no coincidence. Saint Edith Stein used to live in a Carmelite convent in nearby Speyer as Sister Theresia Benedicta vom Kreuz before her and her sister's deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The square east of the former Augustine monastery has been dedicated to her memory. The modern monument shows her portrait and signature in a steel frame. It is surrounded by a small park.

Gründerzeit Architecture

Like most cities Landau grew a lot in the so-called Gründerzeit, the „founders' era“, the times of the German Empire and industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th century. The typical architecture of those times is an eclectic mix of historical styles. Here is a collection of examples:

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A new catholic parish church, Marienkirche (Church of the Assumption of Mary), was built on the southern edge of the old town shortly after 1900. The neogothic building with the two tall spires has become a landmark in Landau's skyline. If you arrive, for example, on the train from Karlsruhe this church is the first striking building you notice from afar. The ground it was built on was part of the glacis on the outside of the baroque fortress. The fortress had been demolished after the war of 1871, so the ground became available. A whole new quarter was built in typical Gründerzeit style. The street behind the church is still named Glacisstraße, the only reminiscence to the fortifications.

Art Nouveau

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A bit later the town also received a notable amount of art nouveau architecture, including some pretty townhouses.

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The festival hall of Landau is one of the largest art nouveau buildings in the Southwest of Germany. A local industrial donated the money to build it. The architect Hermann Goerke from Düsseldorf won the competition and designed the building, which was erected in 1905 - 1907.

The rich decoration of the facade includes Egyptian motives which were highly en vogue in those times, for example the sphinxes on the porticus above the main entrance.

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1920s Architecture

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By coincidence I spotted this big complex of residential houses from the 1920s on the way back from Marienkirche into the old town. It consists of the main four-storey wing along Reiterstraße and side wings that surround a rectangular courtyard. From the south the street leads into the courtyard through an opening between the two short southern wings. The main wing has a big portal and passage that connects the courtyard with Reiterstraße.

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A small industrial building in Moltkestraße - according to the inscription it was a factory that produced paint and lacque.

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:40 Archived in Germany Tagged landau pfalz Comments (1)

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