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...
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.
Deutsches Tor, part of the French fortification
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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...
What is left of Old Landau?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not to be missed: the sacresty at the far end of the left side nave with its medieval frescoes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
A bit later the town also received a notable amount of art nouveau architecture, including some pretty townhouses.
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.
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.
A small industrial building in Moltkestraße - according to the inscription it was a factory that produced paint and lacque.