A Travellerspoint blog

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Mariastein Abbey: Switzerland’s No. 2 Place of Pilgrimage

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Our women’s service club has a friendship link with a sister club in northern Switzerland. Once per year the two clubs meet for a day’s outing, taking turns which club plans and organizes our day together. Since we have been doing this for five decades, more and more ingenuity is needed to find new interesting destinations within easy reach, but so far both sides have always succeeded.

This year it was the Swiss ladies’ turn. They suggested Mariastein abbey. Mariastein is Switzerland’s second largest catholic pilgrimage centre (after Einsiedeln). The abbey is located southwest of Basel in the Jura hills, close to the French border, in a beautiful gentle valley. Or so it looks from the right side. The landscape is not as gentle as it seems, though. Right behind the abbey buildings there is a steep dropoff with almost vertical limestone cliffs.

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And that’s what caused the existence of this place of pilgrimage. In the middle ages, a little boy and his mother came to this place to pasture their cattle. While the mother sought refuge from the midday sun and rested in a shady cave, the child ventured out by himself and fell off the cliff. This would have been his certain death, but he was miraculously saved. His terrified mother found him alive and well on the valley ground, happily picking flowers. The boy told her that the Madonna had saved him and told him she wanted to be venerated in this very spot. The ceiling frescoes in the church show the legendary salvation.

The cave was then turned into a chapel. More and more pilgrims came to visit the place and pray. A priest was installed, a church was built. The Reformation set a temporary end to the pilgrimage, but after a second miracle occurred – a young local nobleman fell off the cliff and was saved just like the little boy had been – it started all over again. In the mid 17th century a convent of Benedictine monks settled in Mariastein and built their monastery above the pilgrimage chapel. Mariastein is still a working convent with 20 monks who live here permanently.

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Our friends picked us up at the station in Basel and took us to Mariastein by car. It must be easily doable to get there by public transport, too, judging from the number of post buses that passed through the main square during the day. The location is rural. A small settlement has grown round the abbey, but this can hardly be called a village.

After a quick morning coffee we had a tour of the abbey, guided by one of the monks. It started with a multimedia presentation that explained the history of the place as well as the daily life of the monks in the convent and the pilgrimage today.

Then we were taken to the convent buildings and the church. However, a hurried guide, and the things a human being has to do every now and then, got me into deep trouble. After the presentation I quickly went into the toilet, even told someone, and I surely didn’t linger – but when I left, everyone was gone and I found myself locked in.

No door would open, no phone or bell was there, and those of my dear friends whose numbers I had in my mobile had theirs turned off or left them at home.

Luckily the toilet window could be opened. It was too high for an unsporty fatty like me to climb out, but at least I was able to communicate with the world outside. I addressed three young people who were just passing, and they offered to help. The girl said, “We won’t go away until we got you out of here” – so sweet. They rang some bells until they got hold of an employee of the guesthouse who had the keys. Phew! May the Lord and the Madonna of Mariastein bless them!

Since I had no idea how to find my group but knew that the tour would take them into the church in the end, that’s where I went. This turned out a lucky decision in two respects: First, there was hardly anyone inside, so I caught some good photos of the church without people in them. Second, the group had finally noticed that I was missing and sent out a search party, who found me in the church. Phew again…

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So I had missed the beginning of the tour but I got to see the cloister and a bit of the convent buildings. The corridors have beautiful baroque stucco ornaments on the ceiling and antique pieces of furniture.

Of course they do not take visitors into the residential quarters of the monks. But our guide showed us the board with the names of all monks where the weekly duties are marked, who holds mass, and who works in the kitchen or serves at the table. All of them take turns in these necessary household jobs.

The convent buildings and the cloister are partly baroque, partly 19th and 20th century. The open courtyard in the middle of the cloister is occupied by a baroque garden with boxwood hedges and a fountain in the centre. The basin is inhabited by goldfish and two water turtles – the convent’s pets?

The sundial in the cloister is meant as a memento mori, a reminder that life is not endless. The inscription says, “All (hours) wound, the last kills.”

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The church’s interior has the appearance of a late baroque church, ornated with frescoes and stucco ornaments in white and gold. However, a lot of it is not as old as it looks. Between 1900 and 1934 the interior was refurbished in neobaroque style. This church interior is living proof that in catholic art, the baroque era lasted until the 20th century, if not beyond. The frescoes in the vaulted ceilings date from the 1930s! The choir is originally late gothic, as the vaults and the pointed arches in the windows show. The pulpit is an original baroque piece from the 18th century.

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A splendid, elaborate wrought-iron gate divides the monks’ choir from the nave. The design uses tricks of perspective to make it appear three-dimensional. In fact it is entirely flat, as a view from the side shows. The congruent lines that seem to run towards a distant vanishing point and the rhythm of the lines pretend a third dimension which in reality isn’t there.

Only the middle part is really baroque, created in 1695. The side arches are more recent additions. A closer look reveals the date 1929 inserted into the craftwork.

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In the church we got a special treat: Pater organist played us some pieces on the magnificent instrument on the western gallery. They also have a second, much smaller organ in the choir which is used for the monks’ canonical hours.

It was shortly before 12, and we stayed in the church to listen to the monks’ noon prayer. Five times a day they assemble in the choir to sing the hours according to the rules of the Benedictine order. The wrought-iron gate creates a transparent but impenetrable separation between the members of the convent and lay people in the nave.

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Afterwards we went down to the actual pilgrims’ chapel. The sanctuary is located in the cave above the cliffs where mother and child are said to have rested. One has to walk down flights of stairs and through a long subterranean passage underneath the abbey church to reach it. The walls of the passage are covered in thousands of memorial plaques where people express their thanks for the Madonna’s help in all languages. The sacred image of the Madonna on the altar is the destination of the pilgrimage. We saw people praying fervently in front of it. (I never take photos of people praying, so all I have is a snapshot of the altar and the sacred image discreetly taken from my seat.)

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Half an hour later we had an excellent lunch at the restaurant in Hotel zum Kreuz. Everything had been ordered in advance, went smoothly, and the food was very tasty.
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Afterwards we had some time to play with. Our hosts suggested a walk along the Way of the Cross, which leads up the hillside to the small chapel of St Anna.

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It was a wonderful spring day. The meadows were in bloom, all trees and bushes sported light green young leaves. On the higher mountaintops, though, there was still snow left from a recent dropdown in temperature that had also hit the blooming orchards round the abbey.

But now the sun was back and we enjoyed our walk. The hillside already offered a wide view over the valley.

When we reached the top of the ridge, it also opened up to the other side. The opposite slope was much steeper, as it is typical for the Jura hills. The view north and west extended over Basel to the snow-covered summits of Black Forest and Vosges. Landeskron castle occupies the neighbouring ridge. The walk was supposed to take half an hour but it took us more than one hour because we took so many photos.

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A glimpse through the trees in northern direction...

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... and zooming in the middle of the previous image: Basel and the snow-capped Black Forest in the background. The steeple of Münster church and Elisabethenkirche are visible. The huge Roche skyscraper is Basel's new landmark.

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Landeskron Castle

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Back down at the abbey, there was a wedding taking place at the church. The wedding party were posing all together in front of the church for the official wedding photo and video. A quadcopter was buzzing in the air to shoot a video from above.

It was an Indian wedding. Most of the ladies appeared in either saris or dresses made from the most colourful oriental fabrics. The bride wore a white bridal gown in European style, but bride and groom were wearing long flower wreaths according to Asian traditions (methinks). It was a colourful picture and I took the chance to catch some snapshots…

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However, it was already time to return to Basel and catch our train back home. We are looking forward to next year’s meeting with our Swiss friends – let’s see what ideas we will come up with.

Posted by Kathrin_E 06:03 Archived in Switzerland Tagged basel mariastein Comments (2)

Stuttgart: Schweinemuseum – Pig Museum

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A museum about pigs? My curiosity was wide awake after reading about it, so I dedicated a free afternoon in Stuttgart to this museum.
They claim to be the world’s biggest pig museum, but – well, first, they love superlatives in Stuttgart and everything there claims to be the world’s greatest or biggest. Second, I wonder how many more pig museums exist in the world at all. But let’s leave it at that…

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The pig tram from Basel in front of the museum

The museum is based upon a private collection. Its original location was in Bad Wimpfen. Only a couple of years ago it moved to Stuttgart, where it obtained a larger building with more room for the growing collection.

The museum occupies the former administration building of the city’s abattoir – a location that befits the topic. The slaughterhouses have long been moved out of the city and the grounds of the abattoir have been refurbished for other purposes. Most buildings have been demolished. Only the administration building, the police station and the house of the janitor remained.

In 2010 the buildings were bought by a certain lady named Erika Wilhelmer, who is the landlady of a well-known wine restaurant in Stuttgart as well as an avid collector of pigs and anything pig-related, and owner of the pig museum in Bad Wimpfen. She chose to combine her profession and hobby in these buildings, opened a restaurant and beer garden on the ground floor and established the pig museum on the upper floors.

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This museum is a fun attraction that can well be added after “serious” sightseeing to relax and enjoy. It is one of those really full museums which are made for looking round, exploring, discovering rather than didactic purposes, although there are thematic rooms and the exhibits are sorted by topic. There is something about the biology of the pig, about wild boars, about pork and cooking, a strongroom with thousands of piggy banks, pigs in art, pig toys, domestic pig races and pig breeding, pig-shaped kitchen and bathroom utensils, books about pigs from cookbooks to children’s stories and agriculture, pigs in ancient myths, pigs in movies… and also a ‘naughty’ room with Schweinereien to entertain adults. One room explains and illustrates common German sayings that involve pigs (like the pig being a symbol of good luck). Some items are valuable artworks, others are cheap little things. The rooms are filled to the brim with a gigantic collection of pig images, figurines of all sizes, plush animals, wooden pigs, plastic pigs, pottery pigs, paper pigs, metal pigs, glass pigs… The rooms are very full, but not messy. Even the tiniest pieces are neatly assorted into showcases, shelves and type cases, and not a speck of dust anywhere. They must dedicate hours to dusting every day.

Explanations are in German but, actually, you do not need any explanations to enjoy 98% of the collection. Only when it comes to these sayings and puns, translations would be helpful to visitors who don’t speak German. (On the other hand, come to think of it, if you have to explain a joke it isn’t funny anymore.)

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Bathroom utensils

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Visiting the museum may take about an hour at relaxed pace. Then it is time for some refreshment. The restaurant and beer garden are an inviting addition. There is the restaurant on the ground floor, the serviced terrace right outside, and the self-service beer garden on the right. The beer garden also serves food, but in accordance with beer garden traditions there you are welcome to bring and consume your own food while you buy drinks from them.

It was a hot afternoon when I visited, and I had an hour left until I had to catch my train at the central station. The prospect of a cool beer or Radler in the shade of a tree was indeed appealing. I tried hard to resist the temptation but did not succeed…

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Practical Hints:

Getting there: U9 to “Schlachthof”, runs every 10 minutes during the day.

Opening hours: daily 11:00 - 19:30

Entrance fee: adults 5.90 €, concessions 5 €, children 7-14 years 3 €, children 4-6 years 1.50 €, children under 4 are free.

Website: http://www.schweinemuseum.de/

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Miniatures

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Kitchen utensils

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The play room is full of pig-related toys

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Plushies... I actually own one just like the young boar with the blue eyes, second left in the front row, which I got for my birthday from my grandparents as a child

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Piggy banks in the strongroom

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Good-luck greeting cards, most of them for New Year

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The description of an ideal new employee or perfect project, the dream of every boss, is the proverbial Eierlegende Wollmilchsau, the egg-laying, wool-growing, milk-giving sow.

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... now this is what we call a big Sauhaufen!

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:13 Archived in Germany Tagged stuttgart Comments (1)

Allerheiligen: Romantic Ruins in a Quiet Black Forest Valley

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The narrow side valley named „Allerheiligen“ (All Saints) used to be the site of a monastery. All that is left of it are the ruins of the medieval church, which form a romantic setting in a remote Black Forest valley.

Allerheiligen is best visited by car. The site is located near Oppenau and Ottenhöfen, just off Schwarzaldhochstraße (B500).

The Premonstratensian abbey dates back to the 1190s when a lady from high nobility donated the land for the foundation of the convent. The monks, or rather canons as the Premonstratensians aren’t monks, strictly speaking, stayed and ran the convent for more than 600 years.

In the secularization of 1803 the abbey, which then belonged to the bishopric of Strasbourg, was occupied by the Elector of Baden and closed down. The canons had to leave for good. Due to its remote location, establishing a parish would have made no sense. The church was given up.

During the following years the unused church and convent buildings were used as stone quarry. Only ruins remained of the gothic church. Parts of the choir and transept with one side of the central spire are still there, also the western porch and the arcade of the right side nave.

The Romanesque porch is the oldest part of the church, probably built shortly after the foundation of the monastery in the late 12th century. The church was renewed around 1400.

The ruins can be visited for free, access is possible any time.

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Under the Romanesque porch

If you visit in winter, like we did, take care because there is no clearing done and ice on the ground may be really dangerous.

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The former barn of the monastery now contains a small exhibition on the history of the Premonstratensian abbey and its destruction. The most interesting piece is a model of the whole monastery as it was before 1800. Entry to the exhibition is free. It is open from April to October.

The terraces of the monastery's baroque garden with their stone balustrades still exist. Little fountains enliven the basins on the different levels. A quiet spot to relax and enjoy the landscape. Under the winter snow it is hard to guess what the garden will look like in summer. Surely it has boxwood hedges like a baroque garden should, and the open water basins will reflect the blue skies...

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The Seven Waterfalls

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The war memorial

The creek named Lierbach that runs along the valley of Allerheiligen forms a series of seven waterfalls in a rock gorge a bit further down. It is a short hike to the falls but do not underestimate it. In the gorge the path is rather steep and consists mostly of stairs. It is safe to walk except in icy or very muddy weather conditions, solid ground and stone steps. No problem for people who are, like me, scared of heights.

There is another parking lot at the bottom of the waterfalls so you can leave your car there, hike up, see the ruins and go back down, or vice versa.
Sorry I cannot post any photos of the waterfalls here. When I last visited we could not go there due to ice and snow, and the time before I had not yet had a digital camera.

On a hilltop on the other side of the valley, the Schwarzwaldverein in 1925 erected a memorial for their members who died in World War I.
From the memorial you have a nice view of the valley and the monastery. Due to the icy paths we did not climb up, though.

Mark Twain's Visit To Allerheiligen

In the 19th century tourism began in the Black Forest. Visitors soon discovered this romantic location with the ruins and the seven waterfalls further down the valley. A hotel and restaurant was built, and Allerheiligen became a popular location for hikers and day-trippers, both Germans and foreigners. One of the most prominent visitors was the American author Mark Twain who reports about the place in „A Tramp Abroad“, a book which is half travel report and half fiction but entirely hilarious and fun to read. Recommended to everyone who knows, or plans to visit, this region.
Mark Twain tells us about a hike up to the monastery ruins and waterfalls of Allerheiligen:

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The hotel where Mark Twain had his disappointing trout

"All our afternoon's progress had been uphill. About five or half past we reached the summit, and all of a sudden the dense curtain of the forest parted and we looked down into a deep and beautiful gorge and out over a wide panorama of wooded mountains with their summits shining in the sun and their glade-furrowed sides dimmed with purple shade. The gorge under our feet - called Allerheiligen - afforded room in the grassy level at its head for a cozy and delightful human nest, shut away from the world and its botherations, and consequently the monks of the old times had not failed to spy it out; and here were the brown and comely ruins of their church and convent to prove that priests had as fine an instinct seven hundred years ago in ferreting out the choicest nooks and corners in a land as priests have today.

A big hotel crowds the ruins a little, now, and drives a brisk trade with summer tourists. We descended into the gorge and had a supper which would have been very satisfactory if the trout had not been boiled. The Germans are pretty sure to boil a trout or anything else if left to their own devices. (...)

We went down the glen after supper. It is beautiful - a mixture of sylvan loveliness and craggy wildness. A limpid torrent goes whistling down the glen, and toward the foot of it winds through a narrow cleft between lofty precipices and hurls itself over a succession of falls. After one passes the last of these he has a backward glimpse at the falls which is very pleasing - they rise in a seven-stepped stairway of foamy and glittering cascades, and make a picture which is as charming as it is unusual."

(A Tramp Abroad, Chapter XXII)

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:32 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest allerheiligen Comments (0)

Mummelsee and Hornisgrinde

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Mummelsee is a small lake high up in the Black Forest. For some reason the water assembled here, high on the slope of Hornisgrinde mountain, and formed this body of water. In former times this was a really remote location among deep fir forests, often covered in clouds and fog. Thus the lake is shrouded in plenty of myths and legends.

Nowadays it is a hotspot of Black Forest tourism. The panoramic route of B500, Schwarzwaldhochstraße, passes right by the bank of the lake. A hotel and restaurant has been built, and there is a large parking lot with souvenir stalls. The route is particularly popular among motorbikers because of its many bends. Without a car, the lake can best be reached from Baden-Baden on the KVV bus line 245.

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Hiking up Hornisgrinde

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The lake is not only an attraction in itself, but also the perfect starting point for an easy hike to Hornisgrinde. From there it’s hardly more than half an hour or 45 minutes, depending which trail one takes, to the top of the highest mountain in the Northern Black Forest (1163 metres). “Grinde” is a local word that translates to “bald head”. Many higher peaks in the Black Forest have a Grinde, a “bald” patch without trees, at the top. This mountain has even been named after it.

The exposed ridge bears a radio tower operated by SWR, the regional TV and radio, that transmits various programmes, as well as Telekom’s transmitting tower. Neither is accessible to the public, though. In former times there used to be also military usage. The tall masts are visible from afar in the Upper Rhine plain.

Due to its position close to the Upper Rhine Plain, the views from the top over the wide valley and the hills are amazing. There are even two towers for even better views.

Well, that’s the theory.

Our planning turned out to be less than perfect, though…

Our plans involved the hike to the summit first, then lunch at Mummelsee hotel and a walk round the lake. We arrived by bus via Baden-Baden in the morning. Down in the valley the weather had been nice but Hornisgrinde had her head in the clouds. That meant dense fog. My photos look like late autumn but they were taken in August.

Nevertheless we hiked up. Views were, obviously, close to zero. All of a sudden, the viewing tower emerged from the foggy grey like a ghost. Nobody felt like climbing the tower, though… how come?

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A glimpse into the moor
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Boardwalk and explanations

The summit of Hornisgrinde is a wide plateau. Due to the many rains it receives – this is one of the wettest places in the whole country - and the water-impermeable rocks underneath, a moor has developed on top of the mountain.

It is a protected nature reserve, and a very interesting one.

Humans are not allowed to walk into the moor (sheep and slugs are allowed in), not only for safety reasons but because a single footstep would cause severe damage which takes many long years to repair, as the moor grows only by one millimetre per year.

A boardwalk leads through the moor, and several information boards explain its development and delicate ecology, the plants and animals, the climate and so on.

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The foggy day brings out amazing colours in the grass of the moor.

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Sheep and slugs are allowed in

We walked a loop on the summit, following the boardwalk across the moor. The path then lead us back into the forest in downhill direction towards the lake again. Historical borderstones along the path tell of those times when the border between Baden and Württemberg ran over this ridge.

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Russell the Wombat enters Württemberg with his front paws while his bum is still in Baden.

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The new hotel and restaurant

We had lunch at the restaurant of Mummelsee hotel. This hotel has suffered a sad fate: A couple of years ago it burned down to the ground. In the meantime it has been rebuilt from scratch and is all new and shiny. The lunch was fine but not too remarkable. Extraordinary, however, was the beer. They serve beer from a small local brewery, and their speciality is Vollmondbier (full moon beer), which they claim to brew at full moon only. I cannot tell whether this is true or an advertising gimmick, and I did not feel any magical effects either, but this is a fine, tasty brown beer that I enjoyed very much.

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After lunch, the clouds had lifted. The sun appeared, and the landscape view was wide open. We should have planned our itinerary the other way round… No one felt like doing the hike to the mountain top again, though.

We walked the path round the lake after lunch. This is an easy walk of about 1 km length. We weren’t the only ones, though. The lake is a popular destination, parking lot and path were busy with people. So we hopped on the next bus back to Baden-Baden and then returned home.

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Summer landscape view

The Legends of Mummelsee

Numerous legends are connected with this mystic lake. In bright sunshine it looks harmless, but imagine the place without the road and the tourist infrastructure, far up in the mountains, in fall or winter, under low clouds, in fog, or with a storm howling in the trees, at night… Add a sprinkle of superstition, and the setting is more than ready for scary stories.

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Posing as water spirits

Very long ago, so old legends tell, there was a monastery up here between the mountain tops. The convent of pious monks was often visited by the people from the valleys around, who came to pray at this holy place. However, one morning they arrived and did not find the monastery any more. Instead there was a dark, cold, deep lake. The church, the convent, everything had sunken in the waters and disappeared. Since then the place has been considered haunted.

Throwing stones into the lake, for example, is said to arouse a thunderstorm.

Many legends tell of the water sprites who inhabit the depths of the lake, the king of the lake, and his daughters. Every night the beautiful nymphs rise to the surface to sing and dance. The most famous tale is this one.

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The nymphs of Mummelsee
Painting in the Trinkhalle in Baden-Baden

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The nymphs were good spirits. In former times they used to go down to the farms and villages in the daytime to help people with their daily work. However, they had to be back in the crystal palace at the sea bottom as soon as night fell.

Once a nymph fell in love with a young man, son of a farmer, from a nearby village. She came to the village inn and danced with her loved one, another dance, and another, and another – and totally forgot the time.

Suddenly the clock stroke ten. Panicking, the nymph ran up into the forest and to the lake together with her loved one. On the lakeshore she told him, “We will probably never meet again, I must die for not returning in time. Wait for a moment. If you see blood rising in the water, then I have lost my life.” Then she dived in and disappeared.

The young man anxiously stared into the water. It was a dark, moonless night, the waters were totally still. Then he saw a cloud of blood rising from the depth. The poor nymph had died for her love. And no nymph has ever made her way back to the village since.

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During a previous visit in mid-winter: The lake was frozen over, and we could walk across on solid ice. That year we had a really cold January with lots of snow.
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Posted by Kathrin_E 16:09 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest baden-württemberg Comments (1)

Baden-Baden: Germany's poshest spa

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In Lichtentaler Allee
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Friedrichsbad
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Kurpark
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House in "Swiss" style
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Protestant church
in Augustaplatz

Baden-Baden is Germany’s most upscale spa town. Statistically, the average age of the population is the highest in the whole country, as it is a popular place for retirement among wealthy people, which one can't fail to notice when walking the streets.
Not only Germans, but also foreigners, in particular Russians. A glimpse into the shop windows tells of the average customers’ style as well as the size of their wallet.

One can certainly spend a lot of money in Baden-Baden.

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A sight that characterizes posh Baden-Baden 'in a nutshell' is the flea market: There you will find fur coats and Chanel dresses on sale among the usual flea market knickknack. The flea market takes place on Saturday mornings in front of the Trinkhalle. People set up their stands on the paved small road along the edge of the park. A good spot not only for typical flea market items but also second-hand luxury brands. The smaller your size in clothing, the luckier you'll probably be.

On the other hand, Baden-Baden has a lot to offer for the shoestring traveller, too: The atmosphere, the architecture in the old town and the spa quarters, the walk along the river and through the lovely parks, people-watching in town, sampling the water from the thermal springs, hiking the forests and enjoying the views, the visit to Hohenbaden castle, all this is free.

Why the double name? In the late middle ages the castle named Baden (the ruins now known as Hohenbaden) became the centre and residence of the Margraves who named themselves after the castle. When the house of Baden split up in two lines, the one that stayed here named itself „Baden-Baden“, the other one „Baden-Durlach“ (later the founders of Karlsruhe). The town's name remained „Baden“ until people noticed that they were frequently mixed up with the just as famous spa of Baden bei Wien in Austria. The resolution was made to use the Margraves' name of „Baden-Baden“ from then on to distinguish the towns.

The healing powers of the hot springs were already known to the ancient Romans who named the place „Aquae“ - waters. In the 19th century Baden-Baden became the summer capital of Europe where the powerful, the rich and the important (and those who wanted to be) met for the holidays. The late 19th century, the belle époque, has formed the appearance of the town till today: elegant hotels and villas, the parks along the river Oos and Lichtenthaler Allee, the spa hall and the casino, upscale shops...

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Mark Twain on Baden-Baden

One of the 19th century visitors was Mark Twain. The author travelled the Black Forest in the 1870s and wrote a book about it, which is 50% travel report and 50% fiction, but 100% entertaining and hilarious: „A Tramp Abroad“. I recommend it to all visitors to this region.
Here is Mark Twain's opinion on Baden-Baden:

„Baden-Baden sits in the lap of the hills, and the natural and artificial beauties of the surroundings are combined effectively and charmingly. The level strip of ground which stretches through and beyond the town is laid out in handsome pleasure grounds, shaded by noble trees and adorned at intervals with lofty and sparkling fountain-jets. Thrice a day a fine band makes music in the public promenade before the Conversation House, and in the afternoon and evening that locality is populous with fashionably dressed people of both sexes, who march back and forth past the great music-stand and look very much bored, though they make a show of feeling otherwise. It seems like a rather aimless and stupid existence. A good many of these people are there for a real purpose, however; they are racked with rheumatism, and they are there to stew it out in the hot baths. These invalids looked melancholy enough, limping about on their canes and crutches, and apparently brooding over all sorts of cheerless things. People say that Germany, with her damp stone houses, is the home of rheumatism. If that is so, Providence must have foreseen that it would be so, and therefore filled the land with the healing baths. Perhaps no other country is so generously supplied with medicinal springs as Germany. Some of these baths are good for one ailment, some for another; and again, peculiar ailments are conquered by combining the individual virtues of several different baths. For instance, for some forms of disease, the patient drinks the native hot water of Baden-Baden, with a spoonful of salt from the Carlsbad springs dissolved in it. That is not a dose to be forgotten right away. (...)
It is an inane town, filled with sham, and petty fraud, and snobbery, but the baths are good. I spoke with many people, and they were all agreed in that. I had the twinges of rheumatism unceasingly during three years, but the last one departed after a fortnight's bathing there, and I have never had one since. I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is welcome to it. It was little, but it was all I had to give. I would have preferred to leave something that was catching, but it was not in my power.
There are several hot springs there, and during two thousand years they have poured forth a never-diminishing abundance of the healing water. This water is conducted in pipe to the numerous bath-houses, and is reduced to an endurable temperature by the addition of cold water. The new Friederichsbad is a very large and beautiful building, and in it one may have any sort of bath that has ever been invented, and with all the additions of herbs and drugs that his ailment may need or that the physician of the establishment may consider a useful thing to put into the water.“
(Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad, Chapter XXI)

Things To Do For Free In Baden-Baden

Baden-Baden is a posh spa and thus well known for being ... not cheap. Budget travelers, check prices carefully.
There are, however, enough things that can be done for free to keep you busy for a day, for example:

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~ Walking through the Kurpark
~ The afternoon concerts in the 'concert shell' in front of the Kurhaus
~ People-watching and window-shopping in Kurhauskolonnaden and the old town
~ Drinking the healing waters in the Trinkhalle or at Fettquelle next to Friedrichsbad (bring an empty bottle or a cup)
~ A walk along Lichtentaler Allee to see the beautiful parks and gardens, hotels and villas
~ Gönneranlage gardens
~ All the churches
~ Courtyard and church of Lichtenthal monastery
~ Strolling through the old town up to the terrace at the New Palace for the view
~ Hike up to castle Hohenbaden, visiting the ruin is also free
~ Lots of hiking trails in the surrounding forests

Warning: Do Not Walk From The Train Station Into Town. Take the Bus.

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Leopoldsplatz, the heart of town
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All this said: The one thing that even shoestring travellers should not be skint about is a bus ticket. Don’t try to walk from the railway station into town. Baden-Baden's train station is situated far out of the town centre in the suburb of Oos. From there to the city centre it's some 5 kms.
The way is not dangerous at all but looooooong. You'll be on your feet for at least an hour along a boring street and be tired already before you even reach anything that reminds you of what you have seen in your guidebook.

Take the bus instead. Buses depart every couple of minutes in front of the train station. Baden-Baden is part of the KVV network, so if you come from Karlsruhe or anywhere else in the area and have a KVV ticket to Baden-Baden, it includes the bus anyway.

Several lines go into town from the train station. The easiest is Bus 201 (direction: Lichtenthal) which runs every 10 minutes and stops right at the station. The line begins here, so there is almost always a bus waiting. Don't leave the station through the station building but keep right and walk round it. Then stumble into the open doors of the bus that's standing right there.

A faster but less frequent option is the express bus („Schnellbus“) 205 which departs from the next bus stop further right, in front of the 201.
The ride takes, depending on traffic conditions, some 15-20 minutes. Get off at „Leopoldsplatz“ and you'll be in the heart of town. The old town is on your left, the Kurpark and Kurhaus and the beginning of Lichtenthaler Allee just round the corner to the right. Another central stop is “Augustaplatz”.

The single ticket is 2.40 € (2017). In case you plan to use the bus at least 3 times, a day ticket makes sense. All further details can be found on www.kvv.de

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Baden-Baden’s Healing Waters

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Trinkhalle (drinking hall) hosts the tourist information office and one of Baden-Baden's thermal springs, the Friedrichsquelle. Hot spring water is constantly running from the tap and may be taken for free. Bring a bottle or a cup, or get a plastic cup for 20 cents there.

It is recommended not to drink more than 400 ml of this water per day. Well, I assume you won't want more. The taste is strange, rather salty. Give it a try, though - this is one of the things one simply HAS to do when in Baden-Baden...

The 19th century hall was built as a shady refuge where people could walk up and down, talk, watch and be watched while sipping their water. The paintings on the walls show scenes from old regional legends and fairy tales.

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The relief in the gable above the main entrance shows the healing powers of Baden-Baden's springs. From left to right, sick and old people are brought to the spring, which is impersonated by the nymph in the centre who is giving water to a little child and his mother. On the right side, healthy and happy young people are dancing and playing with their children.

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Fettquelle
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Friedrichsbad
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Exhibitions around the Roman Baths

Fettquelle („fat spring“) is one of the hot springs on the slope of the Florentinerberg - the only one that's accessible outdoors. The spring is situated between Friedrichsbad and the church of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre (Heilig-Grab-Kloster) in the back wall underneath the staircase.

Water may be taken for free. Its healing powers are proven. I once heard from a local that, as children, they were told by their parents to pass the spring each day on the way to school and drink a cup of the water, in order to prevent colds, and they hardly ever got sick.

Warning: Do not try to drink straight from the fountain. Bring and use a cup or a bottle, or you’ll burn your mouth severely. The water has a temperature of about 60 °C (Celsius!!), which translates to 140 °F.

Two large public spas invite to soaking and relaxing in the thermal waters, and several hotels also have their own spa facilities. The two public spas as well as the Roman ruins are administered by the same company. All further details, opening hours, ticket prices etc. etc. can be found on their website: http://www.carasana.de/

Friedrichsbad is the most beautiful spa, situated in a beautiful 19th century neo-renaissance building. Following the example of the ancient Romans, the bath has a fixed curriculum which takes about 2-3 hours. Guests do not need to bring towels or anything, everything is provided. Friedrichsbad is entirely nude. Sexes are separated except in the big pool at the end. If you mind, better go to Caracallatherme instead. (Since I do mind, I have never been inside Friedrichsbad.)

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Ruins of the Roman Baths

Underneath Friedrichsbad, remnants of the ancient Roman spa have been excavated. The archaeological site can be seen at the entrance to the parking garage. The opening hours are limited to one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, sadly. The entrance fee includes an audioguide which is helpful to understand what you see, there are no written explanations in the excavations. The audioguide is available in several languages. Strictly no photography inside (*whispers* but when the thing is closed no one can keep you from taking photos through the window).

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Friedrichstollen

A small door in the steep hill slope behind Friedrichsbad is the entrance to a system of 19th century tunnels, 160 m long, that lead to four hot springs in the Florentinerberg hill. The temperature range of these natural springs is 64 to 67.5 degrees Celsius.

The tunnels, known as Friedrichstollen, are not accessible for visitors. The name of the spa and the tunnels, by the way, refer to Grandduke Friedrich I, who ruled Baden for more than 50 years in the 19th and early 20th century.

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Caracallatherme is a modern building. It contains several indoor and outdoor pools with hot thermal water of different temperatures, sauna, massages etc. A great way to relax after a day of sightseeing. The pool area requires swimwear. The strictly separated sauna part is nude like all saunas in this country. The decision is up to the visitors, though: you can buy tickets for the pool area only, for the sauna only, or for the entire spa with both. The pools are equipped with water jets and other bubbling and splashing toys. The outdoor pool is particularly pleasant on chilly days.

The little church next to Caracallatherme is a memento of health treatment during the middle ages. Spitalkirche was part of the medieval hospital, which was established by the hot springs. The church is now used by the Old Catholic community. Note the 16th century tombstones along the walls and the Mount of Olives behind the choir.

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The Old Town

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The old town centre on the slopes of Florentinerberg hill has narrow streets, shops, restaurants and cafes (most of which can't be called cheap). There are many picturesque streetviews and romantic angles, worth a stroll and a look.

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Some hidden reassures from Baden’s past can be found in the alleys and backyards. For example the „Giant Rider“, an ancient Roman sculpture, made in the 1st or 2nd century A.D., that was found near Haueneberstein in 1911. The one in the street is a copy, the original is now in the Stadtmuseum. A narrow passage through the house next to the ice-cream shop in Lange Straße leads to a hidden courtyard where the sculpture is put up.

From here, a stairway leads up the hill to the house called Baldreit. The Baldreit was first mentioned as a bath and guest house in the 15th century.

After the destruction in the 17th century wars it was rebuilt, its current appearance derives from the 18th and 19th century.

The romantic courtyard is well hidden in the old town. The easiest acess wil be from the upper corner of Marktplatz opposite the steeple of the Stiftskirche; follow the sign down the stairs.

The building is used by the Stadtmuseum (town museum) as offices and storage; the museum's exhibitions are in a different building in Lichtentaler Allee.

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The former residence of the Margraves of Baden-Baden on top of Florentinerberg was first built in the 16th century and later extended. It is known as Neues Schloss (New Palace) to distinguish it from the old castle Hohenbaden. In 1700 Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm decided to move to Rastatt where he had his new baroque palace and town erected. The palace in Baden-Baden served only for occasional visits from then on.

The building remained property of the Margraves of Baden even after 1918. In 1995 the Margraves, who were close to bankruptcy then, sold the palace and all its interior in an auction. An investor bought the building and planned to turn it into a hotel. But for many years nothing happened, probably due to financial problems. The decay of the building continued.

Neues Schloss has been in the headlines every now and then over the years, when there were rumours that a new investor had been found and new plans had been made. „With utmost care“ (whatever that is supposed to mean) the palace will be turned into a luxury hotel. A new building is planned in the park. The hotel was to open in 2013, currently the date mentioned is 2018 – let’s see.

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The palace itself is closed to visitors. If the main gate is open, at least a (forbidden) peep into the courtyard is possible. The terrace below is accessible and offers a fine view of the town and the valley, with Stiftskirche front and center.

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The catholic parish church of the city is standing above the remnants of the Roman baths. The 13th century church was enlarged and changed in the late 15th century, then burnt down in the French war of 1689 and rebuilt afterwards. The choir contains several graves of Margraves of Baden(-Baden), among them Ludwig Wilhelm, Türkenlouis, the founder of the new residence at Rastatt and famous commander of the Empire's troops against the Turks around 1700.

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Another religious institution used to be its next-door neighbour. The Kloster zum Heiligen Grab (Convent of the Holy Sepulchre) was founded by Margrave Leopold Wilhelm in the late 17th century. The baroque church of St Joseph got a new facade in neo-baroque style in 1895. Some 20 or 25 years ago the convent was closed down, the last nuns moved to an old people's home. The furniture and everything was sold in an auction and is gone for good. The school the nunnery ran is still in operation. The convent buildings are empty.

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Kurhaus – Casino: How to get rid of all your money

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The centre of any spa town is the Kurhaus where the guests meet for entertainment, food and drink, to watch and be watched. The Kurhaus contains halls for concerts, dancing and other events, a restaurant and cafe, and of course Baden-Baden's famous casino with its extravagant, impressive interior.

The casino is open for gambling after 2 p.m. They are doing roulette, poker, black jack and all those games I have no idea of. Minimum age is 21. Passport or ID card have to be shown (driver's licence is not accepted) - because they check if your name is on the list of banned gambling addicts, that's all.

If you want to watch or join the gambling, take into consideration that the Casino has a strict dress code. For men this means shirt, jacket and tie. (Shirt and tie without jacket are not considered formal dress in Germany.) Women should dress 'appropriate'. No need to panic, if you don't have these items with you. In case of need a tie and a jacket can be borrowed from the Casino reception.

This applies, however, only for the part with the roulette and poker tables and only after 2 p.m. when the gambling starts.

For the guided tours in the morning and to visit the part with the slot machines there is no dress code at all, normal casual wear is all right.

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In the mornings the fancy rooms can be visited with guided tours (no dress code). The guides will explain the different rooms, the games and so on. The lush interiors are worth seeing even when there is no gambling going on.

Kurhauskolonnaden: Where to Shop after Winning a Fortune at the Casino?

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Ever felt the need for a silver holder (€ 38,-) to put your ketchup or soy sauce bottle in, or similar souvenirs?

Baden-Baden's poshest shops are to be found in the Colonnades in front of the Kurhaus: fashion, jewelry, and stuff like that. Prices are, well, what you'd expect them to be.

If you want to spend a lot of money this is where to go.

If you don't want to spend money, this is the perfect area for people-watching...

Some people are seriously interested in all that expensive kitsch and nonsense in these shops. Amazing!

What to buy: Jewelry, fashion, accessoires, if someone else pays or you have just won a lot of money.
Otherwise, nothing.

What to pay: A lot…

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Festspielhaus: Concerts, Opera, Theater At Highest Stage

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Concerts, opera, ballet, musical ... Want to hear and see the world stars of classical music and theatre? They all come here sooner or later.
Even though it has been opened only in 1998, the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden has become one of the leading opera and concert halls in Germany. Expect ticket prices to be just as upscale. Book tickets well in advance: http://www.festspielhaus.de/

And dress up. Men: jacket and tie, better suit and tie. Women accordingly. You cannot be overdressed here. For a performance of classical music or opera, a long evening dress is certainly not out of place.

The main building in the back with audience and stage was designed by the architect Wilhelm Holzbauer in postmodern style. The front part, however, is 100 years older.

The entrance hall is actually the old train station of Baden-Baden. After the railway from the main station in Baden-Oos into town had been closed down and substituted by city buses, the neo-classicist station building was transformed into vestibule and box office for the new theater.

The counter that once sold train tickets now serves as box office underneath the original sign saying „Fahrkarten“ (train tickets).

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NB: More about the walk along Lichtentaler Allee and about Hohenbaden castle will follow in separate entries!

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:43 Archived in Germany Tagged baden-baden Comments (1)

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