Eppingen is one of those places where the unsuspicious tourist is totally stressed because s/he doesn not know which photo to take first! There are picturesque views in abundance round every corner.
The skyline, first thing you see from the station, is already promising. Pfeifferturm and the steeple of the catholic church are the peaks, surrounded by half-timbered gables and tile roofs. The old town covers a hill, so topography adds to the view.
Eppingen advertises as „Fachwerkstatt (town of timberframe)“ and this isn't exaggerated. This small town, hardly known beyond its immediate surroundings and totally off the beaten path, is a treasure chamber full of fine half-timbered houses. It would be a perfect location for a tutorial on this type of construction because it assembles a variety of styles in excellent quality.
Eppingen is one of the very rare places in this region that escaped all the wars. This lucky town has neither been burned to ashes in the 30 Year War of 1618-1648, nor burned to ashes by the French in the Palatinate Heritage War in 1689, nor smashed to pieces in World War II. In other words, there is authentic architecture that has been preserved since the late middle ages. The oldest half-timbered houses date from the 15th century.
Even more, the town's authorities have taken the effort to display and explain. On the way from the station you can walk along a trail with 1:1 models of construction details. In town all the important buildings have a board with background information and entertaining stories. More details can be learned in the museum in the Old University.
Fachwerkpfad – A Tutorial on Timberframe
Alemannisches Weible, 1 : 1 model and in reality on Schwegebiebelhaus
The tutorial on timberframe architecture begins already on the way from the station into the old town. The direct way is a small path along the park and gardens. Along this path, models of different historical constructions in original size have been put up. Each of them is about 2 metres high and shows one element, or figure, that can be found on the half-timbered houses in the town.
For example, the Franconian Man (Fränkischer Mann), a vertical beam with diagonal bracings at the top and bottom that, with some imagination, resemble uplifted arms and outstretched legs. Or the Alemannic Woman (Alemannisches Weible), similar but with short „arms“ and a wide curved „skirt“.
Or K-shaped bracings, or the St. Andrew's Cross (Andreaskreuz) in the shape of an X that refers to the legend about the crucufication of Andrew the apostle. Etc.
The constructions are explained well and the descriptions also point out on which houses this particular construction can be found. The boards are in German only, though. For those of you with some command of the language, reading the explanations will be of interest before exploring the town and its buildings. The others should at least have a look at the models and remember the shapes. You will find them all in town.
Andreaskreuze, model and house in Kettengasse
Half-Timbered Houses in Town
The oldest half-timbered house of Eppingen is the so-called Bäckerhaus („baker's house“) with its impressive high roof and gable. It is dated 1412. The crooked beams give testimony of its age. It is a residential house; the ground floor hosts a shop with clothing and toys for children.
Baumann'sches Haus is probably the most beautiful among the many beautiful half-timbered houses in Eppingen's old town. For sure it is the one with the most elaborate details in construction and ornamentation. The house dates from 1582, the date can be found above one of the side doors. Its picture even made it onto a German postage stamp. In case you plan to stay overnight in style... The house hosts a hotel and restaurant: Altstadthotel Wilde Rose.
Three Neidköpfe („envy heads“) are attached to the southern side, a fourth to the beams on the corner. The owner obviously planned to provoke a lot of envy...Such funny to scary woodcarved faces can also be found on some other half-timbered houses, especially the most beautiful ones that tell of the owners' wealth. The „envy heads“ are supposed to drive any envious lookers-on away who grudge the owner this pretty house.
A house in the middle of Altstadtstraße close to the curve, on the corner of Steingasse and the path to the S-Bahn station shows a small but cute detail: a pair of fish-shaped creatures - it takes *some* imagination to identify them as dolphins. Their open mouths meet (are they kissing?) and form a heart which is painted in red. The dolphins are carved into a beam on the corner of the top storey. We can now start inventing some fantasy stories about dolphin love and how come anyone chose this ornament on their house....
This crossing of Kettengasse and Zunfthausgasse is known as 3-Style Corner. This is the perfect spot to continue our tutorial on timberframe architecture. It assembles three remarkable half-timbered houses that represent the three main styles. The one with the yellow beams shows the Alemannic timberframe construction. On the opposite corner you can compare it to the Franconian style. On its left we have the much younger baroque house with the 'broken' Mansart roof and flat gable.
These are the most remarkable among many more half-timbered houses...
Old University: Building and Museum
Believe it or not - little Eppingen has a history as seat of a university.
The glory of „Alma Mater Eppingensis“ lasted only for one semester, though. In 1564/65 a plague epidemy haunted Heidelberg and the university of Heidelberg left the town. The faculty of liberal arts sought refuge in Eppingen. They used this building for their lessons. Seems the citizens of the town got along well with the students.
The building itself is older, it was built in the 1490s. Its actual purpose was being a market hall where merchants deposited and sold their products. The ground floor was used by the butchers as meat hall. Its short academic career left its marks, though. The house ist still called „Old University“. It is the largest and most impressive half-timbered building in town.
The Old University hosts the Stadt- und Fachwerkmuseum (town and timberframe museum). It shows the history of the town and its surroundings and the way people lived in former centuries on all five floors of the building. This includes interiors of housing, workshops and shops. There is an exhibition on timberframe architecture on the first floor. Some command of German is helpful to understand the explanations. However, the museum is worth a look inside anyway. The exhibits and ensembles give an idea even if you don't read the explanations. In addition to what's on display, this is a chance to see the interior of the timberframe construction - even more so as it is free.
Künstlerfahnenfestival (Art Flag festival) takes place every summer and is organized by the museum in the Old University and the municipality. Every year one artist is invited to design and create big flags which are then displayed outdoors in Altstadtstraße. The flags are a series which refer to one topic - I am not sure whether the topic is chosen by the artist or set by the organizers. At the same time the museum shows an exhibition with more works by the same artist.
The flags are waving in the wind and the change of sunlight and shadow creates a beautiful impression, although they may get in your way if you want to take photos of the houses;-) My photos show the 2016 festival. That year's artist was Martina Geist from Stuttgart, who works in graphic art, in particular woodcut. Her topic were fruit. Each of the flags show a different species of fruit. The style reflects the typical shapes of woodcut prints.
Town Hall and Market Square
The „old“ town hall of Eppingen looks notably younger than all those amazing half-timbered houses, and it is. Those who know the typical neoclassical architecture of Karlsruhe and the Grandduchy of Baden will immediately think of Friedrich Weinbrenner, the state architect in the easly 19th century. It wasn't himself who designed Eppingen's town hall, though, but one of his students who designed it in 1823.
The town hall is located in the wide new market square that substituted the much smaller former market square next to the Old University. Beware of the fountains in the pavement...
The two adjacent houses on the western side of market square are known as Alte Post, the Odl Post Station. In former times they probably served as inn where the post carriages rested and changed horses. Nowadays they are residential houses. They were built in the 16th century - the known date is 1588 - and show elaborate Franconian timberwork.
In recent years Alte Post has been thoroughly restored. In 2011 I saw the construction site. Now they are all new and shiny, the most beautiful facades in the town's main square.
Seeing the construction site was perhaps more interesting. Half-timbered houses are like jigsaw puzzles. After taking out the fillings of the walls, the skeleton of timbers remains. The timbers can then be taken down piece by piece. All damaged or mouldy beams were exchanged for new wood in the same shape. The good ones were kept. Then the whole puzzle was reassembled, and new fillings were inserted to close the walls.
Pfeifferturm, the tower in the corner of market square and Altstadtstraße, is Eppingen's oldest building. In the middle ages the town ended here. The tower was part of the town wall and served as watchtower for the guard, the „piper“, who had to blow his horn in case of danger, fire, approaching enemies. Later on the tower was used as prison.
A funny art work is attached to the tower: a red arrow with a - chamber pot attached to its pointed end. Beware and watch out what people might throw from their windows...
Old Synagogue, Mikwe, and Chuppa Stone
The Old Synagogue in Küfergasse was built in 1731 and was in use until the 1870s when the Jewish community built a new synagogue. The old one was sold and became a private residential house.
The ground floor is built from stone, the upper storeys are timberframe. The ground floor still contains the 18th century mikwe, the ritual bath. The wooden door to the mikwe seems to be open in the daytime (it was both times I I visited) so you can look inside through the iron gate.
The facade still bears the chuppa or wedding stone (where the bridegroom smashes a glass during the wedding ceremony as reminiscence to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple), a relief with inscriptions in Hebrew and an 8-pointed star. On the doorframe of the main entrance, the slot is still visible where the mesusah used to be.
The building survived the Nazi era unharmed thanks to the courage of the then owner. He had covered the wedding stone with a wooden shutter and pretended there was just a cellar window behind. The local Nazis showed up again and again and ordered him to open the shutter, but he refused - saying, in summer, that the hot air would enter and ruin his must, and in winter, that the cold air would enter and freeze his potatoes and ruin his must... He succeeded in saving his house, and this monument of Jewish religion.
Catholic Church of Our Lady
The catholic parish church of Our Lady is located on the highest point of the hill in the middle of the old town. The church is of medieval origins but has been extended and partly rebuilt in the 1960s or 70s.
The colourful crucifix on the southern wall of the nave, recently renovated, is an eyecatcher. It is named the „Longinus“ Cross because the only person depicted under the cross is Longinus, the Roman officer who said after Christ's death, „He was truly the son of the Lord.“ Around the cross the Arma Christi are assembled: a collection of all the arms and other requisites that appear in the Passion of Christ. Test your knowledge of the Bible...
The back entrance on the right side of the church is open in the daytime. The interior is not much to write about, apart from some medieval frescoes that have recently been rediscovered in the gothic choir and on the northern wall of the nave. The pulpit is also an old piece, the rest of the interior is 20th century.
An extraordinary medieval fresco inside the church is a bit hidden and easily overlooked. Seeing such 'creatures from the dark side' within a church is at least remarkable. It shows a milk witch and the devil. The witch is milking a fountain (which is supposed to give water, not milk, and collecting the milk in a bucket. The devil brings a pot, waiting to get some of the milk. The inscription is unfortunately destroyed. Witch and devil are depicted above the northern side door, the door to the cemetery. North is the dark, the night side, and this door leads to the graveyard. The picture is probably meant as a warning to beware of the dark powers.
Danse Macabre on Katharinenkapelle
The band of death (isn't there a rock band named Dead Can Dance?) are playing around the empty grave.
The facade of the former chapel of St Catherine, now the parish community centre, is painted with a mural which is a bizarre surprise. This art work adopts the medieval traditions of the danse macabre. However, it has only been painted in 2002, as the signature on the left proves (Roman numbers MMII = 2002).
It is weird to see this very old tradition repeated by a modern, contemporary painter. The topic is serious but the figures, especially the grinning skeletons, are somehow funny. Macabre but funny.
The skeletons are out to get their victims: people of all ages from child to old age from the left, and all clerics from the Pope to priest and nun on the right. Just like in the medieval danses macabres the stages of life and the clerical ranks are shown in a row, each of them picked up by a skeleton and lead to the grave. Some follow readily, others are reluctant. But Death spares no one.
The Old Cemetery
The plateau behind the church and the chapel of St Catherine served as cemetery for centuries. It forms a terrace high above the road below, supported by stone walls. The current cemetery has long been transferred to a place outside the village centre but the churchyard still contains histortical grave monuments. These are not stones as usual but metal crosses in elaborate blacksmith's work.
A funny detail is the (modern) iron dragon, chained to the wall of St Catherine's chapel.
Access to the cemetery is either from the courtyard between the church and the chapel of St Catherine or up a steep stairway from Kirchgasse.
Unfortunately they have tidied up the graveyard recently, and in a quite pathetic way. The iron crosses still exist, but now they are all standing in one line along the wall, the rest is a new empty lawn. The location has lost a lot of its romantic appeal.
I am nevertheless leaving the photos I took during my first visit in 2011 in here.
Easter Wells in Eppingen
In the old town of Eppingen there are three wells which receive colourful crowns for Easter. One is in Altstadtstraße in the small market square next to the Old University, the second in Brettener Straße, the third is on the corner Kirchgasse/Altstadtstraße opposite Baumann'sches Haus.
Decorating the wells for Easter is a custom that is most popular in Franconia but has spread to other areas like Baden. The fountains are decorated with green garlands and painted eggs. The decorations are set up on the weekend of Palm Sunday and stay during the Holy Week and the Easter holidays.
To avoid that one frequent misunderstanding, allow me to mention that this custom is not as old as many people believe or pretend. It was created in the early 20th century and has NOTHING to do with pre-Christian, pagan rites, just like the Alemannic carnival. Anyway, these wells are a beautiful sight and can be enjoyed as a festive decoration that values the source of water which is so essential for any living creature. There is probably a relation to the cleaning of the wells in spring.
The Witch Guild, and the Witch Fountain
Eppingen is a bit outside the area where the Alemannic carnival is indigenous, but the town has adopted it some 40 years ago. Since 1969 the local witch guild has been active. The witches organize a night parade in town but also take part in parades elsewhere. I have for example seen them in Freiburg on Carnival Monday.
Outside carnival season the witches are invisible - all except one. A bronze witch has been put up in Bahnhofstraße, in a corner of the rectangular square in front of the AOK building. The witch is riding her(?) broomstick, ready for takeoff. The funny shaped tap with the toad on top provides, according to the inscription, drinking water.