A Travellerspoint blog

May 2017

Landau in der Pfalz: History between France and Germany


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

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.

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:




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


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.


1920s Architecture


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.

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

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


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.



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.


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…



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.”


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.



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.


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.


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.)


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.



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.


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.


A glimpse through the trees in northern direction...

... 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.

Landeskron Castle


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…


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)

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