A Travellerspoint blog

October 2017

Bouxwiller: Alsace off the Beaten Path

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Upper Church

Bouxwiller is the centre of the so-called Hanauerland in Alsace,a picturesque small town of about 4,000 inhabitants in Northern (Lower) Alsace, département Bas-Rhin. The centre consists mostly of half-timbered houses, walls painted in the typical ochre and reddish colours, and narrow lanes. This quaint little town would deserve more attention, but it is rather unnoticed by most visitors because it is located too far away from the tourist areas on the wine route. Its history is closely connected with the German County of Hanau, which is the reason why the area is known as Hanauerland.

Hanau? Isn’t that somewhere near Frankfurt?

Indeed, it is. At some point in the late middle ages, due to the last daughter from the noble house of Lichtenberg, the area became property of the Counts of Hanau to form the County of Hanau-Lichtenberg. Its history is quite complicated, in particular after King Louis XIV of France annexed Alsace. From 1680 onwards, the territory was under French suzerainty. Contracts, in particular the Westphalian Peace Treaty, guaranteed the rights of the Count of Hanau, including religion – the country had introduced the Reformation and followed the Lutheran faith. However, Louis XIV intended to return the Roman-Catholic faith to these areas. French soldiers and civil servants and new settlers who moved in were French-speaking and catholic. Conversions were encouraged, the Lutherans found themselves under tight pressure. Nevertheless the Lutheran faith remained.

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The village of Kirrwiller with its two churches:
Catholic (left) and Lutheran (right)

The King’s measures to protect and promote Catholicism included the rule that, as soon as seven families lived in a village or town, the local parish church had to be opened to them. Most churches became simultaneous churches, which means that the Catholics used the choir for their mass, while the Protestants used the nave for their services – not at the same time, of course. In some places this arrangement has remained to this very day, while in others one of the two confessions was later able to build a church of their own like, as depicted above, in nearby Kirrwiller.

Only in Buchsweiler (I am using the German name here as it was in use at that time) the problem did not occur: The town had two churches. The Upper Church on the hillside, unused since the Reformation, was given to the Catholic parish community while the Lutheran Protestants kept the Lower Church in the centre of the town.

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Niederkirche

This church plays a certain role in my dissertation and a couple of other publications, hence my particular interest in it – and the need for new digital photos.

Bouxwiller is tricky to reach by public transport, though. There is no railway line, and bus connections are not too frequent. Hence I grabbed the chance when an excursion by coach was offered, and quickly signed up. This excursion was organized by an association of church music supporters and focused on the organs. It involved seeing the churches in Bouxwiller and Wissembourg, lunch and a guided tour of the town in Wissembourg (unfortunately not in Bouxwiller!) and, first of all, private concerts for the group with a top-class organist who also explained the instruments. I love music so this was a welcome plus.

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Interior of the Lutheran Niederkirche with the Silbermann organ

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Niederkirche, the “lower church”, dates from the early 17th century, 1613–1614 to be precise. It is classified as the first new protestant church that was built in the whole of Alsace. Since then it has undergone some refurbishments and changes, though.

The baroque spire on top of the steeple is an addition of 1728. The steeple appears rather oversized when looking up from nearby. However, since it is standing at the lowest point of the “bowl” the town is located in, it has to be this high in order to be visible over the rooftops. In particular since the Roman Catholics had the Upper Church on the hillside which overlooks the whole town.

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In the interior, for example, it is not clear whether, and since when, the altar had not been standing in the east but in front of the pulpit. The large organ and the Prince’s box below are additions from 1778. The instrument was created by a famous master organ builder, Johann Andreas Silbermann. Trust me, its sound is fabulous.

While everyone else took their seats on the pegs down in the nave, I was up on the gallery to take photos when the concert started, so I sat down up there all by myself. It felt like having a concert played for me alone…

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Autumn colours along a country road in Hanauerland

Posted by Kathrin_E 03:26 Archived in France Tagged alsace Comments (2)

Biking the Kraichgau for the First (and Probably Last) Time

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The Kraichgau is hilly. Very very hilly. And not really suitable for bicycles unless the rider is a trained sportsman/woman.This was no news to me. Nevertheless I had to learn this truth the hard way…

I attended a conference in Bretten at the Melanchthon Academy. Since Bretten is so close, I commuted from home every day. On the last day, the conference was scheduled to end at lunchtime. The weather forecast promised us the most fabulous Golden October. So, how to make use of this glorious weather? Go on a bike tour.

In the morning I took my bike with me on the S-Bahn, packed some picknick supplies and enough water. After the conference ended, I boarded my bike and headed towards Karlsruhe. The plan was following the marked bike trails parallel to the S-Bahn line and bike as far as I’d enjoy it, and board the S-Bahn at the nearest stop if I’d get too tired. In the back of my mind I had the ambitious plan, though, to cycle all the way home… which would sum up to more than 30 kilometres.

Using a map for cyclists with marked tours, I found my trail. Leaving Bretten, I already had to climb the first long ascent. The Kraichgau lived up to its reputation as a landscape of rolling hills: up and down, up and down...

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Those hills almost killed me. I was trembling all over. A rest on a bench and the first half of the picknick helped, as well as the decision not to tackle the ascents by force but to get off the bike and push it (that’s why they call it “pushbike”?) as soon as the ascent got harder.

The landscape was bathing in sunshine and autumn colours. The leaves are currently turning colour, the most beautiful phase of autumn is setting in. Some are still green but many are already golden.

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Reaching the village of Wössingen, I had to make a decision: Either to board the tram there, continue along the track via Jöhlingen on the longer route which had nasty ascents marked on the map, or take the direct route through the forest over the ridge named Hohberg, which aslo had ascents marked on the map. I picked my courage and energy, and opted for the Hohberg route. Since my general direction was down towards the Pfinz valley, I hoped there would be a short ascent and a much longer descent. And so it was. It was a relatively short stretch to push uphill.
This route took me straight to Berghausen in the Pfinz valley. I had covered half the distance to home because I live on the opposite side of Karlsruhe, but the worst part was over. From there onwards the trail would be flat except for a few bridges.

I am very proud of myself: I made it home on my bike. For an unsporty fattie like me, a bike tour of 30 kilometres is something to be as proud of as of a marathon run. Since the whole ride took me, including two breaks, three and a half hours, it somehow equals a marathon…

But the next bike tour will take place in the Rhine plain or on a valley bottom. Certainly not in the Kraichgau!

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Posted by Kathrin_E 15:00 Archived in Germany Tagged kraichgau Comments (2)

Flehingen: 2 Villages, 3 Churches, 2 minus 1 Castles

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The village in the Kraichgau hills that is now named „Flehingen“ actually consists of two separate villages: Flehingen and Sickingen. In the 1930s they were united and Sickingen lost its name. Each of the two was owned by a noble family with the same name, both with the status of Imperial Knights, thus rulers of a territory within the Holy Roman Empire. Each of the families had a castle in their village which was later refurbished into a palace. Flehingen castle now serves as a centre for seminars and conventions. Sickingen castle, though, is demolished and gone.

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Flehingen

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Schloss Flehingen substituted an older water castle that was burnt down in 1504. It was rebuilt in the 1560s and then refurbished several times. The crest above the portal shows the date 1722. It belonged to the local noble family von Flehingen, later Wolff-Metternich zu Gracht.

The palace consists of four wings around what used to be an inner courtyard, and four towers at the corners. It used to be surrounded by a moat with water, as the bridge to the main portal still indicates.

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The interior of the palace cannot be visited. There is no need to grieve because of that, though, because there is absolutely nothing inside that would be worth visiting. In the 19th century the noble owners sold it to the municipality. The building then served for several purposes and was in the end converted into a home for difficult boys. In recent years the interior underwent more changes, the courtyard was covered with a glass roof and the rooms were turned into guest apartments: Schloss Flehingen nowadays serves as a centre for seminars and conventions. A side building, erected in the early 20th century, contains the dining hall and kitchen. Then there is a modern building with seminar rooms and other side buildings with more accommodation.

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The protestant church of Flehingen was built in 1825. It substituted an older predecessor which was in bad shape and too small for the growing community, or better communities: Since the late 17th century both Protestants and Catholics used the church. The old governors, the Knights of Flehingen, had introduced the reformation in Flehingen around 1530 but their heirs, the von Wolff-Metternich, were Roman Catholic and enforced their faith. Both communities alternated in the use of the church until the Catholics built their new parish church on the opposite hill in 1910. The main altar still shows the case of the former tabernacle at the foot of the cross.

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The church contains a number of 16th and 17th century tombstones of Knights and Ladies of Flehingen that originate from the burial vault underneath the old church.

The church is closed except for services, an appointment with the parish is needed to see it. Since the parson is not living here but in Zaisenhausen the average visitor will not want to take the effort. In case you have special interest in the church, contact the protestant parish in Zaisenhausen.

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Along the street that leads to the train station, a post office was installed around 1900. The building has long ceased to be a post office, it is a residential house. However, the facade still bears the (renewed) crest of the German Empire and the inscription „Kaiserliches Postamt“ (Imperial Post Office).

A few years later the Catholic parish community built their kindergarten, new church and parsonage next to it. The Catholic community of Flehingen finally fulfilled their dream of having a church of their own shortly before World War I after having shared a church with the Protestants for more than 200 years. They bought some real estate on the hill opposite the centre of the village and the Protestant church and first built a kindergarten and housing for the nuns who run it in 1905. A few years later they started the church. The architect was Johannes Schroth, a renowned architect from Karlsruhe. He designed the church and the adjacent parsonage in a mix of neo-Romanesque and art nouveau style. The three buildings form an impressive group that overlooks the village.

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The Catholic Church of St Martin was consecrated in 1911. The interior shows almost byzantine forms. World War I and the following economic crisis inhibited the completion of the decorum. Only in 1932/33 the vaults could be painted. The frescoes by Franz Schilling are still pre-Nazi but the spirit of those times can already be anticipated.

The church is the main catholic parish church and can be expected to be open in the daytime, but if you want to make sure better contact the parish in advance, address and everything are on their website: http://kath-se-sickingen.de/html/pfarramt597.html?& They are in charge of both catholic churches in Flehingen and Sickingen as well as three other villages.

Sickingen

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Border stobne with
Sickingen coat of arms

Sickingen used to be a village of its own with a castle of its own, home to the noble family von Sickingen. The family had to sell their property in the 19th century and finally died out. The castle, later a water palace, fell in ruins and was finally demolished. There is nothing left of Sickingen Palace. It was located in the valley by the creek where the modern festival hall has been built. Only the village church remained.

In 1936 Sickingen lost its independence and was united with neighbouring Flehingen. Worse than that, Sickingen even lost its name and became part of Flehingen. Painful for the Sickinger inhabitants because these two villages have always been rivals. It's only small comfort that in the meantime the same has also happened to Flehingen in the 1970s when the united village became part of Oberderdingen.

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The memory is kept alive. Information boards, actually in German and English, have been placed by the stair to the church. The inhabitants are proud of the history of their village and its knightly family. The Knights of Sickingen had the status of imperial knights and then barons and ruled a territory with property not only here but also West of the Rhine around the Nahe valley and in the Palatinate Hills. They were related to the neighbours von Flehingen and used the same crest. The most famous representant of the family was Franz von Sickingen, imperial office, robber-knight and supporter of the reformation, a colourful figure who died a dramatic death in 1523 after his campaign against the mighty Archbishop of Trier failed.

The Catholic Church of St Maria Magdalena in Sickingen is the oldest of the three churches in the double village. Its construction took place in the earliest era of the reformation. Rumours have it that this church was the first ever protestant church building but... there is a „but“.

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Several Imperial Knights in the Kraichgau region were among the followers of Luther and among the first territorial rulers who introduced the Protestant lore in their villages and churches. The construction of the church dates from 1523 (date in the vault of the choir). One member of the Sickingen family, the (in)famous Franz von Sickingen, is known as an ardent supporter of the reformation. However, the village of Sickingen did not belong to him but to his uncle Konrad who wisely stayed away from his relative's military adventures. Thus, although Franz had Lutheran church services celebrated in his realm already in 1522, the church of Sickingen must be considered a catholic church. However, the village turned protestant soon after.

Details are not known, there is a lot of confusion about the history of Sickingen, both the family and the village. Even genealogy is not clear, every researcher published a different version of the family tree. The archive is lost so this will remain unknown. Next-door Flehingen got its first Lutheran preacher in 1530.

The church in Sickingen stayed Lutheran-protestant until the early 17th century - again, the excact date is unknown resp. the dates given are contradictory - when the Sickingen family converted to the Roman Catholic confession. Since then the church has been Roman Catholic.

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Lucia von Andlau (+ 1547)

As usual at residences of noble families, the church contains their tombs. The Sickingen tombs in the choir, however, are elaborate art works high above the usual level. These are the church's greatest treasures with their exquisite stone carved figures. The defunct are presented almost life-size, the men dressed in armour, the women in festive clothing according to the Spanish court fashion. To be noted:

- tomb of Lucia von Andlau, died 1547, wife of Franz Konrad von Sickingen
- tomb of Hans von Sickingen, elder brother of Franz Konrad, died 1547
- the 7 metres high quadruple monument of Franz the Younger von Sickingen and his wife Anna Maria von Venningen and, above, their son Schweickard with his wife Maria Magdalena von Kronberg, created around 1610

Posted by Kathrin_E 03:25 Archived in Germany Tagged churches kraichgau Comments (1)

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