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 (2)

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)

Arlesheim: On Basel's Doorstep

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Domplatz

Arlesheim is a large village of about 9,000 inhabitants in Kanton Basel-Land. It is part of Basel's „Speckgürtel“, the area around the city where the wealthy people have built their affluent homes. Many commute into Basel for work. This small, almost rural community is a great place to live, surrounded by hills and forests, but a 20 minute tram ride from central Basel. Locals claim Arlesheim is the most beautiful village of the Baselbiet.

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Birseck castle seen from the village

Already in the past Arlesheim must have been attractive. When the Bishop of Basel had to leave the city after the Reformation and find a new residence, he chose Arlesheim. That's why this village has a large baroque cathedral.

In the middle ages a noble family built Birseck castle on the hill above the village. To local nobility the village also owes its other main attraction, the 18th century landscape park named Eremitage. It is an early example of English landscape gardening. Some of the small garden buildings still exist, also the general design with the three artificial ponds on the valley ground.

Hiking and Walking round Arlesheim

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As soon as you are in Arlesheim, the best way of getting around is walking. Distances are short.

Directions are well signposted, you have to try really hard to lose your way.

A round trip to the attractions round the village and Ermitage is marked with those cute signs with the sock. Distances are given in minutes and these figures are realistic.

There is a German saying, „sich auf die Socken machen“ („make yourself on your socks“), which means, get going, start walking, be on your way. The sign has it in Swiss German. Nevertheless I recommend wearing shoes;-))

The landscape around is, just like the whole of Switzerland, covered with a dense network of hiking trails. These are also well signposted. Distances are given in hours and minutes here, too.

This signpost is close to the tram stop. You can do long or short hikes, just as you like.

They like signposts in Arlesheim and they want everyone to find them. What other explanations could there be for this sign that I spotted at the tram spot? This is a sign that points to the location of the signpost. Love it. Only Swiss efficiency could invent and put up such a sign.

The Village Centre

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My host told me Arlesheim is the most beautiful village in the region around Basel - I cannot tell whether this is justified or not because I have seen too few places in the area, but the old village centre it is surely pretty. The finest area is around the cathedral and north of it, along Dorfgasse and Ermitagestrasse.

Arlesheim has long become a commuter suburb for people who work in Basel, but the old village has maintained its rural flair. Some of the former farmhouses are accompanied by old barns. Many have little gardens with vegetables and flowers. The old centre is small and easily walkable, it is right on the way from the tram stop to Ermitage park.

Dorfplatz is the central square of the village. The late baroque fountain in the middle is dated 1791. The white building, probably built about the same time, hosts the civil registry office.

When walking the streets of the old village, the gardens around the houses are worth noting. Even the smallest patch of land between house and street can be turned into a garden which is both pretty and useful. Even a kitchen garden can look romantic, with rows of forget-me-nots around the vegetable patches.

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Trotte museum

Trotte is the seat of the village museum. What is a „Trotte“? A wine press. This building gives testimony of the times when Arlesheim was a village of vintners. The big press in the village centre was used by all of them. Winemaking is hard labour but pays off well, which explains a certain wealth already in past centuries. The present building was erected in the 18th century but substituted a much older precedessor. Later on it underwent changes and served for different purposes until it has recently been turned into a cultural centre and museum. When I visited it showed an exhibition of contemporary art, I assume by local artists. The museum is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Dom - Arlesheim Cathedral

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Arlesheim has a cathedral, despite being a rather small village. Not one that's named „Dom“ because of its size or whatever, but a real one. A cathedral is, by definition, the church of a bishop.

After the reformation, the Bishop of Basel and the canons left the city and sought refuge in Freiburg. In 1678 the bishop and his clerics came back, but they could not return to the city of Basel. So they picked a place at the doorstep of the city which was still in their hands and was a pleasant place to live, with wine and a mild climate and pleasant landscape. Soon after, the construction of a new cathedral began. Already in 1681 it was completed and consecrated. Around 1761 the church was refurbished, ornated with stucco on rococo style, and the vaults painted with frescoes that show scenes from the life of Mary, as the church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The general impression of the interior is that of a rococo church with lots of light, white and pastel colours, delicate stucco ornaments. The main nave is accompanied by side chapels, each with a baroque altar. The pride of the church is the Silbermann organ, built by Johann Andreas Silbermann from Strasbourg around 1760. The cathedral is open in the daytime, access from Domplatz through the large main portal.

Domplatz, the square in front of the cathedral, shows the cityscape like in a planned baroque city. The 'square' is a rectangle with buildings along three sides. The front of the church occupies the short side. The two long sides hold two buildings each that used to be the residential houses of the canons in the chapter. Nowadays they serve as parsonage (next to the church on the right) and seats of administrative offices. A baroque fountain marks the centre where a side street crosses the square at right angle.

The square was very quiet on a Sunday afternoon except a few passers-by, it will be busier on weekdays when the authorities are working. Sunday is good for photos, though. The view of Domplatz with the facade of the cathedral is 'the' photo from Arlesheim. The light is best in the afternoon when the sun is on the facade.

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Eremitage and Birseck Castle

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Arlesheim's main treasure, in addition to the cathedral, is the park known as Eremitage. The Eremitage is described as the largest English landscape garden of Switzerland (which means there cannot be many others). The park is located in a small side valley among rolling hills which are covered with forests. The entrance is a short walk from the centre of the village next to the rocky hill with Birseck castle. It includes the stream and three ponds, the steep castle hill, meadows and forest. It has the appearance of a very pleasant natural landscape but was in fact carefully designed and shaped.

The garden was designed in the late 18th century for Balbina von Andlau-Staal, member of a local noble family. In the revolution and the following French occupation it was destroyed a few years later but reinstalled after 1812 when the noble owners returned. The present buildings, like the castle ruin, the mill, and other economy buildings were integrated into the garden plan as well as the rocks and grottos of the hill. The three artificial ponds served for the breeding of fish and are still inhabited by large numbers of carps. Some meadows are used as pastures. Small monuments refer to antique mythology.

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The castle creates memories of medieval knightship, in its romantic interpretation of course. The name „Eremitage“ derives from the hermit's cell that was installed on a rock above the entrance.

The park can be accessed 24/7 and for free. The main trail around the ponds leads gently uphill and takes you in a wide curve up to the castle on the hilltop. This is a very pleasant and easy walk, you hardly notice how much altitude you are gaining. The paths on the hillside, however, are steep and zigzagging, partly stairs, partly forest trails, and much trickier to walk.

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Eremitage park has, as the name implies, a hermitage and a resident hermit. The hermit's cell is a little chapel-like building in a small garden on the steep rocky hillside. It is built from wood and covered with bark to make it look more rustic. The hermit inside is not a real person but a mechanical puppet, though. Only on certain occasions in summer the windows of the hermit's cell are opened so people can see him. During my visit the hermit's cell was undergoing renovations so I could not see him, though.

Further up the hill there is a viewpoint called the hermit's lookout, a wooden shed that overlooks the valley and park.

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Birseck castle is located on a small hill by the entrance to the park, overlooking the village. The castle has medieval origins. In those times it belonged to the Bishops of Basel. It was destroyed in the revolution wars at the end of the 18th century and refurbished in 1812, together with the final phase in the construction of the Eremitage gardens. Hence a lot of its present shape is 19th century historism.

The castle keep has a stork's nest on top. Wild storks live in the area and they do build their nests on top of high buildings but - this one is fake, it is a metal weather vane...

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Nature has invaded the landscape garden. It is buzzing with life. I visited in May and lots of wildflowers in all colours were in bloom everywhere. Birds and waterfowl like the ponds and the forest areas. May meant little fluffy ducklings around... The ponds are used to breed carps; the fish are clearly visible in the light greenish water. Some pastures host herds of domestic animals. There are cows, and also sheep from an old race which have black heads and a white coat.

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Walking Eremitage park is already romantic in itself, you'd think trees and lakes and flowers and little buildings, that's enough. However, they do indeed provide their visitors with an overkill of Swiss romantic, it's all there... What does it need for an overkill? Right - cowbells.

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Approaching the far end of the park I heard their sound. I could not believe my ears. Then I saw the meadow with a herd of brown cows. The whole family, or better clan, was there together: the bull, several female cows, their suckling calves and young heifers. They all seemed very gentle, even the big strong bull, and happily posed for photos. They probably belong to a race that is bred for meat only, not for the milk, otherwise they would not have left the calves with their mothers. It is a beautiful picture, the golden brown bovines in a lush green pasture full of flowers.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 20:48 Archived in Switzerland Tagged switzerland basel arlesheim Comments (3)

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