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Entries about black forest

Forbach in the Murg Valley

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I somehow fell in love with this little place in the Northern Black Forest. Forbach is located in the upper, narrow part of the Murg valley among steep hills. The village occupies the slopes and terraces in a bend of the river. The catholic church is a prominent landmark. Views of the village are always landscape views: the river, the mountains, forests and meadows form an almost theatrical setting.
Forbach is another of those hidden locations hardly anyone has ever heard of. The name appears on the displays of certain KVV trams on the lines S 8 and S 81 because they end here, but that is about the only occasion it is ever mentioned.
Which is a pity, in fact. When I read about the wooden bridge I thought I should have a look at the place. This was a summer evening well spent.
And when I had a guest to show round a bit of the Black Forest on a sunny spring day, I picked the Murgtal line once more and started with a walk round Forbach again.

The Landscape of the Upper Murg Valley

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Photographers: The best views of the village landscape
can be taken from the helicopter landing in front of the hospital.

The higher upstream you travel along the Murg, the narrower the valley. Around Forbach the hillsides are steep, the river is deeply cut into the rocks. The villages have been built on the hillsides, at a distance from the river bank because of floods. In summer the rocky river bed has little water but at the end of winter when the snow is melting or after a heavy thunderstorm in the mountains this looks different.
The settlements are widespread into the side valleys. They are part of the landscape, the views change all the time when you move around. In the background another village appears, Gausbach with its prominent modern church.

As I learned from the theme path along the river, the landscape around Forbach looked different some decades ago. There were more meadows on the slopes. Now most of these are covered with bushes and young trees. In former times these meadows were used to make hay for the winter feeding of the cattle. In summer the animals were pastured in the forests, no the meadows. The hay was kept in small wooden barns out there among the meadows and transported to the stables in the village when needed. The slopes are very very steep and this was about the only way to make use of these grounds.

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With the industrialization, less and less cattle was kept. The backbreaking work in the meadows was given up. Most of the hay barns have disappeared. However, nowadays efforts are taken to reestablish this cultural landscape. The meadows also have an ecological value as home to rare plants and animals and because they let fresh air stream from the side valleys into the village.
The meadows around Forbach are at least partly being cleared again. Hay barns are being repaired and rebuilt. Goats are the perfect helpers because they will eat any shrub or tree that dares to sprout anywhere. When the meadow is cleared it becomes a pasture for cows. They use a local race that is smaller and more robust (and produces excellent milk and beef).

Protestant Church

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Tram station and protestant church

The little white church on the hillside opposite the village is probably the first striking building that you'll spot from the train station. It is sort of an outcast, but a self-conscious one. Forbach is a catholic village. In the 18th and 19th century very few protestants were here, for example forest workers, or later civil servants of Baden. They were taken care of by the parsons of Gernsbach. A local protestant community grew slowly; only since the 1950s they have their own parson. On the eve of World War I the protestants built their own church outside the village. Its location high up shows nevertheless: we are here.

The Wooden Bridge

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From the tram stop there are two ways into the village across the deep-cut river bed. There is, first of all, the large modern bridge with the main road. However, the prettier route is keeping left and following the smaller street down the slope to the wooden bridge. The most photogenic view of the village can be caught from this side, a few steps further uphill after passing the bridge - best in the morning with the sun in your back. Then cross the bridge to reach the centre of the village.
Wooden bridges with roof exist not only in Luzern... Forbach is very proud of theirs. This bridge, unlike the one in Luzern, can be crossed by car traffic. The original covered bridge had been built in the second half of the 18th century. 150 years later it had to be closed first for traffic and then even for pedestrians due to damage. In the 1950s a tough decision was made: take down the old bridge and reconstruct it from new wood. So strictly speaking the present bridge is not even 60 years old. An inscription in the middle under the roof tells about the rebuilding and the latest renovation.
This oversized bench next to the villageside end of the wooden bridge has been made from some tree trunks. You have to climb the steps to reach the seat, and then you sit like on a throne. The little furball in the picture is Russell the Wombat as size comparison.

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The Village

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The village centre has many narrow streets and lanes and small squares, ups and downs, lots of well-kept old houses. Sidewalks only exist along the main streets, though, so watch out for traffic when walking the lanes.

The town hall is a rather plain building, i am inclined to date it to the 20th century. It is of interest to visitors because the tourist information is located in there, in room 1 in fact.

A funny detail: The mayor is named Kuno Kußmann. A guy with a big smile. Now what shall we think of a village that elected a „kissman“ as their mayor? Must be a friendly place!

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The village centre has lots of old fountains, big and small ones, that once provided the water supply for everyone. There is hardly a street without a fountain. Watch out for them. They are all different, some big, some small, some plain, some with sculptures, and all worth a photo. The water is running into stone troughs where horses and cattle could drink from. Some of these fountains have columns with stone sculptures of biblical figures. Finding the madonna on the fountain in front of the church is no surprise. The fountain opposite the town hall shows Moses with the Ten Commandments. The design of the little square is a modern addition: the water runs from the trough onto the pavement and forms a short „Bächle“. In a side street towards the wooden bridge there is a fountain with a neogothic fial, probably 19th century. I am sure there are more!

Another detail to look for in the streets are the religious monuments. Did I mention already that Forbach is a catholic village? Crucifixes and statues of saints have been put up in several places. These are usually private donations, witht he names of the donator(s) written on the pedestal. The wooden bridge of course has its statue of Nepomuk the bridge saint. It is not on the bridge, though, but on the villageside bank. Most beautiful in summer when he is surrounded by blooming roses.

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Catholic Church of St John Baptist and Cemetery

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The huge neogothic church on the hilltop look far too big for a village like this. Its two steeples are visible from almost everywhere and make a landmark in the 'skyline' of the village. The church was completed in 1891 and shows the typical late 19th century neogothic style. The architecture is rather urban than rural. Directions are unnecessary because the church is impossible to miss. It is enormous. Looks as if they have picked the wrong plans for the wrong construction site...
The square in front of the church (that picture should better be taken in the morning because of the light) is part of the design. The terrain rises rather steeply. It ascends in a series of low steps that lead to the main facade with the steeples, and towards the stairs that have to be climbed to reach the entrances. A fountain with the Virgin Mary on a column is placed on the lower end of the square.
The church can be visited. The main portal is closed but the doors through the steeples are open in the daytime. All I was able to catch of the interior was a glimpse through the inner glass door because people were praying the rosary and I did not want to disturb.

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The cemetery is located behind the catholic church on top of the ridge. Black Forest people seem to grant their dead a resting place with a view, I have observed the same phenomenon in other villages and towns, for example Gernsbach.
The tombs on the cemetery are mostly modern - the usual rule that graves are taken away after 20 or 25 years applies here, too. Anyway, a walk over the cemetery is pleasant because of the views to all sides. The grounds look ultra tidy with gravel on all surfaces between the graves.
Photographers: in the afternoon the finest pictures of the church are to be caught from the entrance of the cemetery and from the hedge on that side.

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World Record: Longest Wooden Plank

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The arrows indicate the plank on the wall

Forbach, or in fact the adjacent village of Gausbach which is part of the municipality of Forbach, is the holder of a world record which is proudly presented at Forbach station. In 2010 a team of (hobby) woodcutters sawed the longest ever registered plank in one piece from a 100 year old tree trunk. The total length of the plank is 45.15 metres, which clearly broke the prior record of 40.81 metres.
If you are waiting for a tram and bored, you can admire the world record plank on the wall of the tram garage. It is attached along the bottom of the windows. The entire length did not fit into the photo, there are a few metres missing on the right. There is a board with some photos of the event and an explanation which is easier to notice than the plank itself.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 00:18 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest forbach Comments (0)

Marxzell Car Museum: The Craziest Museum I Know

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Marxzell is a village halfway up the Alb valley, on the way to bad Herrenalb which I have already presented, adn on the same S-Bahn line. In fact it consists of a handful of villages (Marxzell and Frauenalb down in the valley, Burbach, Pfaffenrot and Spielberg up in the hills). Marxzell is not very big, but apart from forests and hiking trails, the community has two major attractions: the car museum and, further up the valley, the ruins of Frauenalb convent.

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The name of the village indicates its origins: Marxzell = „Marci cella“. A cella is a dependance of a monastery, with two or three monks who take care of a parish church and its community. Saint Marcus, Mark the Evangelist, indicates a relationship with Reichenau abbey in the early ages. Later on Marxzell was connected with Herrenalb.

The catholic parish church is still dedicated to St Mark. It is the oldest parish church in the Alb valley. The steeple remained of the 14th century church, the nave was substituted by a new and larger one in 1782. The chapel inside the steeple contains the tombstones of the last nuns of Frauenalb who died in the early 19th century when their convent had already been closed down. I would have liked to see the interior but the church was closed, and I could not find any hints about regular opening hours.

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Marxzell has some tradition as location of a goat market. Goats are the perfect domestic animals for these rough mountain regions and steep slopes. They were the poor man's cow.

A sculpture opposite the car museum recalls the Marxzell goat market. Farmer and merchant are both dressed in their Sunday best. The object of the trade is a big strong billy goat. The handshake confirms the sale. Both look happy with the result of presumably long and tough haggling about the price.

I guess that nobody has asked the goat’s opinion, I hope he found a good new master...

However, the main attraction of the village is the Car Museum.

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No matter if you are a car freak or not - if you like exploring old stuff, or if you are a devoted messie, this museum is absolutely worthwhile. It was begun 40 years ago by a family of private collectors, and is still private property. They collected oldtimer cars and everything that is related to them, no matter how distant.

The collection grew and is still growing. It fills several halls now. Not only tools and parts and petrol pumps and such, but also toys, souvenirs, dishes, automatic musical instruments, trophies, teddy bears, household items... Dressed-up dummies impersonate the owners and users of the cars.

This museum is a jungle. Imagine a couple of halls with as many cars as ever fit in. Then imagine stuff of all varieties from the same era squeezed in between the cars, in the cars, on top of the cars, hanging from the ceiling and on the ground and everywhere. Only a narrow passage in the middle is left for the visitors. Seeing the museum is more like an expedition. You'll discover more details, more little things and more funny settings again and again.

This is the messiest, craziest, and coolest museum I ever saw. It contradicts each and every principle of modern museum design and didactics. It contradicts just about everything I ever learned about exhibitions, how to plan, organize, and present them. But exactly this is why this museum is so much fun to visit!

The cars are roughly sorted by country and company. A side hall is dedicated to agriculture, tractors and tools. The second hall has a large collections of fire engines and even a firefighting helicopter. One room is a workshop (but nobody could work in such a mess). The upstairs gallery shows motorbikes and bicycles.

The museum also includes a small cinema with early 20th century furniture, complete with an old projector and a piano, which shows a movie about old cars at regular intervals.

Another new hall, which enlarged the museum by 600 sqm or 20%, has been opened in 2013; I have not yet seen that new part, though.

Some of the cars are fully functional, the owners can often be seen with them in oldtimer parades in the region.

Practical Hints:
How to get there: Take the tram S1 and get off at „Marxzell“; from the station it is a walk of 5-10 minutes to the museum.
Opening hours: daily 14.00 - 17.00
Entrance fee: adults 5 €, concessions 3 €
Website: http://www.fahrzeugmuseum-marxzell.de/

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The collection of fire engines, and a mechanic's workshop

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Old stuff in between

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One of their treasures: a 1915 Ford Tin Lizzy

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View from the gallery

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A car from the museum takes part in an oldtimer parade in Karlsruhe

Posted by Kathrin_E 13:59 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest albvalley Comments (0)

Altstadtfest in Gernsbach

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Every year on the third weekend in September the entire old town of Gernsbach in the Murg valley transforms into a fairground. The festival is opened on Friday night. On Saturday it begins in the afternoon and has its climax with illuminations and the musical fireworks in the evening. On Sunday it runs all day. The streets and lanes are full of stalls selling arts and crafts, fashion accessoires and stuff, and food and drink of all varieties including local specialities. Many of the food and drink stalls are operated by the clubs of the town. Bands are playing at every corner. Gernsbach's twin towns of Baccarat (France) and Pergola (Italy) have their corners with music, information and specialities. One alley along Zehntscheuer and other old houses hosts a "medieval" market which charges an entrance fee of 1 €; it is not big but very atmospheric. A knights camp takes place on the Murg island. On the Murg river raft rides are offered. The churches and Storchenturm were open so I could include some sightseeing.

Unfortunately I could not go on Saturday due to health problems so I missed the illuminations. I went on Sunday instead. I had expected the little town to be horribly crowded but I was pleasantly surprised - the festival was buzzing but everyone had enough space to move and to see the stalls, lines for food and drink were not too long. All in all it was an enjoyable experience and I would happily go again.
For those of you who read German, all details about the current festival, the schedule, town map and list of participants can be found some weeks in advance on the website of the town: http://www.gernsbach.de

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Drink: Fresh Apple Juice

September is apple time. What to do with them, especially from those in the orchard meadows? Press them and make Most. Gernsbach has a club of Süßmost makers who take care of the orchards and operate the press. They have a big stall on the Altstadtfest where they show how juice is made. Very easy: wash the apples, put them through a shredder, fill the mash into the press and, well, press.
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The fresh juice runs through a sieve to catch seeds and bits and can then either be drunk fresh or left to fermentation to make apple wine, named Most (pronounced "Mosht" in Baden and Swabia). On the Altstadtfest they only have the fresh Süßmost. A couple of weeks later the real Most will be available. The fresh juice can have accelerating effects on the digestive system, so if yours is sensitive, don't drink too much of it;-)
Distinguish:
Süßmost = fresh juice right from the press, non-alcoholic, very sweet
Rauscher = half-fermented, yummy, still sweet but already alcoholic, be careful
Most = apple or pear wine, fully fermented, alcoholic.

Food: Bubespitzle aka Schupfnudeln

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These are a local kind of pasta which is prepared in a big pan together with sauerkraut and bacon. Much tastier than it sounds! They are my favourite festival food hereabouts. On festivals like the Altstadtfest and also on Christmas markets it is available as takeaway. Local pubs and rural restaurants also have it on their menu.

In Swabia this type of pasta is known as Schupfnudeln while in Baden it is called Bubespitzle ("little boys' tips") because that's what it looks like - use your imagination;-)

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The Murg Rafters

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Fancy a little cruise on an unusual vessel? Raft rides on Murg river are one of the main attractions during Altstadtfest.

Rafting and timber trade was the base of the economy in many of those towns along the rivers in the Black Forest. Gernsbach earned a modest wealth with this business. The timbers that were cut up in the forests had to be transported to the cities along the Rhine where they were sold and used for construction. The waterway was easiest. The logs were tied to long rafts and drifted down the rivers. The rafters lived in a hut on their floating merchandise until they reached the markets where they untied and sold the logs. Then they marched back home or hitched a ride on a cart to start a new raft.

Nowadays timbers are transported by truck or train. Rafting is only revived as a historical tradition. A club in Gernsbach who name themselves the Murgflößer (Murg rafters) have rebuilt such a raft. Unlike the historical ones it has a motor and can travel upstream. It is more a party vehicle, though...

The raft is made from long logs but well covered like a boardwalk. There is a long table in the middle and a counter where passengers can buy wine and non-alcoholic drinks.

The uniform the rafters invented was probably inspired by carpenters and does not resemble real work clothes of former times that much, but they look handsome in it. It consists of black pants and vest, a white shirt, a black hat and a yellow necktie. The women wear some kind of Dirndl dresses.

During Altstadtfest the Murgflößer club invites to ride the raft (2 € charge). The Murg is a shallow river, blocked by a dam downstream and the Murg island upstream. The navigable distance is hardly more than 200 m. So this has nothing to do with thrilling whitewater rafting, it is a quiet affair. Enjoy a glass of wine and the view of the river banks.

I could not resist the temptation to go for an adventurous raft ride on the Murg river. Adventurous, LOL - in fact it was not too spectacular. With a glass of Spätburgunder from the nearby Ortenau in hand it was fun, though - and something one simply has to do when there is the chance.

The green dinosaur that appears in the photos is a balloon that a child brought on board.

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Landing manoeuvre

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Fountain and Raft, Water and Light
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Posted by Kathrin_E 14:32 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest murg_valley Comments (0)

A Pilgrimage: Moosbronn and Michelbach

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Moosbronn - this is almost the total length of the village

Here is another, very off the beaten path for tourists, suggestion for a combined hiking and sightseeing trip in the Northern Black Forest. Moosbronn and Michelbach are both parts of the municipality of Gaggenau, but separated from the main town. Both have preserved their village character. While Moosbronn is, first of all, a place of pilgrimage, Michelbach qualifies, to me, as one of the most beautiful villages in the wider surroundings of Karlsruhe.

The alternative to hiking is the KVV bus 253 that connects both villages with the station in Gaggenau and thus the Murg valley S-Bahn S 8 and S 81. The bus departs in the square opposite the station (Gaggenau Bahnhof). Buses run hourly until very late in the evening, they depart in Gaggenau on the full hour. The ride to Michelbach takes 6 minutes, to Moosbronn via Freiolsheim 20 minutes. The road to Moosbronn leads over the mountain ridge and is rather scenic, even with some views over to the Rhine plain. If you don't want to hike all the way to Moosbronn, or hike only one way, the bus is a convenient alternative. KVV tariff applies. If you arrived by S-Bahn, your ticket is also valid on the bus. Moosbronn also has regular bus connections to Ettlingen and Bad Herrenalb.

Moosbronn

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Moosbronn is located in a tiny side valley high up in the mountains between Murg and Alb valley. From Gaggenau centre one has to cross the rather steep ridge of Mahlberg. Moosbronn is a small and quiet village. Walking the full length hardly takes five minutes. The village is surrounded by lush green meadows and forests with plenty of options for hiking.

The most striking feature of the village is the pilgrimage church of Maria Hilf which attracts a lot of visitors. These make the living for three or four inns. The catholic church runs two houses that accommodate groups. The church is impossible to miss in the small village. It is open daily from 9.00-19.00, in summer until 20.00.

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Pilgrimages to Moosbronn began already in the late 17th century in times of the Turkish Wars. Legends tell of a farmworker who got stuck with his horses and wagon and cried to the Madonna for help, and Mary helped. The first sanctuary was just a small chapel, built in 1683. Since it attracted more and more pilgrims, a laarger church was needed. In the 1740s the present church was erected. Franz Ignaz Krohmer, court architect of the Margrave of Baden, desinged the plans. The sacred image of the Madonna is displayed in the retable of the main altar. It was painted after Lucas Cranach's Madonna with Child.

The second most striking feature is the stud farm and riding centre of Mönchhof where Icelandic horses are bred and trained. The house next-door is a shop which is specialized on equipment for Icelandic horse riding.

The Border That Cut the Village in Half

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The village of Moosbronn, tiny as it is, used to be divided in two by a border that run right through the village. Since 1660 (when the Counts of Eberstein died out) one half belonged to the Margraviate of Baden-Baden and later the Grandduchy of Baden, the other to the Duchy, later Kingdom of Württemberg.

The division also influenced the religion: Baden's half was catholic, Württemberg's half was protestant. After the end of the two states the border still existed as border between two governmental districts within the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg. Only in the administration reform of the 1970s Moosbronn was finally reunited when both halves became part of the municipality of Gaggenau.

The historical border stones are still there. They show the crests of Baden on one side and Württemberg on the other. A marked hiking trail (Grenzweg) follows the former border. In the middle of the village a stone obelisk marks the location of the former border. On some old houses you'll see the crest of the respective state.

Pilgrims Trail from Michelbach to Moosbronn

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... or vice versa, I walked it the other way round.

The little church in Moosbronn and its sacred image of the Madonna is a popular destination for regional pilgrimages. Processions on foot from Michelbach are done on some holidays, and many people visit on their own.

At three locations there are small stone shrines with images of Mary and baby Jesus, private donations from the 18th and 19th century.
The trail is marked with a little picture of the church in Moosbronn and named Wallfahrtsweg (pilgrimage trail). It is signposted but sometimes you have to look twice to see the signs, usually nailed to trees. The pilgrims trail is not one of the large wide paths, it is the small and steep trail that crosses the wide paths.

The distance between Michelbach and Moosbronn is given as 3.5 kilometres, which sounds like a relaxed hike. I was in Moosbronn and did not feel much inclination to wait for the next bus. The weather was glorious but not too hot, and 3.5 kilometres did not sound too bad, so I decided to walk. At first the trail was wide and comfortable, leading through meadows and orchards (this applies to the Michelbach side, too). However, the route soon leaves the big path and takes a narrow, uneven trail straight up the steep slope. The highest point is Mönchskopfsattel on top of the ridge between the two villages at an altitude of 525 metres. The descent to Michelbach was a lot longer but just as steep. (Well, a pilgrimage has something to do with repention, eh.)

Unfortunately I was wearing my trekking sandals (I had not planned to go hiking, after all) - it was doable but far from perfect and far from safe. I recommend wearing closed shoes, not necessarily hiking boots but comfortable walking shoes with soles that have a good grip.

Michelbach

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Michelbach is the most beautiful among the villages that now form the town of Gaggenau. It is cuddled into a side valley among the hills. A mountain ridge with Mahlberg and Bernstein as highest elevations forms the background. The older part of the village stretches along a stream named Michelbach (surprise surprise) at the bottom of the valley. Newer residential quarters have grown on the slopes above.

Michelbach is known for its beautiful and well restored half-timbered houses. Flower pots in the streets add to the atmosphere. The village is well taken care of, it has won a couple of prizes in countrywide „Beautify Our Village“ competitions.

Some houses are still working farms, others are just residential houses. Two marked walking routes present the village, its history, attractions and particularities which are explained on signboards (in German). The prettiest part is along the stream. The street leads gently up until you reach the Gumbe at the end of the village, a small pond that is a nature reserve and a leisure ground with barbecue and a Kneipp basin etc.

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The current of Mühlbach stream has long been used. There must have been more water mills in the past - one is preserved, about halfway from the village centre towards the Gumbe and the upstream end of the village. Some of the water is lead in a wooden flume a lot further upstream which has less decline than the stream itself, hence this water reaches the top of the mill wheel several metres above the stream's water level and this drives it. The wheel is not un use any more, though, and does not turn. The former mill is a residential house now. When I took my photos, there was an old man sitting on the verandah by the water, relaxing in his deck chair and snoring happily. I think the inhabitants can do without the noise of a mill wheel.

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Some houses still have them: little stone huts in the courtyard that contain a baking oven. While other villages have one or two large baking houses that were used by the whole community, here the farms each had one of their own or maybe for a handful of families. The ovens were separate buildings outside the houses because of the heat and the danger of fire. Having them in the street, easily accessible, makes sense. I found two in Rotenfelser Straße, round the corner from the church, but there must be more.

The catholic parish church marks the centre of the village. It was built on a terrace above the main square. Its history dates back to the middle ages, it is one of the oldest parishes in the Murg valley. Only the bottom part of the steeple is left of the medieval church, though. The nave was substituted by a larger one in the 18th century which then underwent further changes in the 20th (date 1936 above the portal). The interior is a wide hall without much atmosphere. The four altars and the pulpit are in baroqze style but they do not fit together, they look like an exhibition in a furniture shop. It is hard to tell how old they really are because the catholic church art still uses the baroque style to this very day. The church is open in the daytime. If you walk past anyway, you may want to have a look inside, but it is not worth a detour.

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The Walk from Michelbach to Gaggenau through the Streuobstwiesen

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Paved paths lead through the orchards between Gaggenau and Michelbach. I had missed the bus in Michelbach and would have had to wait for almost an hour, so I decided, despite my tired feet, to walk the last leg back to Gaggenau and the tram home instead. The gentle slopes offer a great view into the Murg valley, which is already rather wide in this part. Many apple trees are growing in the meadows. It was beautiful in autumn. In April when the apple trees are in bloom it must be absolutely lovely.

There seems to be no exact translation into English for the term Streuobstwiese, so let me use the German word. It describes a traditional type of cultural landscape around villages: grassland loosely planted with fruit trees of various varieties: apples, pears, plums, walnuts, cherries etc. The grass is mown only once or twice a year and can be used for making hay. The trees require some cutting in early spring and the harvest in summer or autumn depending on the type of fruit. Otherwise they are left alone. Pears and apples from the trees are, for example, the base for the making of „Moscht“, the local variety of cider.

These meadows are home to many specieses of wildflowers, to many insects, small mammals and birds and form a valuable natural habitat. They are very important for the ecologic balance. Many animals appreciate the hollows in old trees for nesting and refuge. The wide variety of specieses makes Streuobstwiesen precious natural reserves, as well as being useful to the human owners because of their fruit. In former times they covered wide areas. Industrialized agriculture made them redundant. In the 20th century many of them disappeared to make room for more efficient ways of farming. In recent times they are being re-established in many places, though, for their value in the protection and conservation of nature.

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Streuobstwiesen can be found on the lower, gentle slopes around the villages in the Murg valley. Paths and small roads allow easy walks. In spring, the blooming fruit trees and the wildflowers are a beautiful sight. In autumn, a walk through Streuobstwiesen is nourishing. Warning, these trees belong to someone, so don't rob the whole harvest. However, I see nothing wrong in picking up a fallen apple or two from the grass under a tree and enjoying it on the spot.

Through the suburbs of Gaggenau I finally reached the station and jumped on the S-Bahn. With the bus I would have made the same train, so the walk did not cost me extra time. After this, for my habits, rather long hike I appreciated the seat on the tram...

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:18 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest gaggenau Comments (1)

More About Gernsbach

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Gernsbach is one of the many small towns in the valleys of the Black Forest that have preserved their old flair. In past centuries it was the home of the Counts of Eberstein whose castle is located on a nearby hilltop above the Murg valley. One would not cross oceans to see this little place but if you are in the area it is worth a stopover.

I first visited on the weekend of Gernsbach's annual event, the Altstadtfest. This event has already been described in an earlier blog entry. In the following year I returned on a bright sunny day in May, in order to see more of the town on a random weekday with nothing special going on. After a visit at the baroque garden on the river bank and a walk of the town I climbed a forest trail up to Eberstein castle, and then down to the neighbouring village of Obertsrod to catch the tram back home.

Arriving on the Murgtal tram S 8 or S 81, the more convenient stop is Gernsbach Mitte, as opposed to Gernsbach Bahnhof which is further away from the centre. Nothing is really far in little Gernsbach, though. The old town is located on a hillside on the opposite river bank. There is one sight that should not be missed before crossing the Murg bridge, though: the baroque Katz’sche Garten on the right river bank.

Katz'scher Garten

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In 1803 the wealthy family Katz, who had earned their fortune with rafting and trade on the Murg, had themselves a beautiful garden designed between their big new villa and the river. Despite the late date the style of this garden is still baroque. The family owned and used it as their private refuge until the 1960s, since then it has been opeend to the public. At first it was modernized in a way that endangered the original design. In the 1990s it was restored to its baroque appearance.

The garden is not very big but very pleasant. In these small-town surroundings it is totally unexpected. The mild climate on the river bank allows growing subtropical plants like bananas. Some of the trees, for example the magnolias, are indeed 200 years old. There is a small open pavillon, a sundial, lots of sculptures, little fountains, and an abundance of flowers. The lower river bank has been integrated into the garden, a stone stairway leads down. Here are more benches with a view of the river, this is a lovely spot to sit and watch the water pasing by and relax.

The baroque parterre in the centre suffers from a big problem, though: the boxwood hedges had to be erased because they were infected by a fungus and also by a dangerous pest, a butterfly that has recently been introduced from the Far East, which eats and kills the boxwood plants. The structure is still visible but without plants. It is to be replanted with a different species of plant in the near future.

The garden is open to the public from April to October, daily 10.00 - 18.00. Entry is free, there is a little box for donations.

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Katz'scher Garten seen from the Murg bridge

The Old Town

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Gernsbach has a fine old town with many historical houses. Tourism has not yet spotted this hidden gem, for which we can be glad. Some low-key gastronomy is there so the visitor won’t starve, but there are no souvenir shops and such.

Two steeples dominate the skyline of biconfessional Gernsbach. The protestant community built their church on a terrace close to the river, while the catholic parish uses the other, larger church on the highest point of the town.

The protestant church of St Jakobus originally dates back to the 15th century. The choir ist still late gothic, with tabernacle, crucifix and tombstones of the local nobility. The nave was enlarged and refurbished in the late 18th century and shows a typical protestant interior with wooden galleries. The pulpit, the organ and the windows are new.

The gentle slope above the church is covered by the protestant cemetery. (Hint: The flat white building at the bottom of the graveyard is the funeral hall and there are free public toilets in its back.)

From the protestant church into the old centre of Gernsbach, the walk leads down a short side street into a valley with a little creek. Parts of the old town walls are preserved along here, and on top of them the impressive Zehntscheuer has been built. These are the barns where the grain taxes were collected. Because of their size they are a landmark in townscape. Unfortunately the building is in bad shape. People in Gernsbach want to preserve and renovate it and find new uses for it. Campaigns and events take place to raise money for the Zehntscheuer. Let's hope they will succeed.

The old town covers a slightly ascending hill. It consists of hardly more than three parallel streets and a few side lanes. The main street in the middle, named Hauptstraße, widens to form a series of squares.

The architecture are smallish, rural townhouses – with one exception, the old town hall. The magnificent Renaissance building was originally a private house. In 1617/18 it was erected for Johann Jakob Kast, a Murg rafter who had become rich with his timber trade - see how promising this business was? This architecture could be in any big city. In a small town like this it must have looked like a paradise bird. Later on it became the seat of the mayor and magistrate. The ground floor and cellar host a wine pub and restaurant - even if you don't want to drink and eat there, peep in for a glimpse the staircase and the vaulted cellar. The rest of the building can only be visited on special occasions like the monument heritage day.

The series of squares along Hauptstraße leads up to the Catholic Church of Our Lady. The catholic parish church is visible from afar due to its elevated position on the steep western end of the ridge at the end of the old town. It is said to originate from the chapel of the former castle. The present building dates from the 14th century but was extended and refurbished in neogothic style in the late 19th century. The steeple is connected with the town wall and had strategic functions.

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Graveyard with a View

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The catholic cemetery is located on the hilltop right behind the catholic church but separated by a deep cut in the topography of the ridge. A stone bridge connects the churchyard with the cemetery. It is protected by a fortified gate in the town wall next to the steeple. The defensive function of the steeple and wall here at the high end of the old town become obvious. From the bridge you have a great photogenic view of the steeple. Imagine how impressive funerals must be, with a procession accompanying the coffin over the bridge to the gate of the graveyard.
The most beautiful spot on the edge of the old town has been given to the defunct. The catholic cemetery of biconfessional Gernsbach is located on the ridge behind the Church of Our Lady. The stone bridge leads up to the wrought-iron gate against the light, it's almost like a gate to heaven.

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The most prominent person buried in this graveyard is, by the way, Maria von Wedemeyer, later Maria Weller: the fiancée of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young lady with whom he exchanged his famous letters during his imprisonment in the Nazi era.

The cemetery has probably grown in height with layers and layers of graves. High substruction walls surround its sides towards the valleys. The view of the town with Storchenturm and church is exceptional, highly recommended to photographers. Storchenturm („Stork Tower“) is the only remaining tower of the old fortifications. It was named after the storks nest on top. The tower protected the gate to the old town from the upper end, the hillside, together with the steeple of the catholic church. This was a vulnerable spot because aggressors coming from above would have an advantage, so it was heavily fortified. Originally access to the tower was only possible through the adjacent guardhouse. Now there is a door from the street. The view from the tower must be nice but there are open wooden stairs so scared-of-heights me did not go up.

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The Opposite Hillside

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Back down by the Murg bridge, the walk continues to the opposite hillside. Some pretty half-timbered houses are standing along the street by the river bank. The finest of them is Amthof, the former home and office of the bailiff. It also contained wine cellars and the workshops of the barrel-makers, here the tax wine for the cathedral of Speyer was collected. It is located outside the old town on the bank of the Murg, along the road to Eberstein castle. The blue timberwork and white facade are an eyecatcher both from the opposite river bank and along the street. The municipality of Gernsbach has a small museum in the Amtshof that is used for exhibitions about the town's history. Opening hours seem to be limited, though. The rest of the estate is a private residential house.

Further up the hill there is a strange octogonal structure with heavy stone pillars and pointed arches. The war memorial on the hill with the funny name Rumpelstein („rumbling rock“) overlooks the town and the valley. Access is from Schlossstraße near the Amthof, either up the steep stairway which soon turns into a rough path, or, longer but more comfortable, follow the road around the orchard. The monument is well visible so you can't lose your way. The view is worth the climb. The memorial was built in 1936 – an example of Nazi architecture. Inscriptions refer to the soldiers killed in the German-French war of 1870/71 and First World War. The stone octogon is open at the top. Around the opening we find the sentence: „Forever remains the glory of the deads' deeds.“ The quote is taken from the medieval Edda, which must have been extremely popular after World War I, I have seen the same text elsewhere. The inscriptions on the walls list the names of the fallen soldiers from Gernsbach. Not all of them, though: those of Jewish faith and/or origin were missing on purpose. In the 1980s the names of two Jewish soldiers have been added. The annual commemoration services on Volkstrauertag still take place in this location. However, nowadays no one glorifies war any more. This country has learned its lesson. Instead the victims are remembered. Thinking about the horrors of war serves as warning for present and future.

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The Hike to Eberstein Castle

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Eberstein castle is located on top of a ridge high above Gernsbach. You see it best from the right bank of the Murg river. It can be reached in a nice hike, not too far but with some steeper ascents and descents. The walk from Gernsbach's old town to the castle is about 2 kms. Walking time is about 45 minutes in total, including the steep ascent, checking out the trees in the Arboretum, enjoying the view from Engelskanzel and a short rest on the benches at Luisenruhe.

From Hofstätte, follow Schlossstraße to the edge of the town. The road to Eberstein and Baden-Baden turns right and uphill but it has no sidewalk, avoid it on foot. Instead, follow the signs saying "Fußweg Schloss Eberstein" straight on until you reach the little neogothic chapel (Klingelkapelle). Here the hiking trail starts. Signposting is detailed and idiot-proof, there is also a board with a map behind the chapel.

The marked trail is actually a round trip up to the castle, then down on the back of the hill to the neighbouring village of Obertsrot, and back through the forest close to the river bank. Total length is 4 kms, including notable ups and downs. It is mostly an unpaved forest trail. Two healthy legs in comfy shoes will cope easily but it is not suitable for people with walking difficulties. In that case, better drive to the castle.

Along the hiking trails on the slopes around Eberstein castle, parts of the forest have been turned into an Arboretum, an exhibition of trees. Some of these are really old trees that have been growing here for decades, if not centuries - like the linden alley on the way to the castle, or the group of chestnut trees halfway up in the vineyards. Others have been planted in groups of a species each, in order to give an overview of the trees that grow in the Black Forest, both native and introduced specieses. They are explained but the signs are in German only plus the Latin botanical names. Even if you don't read them the trees are simply enjoyable to look at. Rhododendron bushes have been planted in several shady spots, most beautiful in May when they are in bloom - I was there at the perfect time.

The trail leads through the forest in a zigzag, thus not too steeply, up the slope. Halfway you reach Engelskanzel with a view of the valley. The top is named Luisenruhe ("Louise's Rest") and has some inviting benches. I have no idea who that Luise was, but this girl or lady certainly had an eye for pleasant spots in the forest. From here it is only 600 ms to the castle.

Eberstein castle is located on a ridge high above Gernsbach. With its towers the castle is a landmark which is impossible to overlook. The Counts of Eberstein built it as their seat in the 13th century. When the family died out in 1660 it became property of the Margraves of Baden, who owned it until the 1990s.

The castle was in decay for some time until it was restored and refurbished in the 19th century, hence its present appearance is not medieval. The castle hosts an upscale hotel, the main buildings are not accessible to passers-by. You can enter the first courtyard through the impressive gatehouse which dates from 1602 - 1609. The way further up is closed by an iron gate. Nevertheless the place is worth visiting for the views.

The buildings on the right are now a gourmet restaurant. I hear it is excellent, unfortunately it is far above my budget. There is outdoor seating on the terraces facing south with a wide view of the Murg valley and the surrounding mountains. The winery Schloss Eberstein has a shop and tasting room in the courtyard.

So enjoy the view from the outside and continue your hike. The southern side of the castle hill is planted with vineyards. All the way down you are rewarded with a wide, beautiful view over the valley. Eberstein castle is well known for excellent wines from these vineyards, by the way. The winery has a shop and tasting room in the courtyard of the castle.

In the vineyards below Eberstein castle you'll notice rose bushes at the end of the rows of vines. A pretty sight in summer when the roses are in bloom. The rose is the crest of the Counts of Eberstein and the town of Gernsbach, but neither is this the reason why the vintners have planted them, nor is it a question of looks. The roses serve as indicators for a plant disease: mildew, which is caused by fungi. Certain types of roses, and these are used, are more sensitive to mildew than vines. The roses are affected first. The winemakers watch the roses carefully. If a rose is affected they know it's time to protect the vines by applying fungicides.

If you don't want to hike the whole round, you can do as I did: Walk down to Obertsrot and to the S-Bahn stop there, and take the tram back. From the castle, Obertsrot station is closer than Gernsbach Mitte.

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Bench with a view down to Obertsrot

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:43 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest gernsbach Comments (0)

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