Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Freudenstadt, at the top of the Black Forest

What a history this place has!





In one of my many sojourns throughout Germany, I made a last-minute decision to take a tram from the city of Karlsruhe all the way up through the Black Forest to Freudenstadt, the largest city on top of the Black Forest range. The city, whose name actually means City of Joy, was founded for Huguenots (French Protestants) in 1599 by the Protestant Duke Friederich of Württemberg, who invited them to come into his domains to escape further persecution, this time by Catholics in Salzburg. This was not the first time German princes had welcomed French Huguenots who were escaping persecution and death because of their faith. The Germans had another good reason for inviting them into their domains: the Huguenots were hard workers and merchants.



Part of the market square in Freudenstadt. Unless one is in an airplane, it is
very difficult to get the entire square into one shot.



It was autumn when I visited here and I clearly recall how much cooler it was up here than down in Karlsruhe, near the banks of the Rhine River below. The city is 736m (2415 ft.) above sea level and has a population of just under 24,000. It boasts the largest market square in all of Germany, and I can tell you that if indeed there is a larger market square in the country, it must be the size of the Vatican because this is indeed huge. It appears to be perfectly square and has several dozen fountains within it. 






Toward the end of World War II, the city was severely damaged - vast swathes of it were burned in a devastating fire. Interestingly, in keeping in mind the fact that its founders had already once escaped religious persecution by the French hundreds of years ago, it was Allied French forces which played a large part in its destruction in April 1945. Yet, since then, it has been meticulously restored. 






Upon arrival and after my scenic tram journey up the sides of the Black Forest's mountains, I decided to find a nice café for coffee and, well, Black Forest cake, of course: that cherry and whipped-cream delight with a flavoring of espresso and cocoa. I chose a café on the expansive market place and ordered coffee to go with it, of course. There were numerous tourists who mostly seemed to be retired. The service was slow, as is often the case in Germany, but the as is often the case, the cake was worth the wait. 






I think my favorite structure in the city has to be the church on one corner of the market square. It was constructed in an 'L' shape. As can be seen in the photographs below, there are two steeples, or towers, which stand at the end of each wing, with only one containing the clock faces. The reason for this interesting construction is that at the time the original church was built between 1601 and 1608, Protestant men and women were to sit separately, and by having two distinct wings, this was more easily ensured. The pulpit is directly in the middle at the angle, so the pastor had a clear view of everyone in the congregation.






As can be seen in the photograph above and below, the arcade which is part of the rest of the vast market square which this church helps to create as one of the square's corners, is part of the church itself just as it is on all of the neighboring structures. 



The Stadthaus (city house) can be seen through the arcade of
a house next to the Evangelical Lutheran Church


Other side of the church: street view of the 
Lutheran church outside the Market Place


One of a number of independently standing structures on the market square. Note the
obligatory arcade which is on all structures which make up the perimeter of the
market square of Freudenstadt


Another angle of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and its
arcade


Windows and shutters of one of the many beautiful houses of
Freudenstadt. I don't know anything regarding the background as
to why that toy VW bus is on the flower box support, but it was the
original reason for this photo.




There are many beautiful, large homes in Freudenstadt that were built around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Unfortunately I don't know anyone from there, so I can't honestly tell you the history as to why they are here. I want to think that perhaps they were vacation homes used as mountain retreats in the hot summers, but the houses are particularly large for vacation homes, so maybe some were built as flats or apartments just as they are today. Whatever the case, many are certainly worth walking past to admire. 


The designs on the walls of the house appealed to me. Very quaint


Shopping and living quarters are mixed here as they are in so many other European
cities.


Getting there:

From Karlsruhe main train station the trip is about two hours. Trams run several times an hour. 
From Stuttgart main train station, the train journey is about one hour 25 minutes. Trains run roughly once an hour except midday when it is twice. 

See: 


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Deggingen Abbey all dressed in autumn

I should have posted this a very long time ago, but I forgot the details of the place and instead of doing my online research then, I just pushed it under the rug. Nevertheless, here it is and here as well goes the short, simple description of my visit one Sunday (or was that a Saturday?) about five years ago to the abbey of Deggingen, located in central Baden-Württemberg, and a lovely drive from Stuttgart.


The Ave Maria Chapel of Deggingen.

It was a gorgeous, late-autumn morning and a friend and I drove out of Stuttgart along a beautiful route lined with forest-filled vistas boasting one of the most beautiful Indian-summer days I had yet experienced in Germany. Yes, 'Indian summer' - Germans seem to have reinvented the meaning of that phrase to refer only to the colorful autumnal foliage, rather than the original way we North Americans use it. I've given up telling them what it really means, but it doesn't really matter. Regardless, the car ride in itself was worth every kilometer and the abbey proved to be the cherry on the cake (chocolate of course) of the day.




The abbey is located in what is known as the Schwäbische Alb (google it ;-). Its Chapel of the Ave Maria was constructed between 1716 and 1718 by a Capuchin Order of monks. In the early 20th century, the monastery itself was built. Today only a small handful of brothers and their pastor live there and offer pastoral care to the community.




The chapel of the Ave Maria itself is known as a pilgrimage church. It belongs to the parish of Deggingen, which can be seen in the background in the photo below. Several of the stations of the cross are also shown in the foreground leading up to the sanctuary.




The abbey buildings are of a simple, yet elegant design. Nestled against the forest which surrounds the abbey on three sides, the pale-lemon paint on the walls of the buildings contributes to the charming scene it creates for approaching visitors.






The chapel ceiling




The golden-orange showpiece above the altar in the photo above is of the Ave Maria. It is late Gothic. I learned from Wikipedia (perish the thought) that it was done by an unknown artist of the 15th century.




The setting of the abbey is indeed lovely and serene. It is still a place of pilgrimage and I can understand why. Since we were there in the fall, apples were for sale everywhere. I really like it when, depending on the season, you are walking along and come upon a table with apples or cherries that are either bagged or are in a little carton and a small sign on the table tells you how much money to leave in the tin for the purchase, and no one is around to make sure everyone is honest. That is trust, and I dare say it is probably usually honored. I've gotten some good fruit that way!



Getting there:

- You can take a regional train (RE) from Stuttgart main station to Geislingen station and then a 22-minute bus ride to the "Abzw. Ave Maria". This would take you about 2 hours. 

- The other rail option is to take an inter-city (IC) train from Stuttgart to Göppingen and then the bus for a 1:45-minute trip.

- Lastly, there is an inter-regional express (IRE) which is the fastest from Stuttgart, though it still includes the bus; this is about one hour altogether. I would take this one. The walk from the bus stop to the abbey is very nice. It isn't far at all.

- Otherwise, you can rent a car and find it yourself. Don't forget the navigator. After you turn off the main road there is a parking area below the abbey at the end of the drive.  




Saturday, May 16, 2015

Herrenberg - whose church leans heavily over its half-timbered houses




Looking up from the Market Square over Herrenberg's Town Hall to the massive Stiftskirche
above.




Before 1749, there were two tall spires where the single onion dome and
its white foundation sit today. 


Up in the tower of this late-13th-century Protestant church of Herrenberg 
is the Glockenmuseum, or Bell Museum.


                                         



The imposing façade of the ancient church - known as the Stiftskirche, Collegiate Church, or Protestant Church - dominates the skyline of the entire town. Its tower can be sighted from quite afar as one approaches via car or train, or even by foot across the fields. Steps are everywhere in Herrenberg. I would imagine no skinny legs here. People are probably in pretty good shape. Access to the homes and shops is directly from the steps themselves which could be awkward for guests who aren't thinking as they step outside from a successful cocktail party.                                                           
I have been down here several times from Stuttgart. It really is a nice day trip. Hiking is certainly possible all over this area. Of course, Germany as a country is well suited to hiking, biking, etc. what with all the designated paths throughout the country. Herrenberg is a stone's throw from the famous Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, as it is called around here.


The Market Place of Herrenberg, beneath the shadow of its massive church above.


Half-timbered houses, or "Fachwerkhäuse" are to be found all throughout this lovely
Swabian town south of Stuttgart. 





From the terrace in front of the church itself one looks down over the rooftops of Herrenberg. I would like to see the town from this angle after a heavy snowfall.

Look at those doors! They are pretty solid. The stone around them is also to be admired. I cannot
make out the rest of it, but the word or name above the door on the right, "STEINHAVER"
means "stone carver", so either he lived here, worked here, or both. Or, he just left this advert
over the door for all to know who did it. Good for him. 


More about the Stiftskirche



Have a look at the doors above. The Stiftskirche of Herrenberg is known for more than its 13th-century founding and bell museum high in its wide tower. It is also known for the fact that it is very slowly sliding down the side of the hill on which it sits. "What" you say? That's right, have a look again at those doors above. It's more than just a shot of two old doors. Look at the stone "framing" around the actual wooden doors. See how the center divider between the door arches is leaning to the left? You can see less of the top-right hinge on the left door than the bottom-right hinge on the same door. This is a side door to the huge church tower. Look below and you can see how high and heavy the tower must be. Mind you, there are certainly higher churches in the world, but not such large and wide ones constructed on the side of a hill like this. The clues are subtle, but when pointed out, one begins to wonder if, when, and how that tower might come down on the half-timbered town below.

Well, not to worry. Certainly the authorities have long known of this threat, and precautions have been taken which will certainly be observed for years to come. Much restoration was done to this effect throughout the 1970s. During this time the foundations were shored up and galleries which were added in the 19th-century were removed. The church had been sliding 1mm per year down toward the town due to the unstable hillside on which it is perched. One millimeter may not sound like much, but keep in mind that Herrenberg's church has been sitting here for more than 500 years! That's roughly 500 millimeters, and one of those millimeters would have been the final straw. 

The onion dome atop the tower that is seen today was built in 1749 when the former double spires were taken down and the single top was put on instead.





I couldn't resist throwing this in.
She graced a storefront window in
the town below. 

The choir stalls were carved in the 17th century. I particularly like the figures carved into them. I have seen these in many such stalls dating back a variety of centuries. Some I have seen boast quite humorous depictions - even yawning monks, but not here. 


Fachwerkhäuse, or Half-timbered houses

Herrenberg boasts many of these beautiful structures. Most of the half-timbered houses here were created in the Frankish style of Fachwerk. The oldest house in the town is of the Allemanisch style. Like so much of Württemberg and Baden, Herrenberg was burned to the ground during the devastating 30-Year's War in the first half of the 17th century. When the city was rebuilt, the merchants and inhabitants did not want all their homes to look the same. Therefore, the styles of Fachwerk on the buildings were intentionally made to be different. As you walk around the city, there are placards on the sides of many of the buildings explaining the names and styles of the beam work. 



Here are some shots of half-timbered houses I saw in Herrenberg. The house in the above left is the kind I like to come across in my travels - especially when my iPhone is charged since 90% of my photos are done with it. The amount of windows all over the house and their different sizes intrigue me. When seeing buildings like this one, I like to stand outside and try to figure out the purposes of such little windows such as the one directly above the front door. I mean, how short are the people who can even walk on that floor when compared to the windows and floor above it? 




I have often heard said that in some places, some of the taxes on home owners were determined by how many windows one had on one's house. I don't know if that was a universal rule, but it sounds interesting. Perhaps even window sizes were considered in the tax assessments of the day, hence, the different sizes. On the other hand, though, windows must surely have been added at later dates and in a half-timbered house, the space between the external timbers would have needed to have been taken into consideration as well. Who knows - the point is, they are fun to look at and let the mind wander back to what life was like long ago.




The house, above right, is behind the church. The ground floor contains the workshop of the church. It is quite large and takes care of all sorts of repairs, restorations, etc. Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg instructed that all the houses be "cleaned", or covered up. Perhaps the Fachwerk looked too primitive and the plastered fronts appeared more solid and stately; I don't know. I do know that in most cases I would differ with the duke. Now, why the rest of the houses down below in the town are not plastered over today, I do not know. Perhaps they were restored to their original beauty in more modern times. Simply based on the size of the structure, imagine what wooden designs are behind that plaster. In any event, it is indeed a substantial structure. The sheer amount of windows across the two main floors are something to ponder. Would like to have seen their tax bill.



As we hiked back down to the city from the Schloßberg (more information below), we came out into a clearing with fields and what appeared to be a farmhouse. The style of the house impressed me; I couldn't resist a shot of it (above left).



When walking around behind the huge church, one comes across a path that climbs further on up the hill above. At one time a castle was here - the Schloßberg. Some of the gates and parts remain as you make your way up by foot. There is a fine overlook from which you can see quite far over the city below and toward the Black Forest which is in the western horizon. The Schloßberg offers a café terrace, but the fortress itself is not really much to see in itself. The view, however, is worth the climb.

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Getting there:

To Herrenberg from Stuttgart main station: three to four local trains run per hour to Herrenberg, ranging from 30 - 40 minutes. No ICE's stop there, although they do pass it on the way to Zürich.