Showing posts with label Schwaben. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Schwaben. Show all posts

Monday, February 1, 2016

Weil der Stadt



City walls surrounding much of Weil der Stadt


Weil der Stadt Coat of Arms

Eagle: Free Imperial City
SPQR: Roman Senate & People
Keys: Catholic Church, as
on Vatican Flag
Forty minutes via the S6 local train from Stuttgart, we arrived at Weil der Stadt, located in the green Wurm Valley on the Württemberg side of the enchanting Black Forest. Also situated in the Greater Stuttgart Region, more specifically Kreis (County) Böblingen, Weil der Stadt with its present name dates back to medieval times. Spared much damage during the Second World War, the town remains original, proudly boasting memorials to her famous sons Johannis Kepler, the renowned early 17th-century astronomer, and Johannis Brenz (They aren't real original on first names are they?), a student of Martin Luther and who was instrumental in bringing the Reformation to Württemberg, although oddly enough after the Reformation, Weil der Stadt remained a Catholic city. Brenz died in 1570, the year before Kepler was born. Evidently, the bombardment of the town by the French military during WWII was called off in respect to the fact that this is the birthplace of that famous astronomer. To think that a person who had been dead some 300 odd years saved his town from destruction says loads.


One a several original towers still remaining in the walls


Upon arrival, the town is indeed immediately impressive in its historical architectural vestments which outnumber anything more modern located there. This of course pleases your writer very much. Fachwerkhäuser are in abundance; so much so, that for one of the rare times in my life, I didn't bother trying to capture every one of them on film. 


Narrenzunft or Fools' Guildhall


I found very interesting the origin of the town's name. Evidently, 'Weil' emerged from the Latin word vila/villa, which not only referred to a town, but also perhaps a manor/estate of sorts which originated any settlement here. (This is how I understood it in any case.) Long after the Romans were gone, 'Weil' was evidently granted the status of Stadt, which means town or city in German. 'der' is the feminine possessive 'of the', so Weil of the Town/City (Weil der Stadt) came about to distinguish this particular 'Weil' from Weil im Dorf (Weil in the Village), for example. 


Holding the emblem of the Free Imperial City of Weil der Stadt


As many of you may already be aware, vast swathes of  Germany were part of the Roman Empire many centuries ago, so its Roman heritage traces are not uncommon at all here. Weil der Stadt once belonged to the powerful Abbey of Hirsau, which I reported on earlier. This was in the first half of the 11th century. Later, Weil der Stadt was to become a Free Imperial City, granting it special trade and military rights amongst other things.





In 1648, Weil der Stadt was utterly destroyed in the Thirty-Years War and was rebuilt into what we see today. It is dominated by its massive St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic church located in the center of town, where a statue in honor of Johannis Kepler can be seen. 

The wall and towers of the city, so much of what still remain today, are what impress me the most. A walk around the outside as well as parts of the inside (where the wall doesn't actually constitute one of the walls of an interior building) give a good idea of how and for what city walls were used, even today.


Tower of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul rises behind the
Marktplatz statue of Weil der Stadt's most renowned son,
the astronomer Johannis Kepler.


Weil der Stadt is also home to some of the ancient guilds which, although perhaps changed in their modern-day functions, proudly continue to operate, for example in the Narrenzunft, or Fools' Guild here in town. As Carnival is very important here and wonderfully celebrated with a colorful and historic parade of ancient carnival costumes, it would be worth the visit during the Carnival season. The parade itself is held at Fastnacht, or as the locals would say in their Swabian dialect, Fastnet. Visit my report on this topic during the Europe-wide celebration of Narrenfest that took place in Bad Cannstatt some years ago. Participants from the guilds of Weil der Stadt were indeed represented during that brilliant event!




I highly recommend a visit to Weil der Stadt. If you can be there during Fastnet, you will have an experience and loads of photos that you will likely never forget; however, plan carefully for any visit because it is only on one day and the crowds are large. Still, it would be absolutely worth it. Any other time of the year to visit would also be rewarding. Its proximity to Stuttgart via train or car is convenient and only about 20 miles (approx. 30 kilometers) away. It is easily a day trip or less.





Click here to see an Aerial video of Weil der Stadt. You will be able to get a better idea of how small the town is and get a nice view from above.

How to get there:

From Stuttgart via train, take the S6 from underground at the  main station in the direction of Weil der Stadt. If all is running on time, it should be just under 40 minutes.

From Stuttgart via car, head out west of the city on the B14 and follow the signs to Weil der Stadt. Altogether, traffic aside (based on traffic patterns in 2016), it should take under 40 minutes.




Tuesday, June 11, 2013

BEBENHAUSEN - Where it all ended

In the autumn of 1918, just after the end of World War I, the monarchies of Germany began falling like dominoes. Württemberg's respected king was one of them. Wilhelm II and his wife, Charlotte, left the city of Stuttgart for the hunting retreat just south of the city and never returned to the capital again.



King Wilhelm II and Queen Charlotte

at the front door of their hunting lodge at

Bebenhausen, Württemberg

(1915)

How it happened:

From Stuttgart to Bebenhausen


When the Kingdom of Württemberg ceased to exist in 1918, the country, already a part of the greater German Empire - now republic - became a "Freistaat", which, very basically, meant that it was not a monarchy. 


The last sovereigns of the little kingdom, King Wilhem II (not to be confused with the German Kaiser [Emperor] of the same name,) and Queen Charlotte, left the capital of Stuttgart very quickly on the same fateful Saturday that the lightening-fast revolution took place.  


The First World War had just come to a close and there was confusion, hunger and all sorts of social issues that needed immediate attention. Other kingdoms, principalities and duchies within the now defunct German Empire were either toppling their rulers or the rulers themselves were frantically trying to figure out what immediate next steps they themselves needed to take in a land which up to this time had numerous "mini-monarchies"; everything was happening so fast - in some cases within a matter of days or hours. 


As for the Kingdom of Württemberg, the vast majority of the population did not have much issue with the monarch himself. King Wilhelm II had been loved by his people and was affectionately  known as a citizen-king, who eschewed police protection as he walked his pet dogs freely through the streets of the capital. He was even greeted by the local Swabians as "Mr. King", for he was in no way an autocrat. He was nearing 70 years old as the revolution approached and he had been on the throne since 1891. Locals have indeed told me of their grandparents having spoken of being one of the many locals who would see His Majesty in the street when they themselves were children so long ago. They greeted him as he in turn would greet them. It is true that the country was not a constitutional, democratic monarchy as monarchies in Europe are today, but a heavy-handed king with absolute power he was not. 

On that fateful, though otherwise quiet, Saturday morning in Stuttgart, King Wilhelm was holding a  cabinet meeting in the small Wilhemspalais (Wilhelm Palace), located directly behind the large, opulent city palace, or Stadtschloß, which was much too grand a residence for his taste. On that same morning, a labor demonstration had been planned to march through the city at about the same time. This demonstration boasted nothing about overthrowing the government, and certainly not the monarchy itself (although its demise was inevitable at some point as greater Germany was already in the throws of becoming republican in the post-war upheaval that was rapidly engulfing Germany overall. The Kaiser himself had already fled into exile in the Netherlands). As the demonstration made its way through the streets around to the front of the large square in front of the Stadtschloß in the city center, a rumor was spread that the king had weapons hidden in his smaller palace, as well as extra food. 

One might think that having food, or extra food, in one's home would not exactly be cause for an entire revolution - the Swabian monarchs were in no way comparable to the frivilous court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette - but as the end of the war had brought such hardship to the country, and it was being said that the king had more than his share and perhaps the weapons to protect it, it was not much to get the already unhappy, war-weary crowd to go one step further. Some people began calling for the demonstration to go around to the Wilhelmspalais to find out what the king was hiding in his home. 

As mentioned above, the king was in council at that time. Clearly, it can be noted that as this large demonstration was taking place, there had been no intent on the part of the king to even stop the demonstration - no troops were sent to disband it. That alone might demonstrate something about the "freedom" to hold demonstrations at that time. Nonetheless, there were in fact some revolutionaries in the crowd and they wanted trouble - and it was trouble that they got. 

King Wilhelm's small palace only had one policeman on guard duty that morning - again, another example of how unthreatened this otherwise popular king had always felt amongst his fellow Württembergers. The demonstrators and revolutionaries in the crowd demanded to enter and to check the kitchens and cellars for the extra food stuffs the king was alleged to have been hiding. An attempt was made to storm the palace. The poor policeman at the door did not abandon his post. He was roughed up trying to keep the crowd from entering until the king himself told the leaders of the crowd that not only did he not have extra food stores or weapons in his house, but that they could check it themselves if they did not believe him. And they did. 

They found nothing, of course. Still, the leaders of the mob demanded the king's banner be lowered from the flagstaff above the palace and the red flag of revolution be hoisted in its stead. His Majesty absolutely refused. It is believed that the majority of the crowd had not expected this demonstration to turn into this, though I, personally, would assume that the revolutionary elements in the crowd had been planning for this to be the result. Still, the revolutionaries were demanding the change of flags. As things were becoming more heated, and in order to stop potential bloodshed of innocent people, the elderly king said that if they wanted to change the flag, then they had better do it themselves because he was certainly not going to be the one to do it!

And so it was. With his fellow monarchs falling all round him, he realized that he had little choice but to abdicate his throne. It was inevitable. But the king was personally devastated. He felt betrayed by his own people, especially the citizens of Stuttgart who did not come to his aid. The people had otherwise always seemed to love and respect their citizen Mr. King. It could, however, be assumed that more than the abdication itself, the king felt a personal hurt in the manner that it was carried out. He wrote out the act of abdication himself, stating that he would never stand in the way of the development of his country. Within a few hours, King Wilhelm II and Queen Charlotte left Stuttgart in a motorcar, forever, retiring to their personal residence of Bebenhausen, formerly an ancient monastery and the present royal hunting lodge, some kilometers south of the city not far from Tübingen. 



Jagdschloß (Royal Hunting Lodge) of Bebenhausen as seen today. 

(The above black and white photo of the king and queen was taken in front of the door to the turret, above. 
It was in this building that the Duke and Duchess of Württemberg [the former king and queen] lived out their remaining days. The rooms can all be visited. They were left just as the royal couple left them before they died, Queen Charlotte being the last in 1946.)


King Wilhelm ceased to refer to himself as "king" and took his second title, that of Duke of Württemberg, instead. The king's heirs and descendants remain in Württemberg to this day, living in a former royal residence not terribly far from the Swiss border.

One thing that should be noted, is that all the while this little revolution was taking place on that otherwise sleepy Saturday morning in the middle of Stuttgart, the vast majority of the citizens were still waking up or tending to their Saturday-morning chores. Funny as this may sound, the majority had absolutely no idea their king was being deposed. By the time King Wilhelm, now Duke of Württmeberg, was being chauffeured to Bebenhausen, the city of Stuttgart was still waking up to what had just happened. When all was said and done, the vast majority of the people were apparently shocked. Many felt a sense of remorse that they had not done anything to help the king. As stated above, King Wilhelm felt betrayed. It has been noted that people even sent food to Bebenhausen for the king because they felt sorry for him and felt bad for not having somehow helped him. They were even more concerned that the now ex-king and queen would be hungry! Ah, the dear, unpretentious Swabians. It was November 30, 1918: this royal pair had held on longer than all their royal counterparts throughout the former empire. 

The Duke and Duchess were not completely forgotten. There was no reason to exile the royal family. The new state granted them a stipend on which to retire, popular as they had been. Their private residences, such as Bebenhausen and a few others were not confiscated from them. The Stadtschloß (this would also be considered as the official "royal palace"), however, went into state ownership along with the Wilhelmspalais and several other major palaces. 

King Wilhem only lived another three years, dying on October 2, 1921, at 73 years old. Having declared never to return to Stuttgart ever again, his funeral cortege made its way from Bebenhausen, south of Stuttgart, to his final resting place north of the city at Ludwigsburg Palace, where his ancestors, first wife and two of his children (one of whom was stillborn, and the other, who died in infancy) were also buried.  His instructions were that the cortege not pass through Stuttgart, which would have been a more direct route. It did not. It went around the city through Feuerbach instead. Many lined the streets along the way to see the cortege as it made its way to Ludwigsburg. The republican government in Berlin even sent an honor guard to accompany the dead king to the cemetery. The plot where the king and his family are buried is quite simple for people of such royal heritage.  



Wilhelm II
King of Württemberg
Born 25 February 1848
Died 3 October 1921
                       

Queen Charlotte, a friendly but shy,   down-to-earth woman who preferred to stay out of the limelight   as much as possible, lived on at Bebenhausen until her own death in July 1946. She was buried very quietly in Ludwigsburg next to her husband. The duchess outlived all other kings and queens of the former German monarchies. King Friederich August of Saxony had died in 1932 and the last queen of Prussia in 1921.


Queen Charlotte's simple gravestone in Ludwigsburg

Charlotte
of Württemberg
born Princess of Schaumburg-Lippe
Born 10 October 1864
Died 16 July 1946
                    

During my own visit to Bebenhausen in 2012, a friend and I were fortunate to meet an elderly woman who was native to the village. She casually recalled the lovely old lady who lived with her ladies-in-waiting in the walls of the little hunting-lodge palace. Of her recollections, she told us that she recalled being told by her mother that she was to always address the lady as Ihre Majestät (Your Majesty), and that she was to curtsey whenever meeting her. She told me she didn't want to do that; after all, what child wants to have to do such a thing.

She remembered fondly of sometimes seeing the queen about the garden and grounds into which the local children of the little village would often sneak in order to play hide-and-seek and other games. The ladies-in-waiting were friendly but always reminded the children to play quietly. When she encountered the queen, Her Majesty would ask the little girl about her brothers, "Ach, die Knaben mit den himmelblauen Augen!" ("Oh, the boys with the heavenly blue eyes!"). Apparently, the queen, who was childless, was quite fond of children. She had met the little boys and was quite taken with their blue eyes, and would often enquire about them.

Queen Charlotte would also make visits on her birthday or Christmas to the little schoolhouse and bring fruits and other gifts of food for the children. It was a big thing during the times of austerity during the Weimar Republic and World War II.  What a pleasure it was to meet someone who had known the last German queen and was able to relate these and other lovely anecdotes about her.



Graves of the immediate members of King Wilhelm II's
family at rest in Ludwigsburg, just north of Stuttgart.


How to get to Bebenhausen from Stuttgart