Showing posts with label Bretten. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bretten. Show all posts

Friday, September 12, 2014

The half-timbered houses of BRETTEN

Well, look at me! Finally, I am travelling further afield. This is my first posting outside of the Württemberg part of the state, as tonight's subject, Bretten, is located in Baden. However, in the event you have not read any of my earlier posts, or German history and geography are not at the top of you reading list, the German state of Baden-Württemberg is made up of what was until 1918, the Grand Duchy of Baden and the former Kingdom of Württemberg. And, since I have been living in the Baden part of the state for two years now, it's high time I did some reporting on this side. So, here you are.
Market Square of Bretten
The focus of this blog entry is on the Fachwerk, or half-timbered, architecture of yet another of the hundreds of small, historical villages that are found all over this country. Bretten is no exception. Fortunately, the citizens of Bretten have kept many of these wood-beamed façades visible rather than covering them over with plaster, as has been done way too much, in my opinion, taking away the beauty and charm of the houses. I have heard a couple of theories as to why. Some say it is cheaper not to have to keep up the appearance of the wood through treatment and paint, and others have said it is because there came a time when half-timbered houses were considered rough and unrefined, whereas "clean-front" structures looked more modern or permanent or simply even higher class. But I always ask, doesn't more plaster simply mean more paint? In any case, I think the reasons are different from owner to owner, so I really don't know. But I do know fro personal experience based on the beams in my own half-timbered home, this wood is not going anywhere. It is nearly petrified. Yes, it needs to be cared for, but it is so hard that if you hammer a nail in, there is a good chance you will never get it out again. It is indeed remarkably solid after hundreds of years of age and the pressure against it from all sides.

I am pretty sure the home pictured above had exposed beams once upon a time. Nonetheless, I give it points for having the added shutters and flowers to make it pleasant to the eye. Consider it without these two accoutrements and imagine how dull the place would actually appear. Sadly, that is often what one sees now instead in many old towns throughout the country. And it is d-r-a-b. So, hats off to Bretten for being proud of its architectural heritage and showing it off.

In theory, half-timbered houses can be dismantled. Take away the plaster between the beams, take out the joint-pegs and it can be taken apart and moved. Not that I have ever seen this happen, but I guess it was therefore considered a less expensive way to build. It was certainly cheaper to construct than a stone or brick building. Maybe in days gone by these beautiful structures were thought of by people of means as mere medieval "trailer-park" homes. I'm kidding, but whatever the case, you will find a lot of building fronts today that are solid plaster, painted a dreadfully dull color and without their shutters (of course, most half-timbered buildings did not use shutters in the earlier days of their construction), and you would never have known at first glance that they were once as appealing to the eye as some of the examples below and in my other blog entries. Allow me to mention, however, that even in my village, where a number of half-timbered structures still remain, many of the houses with plastered fronts still retain the beautiful Fachwerk on the back of the house. After all, that is not easily seen by passers-by, so the "low-class-ness" of the building was not obvious, and they saved money not needing to have the entire place plastered. Oh well, at least it saves part of the house from total ugliness. I'll give some examples in a future posting about my town.

This photo is probably my favorite of the shots I took in Bretten. The lamp posts, the bend in the street, the clean cobblestones, the simple colors somehow make it work for me. The cream-color house very likely had its half-timbered façade visible many years ago. Although I tend to prefer the exposed fronts, the vibrant burnt-orange of the house in the background is very nice.

I don't know enough about the colors that houses were painted in the early days of Fachwerk, but I'm guessing that color was much more expensive than basic whitewash. Therefore, the color of the house pictured above (also pictured from another side further down) was probably not found on the house hundreds of years ago. But don't quote me. I didn't stop to ask. Still, it's a shade that is such a pleasure for me to look at. By the way, the window in the door, with its little round (wine-bottle bottom) circles is most likely what many of the houses had in the early days. Since it was so difficult to see clearly in or out of those windows, shutters were not needed on the structures that used them.

At this point, you might be wanting to know a little bit about Bretten. I came out to visit one hot Saturday on the recommendation of a client who knew that I liked old towns like this. It is not such a big place overall and easily seen in an afternoon or less, depending on what you want to see.
As of this writing, I have found that Bretten has about 28,000 inhabitants. As mentioned somewhere above, it is quite old. When I went to visit, I had never before heard of the Lorsch Codex. Now, rather than doing a bad job of explaining what that ancient manuscript is, I'll let you click here to read about it yourself. But in that book, Bretten is mentioned as having been around since 767A.D. It was known at that time as "Villa Breteheim". It became a city in 1254, and its coat-of-arms today is still very similar to the blue and white flag of Bavaria that is so familiar. At one time, this part of Baden was in fact a part of what is known as the Palatinate, which was under the rule of the Dukes of Bavaria hundreds of years ago. In the photo below, you can see the blue and white I am describing here. 

Close-up of the Marketplace fountain. Note the date on the column: 1555.

Looking down the street at the various façades just off the Marketplace, you can see how some of the older houses have been modernized over the years. These are typical changes that can be seen as one gets further away from town centers – officially known as "old towns" in some places.
The two photos directly below show one of the towers and Bretten's old city wall. The tower leans a bit as you can see here. 

This home seems to have been built up against the low wall to the left. The center wooden beam is partly supported by it, as you can see here (above). I have seen other houses like this where the external stone wall has been removed for some reason and the house is left looking a bit lopsided. Often, city walls were used as part of the walls of other buildings. I imagine it was perhaps easier and cheaper to take advantage of an existing "free" wall as part of your home than to have to put out the money to build one unnecessarily.  Nothing like being resourceful!

By the looks of this woodwork, it isn't going to fall easily.
Bretten is worth the visit if you have a few hours to spare. It's a nice place to walk around and enjoy. There is more to see than what I am posting here. Philipp Melanchthon was born in Bretten in 1497. Together with Martin Luther, he is a primary founder of what we know as Lutheranism. The beautiful museum on the Market Square built to remember him is impressive and certainly worth the visit if you are interested in history of the Reformation.
How to get to Bretten

From Karlsruhe via train: the IC (inner city train) as well as trams can get you there. The S4 outside the front of the Karlsruhe main station takes you there directly, with no changes, in about 45 minutes. Other trams or the IC will require a change at either Bruchsal or Mühlacker, making your trip 5-10 minutes longer. Check Deutsche Bahn for train schedules.

From Stuttgart via train: depending on your time of travel, the trip via train and tram could take anywhere from roughly 55 - 90 minutes. There are no direct trains from Stuttgart. A change must be made in either Bruchsal or Mühlacker. Check Deutsche Bahn.

Via car: this is where the modern technology of navigators or the time-honored method of maps come in handy.