Showing posts with label Fachwerk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fachwerk. Show all posts

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ettlingen - that pretty town near Karlsruhe where Napoleon once slept

Ettlingen is approximately 10 kilometers by bike from my home in Durlach, which means little less than 30 minutes at my rate of pedaling. The bike path is clearly laid out with good signage, is quite easy (with a few minor inclines and fun dips) and altogether a lovely ride which takes me through wooded area and strawberry fields along the way. 

Together with Durlach and Heidelberg, as well as many other communities on the right bank of the Rhine River across from French Alsace, Ettlingen suffered almost total destruction by fire at the hands of Louis XIV's troops during the Nine Years War (known in Germany as the War of the Palatinate Succession). The town's most well-known patroness, the Margravine Sybille-Augusta von Baden-Baden, widow of the famed Türkenlouis, Margrave von Baden-Baden, had the town rebuilt following the war and made the palace at Ettlingen her seat of power in her dowager years. Much of the city owes its present-day charm to the late Margravine.

The Alb River flows directly next to the charming Old Town of Ettlingen

Marketplace with several restaurants and cafés next to the palace
Break from biking: on the wall along the Alb in Ettlingen

One of several bridges that span the Alb in Ettlingen. This is covered and also acts as a dam or weir.

The town of Ettlingen, which today boasts more than 30,000 inhabitants in its greater area, is definitely worth the visit. It doesn't require an entire day just to walk around and enjoy the charm and history, but if you are in the area, you shouldn't pass it up. You can visit Ettlingen and one of any other similar towns in the immediate area if history and early 18th-century architecture are your thing. You will find numerous outdoor cafés and restaurants and possibly also city events taking place in one of the two marketplaces or in the inner courtyard of the palace itself which hosts festivals and musicals.

The St. Martin's church, which is found not far from the Ettlingen Rathaus, was badly damaged during the Nine Years' War. The church predates many of the structures to be found in Ettlingen today. Under the church are what's left of a Roman bathhouse that dates back almost 2,000 years. 

St. Martin's Church is one of the oldest buildings
View of the Rathaus and tower gate.

Main walking street into and out of Ettlingen through the tower gate.

As someone who doesn't often make repeat visits to but so many places, Ettlingen is definitely one of the few destinations that I like to revisit time and time again, not only because it is so close to my home, but the charm and open atmosphere of the town attracts me to it. The clear water of the moving stream in the river is another draw for me and contributes to my feeling relaxed every time I go, even if for only an hour. 

Fountain found in the palace courtyard
Ettlingen Town Hall (Rathaus) on the Alb River

Since I also find half-timbered houses (Fachwerkhäuser) so fascinating, I enjoy biking around Ettlingen's  side streets in search of them and photographing what I find. The town, like so many in Germany, is certainly tourist-friendly, but it is also a living community which adds to its vibrancy. Just like in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, the dwellings are lived in which adds to the charm of these old houses. And as I confess I tend to do, peeking in windows through the corners of my eyes, I can register that these old wooden houses are still alive and are adding new chapters to their histories every day.

Another covered bridge and weir over the Alb near the Rathaus of Ettlingen. Note the birdhouses on the bridge.

A well cared for and restored half-timbered home in
Looking down the Alb River as it passes the Old Town

One of the charming oddities in town, a private home
that may have once been squeezed into any available
space. Zoning may have been lax once upon a time.

Ice-cream shops are rather popular throughout Germany in the warmer months, and it can get pretty hot in Germany these days. Numerous ice-cream shops are also found here in Ettlingen mixed in with the cafés and restaurants along such streets as shown in the photo above. 

Well-marked bike paths and bike-friendly cities are also found throughout the Federal Republic and Ettlingen is no exception.

The tower standing over one of the main entrance to Ettlingen. This gate leads north to the next town, Durlach.

A beautiful example of "Fachwerk" in Ettlingen
Dating back to 1494, the St. George Fountain, protector
of the market place and watering hole, sits in front of the
Rathaus, or City Hall.

If you were to remove the plaster from this building, you would find the original half-timbered structure that it was. 

As mentioned above, the Margravine Sybille-Augusta of Baden-Baden took great interest in the rebuilding of this Ettlingen following devastation from the long War of the Palatinate Succession. By this time she was a widow and would end up living here in the palace (shown below) that was also rebuilt. Roughly a hundred years later, the Emperor Napoleon would briefly call  Ettlingen Palace his headquarters when passing through with French troops once again as they crossed the nearby Rhine during his campaign to attempt to subjugate Europe into his empire. However, on this trip the town was spared destruction.

Entrance to the palace chapel
A side view of the square-shaped palace. This side 
boasts two round towers on its corners. 

A larger view of Schloss Ettlingen The inner courtyard hosts musical festivals.

Pictured above, you can see the beautiful baroque city hall of Ettlingen that was constructed in 1738.  It is made of red sandstone, which is common in the region. The tower to its right straddles the gate that leads directly to Durlach to the north.

Another view of the Alb River

The Market Place just outside of the palace walls, which were behind me when I took the 
photograph (and still are!) You can see some of the many outdoor cafés in town.

Of course, if you are a beer afficianado, then perhaps the Vogelbräu in Ettlingen is a place you shouldn't pass up. Visit all three Vogelbräu sites by bike with the Tour de Vogel (Ettlingen, Karlsruhe, Durlach) in one day, and whichever brewery is your final visit will give you a free beer. Check the link here: Tour de Vogel (only in German). 

This house with its odd roof dormer window has always
intrigued me. There are two floors in that peaked roof.
A later shot of the tower without the scaffolding.

A final shot of the Alb River taken from the other side of the river, with St. Martin's church tower in the background. 

How to get to Ettlingen: 

From Karlsruhe HBF (main train station) - The S1 or S11 tram leaves from out front of the train station roughly every ten minutes in the direction of Ettlingen. It takes about 14 minutes. No passenger trains run there.

By bicycle - Follow signs from the Karlsruhe train station or from Durlach or even from Baden-Baden, located to the south of Ettlingen. Asking the Tourist Info Center, or possibly just about any cyclist you run into, might also give you a good head start. The ride shouldn't be more than 30-40 minutes depending on your speed. maybe even faster? You might be able to lease a DB (DeutscheBahn) bicycle from out front the station as well.

(By the way, The Durlach to Baden-Baden bike route (roughly 40 km.) takes you directly through Ettlingen, and it is a good ride on relatively flat terrain passing through nice villages, ending up in Baden-Baden, which is another jewel of a town to visit! It is roughly the same distance from Karlsruhe main train station to Baden-Baden as well.)

By car -  get a map or use your navigator ;-) It isn't far at all. If it takes a cyclist less than 40 minutes to get there, you shouldn't have long in the car, save traffic problems.

Walking - I certainly do not see why not. You could easily get there on foot and after a nice morning of walking there, you can enjoy a beer at Vogelbräu or lunch at one of the nice outdoor cafés.

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. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Calw, Hermann Hesse's Half-timbered Heimat

Well, I think the next best posting that I could make should be about the other town I talked about in the last post, which is about Hirsau. So let me introduce you to Calw (pronounced: /Kahlv/), the larger of those two towns and only a few kilometers further south along the Nagold River in the Black Forest region of Baden-Württemberg. It was the Count of Calw – Adelbert, I think his name was – who, more than 1,000 years ago, supported the founding of Hirsau Monastery.  And, it was in Calw only about 135 years ago, that Hermann Hesse, their most famous son, was born.

I had been here before, but I was so enthralled by the ruins of Hirsau, which I saw from the windows of the train as I travelled from Pforzheim to Calw, that I spent my time in Calw thinking more about how to return to Hirsau than actually enjoying this lovely, historical city. Hence, the return last Saturday.

The author of "Steppenwolf" and "Siddhartha" standing on the
Nikolausbrücke over the Nagold River in Calw.
I had coffee with Eva in Durlach around 10:00 at our favorite little café on the Altstadtring just across from my home. It was only the night before that I had decided at the last minute that I needed to resume my photo-taking day trips which had seemed to have fallen off my things-to-do list for some months at that point. I have so many photos in my external drive, and I had planned to do something with them all, such as make more blog posts. But, I realized that despite all the pictures I have – and we're talking several thousand now – I just didn't have enough to be able to give a decent show on Calw! I had just completed the Hirsau page last week and written about Calw several times in that post, but of the three or four measly pics I had decided to keep, they just weren't enough to make a story out of it, so back I went following coffee with Eva.

The other side of the River Nagold from the main part of Calw. These houses abut a rock-face that can only be seen when walking along the street directly in front.

After Eva and I said good-bye, I went directly to the Durlach train station and caught the 11:23 to Pforzheim, where I changed to the 12:something-or-other to Calw. It was basically a modern little single-car/wagon train and it was quite full, as there were many people with their hiking poles and backpacks looking for a nice outing. The last time I took the train some four years or so ago, I had failed to notice along the way, or at least remember, the sight from the train window of Bad Liebenzell, a spa-resort town also along the Nagold River there in the Black Forest. (Note to self: Bad Liebenzell is next - visit in autumn when forest leaves are in full color.)

Anyway, I arrived in Calw at their pathetic excuse for a train station (more like the top deck of the city parking garage, actually!) about 55 minutes after leaving Durlach. The weather was perfect and the Marketplace was just beginning to be taken down after what was no doubt a bustling Saturday morning of trade, as people were walking away with full baskets and armloads of freshly cut flowers, sacks of vegetables and other foodstuffs. It was very similar to what I see out of my windows in Durlach every morning. 

Market stalls coming down after a full morning of business.
It was on this very square (well, more like a rectangle in the case of Calw's Marktplatz) that Hermann Hesse was born in 1877. His family lived in the house for seven years. Where they went after that I have no idea, but today the ground floor of the building is a shop, though upstairs there are still apartments, I think. Based on the looks of the open windows, I think people still live there. 

Birthplace of Hermann Hesse in 1877.

When I went to Calw the first time, I had yet to read any of Hermann Hesse's works. And yes, I am duly ashamed. I am pretty sure that Steppenwolf was on the summer required-reading list for high school. We had to choose three out of the ten, but I only ever read one anyway, so Lord knows I chose one that I already knew. Steppenwolf, which sounded more like a like a Poe-ish werewolf in a horror story, was definitely not my taste, so I never bothered to pick it up.  But, dear reader, rest assured that I have mended my ways and read not only Steppenwolf, but Siddhartha as well to make up for my sins, and I can tell you that if you haven't read them, you should! I wish I had read them long ago. I am about to begin The Glass Bead Game, but don't expect a book review from me! I don't do that kind of thing. Requires more brains, writing talent, and re-writing than I am ever willing to do. I'll just stick to photography and these meagre stories that I add to my pictures.

Nikolauskapelle (St. Nikolaus Chapel) on the Nikolausbrücke (Nickolaus Bridge)
in Calw. It is this bridge that statue to Hermann Hesse stands (see photo at top).
The bridge was built across the Nagold around 1400.

By the way, Hesse didn't stick around in Calw. He moved to Switzerland some years before the First World War and stayed there until he died. Fascinating man, Hermann Hesse. 

Evidently, Hesse liked to look at the Nagold River from the Nikolaus Bridge in Calw – the bridge photographed above – on which the St. Nikolaus Chapel stands in the middle. It is on that bridge the bronze statue of him can be found.

Leaving Herr Hesse on his bridge, I wandered uphill to begin my mini-pilgrimage in search of Hesse's birthplace. I could recall having seen a plaque about his birthplace somewhere in town the last time I was there and I thought it was on a side street somewhere, but after quite a walk about, sometimes going back and forth along the same street, it turned out the house was not far at all from his bridge there. As a matter of fact in is right there in the market square in the middle of town for all to easily find. How kind of his parents to choose that location. Most thoughtful for future tourists. 

But, as I first walked away and upward from the St. Nikolaus' Bridge, the first building I came to at the top of the road, just outside of what had been the city wall, was the Lecture Hall and Reading Room, pictured a. It's a stately building with a fine view of all the town beneath it as it goes down to the Nagold at the bottom. I don't have a shot of that view, for some reason, but trust me, it's there.


Since the 15th century, Calw had been one of the cities which had a monopoly on the salt trade. Salt came from Bavaria and Austria in those days, and the revenue from the trade played a major part in the city's financial situation. It was also exchanged for Württemberg wines. The building pictured above, built in 1696 following the burning of the city by the French in 1692, was used for the storing of the salt.

When I look at the market-square buildings here, I am easily reminded of Bretten, here in Baden. Guess I'll have to do a post on that too since they boast their own "favorite son" as well. It's another beautiful town to enjoy for the afternoon. 

You know, once you have seen three or four small German villages that date back a few hundred years–the kinds of villages of half-timbered structures with their central market-place fountains surrounded by cafés and small shops–I guess you've pretty much seen them all. But, I still keep looking for other ones to visit. Part of it is the love of travel and wandering throughout the countryside, and the other part is my eternal search for that place off the beaten track that few people on the outside have seen, a place with fabulous scenery.

Yet another source for community water at the other end of Market Square. What's nice
is that very often the water coming out of these beautiful old water fountains is in fact

Looks like someone decided to buck the trend and do some colorful updates to their home. Works for me!

This is the only tower left from the city wall that once surrounded Calw. Long after the
wall was largely dismantled, this tower was used as a jail right up into the 1900s.

The shingle hanging above the door says
it all: "Hermann Hesse Museum

Catching up on the news. Reading the latest edition of the local
paper.  Many local newspapers throughout the country are found posted in glass cases like
this for public reading. This may not be a daily paper, so I don't know if they have to
change it every day.


I think this is the first time I have seen the timber painted green. I like
it. This house is smack up against the old city wall which still remains
on this side of town. Below is another shot of it further down. The sun
was directly behind it when I took the photo so the sky is completely
washed out.


Something  annoying that I've  come across often when travelling throughout Germany, looking for good architectural subjects to photograph, has been the seemingly large amount of new Baustelle, or construction, as well as restoration work going on. At just about every location, I have encountered work sites and cranes and fences. Steeples and towers are found covered in scaffolding, and large containers used for construction offices are stacked one on top the over blocking an otherwise good shot. The photos (left and below) demonstrate what I'm talking about. Several of the posts I have created in this blog over the past several years have been "marred" by this and when you travel so see something and it is completely covered, it can be a disappointment. Well, restorations must take place, though it seems they have been doing the whole country at the same time over the past several years; and, new construction most also go on, so, "What 'cha gonna do?"
The covered steeple in the right of the picture and
the orange crane in the middle are good examples
of what is often found these days.

Across the Nagold River from the center of town is the Palais Vischer (above).
It was built by the 
Director of Public Works of the ducal court in Stuttgart in 1791.
It was Calw's municipal museum until recently. 
The original interior has been preserved
until today. Martin Vischer, chief administrator of the timber trade, had the palace built.

Another photo taken from the train "station" on the roof of the parking structure. Clearly, this is a town that does a poor job of enticing passers-by on the train to stop and have a look since the many interesting things wroth seeing are not very obvious in this panorama. 

How to get to Calw: Unless travelling by car, or hiking along the river from Bad Liebenzell or somewhere else, the fastest way to Calw is via train. Actually, it is the same train that stops in Hirsau. The stop is just across the River Nagold from the the center of town itself. Funny thing is the train stop itself. The tracks run high along the side of the river on the hill. A multi-storied parking structure is built against that hill and part of the roof-level parking area constitutes the platform for the trains. Oh, and before I forget, if you do not have a return ticket, the ticket machines are on the ground floor, not the on the platform where they would make more sense. Do go up without your ticket. As this is in the Black Forest, and as the photos show, it is all wooded and very beautiful. It is also possible to walk from Hirsau to Calw along the Nagold. It is a long, but nice walk.

Via train from Stuttgart, you will need to check online at for train times. I would strongly recommend looking for the connections that take you via Pforzheim Hauptbahnhof (train station), where you can change to a local line that takes you directly to Calw. It is a nice ride through the Black Forest, and the total time is less than 90 minutes. 

Via car from anywhere in Germany (or the entire world, for that matter) use your navigator because I don't have a car and you could be coming from anywhere. The least I can do here though is to tell you the "navi" info:

State: Baden-Württemberg
City: Calw
Postal code: 75365