Showing posts with label Germany travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Germany travel. 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, 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.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

Heidelberg Castle - from the other side

The Ruins

Heidelberg Castle

At some point in our lives most of us have seen the ruins pictured above of the world-renown ruins of Schloß Heidelberg, be it in a history book, travel brochure, or on a visit to Germany. But, how many have seen the "other side" of the castle, what it looks like from behind, or even heard the story of how this large castle became a ruin in the first place? Let's have a look at some of other angles and views of Heidelberg Castle from within the grounds of the castle itself. 

Black and white images of Heidelberg Castle. I took the photo above from a square in the Old Town below. The photo below is within the castle itself after passing through the arched entrance into the Innenhof.  

The ruined façade above is what one first encounters upon entering the castle from the river front. It is to the left after coming through into the inner courtyard. 

 The sentinel's box in the photo on the left is just before the main entrance to Heidelberg Castle. When entering the castle, one would have been easy target for anyone posted in there, watching as you made your way into the entrance gate (see below). These little boxes on the outer walls here remind me of similar ones found on castles I've visited along the coasts of Portugal and Spain. The tower on the right has had its roof rebuilt. It is one of the main gates from the mountain side of the castle. 

The Coat of Arms above the main entrance of Heidelberg Castle.
Note the garter band around the center which reads, "Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense"
Ring a bell? That's right, it is also the motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
of England. Can you guess why it is in the Elector's  coat of arms here?

When visiting, just stop and make a point of looking at the figures in the niches included within the historical walls of this great fortress. All throughout the castle ruins one comes across a variety of military leaders, dukes and electors chiseled within them. Fortunately, selected parts of the castle have been restored, including many of the statues seen there.

Much still remains of the former moat around this side of the castle, as can be seen in the two photos above. To enjoy a better view of the ruins up close and to get a vivid picture of how the castle was destroyed, a walk inside this huge moat is necessary. Some climbing can actually be done on the castle's ruins from down in there. 

Seen from down on the riverfront and the town, this tower ruin is one
of the most famous parts of the entire scene sitting on the side of the
mountain above. At this view from behind, it makes you wonder how
the rest of these bricks are even holding on! Compare the size of the
person enjoying the view from the ramparts with the overall structure. 

The sheer number of stones is remarkable. You don't need to look hard at these two photos (above and below) to see them. You can well imagine how many meters thick these broken walls are; I mean, look at the density. Think of how many explosives were required to split this and the other castle towers! This wasn't done with just any old canon ball during battle. No, this was planned and calculated several years after the last major battle following the French defeat of the armies of the Elector whose seat Heidelberg Castle was. 

Photo taken from down within the castle moat.

As I stood there, staring at these incredible, thick walls, I thought about how the demolition was carried out back in those days. It goes to show how remarkably powerful and resourceful  military people of that day were in tackling the major challenges before them. They knew how to fell such massive constructions; they knew the weak points, or how to accentuate them, and bring these mighty structures down. I guess if they can build them, they would certainly be able to bring them down as well. In the case of Heidelberg Castle, its destruction took place over a period of four years during the 9-Years War of the Palatine Succession. 

The Gardens

These balustrades are probably mixed with original and reconstructed pieces. This massive garden was evidently something else in its day! As can be seen in these several shots, the terraces were of two or three different levels and once upon a time contained all sorts of different gardens and patterns. 

It is nice to enjoy a stroll along them, imagining how they once looked when in their full glory. Despite the destruction of the castle, these terraces seem to have been pretty well left in shape. Over the past 300 years since the fall of Heidelberg Castle, these former gardens have at least maintained their original integrity of shape and outline. 

The gardens were built between 1616 and 1619. They were designed by Salomon de Caus for the Kurfürst Friedrich V, who had them built for his wife. They were destroyed by the French in 1689 during the 9-Years' War. It's terraces can still be enjoyed today.

Heidelberg Castle suffered the effects of fire three times. The first was in 1689 during the 9-Years' War of the Palatine Succession, which was the first time the French came through Heidelberg and defeated the Elector's army at the castle; in 1693, when the French returned to effectively destroy the castle as well as the city below enough to put the castle completely out of foreseeable military commission; and, again, in 1764 when it was struck by lightening which made it completely uninhabitable. 

From then on, stones from the castle ruins were used by Heidelberg citizens for the building of homes. This was not unheard of in history. Even parts of the Great Wall of China were used by locals for such similar purposes. This trend stopped at the beginning of the 19th century when the Count de Graimberg began the process of conserving what was left of the castle.

Without a doubt the photo above is one my favorite in this series. The lush green of the forest and overgrowth on this sunny day, engulfing the simple but lovely arches of the terrace are very pleasant to my eye. I stood where I was on one of the garden terraces just taking in the view. It reminded me of a Roman ruin almost, but in this case the stonework looks in excellent shape; it is certainly no ruin. Unfortunately for me, however, I could not seem to figure out how to get over there. The view back at the Heidelberg Castle ruins would no doubt have made for a very good photograph. 


See this very interesting two-and-a-half minute video on the destruction of Heidelberg Castle present by Spiegel Online. It shows a beautifully recreated castle before and during its downfall, as well as an easy-to-follow explanation.

How to get to Heidelberg

Trains of all types leave frequently each day from major cities such as Frankfurt, Mannheim, or Karlsruhe, Darmstadt, etc. on a regular basis. Heidelberg is such a famous tourist destination and international university city, that you will have no trouble finding Heidelberg on any train schedule. The average train ride from any of the above-mentioned cities should be one hour or less, depending on the particular train you choose.

The castle itself is not visible from the main train station. Taking a bus or tram from just outside the station into the Old Town, Bismarckplatz, or any other stop after Bismarckplatz will put you almost at the foot of the great castle. All you need to do is look up and see it. Then, get ready to climb... Enjoy!