Showing posts with label Hirsau. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hirsau. Show all posts

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hirsau, historic religious treasure in the Black Forest. Former abbey and ducal hunting lodge

The Aurelius Church, consecrated in 1071

Hirsau was not on my itinerary. I had planned to take the train from Stuttgart by way of Pforzheim to visit Calw, the birthplace of Hermann Hesse, walk around, take some photos and then come on back home to Bad Cannstatt all in the same day. As it turned out, Hirsau was the best part of my day. Calw was interesting in its own way, cradled snugly into the low foothills of the Black Forest on its eastern side, and it probably deserved more time than I felt like giving it, but I saw the ruins of Hirsau from the train window as it made its way to Calw, and all I could think of while there was to make sure I left enough time to stop by Hirsau on the way back. So I hurried up in Calw, promised to come again to see it in more depth (it is indeed worth the trip), and made my way back to Hirsau.

Note the deer, or Hirsch, in the Wappen
(coat of arms) of Hirsau

People do in fact live in the historical houses around the former monastery grounds, but over all it felt more like a ghost town which leaves any history lover to the devices of his or her own imagination.  The summer season had not fully set in at the time of my visit, so there was hardly anyone else wandering around there. It also didn't hurt that it was a week day. 

The Church of St. Aurelius, built almost 1,000 years ago. It was spared the fires that consumed the Monastery of Hirsau just across the Nagold River there.

So what's so special about this place? I had certainly never studied anything about Hirsau Abbey, or St. Aurelius for that matter, in my German history courses at university. And there are definitely many places throughout this country which are older and also boast their own rich histories. The answer? A lot, really: besides dating back to possibly around 830, having ruins through which to wander today, telling its own significant story, and simply providing a lovely place in the beautiful Black Forest to wander and photograph, it was once an especially important Benedictine abbey, destroyed by the French in 1692 during the Nine-Years' War (as was the village where I presently live) and never rebuilt. But I invite you to keep reading here, and I'll tell you what I learned as I meandered about, read the plaques and allowed my imagination the freedom to be colorful while envisaging monastic and medieval life 1,000 years ago.

The Nagold River, which begins in the northern Black Forest at Urnagold and 
joins the Enz River in Pforzheim.

Hirsau Abbey (also referred to in history as Hirschau Abbey) is located approximately three kilometers north of Calw in the northern Black Forest, a little over 22 miles (35 km) west of Stuttgart, the state capital. It sits directly on the Nagold River (pictured above). The bridge that straddles the Nagold there dates back to Carolingian times (see below). The first church of St. Aurelius was founded there in 830 by Count Adelbert of Calw. It was established in order to house and honor relics of the Armenian saint St. Aurelius, which the count's son, a bishop, brought from Rome. Once the monastery itself was completed, a small group of 16 monks from Fulda, in what is today Hessen came to take up residence there. 

Carolingian-era bridge across the Nagold

Now, I got a little confused while trying to figure out the two different churches and monastic communities I was reading about. Hirsau Monastery (or Abbey) contained the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Aurelius Abbey was centered around the Church of St. Aurelius, which housed the Aurelius relics. The first St. Aurelius church was consecrated in the first half of the 9th century. Archeologists have found evidence of another church or churches in this immediate that date back even earlier. The first church of St. Aurelius was partially destroyed and rebuilt in the Romanesque style. This second church was consecrated in 1071. Only 20 years later, however, did the "newer" Hirsau community spring from its St. Aurelius origins, and the community moved across the little river into the larger monastic complex which was now to be known as Hirsau. This is explained further as you read on.

Hirsau Abbey ruins nestled in the Black Forest

Hirsau Abbey soon began to flourish. In time, one of the largest monastery edifices constructed in the southwest Germany was built there: the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul was immense. It was consecrated in 1091and was a Romanesque structure with three naves.  It is indeed a great loss that this original structure was completely destroyed, as it was the model on which so many other German Benedictine monasteries were built; monasteries which were also to follow the Cluniac Reform (more on this further down) that Hirsau Abbey had introduced into the German lands under the Abbot William between 1071 and 1091. However the Church of St. Aurelius, the patron saint in whose name the monastery was established in the first place, still stands (see first two photographs above). (It must be noted, however, that what is seen today of that little church was renovated after a partial destruction in 1584, so not all of it is original. The fact that it had been used as a barn at some later part of its history probably helped to save it from complete ruin. It is restored and used for church services today. (Photo below)

Interior of St. Aurelius today

A variety of beautiful window 
frames still remain 400 years 
following their destruction

Renaissance-styled Jagdschloß of the Dukes of Württemberg

In 1092, the successor to Abbot William, who had died the year before, left the Aurelius Monastery and moved his monks the short distance across the river to the newly finished Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica, leaving the older monastery complex as a subordinate priory (Ref: Calw Tourist Office). The ruins of the Sts. Peter and Paul monastery area is where I spent most of my time for these photographs.

Let's look a little bit into the Cluniac (also Clunic) Reform that I mentioned above because this is what really put Hirsau Abbey on the map of history. It was initiated in Cluny, France in the 11th century as a result of various problems endemic to the monastic orders of the day. Due to a variety of reasons such as war, local politics, plague, etc., monasteries at this time had allowed themselves to become more subject to local lords and princes than to the pope or even their own founding principles of solitude: refraining from being an integral part of worldly matters and living.  In many cases, the land on which monasteries sat belonged to a secular lord. This often caused issues when the monks wanted to select their new abbots. The land-owning lords felt it their right to interfere in the process if it served their own needs thus taking away the autonomy the monastery itself needed in order to function outside of the daily events of the world. Not being a part of the world was exactly what monastic life was intended and secular interference diminished this fundamental monastic purpose. In time, many religious orders became less rigorous in true monastic living and customs and became more involved in the politics of the day in order to survive – again, something completely counter to their reason for existing in the first place. 

Two photographs below of the main gate to the former Ducal Jagdschloß, or Hunting Lodge/Castle. This also served as a bell tower. Bells have been restored to the tower and chime the hours beautifully throughout the day even now. This has been restored and a bit altered since its destruction by fire in 1692.

In 910, Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine enabled the Monastery of Cluny (of the Benedictine Order) to return to true monastic living. Due to his donation, the monastery became completely autonomous, owing allegiance to none other than the pope himself. They could once again focus heavily on what monks had originally set out to do several hundred years before, i.e., prayer, enhancing the beauty and solemnity of the Holy Rites, the singing of the Psalms, and celebrating Holy Mass, etc. It was, if you will, a Renaissance of the monasteries. Many other Benedictine monasteries throughout central Europe began to follow this renewal of monastic living. You can read more here about the Cluniac Reform. But, where does Hirsau come into the picture? 

The Chapel of Our Lady (Marienkirche), which is just outside of the ruined cloister, is still in use today.

When the Abbot William of Hirsau (not to be confused with Duke William) learned of the Abbey of Cluny and what was going on there, he sent some of his own monks to find out more. When they returned, he too began the process of returning monastery life to what it was originally ordained to be. The reforms had the blessings of the pope in Rome. Less secular interference and influence returned monastic focus to the Vatican See. The Church would become stronger at the local level. Abbot William sent monks out to share this with other monasteries in what is today Germany. As the monastery at Hirsau was the first of these German orders to take up these reforms, it was the "Hirsau Reforms" that was to become known throughout Germany, and it was this name that was often used instead of the "Cluniac Reforms" in this part of Europe. 

Note: I must add that in my humble opinion, the reference to "Hirsau" rather than "Cluniac" Reforms was not meant to deflect any credit away from Cluny. As word spread in the medieval days, and the ones who brought the reforms to the other Germanic monasteries were initially from Hirsau, I would imagine that it was simply a matter of associating the news with the Germanic brothers from Hirsau who brought it. 

View of the single remaining  tower 
of the Basilica ruins
Here, the Bell Tower and the ruins of the ducal hunting residence can be seen outside of the cloister grounds. Almost all of the window and door arches remain in the cloister wall.   Although there is no longer an active monastery here, the serenity of the grounds can be quite meditative if you are lucky to be here on as quiet and empty a day as I was.      
The ducal hunting-lodge ruins are in the background      

In the following two photographs, the ruins of what must have been an imposing edifice in its day: the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. The architectural supports pictured here would have supported the outer walls of the rounded altar area of the church. The Marienkirche, or Chapel of Our Lady, can be seen in the background of the second photograph below. This church was restored for use in the latter half of the 19th century. While I was walking the grounds, I could hear lovely music coming from the Marienkirche. It is a two-storied church. Unfortunately, I was not able to enter it, and as of this writing, I have yet to find any photos online of the interior, though I am sure they exist. Just another reason to return to Hirsau.

Note the ruins to the left in the photo. These supported the walls of a side chapel just off the left side of what was the main altar of the huge church.

View of the side-altar chapel ruins from the other side, with the Marienkirche in the background
Marienkirche from the side of the Jagdschloß
Two floors, two chapels

Remnant walls of the cloister. The door led to the Summer Refectory, where the monks ate.
The monks dormitory would have been on the floor above this.
For an example of a monastery that has survived almost completely intact over the past 300-400 years, see my earlier blog, Bebenhausen, Where it all Ended. Scroll down on this page and you will see photos of Bebenhausen which are no doubt quite similar to how the cloister at Hirsau very likely looked once upon a time.

Fortunately, this one of the two Basilica towers survived the blaze.  Note the relief 
with the monk in the middle looking out into the distance. After the destruction 
of the monastery in 1692, this tower was used as a prison!

The cross marks where the altar stood in the Basilica

A view of the refectory kitchen ruins
A view out of the bell tower of the main gate

Hirsau today, beneath the walls of the former monastery ruins, nestled in the beautiful Black Forest.

Another view of the cloister ruins of Hirsau Abbey

These two arches will lead you into the monastery grounds. There are other accesses, but this is how I got through.

Another way in, around back. 

The other side of the arches shown in the photograph above. Some of the other buildings which have popped up on the grounds over the years since the monastery was destroyed in 1692 can be seen here. Some of them are replicas of buildings destroyed in the fire; others may be original. 

To the left are the ruins of the former Jagdschloß, or hunting castle, of the Dukes of Württemberg with the bell tower in the foreground. The Renaissance castle was built on what had once been an abbot's residence. At the time the ducal residence was built, the monastery was no longer Catholic, as the Reformation had already taken place by this time and the territory was now Lutheran. The ruins to the immediate left of the tower are of the former
priory kitchen.

A number of beautiful examples of Fachwerk (half-timbered) structures 
can also be found here.

Following the Protestant Reformation in 1532 and during the reign of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, Hirsau became secularized. It was during this time, between 1586 and 1592 that Duke Ulrich built his hunting residence. Lutheran abbots were appointed to lead monastic life. In the mid-1600s, it became Catholic again, but only a few years later following the Treaty of Westphalia, Hirsau Abbey became Lutheran once again and remained so until the destruction of the abbey in 1692 at the hands of the French troops under the command of General Mélac during the War of the Palatinate Succession (also known as the Nine Years' War). It is indeed a sad ending to a once great and leading monastery. It has never been rebuilt.

A closer view of the ruins of the Jagdschloß of the Dukes of Württemberg

How to get to Hirsau: Unless traveling by car, one arrives at Hirsau train stop on the small line that actually dead-ends in Calw, which is the next stop due south after Hirsau. The stop is just across the River Nagold from the monastery-hunting lodge area; the walk onto the monastery grounds is only a matter of minutes. 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. 

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 Hirsau. It's a nice ride through the Black Forest, and the total time is less than 90 minutes.

Hirsau train station 

There are other train routes which require a connection via bus, which aren't all bad, but it might take a bit longer. The S6 to Weil der Stadt leaves Stuttgart station (underground) as well, but you will need to change to the 670 bus at Weil der Stadt to get to the monastery. However, depending on which train or bus you use to get to Weil der Stadt, you might have to make another transfer at Calw.

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
Town: Hirsau (or even "Calw", since it technically belongs to the Calw municipality)
Postal code: 75365

Buckle your seatbelts because it's gonna be a historically beautiful ride!