The tanner’s house is located on the edge of the town by the stream, a typical location because this craft requires a lot of water and causes a lot of bad smell. The timberframe house is the oldest preserved residential house in town, built around 1585. Thanks to its location on the edge and next to running water, it survived the big fire of 1689.
In the 1980s the house was to be demolished in order to make room for a parking lot. A private initiative of Bretten citizens saved it. Research showed not only its age, but also the intact structure of a typical house of “farming citizens”, people who lived in town, worked in their craft and at the same time farmed their fields outside the wall.
The house was then restored and turned into a museum, together with the adjacent part of the town wall and gate arch. The exhibition shows the history of the tanners’ craft and the daily life in old Bretten. The museum is open on Sunday afternoons only.
The tower has a crooked and worn-out look which tells of how much it has been through in its history. In former times it protected the Southeastern corner of the town. A stretch of town wall is still attached to it. A little park around the tower invites to sit down and rest.
Finding your way there through the alleys of the old town can be a bit confusing; use a town map. It is located further away from the centre than you might think. The easiest way is along Georg-Wörner-Straße and the creek which marks the Southern edge of the old town.
A plaque on the wall recalls the Battle of Brettheim (Bretten) in 1504, the most dramatic event in the town’s history. Every year during Peter-und-Paul-Fest the battle is re-enacted here in the meadows around the tower.
Once upon a time Bretten was surrounded by walls, gate and watch towers. Most of them are gone. Along the creek on the Southern side and in the Southeastern corner parts of the wall are preserved, Three towers of the town’s medieval fortifications are still there. Two of them are complete and appear in the town’s silhouette, the third is a torso.
The tall Pfeiferturm on the Northern side of the old town is hard to overlook. It used to be the strongest tower. Its origins date from the 13th century. Through its history it has been damaged and repaired countless times. In former times it was accessible from the wall only, now there is a new entrance on the ground floor. The tower can be climbed for the view; the key is available at the tourist information office and at the town hall.
Only a stump is preserved of another tower on the uphill side, named Frauenturm.
Simmelturm in the Southeastern corner is smaller than Pfeiferturm and harder to spot (see separate tip).
This real estate between the two churches has been the seat of the bailiff, the representative of the Palatinate government, since the middle ages. The first building was a medieval stone house, then extended and refurbished over the centuries, which was then destroyed in the fire of 1689. Rebuilding it took some time. Finally, in the 1780s, the impressive neoclassical building complex was erected. After Bretten became property of Baden in 1803 it became the seat of Baden’s civil servants; that’s why the rooftop terrace bears the large crest of Baden. Nowadays the building hosts the local law court (Amtsgericht).
After sharing Stiftskirche with the Calvinist and then United Protestant parish community for centuries, the Catholics were finally able to build their own parish church from 1936-1938 on a patch of land by the Northern edge of the old town.
The architecture is an example of the “retro” style which was popular in times of the NS regime. The facades are rather plain. The interior is a wide hall with a low side nave along the Northern wall. The choir has a pseudo-gothic vault while the nave is covered by a wooden ceiling with carved and painted beams. The higher middle part consists of cassettes painted with abstract symbols of faith, trees and animals. The mural in the apsis was added in the 1990’s; I have no information about it but it looks a lot like it’s a work by the painter Emil Wachter.
The church is, unlike its protestant sisters in town, open in the daytime.
The former Lutheran church, the smaller of the two churches, was built around 1700. Since Lutherans and Calvinists united to one protestant parish in 1821, the community has taken the larger Stiftskirche as their main church and this one is hardly in use any more. It is said to have a beautiful baroque interior, but I wonder whether it is ever open to visitors…
The oldest and largest church in town is one of the few buildings that survived the big fire of 1689. Its oldest part is the bottom of the steeple, originally the keep of an early medieval castle. The gothic nave and choir were separated by a jube as befits the church of a convent of canons.
The first and second reformation in the 16th century turned the church into a Calvinist parish church. After the peace treaty of Rijswijk (1697) the church was, like many churches in biconfessional Palatine, shared by Calvinists and Roman Catholics. The choir was closed with a wall and became the catholic church while the Calvinists used the nave. The simultaneum lasted until 1938, when the catholic community completed their own parish church. Stiftskirche is now the main parish church of the Protestants in town.
I cannot figure out if the Stiftskirche has any regular opening hours for visitors outside the services. So far I have always encountered locked doors.
Bretten’s “old” town hall in market square is not as old as it may seem. The town must have had a splendid medieval town hall, but it was destroyed in the fire of 1689 together with most of the town. A provisory was built soon after, but a real town hall was only erected almost a century later, in 1787. This building soon became too small, so it was extended and refurbished to its present shape in 1888. The facades in “German Renaissance” style are a product of 19th century historism.
If there is an “old” town hall there must also be a “new” one. The new town hall, a few blocks away, is a modern concrete and glass building probably from the 1970s or 1980s (photo 2).
The sandstone fountain in market square is crowned by a column with the statue of a knight in full armour. His shield depicts the Palatinate crest. The statue represents the governors of the town, the Electorate of Palatine. The date 1555 is inscribed on the column.
There were a couple of goldfish in the fountain – I have no idea whether they are official residents, or if somebody simply had emptied their aquarium into the basin to get rid of unwanted pets.
Marktplatz is the heart of the old town. It is surrounded by a number of interesting buildings (see separate tips). The largest and most striking is the neogothic Melanchthonhaus. Next to it there is the town hall. The opposite side has a group of pretty timberframe houses from the era around 1700. The market still has its original triangular shape that originates from the medieval town plan. All buildings around date from after the fire of 1689, though. The only older piece is the 16th century fountain in the upper corner.
Bretten has quite a lot of half-timbered houses everywhere in the old town. The most impressive ensemble is probably the Northern side of market square, all built around 1700. Others can, for example, be found in Melanchthonstraße and in the alleys further downhill around the two churches. The cutest ones are IMHO the little houses in Friedrichstraße (photo).
Because you asked: No, these houses are not medieval: Bretten was, like most cities and towns in the Southwest of Germany, burned to ashes in 1689 by French troops. Hence all of them were built around 1700 and later.
Bretten’s old town is a maze of small alleys. Walk on and explore – the town is small enough so you won’t get lost altogether. You will find picturesque pretty street views with pretty old houses, a bit of timberframe, and one or two towers showing up in the distance, so have the camera ready.
The largest and most striking building in market square is Melanchthonhaus. The huge sandstone gable dominates the square. This is the place where Philipp Melanchthon was born in 1497. The building is, as the neogothic architecture betrays, a lot younger and has nothing to do with his original birthplace. The original house of the Schwartzerdt family was destroyed in the fire of 1689 and nothing is left of it.
Melanchthon’s 400th birthday in 1897 was the occasion to build this house as a memorial hall, library, museum and research centre. Construction works were finished in 1903. The interior is decorated in all splendour the late 19th century was capable of. From February to November it can be visited. Please check the Melanchthonhaus website for up to date information on opening hours, current exhibitions and events.
Bretten’s most famous son was a certain Philipp Schwartzerdt, who was born in a house in market square on February 16, 1497. Young Philipp was a talented boy. He received a good education at the Latin School in Pforzheim where he studied all classical subjects including ancient Greek. His teacher translated his last name (which means „black soil“) into Greek and Philipp would then use that new name for the rest of his life, and with that name he became famous: Philipp Melanchthon.
After his studies at the universities of Heidelberg and Tübingen Melanchthon moved to Wittenberg, where he became professor of the ancient Greek language. He was fascinated by the ideas of Martin Luther and became, after Luther, the second most important protagonist of the Wittenberg Reformation.
Melanchthon left Bretten at the age of 11, after the death of his father, and has not returned except maybe for short visits. The town is nevertheless proud of him and cherishes his memory. His father’s house where he was born does not exist any more. Around 1900 the large neogothic Melanchthonhaus was erected in this place; it serves as memorial site, museum and library. A statue of Melanchthon can be found in front of the main church, another in opposite the (sic) Melanchthongymnasium.
In its place stood Melanchthon’s birth house which belonged to his grandfather. Melanchthon was born in 1497. On his 400th birthday the present buildung was started. It took 6 years to finish it and was inaugurated in 1903. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit this building. So there is a reason to return to Bretten one day.
On the front façade there are the coat of arms representing the towns where Melanchthon, the reformator and humanist, used to live like Bretten, Pforzheim, Heidelberg, Tübingen and Wittenberg.