The late Gothic Church of Our Lady is the earliest 'hall church' with three naves of equal height in the Southwest of Germany. However, the appearance of facades and interior tell of thorough refurbishing in the 19th century.
Currently (summer 2010) parts of the facades and the steeple are under restoration and behind scaffolding. These works are limited to the outside, though. The interior is entirely free of any signs of construction works. The church is open in the daytime.
The choir has three medieval stained glass windows with the life of Christ, the life of Mary, and a series of saints.
At the end of the northern side nave, a modern stained glass window has been installed which adapts the medieval style rather well at first sight, though at a closer look you'll see it is a modern work of art. The "Window of the Women" shows women from the bible and allegories. The figures are explained (in German) on the lectern in the middle of the side nave.
Hafenmarkt is an interesting location for architecture fans. Among the surrounding buildings you find some of the oldest houses of Esslingen.
Gelbes Haus (the "yellow house") hosts the historical museum of the town. Its oldest part is the only preserved medieval tower house in town. A patrician family built it in the 13th century. The adjacent wing was added after the big fire of 1701.
On the opposite side of the square, behind the fountain, there is a half-timbered house that should not be overlooked, the one with the irregular timberwork painted in dark grey (photo 2, on the left). Note the vertical timbers that extend over two storeys. These indicate the house's age. It belongs to a row of houses that were built around 1330.
The town wall along the "castle" can be climbed. Entry is free and access is on a wooden staircase from within the Burg area. You can walk a part of the parapet. This is the best photo option for a view over Esslingen, the Neckar valley and the surrounding landscape over to the Swabian Alb.
The Fat Tower hosts a cafe but it wasn't open when we visited. They have tables and chairs on the parapet walk, must be pleasant to sit there.
If you are into planes you can watch them flying into Stuttgart airport. In case of western winds they fly low above the ridge on the opposite side of the valley. I actually caught (without noticing! I only realized when I checked my photos at home) Lufthansa's shiny new A380 (photo 4).
Esslingen's so-called Burg is not really a castle. It is a part of the city fortifications on top of the hill above the city. This strategic point is especially fortified as a stronghold - whowver controls this hilltop can do whatever he likes with the city, so the citizens were of course interested in holding and protecting it.
The town wall includes this hill and the vineyards on its slope. Clever Esslingers, in case of a siege the basic wine supply is secured. Unfortunately those skint Swabians (ha, ha) installed a fence and planted the vines at a safe distance from the path so there is no chance for a quick "wine tasting" along the way.
The view is worth the steep climb. There are two ways up to the castle - the stairway along the wall and the path through the vineyards. We chose the latter. Watch your steps because of the rough cobblestones. This pavement is to give hold for horses' hooves - human feet need to take care.
The Neckar canals have provided the power to drive mill wheels and tools in artisans' workshops for centuries. In the times of early industrialization the canals were walled and more wheels installed to use the water power for machines in the factories. Some water wheels are preserved and still running, a technical monument just a few steps from the "Little Venice" viewpoint.
Nowadays they produce electricity. A display panel behind the window shows how much, how many households in town have sufficient power for 24 hours from this wheel (here: 23.6), and how much CO2 is saved.
Whereever a river runs through an old town there is for sure a spot that is named "Little Venice". Of course Esslingen has one, too: along the river branch named Rossneckar. The houses you see above the water are actulally those on the western side of the stone bridge.
How to get there: The way to "Little Venice" is a bit hidden. Walk down the narrow passage named Schleifbergele along and around the Chapel of All Saints resp. town archive and through the little gate in the wall.
The small, almost nondescript building in the corner south of the choir of St Dionysius is the former cemetera xhapel, dedicated to All Saints. It was built on the town wall on the edge of the churchyard and has two storeys. The actual chapel was sitting on top of the wall along the Neckar canal behind.
In 1610, post-reformation, the chapel was turned into the town archive. The architect who planned this change was Heinrich Schickhardt, the same who designed the Renaissance facade of the old town hall.
The church is open for visitors in the daytime.
The high but rather dark nave with its small windows that have the gothic pointed arch but all in all the appearance is very Romanesque. The central nave has no vaults but a flat ceiling.
The baroque organ in the west of the church is built around a window so the light falls in.
Nave and choir are separated by a jube. Many churches in the middle ages had this, especially when there was a convent of monks or canons at the church, but few of them are preserved, so this is a noteworthy element.
The altar of the Holy Cross in front of the jube is used for the usual Sunday services and is the main altar of the church.
The choir contains the baptismal font and another altar with a retable. This altar may have been used for the Holy Communion after the reformation. The retable is dated 1604, thus post-reformation. The images match Lutheran theology: the crucification in the main picture, the last supper below, the sepulchre and the resurrected Saviour on top.
The stained glass windows in the choir are the church's greatest treasure. They are originals of the late 13th century. They show scenes from the Old and New Testament, saints and virtues. Explanations of the figures and scenes, though in German only, can be found on a board that is lying on top of the baptismal font.
Twice a week the market square hosts the farmers market. The big festivals throughout the year take place here. The wide market square is a rather recent acquisition in the old townscape. Until 200 years ago this was the location of the Hospital of St Catherine which has been demolished in 1811.
The square is surrounded by three churches. The huge parish church of St Dionysius occupies the southern side. In the west we find the catholic Münster St. Paul, the former Dominican abbey church, and further behind the Church of Our Lady, again protestant.
The eyecatcher in the square is the gable of the so-called Kielmeyerhaus with its fine decorated timberwork. This building is actually the wine press and cellar of the hospital, the only remaining part. The relief with the image of Saint Catherine refers to its former role. In the 19th century it was sold and turned into a residential house and shop. The owner Alfred Kielmeyer had a soap factory and a shop selling products from the colonies. His shop sign is still on the facade. However, nowadays the hosue is the seat of an institution that is of more interest to visitors: the town's tourist information office.
The Church of St Dionysius next to the market square is the main protestant parish church of the town. Its history begins long before the reformation, though. Excavations proved the existence of a chrch in this place already in the 8th century. The present church was begun in the early 13th century. The building shows the turn in style from Romanesque to Gothic.
The basilical nave is the older part, still in late Romanesque style. The much higher gothic choir was added in the 14th century.
The two steeples are Esslingen's landmark. Due to static problems they were connected with a bridge. A watchman lived up there and stood guard to warn the town in case of fire or attacks.
... as depicted in the reliefs on the fountain. See the pictures in photos 2-5.
Once upon a time a very rich man from Esslingen was murdered. His corpse disappeared and the murderer was not found. His nephew inherited all his wealth and his death remained a mystery.
Some years later a post rider found a precious ring somewhere in the forest by the country road (photo 2). He intended to deliver it to the authorities in Esslingen when he arrived there but in the meantime decided to wear it because it was so beautiful.
He was wearing it in the tavern that evening but unfortunately it was recognized as being the ring of the rich old man who had been murdered (photo 3). Michel was arrested on the spot. Nobody believed him when he claimed to be innocent. He was tortured with utmost cruelty for days on end until the poor guy finally broke down and admitted he had committed the murder.
Michel was to be beheaded as a murderer, although he was innocent and he knew it. His last wish was riding the streets of the town on his white horse once more and blowing his horn. He stopped n front of the victim's house, now inhabited by the nephew and heir, and predicted he would appear as a ghost until the true murderer was found. Then he died under the executioner's sword (photo 4).
Every year during the night of St Michael's Day the ghost rider appeared in the streets of Esslingen, carrying his head under his arm and his horn blowing (photo 5). It finally turned out that the nephew had himself murdered the uncle and Michel was indeed innocent.
The former wetlands between the Neckar canals underneath the stone bridge became a solid island in the run of the centuries. Nowadays this island is the only park in the centre of Esslingen.
It is named "Maille" because in former times the people of Esslingen used to play paille-maille (pall-mall) here.
Families: There is a playground for children.
Photographers: Check out the views from the banks of the Neckar canals and of course the stone bridge.
The stone bridge has provided a safe and dry way across the Neckar canals and the wetland between them since the middle ages. I call it "Esslingen's Ponte Vecchio" because it is built with houses. The western side is completely closed while the eastern side has small freestanding houses on top of each pillar.
In the middle of the bridge there is a bridge chapel, the little gothic chapel of St Nicolaus. The chapel is a memorial site for the victims of the Nazi regime and World War II.
The northern end of the building received a new facade in the 1580s. While the timberwork of the rest is late gothic, here we see purest renaissance style and no more timbers but plastered walls that are or pretend to be massive stone. Heinrich Schickhardt, probably Württemberg's best architect in those times, designed the facade. The sculptures of the virtues and the eagle were made by Schickhardt himself.
The gable carries a small clock and bell tower with a carillon. Five times a day you can listen to the bells. The astronomical clock shows time, date and zodiac and the moon phase. The eagle and the imperial crown refer to Esslingen's status as a free imperial city.
Esslingen has three historical town halls. The oldest of them is the most beautiful and most impressive. The half-timbered building, six storeys high, was oribinally built as "bread and tax house" in 1422. It is a remarkable example of late gothic timberframe architecture. Note the elaborate construction with the pattern of "Alemannic men" and the big wooden nails in the timbers.
The southern gable with its two gothic portals is facing a small square which is surrounded by other houses of similar age and style (photo 2).
The southern side of the old town hall is impressive enough but make sure you walk around the building to the northern end, you'll think you see an entirely different building... more in the following tip.