Favorite thing: Gengenbach's history begins with the foundation of the Benedictine abbey in the 8th century. The early history is a bit diffuse, the legendary date of the foundation is 725 A.D. Around 800/820 the abbey was property of the Emperor and the largest monastery in the Ortenau region. The middle ages were the 'golden era' of the abbey. From the 15th century onwards things went slowly slowly downwards. Nevertheless a large new convent building was erected around 1700 while the Romanesque abbey church remained and just received a refurbishment inside. Being a Reichsabtei (imperial abbey) the monastery had the status of an independent state within the Holy Roman Empire.
The settlement that developed around the abbey gained the status of a free imperial city in the 14th century. Since then, until 1803, there were two states within the walls of Gengenbach. The division is still recognizable in the structure of the town.
The abbey district had its own defence walls. A former fortification tower behind the church was turned into a garden pavillon for the abbot in the 18th century, hence it is known as Prälatenturm (photo 3).
The monastery's history ended with the secularization of 1803. The abbey was closed down, its grounds became property of Baden. The church became the catholic parish church of the town. The former convent building is now used by a part of Offenburg university of applied sciences.
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Favorite thing: The Kinzig valley is a major valley that runs through the Black Forest in East-Western direction. Geographically it divides the Southern from the Northern Black Forest. The upstream part is narrow and winding, squeezed between rather steep hills - a fine area for hiking if you are not entirely untrained. From Hausach downstream, where the Kinzig unites with the Gutach, the valley is wide with a flat ground. At Offenburg it enters the Rhine plain. In this part the river has been regulated and looks more like a canal, a measure of flood protection but nowadays we know that this measure rather made things worse and is questionable concerning ecology.
The valley has always been a major travel route into and through the Black Forest range. Getting around is easy without a car. The Schwarzwaldbahn railway line runs through the valley from Offenburg to Hausach. The upstream part and some side valleys can be travelled on the Ortenau S-Bahn network.
Fondest memory: To visitors, the Kinzig valley is like a chain of pearls with many pretty small towns and other attractions to see. The source of the river is located in the hills near Lossburg and Alpirsbach abbey. It then passes Schenkenzell, Schiltach and Wolfach. In Hausach it unites with the Gutach, the largest of its side rivers. A short distance from Hausach there is a top attraction of the area, the museum village of Vogtsbauernhof In the wide lower valley, the town of Haslach deserves a honourable mentioning, as well as Zell am Harmersbach in a side valley. Then there is of course Gengenbach. From there downstream vineyards are planted on the slopes facing South. The valley bottom has many orchards: apples and pears, cherries, plums... By the exit of the valley into the Rhine plain, just before Offenburg, you'll spot the impressive 19th century castle Ortenberg on the last hill.
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Gengenbach's Old Town
Favorite thing: Gengenbach's old town is not too big in size, hence eaasily walkable, but its streets and alleys deserve being explored thoroughly. Timberframe (Fachwerk) is the predominant historical architecture, although some buildings of the city and the well-to-do are built in stone.
The old town will match the imagination of a "medieval" town that most overseas tourists have in their heads. Being an art historian I am a bit picky about this term. Thing is, though, that Gengenbach like most cities and towns in Germany's Southwest was burned to ashes in the war of 1689. These houses are not medieval but date from the 18th and 19th century.
Fondest memory: These here are sort of 'random' photos, the left over ones that I did not need for my tips. You will find many such spots and views in the old town, no matter where.
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Proud History: Gengenbach is NOT a Village
Favorite thing: Gengenbach may look small but it is not a village. It is a town, and the inhabitants are proud of their history as a Free Imperial City. The town developed from a settlement by the abbey since the early middle ages. Around 1350/60 it gained the status as Reichsstadt and independence from the abbey. The boundaries of this small settlement contained two independent states of the Holy Roman Empire, both with no other governor but the emperor: the imperial abbey on the one hand, the city on the other. Gengenbach was not the smallest imperial city, though, this trophy goes to nearby Zell am Harmersbach.
While the abbey stayed with the Roman Catholic confession, the city introduced the reformation in the second quarter of the 16th century. In 1803 both lost their independence and became part of the Electorate, then Grand-Duchy of Baden.
Fondest memory: The fortifications and towers and the palace-like town hall tell of the city's high self-esteem in those times when they had the status of a Reichsstadt, and their competition with their neighbour, the abbey. The towers have the black eagle, the crest of the Holy Roman Empire, painted above the gate, Kinzigtorturm even has an inscription saying "Reichsstadt Gengenbach".
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