The Benedictine monastery, founded in the 8th century, had the status of an imperial abbey and proudly presented its status towards the imperial city next door. Around 1700 a large new convent building was erected while the Romanesque abbey church remained and just received a refurbishment inside. The tall baroque steeple, a landmark in the townscape together with the defence towers of the city, was added in 1712-1714.
The facades of the church show its Romanesque structure with some baroque additions, for example the curved ornaments on the Southern gable (photo 4). The interior underwent another thorough refurbishment in the late 19th century, the era of historism, which removed all baroque additions aiming to reconstruct the medieval interior. Hence most of the interior is neo-romanesque or neogothic, including the frescoes and the flat ceiling.
After the secularization of 1803 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 and cannot be visited, but a walk around it is worthwhile for the facades and the baroque gardens.
Gengenbach had a town wall around the whole city and the abbey. After the destruction of the town in 1689, though, most of it was demolished, taken down or used as foundations to build houses on like in Engelgasse. A stretch of town wall with allure is preserved in Benedikt-von-Nursia-Straße behind the abbey grounds.
The tallest of the three fortification towers is close to the railway line and easy to spot from the train - check out my video. The gate leads to Kinzig river and the bridge.
Into town, the gate leads straight to the main square and to the city hall which can be spotted through the arch (photo 3). The pointed ends of the portcullis look rather threatening.
Note the inscription on the outward wall, saying "Reichsstadt (imperial city) Gengenbach". The black eagle also indicates the city's historical status.
The "upper gate" closes the end of market square/street towards the hills. It is a picturesque gate tower crrowned with a high pyramidal roof. The tower originates from the 13th century but was damaged in 1689 and rebuilt afterwards. The inner side has the city's coat of arms painted on it, the black eagle and the small inescutcheon with the silver fish on red ground. Above there is a sundial. The arched passage has a portcullis, probably a replica, on the outside.
Outside Obertor you reach the different streets and trails that lead to the top of Bergle and the ST Jacobus chapel.
Three big towers and torsos of three small towers have remained of the imperial city's fortification. Niggelturm once protected the Offenburger Tor, the gate at the western end of the town. It also served as prison. It has the prettiest top of them all, a 16th century addition.
The Niggelturm plays an important part in Gengenbach's carnival tradition (see local customs tip). It is the home of the Schalk, the symbolic jester figure, who is said to sleep in here all year round until he is awakened for another Fasend season.
The seven storeys of the tower are occupied by the Narrenmuseum ("jester museum") which presents all aspects of Gengenbach's carnival, the traditional masks, the various events and the background of Alemannic Fastnacht. You can also see the Schalk's bedroom. Opening hours are unfortunately limited to Wednesday and Saturday 14:00 - 17:00 and Sunday 11:00 - 17:00 from April to October. In Advent, during the Christmas market, the museum is open Monday to Saturday 16:00 - 19:00 and Sunday 13:00 - 19:00.
The prettiest part of the old town, apart from the main square, is the area Northwest of the main square with the two narrow streets of Engelgasse ("angel lane") and Höllengasse ("hell lane"). There you'll find all the old world picture - cobblestones and timberframe houses, flowewr pots and cats resting on doormats and dolls in the window. Engelgasse has a curved row of rather uniform half-timbered houses (photo 1) which were built after the fire of 1689 with the former town hall as their foundations. Höllengasse is even narrower (photo 5). In and between both lanes you'll find lots of little angles, passages and courtyards with picturesque views. People will like to call this scenery "medieval" but it isn't, most of these houses have been built in the 18th and 19th century.
Since the middle ages a stretch of the Camino di Santiago has lead though the Black Forest along the Kinzig Valley. As pilgrimages have become popular again in recent years, the trail has been newly marked in 1993. From Lossburg to Schutterwald it has a total length of 120 kms and can be walked in seven days.
I have done just two very very short stretches of the Camino, the way up Bergle in Gengenbach and from Wolfach up to the Jakobus chapel there. It is surely a pleasant walk, especially if you don't have to carry a big backpack: Accompanied tours that transport the luggage from place to place are available.
The Chapel of St Jakobus (James), also named Bergleskapelle, is one of Gengenbach's landmarks. The top of the hill with the wide view used to be an ancient Roman religious site already 2000 years ago. In the 13th century the first chapel was built. Through the centuries it has often been the starting point for pilgrimages on the Camino di Santiago. The present chapel dates from the year 1681. To hold services for large groups of pilgrims it has a stone pulpit on the outside wall. A separate, much smaller chapel hosts the Holy Sepulchre (photo 5).
The chapel is a destination along Kinzigtäler Jakobusweg, a pilgrimage route along the Kinzig valley.
On top of Bergle, behind the chapel, there are a couple of benches. From here you have the best view over the old town. I spent a pleasant little while there, relaxing after the climb and enjoying the view.
Photographers: The light is best in the morning. These photos were taken around 10 a.m.
Gengenbach's "house mountain", the hill that rises behind the old town, is known as Bergle, which translates to "little mountain". Its southward slopes are covered in vineyards, the northwestern side in bushes and trees. The top of the hill is crowned by a little church, the Chapel of St Jakobus (James), which is visible from afar.
The climb up to the hilltop is a bit steep but not very long. It is worthwhile for the landscape views from the vineyards and the view of the town and valley from the top. I took Otto-Ernst-Sutter-Weg up, a paved small road through the vineyards (photo 1) which is not the shortest but probably the most beautiful way. It was a sunny August morning, the grapes were ripening and the view of the valley opened wider with every step.
There is another shorter paved road up (Auf dem Bergle). The shortest way is the narrow trail through the little forest on the northern slope (photo 4). The signs in photo 5 indicate the forest trail to the left and the comfortable way on the paved path to the right.
The main square is the centre of the old town, the meeting point of the three main streets. The shape is rather triangular than square. It does not have an official name but can be described as "market square". Here is where the weekly farmers markets, the Christmas market and about all other events take place. Each of the three streets leads towards a gate tower. The dominating building in the square is the neoclassical Rathaus, the seat of the magistrate and government. Baroque stone townhouses and several half-timbered houses surround the picturesque square. I think this is the perfect definition of "quaint"?
The 16th century Röhrenbrunnen (fountain) marks the middle of the square. The column is crowned with the statue of a knight in armour, holding a shield with the imperial eagle.
The baroque building on the Southern side of market square served as Kornhaus and Kaufhaus, the city's grain storage. This was the place where the natural taxes were collected. The term "Kaufhaus" indicates that this was the centre of trade. The two smaller side doors probably lead down into the wine cellars.
The inscription on the facade dates the building to 1696. The renaissance portal, however, is about a century older. It originates from the previous building, before the destruction of the town in 1689.
A free imperial city needs a prestigious city hall as seat of the magistrate and government. Thew citizens of Gengenbach built themselves a new one in the 1780s. The architect Viktor Kretz, citizen of Gengenbach and member of the city council, designed it in the then modern style of early classicism.
The town hall has the size and shape of a town palace or hôtel as wealthy people built them in much larger cities. It was placed in the main square and in the visual axis of the main street. Gengenbach's ambition clearly shows.
The triangular gable carries allegoric statues of two important virtues: justice and prudence, and the imperial eagle holding the town creast, a silver fish on red ground. The Roman numbers spell out the date 1784, the year of completion.
In Advent season the facade, which has exactly 24 windows including the two dormers, is turned into a giant Advent Calendar. Every afternoon at 6 p.m. that day's window is being opened in a festive ceremony.
As you can see from the tip abouve, Carnival IS an important event. If you can't make it, though, you can get a glimpse of what goes on in the fifth season when you visit the b% Carnivalsmuseum in the Niggelturm b%, one of the town's medieval defence towers that even housed the prison at on time. You can, for example, admire the elaborate costumes of the Spättle and the wooden masks of the witches and learn about the history of Carnival. As an added bonus you have a lovely view from the top.
April - October:
Wed, Sat & Sun: 2pm - 5pm
Sun also 10am - 12pm
special tours for groups
The best thing about this town is that it is easy going. Take your time to stroll the shops of the square in the Altstadt. Wander down a side street to find picture perfect half timbered homes adorned with flowers. Several restaurants and small stores are found on side streets just off the main square.