Between Bensheim and Darmstadt you see a large castle up on the hill, Schloss Auerbach.It was built in 13th century and belonged to the Counts of Katzenelnbogen. A strange family name, by the way, as it means cat's elbow.It was not the home of the family, but used as a defense castle. From the towers you still have a great view and any invading army of enemies would have been seen immediately.
Today there is a good restaurant in the castle , where you can book " a knight's meal" and pretend to live in the middle ages. From time to time there are also tournaments staged here.
Falcons are being bred here, just as in medieval times. If you want to, you can pretend to be a falconer and have one of these birds put on your arm. When I was there, only children did this. I would have liked to do the same, but got the impression it was for children only. Finally I asked and was told no problem. It's just that no adults ever asked. So I did it, felt a bit like a fool, but enjoyed it very much. The falcon seemed to be very surprised, too, and apparently took me to be another falconer. It started to fly off.
And you know what I saw when we were leaving? Some more adults wanting to hold the falcon!
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Fuerstenlager - The Summer Residence
A bit further down the hill, but still in Bensheim-Auerbach there is the former summer residence of the counts and dukes of Hesse, called the Fuerstenlager. This was established at the end of the 18th century, several buildings within a large park.
Don't expect something like a symmetrical garden, it's more like a huge, natural garden with many trees. Among these trees you can see one of the oldest sequoias in Germany.
There is also a field with lots of apple trees, a large part of a forest and several hiking paths.
One of the buildings today has been turned into a hotel, another into a small museum, there are two restaurants there and a sculptor has her workshop there.
It's a very nice area to walk for one hour or two. Parking is down in the village, only hotel guests are allowed to drive up.
No entrance fee for the park. I read they offer guided tours for 4 Euro, but didn't see any office in the park where we could have booked them. If you're really interested, I would advise to call ahead and ask.
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Villa Rustica - an old Roman mansion
This small village along the B3, the Bergstrasse, boasts of having the ruins of a large Roman mansion in its fields, the Villa Rustica.
That is, the village council may be boasting, the villagers don't seem to care very much. In fact the farmers used to be very angry about these Roman places, as it meant lots of stones, bricks and broken pieces of pots in the ground of their fields.These fields were called walled fields, and were considered to be a nuisance. But in the 1980s the university of Heidelberg did some excavations there and saved what was left of the villa. However, there is no sign from the B3 towards the ruins.
We turned into the main road of Großsachsen, still no sign.
When we asked someone we were told we had to walk there, as it's in the fields.
So we walked through the fields, passed gardens and orchards, kept getting closer and closer to the A5 , until we suddenly saw the ruins. There are some boards there with explanations how the villa looked in the first centuries A.D..
It must have been a important family who lived there, as the villa was quite large. It was also
a very modern building, with floor heating, an extra bath house, even a fish pond, either for
looking at the fish or for having fresh fish on the table. They had separate rooms for the toilets, a cellar for storage and their own small temple for worship.
When we were there, three families had met there for a picnic and the children were
playing hide and seek and yelling and laughing at each other.
It was a very peaceful scene, but I was wondering what would the Roman family say if they
saw this.Would they be happy that even after many centuries their old home was still the scene of family fun? Or would they be annoyed? Would they prefer the silence of a museum?
- Historical Travel
A famous pine tree on the wall
Auerbach Castle is famous for a pine tree , which has been growing for more than 300 years now. This tree grows on the wall, with hardly any ground at all. It's growing out of the stones, not in any garden. Because of that it's very small for being so old, but it's amazing that it's growing there at all. Another, much smaller tree is growing right out of the wall above one of the old windows, see picture 2. It'll be interesting to see if this tree also manages to keep growing at such an unusual place.
In the forest between Viernheim and Hüttenfeld there is a stone cross, very withered already, even though it's not too old.It is the early 19th century reproduction of a much older stone cross from 13th century, which is in the museum now. People here call it the repentance cross.
There are several possible explanations for this name. The only certain fact seems to be
that a knight died on this spot in 13th century.
One story says two brothers were in love with the same woman and during a fight,
one of them killed the other. He then felt so sorry, that he had this cross put up.
A more elaborate legend : A knight from near-by Weinheim named von Reich fell in love with a young girl. He himself was married and the girl was engaged. So he sent her fiancé to a crusade and told one of his servants to make sure he'd die there. When the fiancé wasn't killed in battle, the servant murdered him.
However, before he died, he vowed to take revenge.
Some time later, the Weinheim knight was riding through the woods, when the ghost of the murdered man appeared. The horse shied and the knight was thrown off and died. His widow had the repentance cross put up and only then could the ghost find peace.
The first picture shows the cross, the second gives some explanation of the name.
The cross can be found in the forest north of A6 and west of A67,near the path called
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The Black Madonna
Most probably you've never heard of this small town between Weinheim and Heidelberg,
unless you're Catholic.Then it's possible that you've read about the "Black Madonna" in
This is a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus, carved in black wood. Since 1737 it has been
the destination of many pilgrimages. In this year the count living in Leutershauses had a
chapel put up close to his castle. There are records proving that the Black Madonna was
in this chapel from the very beginning.
It is possible that it had been in the town before that date, maybe even during the 30-years-war,but there are no records.
Today the statue is in the Catholic church. This church is not very old, roughly about 100 years. Apart from pilgrimages and processions, many people come here regurlarly to pray. You can see many small plates, saying "Mary had helped".
The altar is not just a table, but sits on a large carving of the last supper. Again quite new,
it was carved in 1990 .
- Religious Travel
This is not a tip, but a sort of introduction to the town of Viernheim/Bergstrasse.
Even though Viernheim belongs to the state of Hesse, everything there is
oriented towards Mannheim,which is in Baden-Württemberg.When both Frankfurt (Hesse) and Mannheim were competing for the Olympic Games, all of Hesse supported Frankfurt, except for Viernheim.
The people there were hoping Mannheim would be a venue.
In fact, Viernheim could be a suburb of Mannheim.
There are two major exceptions, however: One is the educational system,
which is always determined by the federal state, the other are the number
of religious holidays.
Since Baden-Württemberg is a more catholic state than Hesse,
there are two more religious holidays in the year, November 1 and January 6.
So when, several years ago, a shopping mall was built, it was built in Viernheim
because of two more shopping days. The Rhein-Neckar Zentrum mall is best be avoided during these days!
Going there on these days would warrant a "warnings and danger" tip.
The Fountains of Leutershausen
Leutershausen is proud of having many fountains, in fact it used to be called the "fountain village".
One of the newer fountains is at the (very small) market square, right next to a sculpture of the town crier. This fountain is from 2001. This is also the stop for the Ruftaxi, a taxi you can call when there is no public transport to your destination. You only pay the ticket price for a streetcar.
I thought at first the statue was related to the Ruftaxi, like you ring a bell to call the taxi.
But of course not, the market square was the place where the latest official news were proclaimed by the town crier.He probably needed to ring his bell to get the attention of all the gossiping people at market days.
The second picture shows one of the old fountains.
The centre of Viernheim is dominated by the Apostelkirche, the church of St Aposteln. It was
built in the end of 19th century and finished in 1899. In the 1950s and 1970s some renovation
work was done, which mostly resulted in old paintings being painted over. Currently the church is being renovated again, this time the attempt is made to recover all the original work. The old attic proved to be a treasure, as some of the original tapestries and wooden beams were found there, stored away in a dusty corner.
I will try to add some pictures of the beautiful inside of the church later, but it was locked when I last tried to go in.
Occasionally there are guided tours,when you can climb the tower, 70 meters tall. From up there you can see all of Viernheim.
A Lithuanian School
The small village of Hüttenfeld ( not even 2000 people are living there ) is nevertheless
known internationally among Lithuanians. In 1953 Lithuanians living in exile founded a boarding school there for their children, to help them learn about the culture and language of their home country.
They had chosen a mansion built for the banker family Rothschild 100 years before. In this mansion they established a Lithuanian secondary school.
When Lithuania regained its independence, for a while it looked as if the school was about to be closed. But parents and teachers decided to keep it open.
Because of the very good student/teacher ratio this school is also attended by some German students, even though it means having to learn Lithuanian as classes are bilingual.
When you click on their website you can see better pictures of the school and the grounds.
Villa Haselburg, Roman villa in Odenwald
During the Roman settlements in what is Germany today, they have built a limes, Limes Germanicus to be precise, to defend their territory to the east. In that approx. 570 km long defensive “wall”, a tiny section of 70 km, leads down south from Main river approximately south of Aschaffenburg. It was called Odenwaldlimes, best seen on the map of Limes Germanicus and was the original section of the wall, until it was decided to expand to the east. Close to this, remains of many hundreds of villas have been found and this one, Villa Haselburg, was one of the biggest villae rusticae (countryside villas), the biggest in Hesse state to be precise. It had a big bathing house with several types of baths (different water temperature). A model of their very comfortable toilets has been put here and @leics, our avid Roman expert who went here with me, told me that they even had these in several sizes for the several butt sizes, haha. It never ceases to amaze me how elaborate the Romans were in every aspect of life and building expertise. They also had a fascinating method of floor heating and heating in general, by leading hot water or steam through clay tubes. Several of these can also be seen in the remains of this villa rustica. A bit in the distance of the villa buildings they also had a Jupiter temple, which shows that it must have been a wealthy family who lived here.
The villa can be visited all year round, there is no fence, no entrance fee. They have a small model at the entrance of the ground and a very detailed leaflet to take, although in German only. It is nice to leave a small donation in the box because the work and caring of this fascinating Roman remains is all done on a honorary base.
Oh, the name Haselburg derives from hazelnut trees which grow here.
Update, August 2010:
I came back with visitors and the little hut at the entrance was open. Inside is a huge collection of clay pots and plates which were found during the excavations and many maps, sketches and another little model explaining the significance of this villa in context to the other settlements.
And leaflets are available now in English as well.
This is also a bit tricky to visit, because no bus stops here. Villa Haselburg is located approx. 5 km west of the village of Höchst, southwest of Dieburg. Dieburg is located at B26, the Bundesstrasse between Darmstadt and Aschaffenburg.
Nearest airport: Frankfurt International (code FRA).
Villa Haselburg on google maps
© Ingrid D., July 2009 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
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Driving down the Bergstrasse you can still see some fields on which tobacco is grown.
The tobacco was used to make cigars and for many years a lot of families were earning some money from tobacco.The leaves were hung and dried in tobacco barns. There are a few old tobacco barns still in Viernheim,about 100 years old.
Since there is no longer any tobacco industry in Viernheim, the barns were turned into some private homes, the public library and a meeting hall for talks,concerts etc.
The attics of the barn had many small openings, slits. Today this causes a problem, as the pidgeons just love to fly into the barns. So all these slits had to be closed, but at least in the public library you can always hear the pidgeons coo. For a minute or two this sounds nice, but it drives the librabrians working there crazy!
The Neckar Lock
I like to watch ships going through a lock. When we were there we were lucky, first a long barge went through and then , on the second lock, three rowing boats.
Both had very distinctive problems. The long barge had to be very careful going into the lock, as there was no much space left and right. It was a strange feeling standing on the bridge , watching this huge ship coming closer and closer! Then, when the water went down, the man working on deck had to tie and untie the rope a couple of times, to prevent the ship being drawn by the gush of water.
The much smaller rowing boats didn't have to worry about bumping on the walls, but they had a hard time not getting drawn out by the water. The oarsmen had to stick their oars into the little nooks in the wall. Very hard work for them! People cheered to them when they finally went through the lock and rowed away.
The Rock Breakers of Dossenheim
Dossenheim is a small town a few kilometers from Heidelberg. Many people working or studying in Heidelberg live here.
In the centre of the the town there is statue of a man with a sort of an oar. It looks a bit like someone trying to steer a boat. But it's not, it's a statue of someone working in a quarry. These people were called the "rock breakers", as it was their job to break off the rocks in the quarry. A very hard job, I'm sure!
For almost two centuries these rock breakers did their job in Dossenheim, from 1760 on to the 20th century. When you look up towards the hills, you can still see the quarries.
An Old Roman Stone
Dossenheim - Schwabenheimer Hof
Before locks and the canal, the Neckar was a dangerous river. Almost each year there were huge floods. If you go to the Old Bridge in Heidelberg, you can see the high water marks there.
In Schwabenheimer Hof you can see a large stone which was found in the river. It had been used by the Romans for a tombstone in second or third century.
Close to the place where it was found in the Neckar the remains of the castle Schwabeck were also found. This castle was first mentioned in 1320 ,but was completely destroyed by a flood in 1527. What a strong flood this must have been!
Nothing definite is known, but it's quite possible that the knights had used the Roman stones when building the castle.
On the stone you can see the coat of arms of the knights, who used to live in Schwabeck.