Tuesday, February 5, 2008

30 September: A Sunday Stroll in Schwäbisch Hall

We haven’t really done much in the way of sight-seeing this month, so I convinced John that we should drive out to Schwäbisch Hall, a small town about an hour’s drive northeast of Stuttgart. I had heard the name mentioned more times than I can count, but I always figured it was just another quaint little German town. What a minute…have I ever gotten sick of quaint little German towns? Off we went to have a look around.

We approached the town from above, as it is nestled in a deep valley along the River Kocher. We slipped into the last available parking space in a small public lot just a short distance from the town center, then started out on a ramble through the ancient city. Schwäbisch Hall’s roots date back to the 5th century BC, and evidence of Celtic saltworks have been discovered in the northern area of the town (the name Hall refers to a “fountain of salt”). Salt was the mainstay of the local economy through the Middle Ages, and the city’s wealth is evidenced by the impressive St. Michael’s Church, dating from the 15th century.

We soon made our way to one of the most distinctive buildings in town, the massive Neubau (New Building, dating from 1527), formerly the arsenal and seat of local government, now used as a cultural center (photo, above). We followed a narrow cobblestone street towards the Renaissance-style cupola of St. Michael’s, visible above the rooftops of beautifully-restored half-timber buildings. We came out on the sloping main square, which is dinstinctive because of its large size, its ornate Baroque Rathaus (city hall) and associated buildings, and the monumental flight of steps leading up to the church (photo, right). We went inside the church, which has a typically stark Gothic interior with some beautiful woodwork. From the top of the steps we got a lovely view of the square, lined with cafés full of people enjoying an afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen.

More enchanting cobbled streets led us down the hill towards the river, where we crossed a covered wooden pedestrian bridge (the town boasts several of them) and turned a corner to feast our eyes on a magnificent sight: a string of cheerful pastel-hued half-timbered houses strung out along the river atop a solid wall of massive stone foundations, crowned by the peaked roof of the Neubau. More houses came into view as we walked along the promenade, all clustered together like pieces of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle (photo, right). A hefty arched stone bridge links the town with an island in the middle of the river, home to a lovely park where plenty of people were enjoying a lazy afternoon stroll under a canopy of leaves just starting to display autumn colors. We crossed another covered bridge to the opposite side of the river and continued our walk along the waterfront, spotting remnants of the old town defenses along the way, including sturdy towers and crumbling walls. We circled back through town and made our way slowly back to the car. All in all, Schwäbisch Hall is one of the most charming towns we have visited in Baden-Württemberg. It may be a little off the beaten path, but well worth a visit. I was sorry we hadn’t discovered it earlier but I’m so glad we made the trip.

I have posted more photos from our walk in Schwäbisch Hall on Flickr:

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