Heidelberg to Nuremberg

On The Road Travel Essays

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Heidelberg to Nuremberg

(COURIER: Unless the Autobahn has been completed all the way to Nuremberg, you'll switch from the Autobahn to a smaller road somewhere around Heilbronn. This write-up assumes you'll be going through Schwabisch Hall and staying on Highway 14 to Nuremberg.)

The Hohenlohe (Begin this somewhere around Heilbronn—as soon as the scenery picks up.)  This general area is known as the "Hohenlohe Plain" — a broad area of rolling hills and farmlands. It is prized by visitors for its unspoiled countryside and tiny villages. This area is about as far "into the country" as you can get in modern Germany, and some of the smaller towns are pretty remote. Farmers have been working these lands (mainly family plots) for centuries, and they still cling to their traditional ways of dressing, their festivals, and their local dialect. (Even many Germans have difficulty understanding the native speech.) The most scenic feature of the area are the many castles built in Renaissance times (hence more decorative than medieval strongholds).

(COURIER: Here you might illustrate the way of life that goes on in these remote hills by using appropriate portions of "The German Way of Life," if you haven't used it before.)

Schwabisch Hall  One of the prettiest towns of the Hohenlohe region: typical of the market centers where farmers have brought their produce in for sale for centuries. The town is situated on the Kocher River Valley; rises up the banks of the river in little "stairsteps."

Origins: Town is very old: goes back to Celtic times, when salt deposits were discovered. Salt mining and processing became a local industry and supported the building of churches and public works. During the Middle Ages, a famous mint was located here; it produced silver coins used throughout the German Empire. These coins were known as Haller or Heller — hence the name of the town.

The town today: A popular local festival takes place every spring: the Kuchenfest, or festival of the Salt-Boilers, in which townspeople don 16th-century salt-boilers' costumes and re-enact traditional songs and dances. Visually, the town is famous for its half-timbered houses, the two wooden bridges across the river, the old parish church (St. Michael's) at the top of a broad 18th-century staircase (53 stairs), and the tiny streets of the Old Town. (Current Pop: 24,000.)

Crailsheim  Another medieval town (pop. 10,000). Situated on the Jagst River, which flows through the scenic valleys of the Hohenlohe. Centuries ago, this town was a center of communications and trade, most of it on the river. Like Schwabisch Hall, Crailsheim has its own local folk festival (in September): this festival re-enacts various Frankish dances, songs, and customs which are (were) typical of this region of Germany, Franconia.

Feuchtwangen (Pop. 4,000)  A romantic-looking medieval town that is typical of this part of Germany. Sits on the Sulzbach River, near woods known as the Frankenhone. Popular for visitors for its old cloisters where monks once prayed, and where open-air plays are performed in the summer. Old handicraft items from this region of Germany are displayed in a local museum.

Ansbach (Pop. 35,000)  For some time, we've been in a region of Germany known as "Franconia," and Ansbach is one of its chief historic cities.

Origins: The town goes all the way back to a Benedictine monastery built in 748. Later it acquired fame as the seat of the "Margraves of Brandenburg-Ansbach," a noble family which branched off (in the 13th century) from the Hohenzollern family, later the ruling house of Germany. (The "Kaiser" of WW I was the last of the Hohenzollerns.) The 18th century was the apex of the town's prosperity, thanks to the Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach, who was the sister of the Prussian King Frederick the Great and one of the most cultivated women of the 18th century (She wrote plays, painted, and designed decorations for various palaces in Ansbach and in Bayreuth, which was ruled by the same house.) Under Wilhelmina's influence, beautiful Baroque-style place buildings and houses were built in the town, so that it became known as the "Frankish Rococo City" — quite different in appearance from the simpler, medieval Schwabisch Hall. The Margrave's Palace is the architectural gem of the town, and it escaped damage in WW II; the town's streets, lined with 18th-century Baroque houses, reveal something of the splendor of Wilhelmina's times.

Bach Festival: The international "Bach Woche" (Bach Week) is a music festival held at the end of July, and followed in August by popular plays in the Rococo style.

(COURIER: A few miles further, begin your introduction to Nuremberg, possibly pointing out that the suburb of Furth, to the west, is the birthplace of Henry Kissinger.)


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