Hirschhorn: A Medieval Jewel!

When visiting Europe I am always amazed at the depth of green in the landscape.  On one such occasion in Germany I was escorted by friends to the beautiful village of Hirschhorn,  where we enjoyed the roses, the hanging baskets and the brightly coloured flowers on windowsills as we climbed to the heights to view the castle.

Hirschhorn (Neckar) is a small town in the Bergstraße district of Hesse, Germany, and is known as “die Perle des Neckartals” or “The Pearl of the Neckar valley” with its old city walls and its castle. Its name means Deer (Hirsch) antler (Horn) which may come from the shape of the Neckar River at this point and the fact that deer were very abundant in its woods in medieval times. Actually, the nobles of the place, the Lords of Hirschhorn, have deer antler in their coat of arms.

Hirschhorn is situated  roughly 19 km east of Heidelberg. Hirschhorn (Hirtzhorn) was surrounded by a town wall after the brothers Hans V. Albrecht and Eberhard of Hirschhorn had received its town charter from King Wenceslaus in 1391. Extensive flooding aggravated by thawing ice occurred in 1565. Medieval Hirschhorn Castle occupies a mountain ridge above the town. In the castle, which is fortified by walls and towers, a keep, a great hall, stables and several gates and outbuildings can still be seen. The parish church of the Immaculate Conception was built as a Lutheran church from 1628 to 1630. The far older gate tower Mitteltor from 1392 serves as its belfry. The medieval town centre is still surrounded by its original town wall.

Steam navigation on the Neckar was introduced in 1841 and meant a moderate economic upturn. Horse-drawn barges finally disappeared from the river in 1878, when a seventy-mile-long chain was put on the river bed on which tugs could pull themselves upstream or downstream. A lot of bargemen became redundant and lost their jobs. The Neckar Valley Railway started to operate, connecting Hirschhorn with Heidelberg.

The River Neckar itself is a busy artery today. Weirs and locks make the Neckar a navigable waterway used by barges and pleasure boats. The weir and lock at Hirschhorn were built in 1933, together with a bridge across the Neckar, which led to a rapid expansion of the town on the south bank. The old village has not changed much since the 14th century: there are very narrow lanes between houses, and narrow cobble stoned laneways, and small staircases to go from one level of the town to the next, slowly climbing towards the castle on the hill. It is really as if you were back in time, walking in a true Medieval town.   Wunderbar!

The view from the top was magnificent and so was the afternoon tea shared with my German friends.

A famous visitor to Hirschhorn was Mark Twain. He travelled from Heilbronn to Hirschhorn by boat, stayed overnight at the hotel “Zum Naturaliste” on August 9, 1878, and continued his journey to Heidelberg by coach and train. In his book “A Tramp Abroad” (read by our Book Group in Adelaide), the boat becomes a raft, and the travellers end up in Hirschhorn after a terrible storm on the Neckar from which they just manage to escape.   Twain’s description of Hirschhorn is still as true as it was in 1878: “…Hirschhorn is best seen from a distance, down the river. Then the clustered brown towers perched on the green hilltop and the old battlemented stone wall stretching up and over the grassy ridge and disappearing in the leafy sea beyond, make a picture whose grace and beauty entirely satisfy the eye.”

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