It may not be as celebrated as its French or Italian counterparts, but the German countryside has a charm of its own.
In fact, to talk about “countryside” in Germany may not carry the same meaning as in other European countries where there is a more neat divided between urban and rural life. Germany’s economy is quite decentralized and you can find industrial activity pretty much everywhere. Even the smallest of towns may be part of a long, global supply chain that starts at the nearby Autobahn exit.
It is, in fact, one of these small-town global industrial giants that I had come to visit in this quiet corner of Germany, but, as usual, the long drive from Frankfurt Airport to my final destination of Schwäbisch Hall offered some interesting sightseeing opportunities along the way.
While Germany’s larges cities where bombed almost to obliteration during WW2 and, therefore pretty much all you see around is either modern or reconstructed, small cities in towns have often managed to preserve quite well their old, traditional looks.
Driving from Frankfurt International Airport to Schwäbisch Hall
The 200km-long route on the rented car had some surprises in store…
Although I set out from Frankfurt (FRA) with the idea of stopping somewhere around half-way for a quick bite. Serendipity intervened in quite an unexpected way.
Imagine you are driving along the Autobahn, concentrated looking ahead and all the sudden you get a glimpse, just ahead of you, on one side…of a Concorde…yes, nothing less than the now-retired supersonic airliner….But what if I told you that, next to it there was a…wait for it…a Tupolev Tu-144, the Concorde’s Soviet equivalent!
I could not believe my eyes at first, but as I the car got nearer it became clearer that this was no mirage.
As soon as the first exit sign appeared on the side of the road, I didn’t hesitate. That was the first (unscheduled) stop of the trip and well worth it.
Technik Museum Sinsheim
The Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim is quite a treat for anyone with an interest in all sort of vehicles and moving machines. A proper celebration of motion technology.
In my case were the aircraft on display that caught my eye, but these are just a part of the larger collection that includes a large number of classical cars, tanks and railway material as well.
In fact, it is quite amazing how in the middle of a non-descript German provincial town you can find such an amazing technology museum.
Since my time was somehow limited, I did not pay the full ticket to get inside of the two industrial-style buildings that contain the indoor collections, mainly cars, and I went, instead, to see the aircraft collection, which is totally outdoors.
Aircraft from different eras, both civilian and military, on display in the most incredible positions from the roof of the museum and even on top of several stalls in the parking lot.
Here are some of the pictures that I took before heading back to the Autobahn, as I intended to reach Schäbisch Hall in daylight.
As you can see, some of the most iconic aircraft of aviation history are represented at the Sinsheim museum outdoor display: the Junkers Ju-52, The Douglas DC-3, the Concorde…
Bad Wimpfen, Germany
Next stop was not far ahead: the tiny village of Bad Wimpfen, a short 10km detour from the Autobahn.
As all German places with the word “Bad” in their name, Bad Wimpfen is a spa town. In this case, the exploitation of a natural salt-water source during the 19th Century for therapeutical uses is at the origin of this name.
The wall-enclosed old town its on an elevated escarpment overlooking the river Neckar.
Bad Wimpfen has actually a very long history, as this area was settled already in pre-Roman times. Most of the old town developed in the Middle Ages, when the town got its status as “market town” and even some German emperors passed through it occasionally.
The cobbled streets and wood-framed houses, some of them dating back to the 13th Century, give it a sort of fairy tale atmosphere. Bad Wimpfen is still today a market town, but on the day that I visited, a cloudy Winter working day, little was seemed to be happening. In fact, I hardly saw anyone during my short walk through the pedestrianised center of the old town.
One piece of advice I would give is: bring small change coins with you if visiting Bad Wimpfen, all parking spaces around the old town are paid by the meter, but unless you have a resident’s pass, the machines only admit coins (no cards or notes).
Schwäbisch Hall, Germany
Another 45 minutes in the car would take me to the ultimate destination of this trip, the curiously named city of Schäbisch Hall.
(actually I got curious about the name, so I checked it only and it is apparently a combination of a reference to the Swabian League, a German medieval confederation of different territories, and the word Hall, that often refers to places where salt was produced)
Schwäbisch Hall is a town of some 40,000 inhabitants. The old town is nested on a foothill along the banks of the river Kocher, that traverses its urban center.
It was already getting dark when I arrived, so the light was far from ideal to take pictures, but at least I had enough time for a stroll through the streets of the nicely preserved historical center.
The old town is built on an inclined planed, literally on the side of a hill, and presided by the towering presence of the church of St.Michael, right in the center of the Marktplatz (or “market square”). This focal point, the main place of interest in Schwäbisch Hall, is on the upper part of the old town, so you need to walk up some steep streets to reach it.
Unlike other German market squares, the one at Schwäbisch Hall has the particularity of not being flat, the floor it is built on has quite a steep gradient. Perhaps to compensate for this, the church has quite an impressive set of stairs at the front.
Also, at the edge of the old town, on the banks of the river, there is a modern shopping area, but well integrated in the harmonious style of its surroundings.
Where to stay in Schwäbisch Hall
Bahnhofstraße 17, 74523 Schwäbisch Hall
This four star independent hotel is located next to the river bank, just opposite the historical center (if you get a room on the upper floors you get the views).
The decor is a far cry from the contemporary design that prevails in most business hotels nowadays, here you will find more of a “homey” atmosphere. Also important is the fact that it is just 5min walk from the very center, yet not exactly in the core of the old town, which I guess facilitates it having its own parking space (always quite handy in the narrow streets of Europe’s old towns). Not luxurious, but clean and correct.
The next day, after finishing my work commitments, as I had still quite a few hours to make my way leisurely to Frankfurt Airport, I decided to stop at the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum.
Located in a rural area just a few km from Schwäbisch Hall, the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum is an open air museum that aims to display how life was in this part of Germany in centuries past.
The museum is actually spread over several hectares. Buildings from several location in Baden-Würtenberg were dismantled and brought here to the reassembled.
Although the museum was, technically, closed when I arrived, one of the paths that leading to its grounds was open, so there I went. After all, I was not interested in one specific aspect of German rural life, but looking to get a sense of the place.
As I approached a cluster of houses, each of them representative of a specific rural construction style, I stumbled upon some people that were doing repair work.
One of them offered to show me one of the houses so that I could get a glimpse of what the museum is about. Thanks to him I can show you what’s inside this 16th Century German farmhouse.
I must say, though, that one of the places I liked the most was the old train station. This station was also brought to the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum from its original location.
It even has a tiny old steam locomotive on display!