It’s hard to talk about the Northern Black Forest Monasteries Route, or the Klosterroute Nordschwarzwald, without talking about the Black Forest itself. This slice of real estate was the stuff of legend and folklore, often misunderstood because of the light stealing trees that made (and make) the forest, well, spooky.
Maybe my fellow Germans from yesteryear read too many Brothers Grimm fairytales? Oh wait, the fear of treading into the Black Forest dates back before the Grimms, but the monks weren’t afraid. In fact, they not only conquered the landscape — they thrived in it.
So, it is in their honor that we highlight three of the most magnificent monasteries the monks built along this 104km long scenic route, as well as three gorgeous towns on top of it.
The Start of the Northern Black Forest Monasteries Route
The route starts in Alpirsbach at the the monastery of the same name. This was a small Benedictine kloster that was founded in 1095. A small church was built four years later, only to be replaced by a basilica in the 12th century. Some nine hundred years later, church services (both Catholic & Protestant) are still held here.
Kloster Alpirsbach is also a music venue with the Heidelberg Symphony and the Russian Chamber Philharmonic having played here. You’ll even find a small cinema tucked away for movies played here on weekend afternoons.
It’s hard to choose if the beer brewing or the glass blowing is the bigger highlight to visiting. Oh, alright, it’s a tie — it’s like comparing apples to oranges.
After leaving this oasis, you move northward to unforgettable Freudenstadt. It’s said that this lovely town has the largest Marktplatz in the entire country, but it also has a huge Town Festival every July and hosts the annual Black Forest Open Tennis Tournament.
As this is also the Black Forest Monasteries Route, I wouldn’t leave town before seeing the 17th century Evangelical Lutheran Church — convenient too since it’s right on the Marktplatz.
Calw is also on the itinerary if you’re meandering along this route. If you see anything while you’re here, make sure it’s the Calwer Schafott (an old execution site), the Toy Museum, and the tiny Nicholas Chapel (built 1400) that was erected right on the bridge.
Time to head towards the ruins of its Hirsau Abbey, whose history spans more than 1100 years. It was founded in 830 A.D. by a Count, and after many monks (and its Abbot) died in the 10th century the monastery fell into ruin for more than six decades. OK, the looting and warring factions over who was in charge didn’t help matters.
The St. Aurelius I Church (which held the relics of said St. Aurelius) was one of the first of the Abbey’s buildings (it stood until around the year 1000), with the St. Aurelius II Church built around 1049.
Two decades later came Sts. Peter & Paul, a Romanesque 11th century basilica. The Peter & Paul Church is still standing, as is the Lady Chapel; but the castle and cloister are only shells of their past magnificence (the French destroyed the place in 1692).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it like it’s a bad thing — there really is something magical and ethereal about these old ruins.
If you’ve got a “green-thumb,” you’ll appreciate the monastery’s herb garden that’s still growing all sorts of medicinal plants.
You know what’s funny? Your next town, Pforzheim, is called the “Gateway to the Black Forest,” but you know what? You’ve already been traveling through the Schwarzwald, so you know better, don’t you?
What you might not know is that Pforzheim is also on the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Either way, the city of Pforzheim has awesome museums, stunning churches, castles & castle ruins, and an annual Wine Festival in August.
It’s probably a good idea to save the trip to Maulbronn to the Maulbronn Abbey for the day AFTER the wine fest, wouldn’t you say?
The monastery itself was built around 1138 by twelve monks of the Cistercian Order. Today the entire complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many of its buildings acting as the Town Hall (the former stables), a police station, and a variety of restaurants.
Maulbronn’s crowning glory is its 12th century basilica church. The vestibule of the church, known as Paradise, is awash with Gothic and Romanesque arched windows. The crucifix inside the church is carved from one piece of stone, so the artwork you’ll find is totally stunning.
And I’m certainly not taking away from the monastery’s other buildings like the Fountain House, or its many half-timbered buildings that acted as the monastery’s bakery, pharmacy, mill, hostel, and guard house.
Industrious the monks were, huh? At least they were until their monastery was dissolved in 1534.
Just as the monastery came to an end, so does our time on the Northern Black Forest Monasteries Route. At least you’re finishing here at Maulbronn. So find a restaurant you like and reflect on all the religious devotion and splendid architecture you’ve seen along the way.
Northern Black Forest Monasteries Route Web Site
Here is the official Web site of the Northern Black Forest Monasteries Route.