Vis­its a scenic part of Ger­many

Kalgoorlie Miner - - TRAVEL -

In the north of Bavaria, just above Nurem­berg, lies a string of idyl­lic towns.

The pace is gen­tle, the streets pretty, the forests moody and the beer plen­ti­ful; as an an­ti­dote to the ma­jor ci­ties and tourist hotspots, it doesn’t get much bet­ter.

A train line di­rect from Nurem­berg con­ve­niently links Er­lan­gen, Forch­heim and Bam­berg, three towns that form the western bor­der of the beau­ti­ful Fran­co­nian Switzer­land re­gion.

The low moun­tains ex­plain the Swiss part of the name, but why Frank­ish when we’re in Bavaria?

“This used to be Franconia and peo­ple still think of them­selves as Fran­co­nian, ” our friend, a lo­cal res­i­dent, says.

When did it be­come part of Bavaria? “Oh, 200 years ago, ” she replies. “Peo­ple have long mem­o­ries here.”

Er­lan­gen is the largest of the three towns; one-third of its pop­u­la­tion is univer­sity stu­dents and an­other third works for Siemens.

Ini­tially it seems like just a mod­ern town but the city cen­tre is charm­ing, and the his­tory com­plex.

As I step out of the train sta­tion I find the Hugenot­ten Kirche, the first Huguenot church built out­side of France as they fled per­se­cu­tion in the 17th cen­tury.

The in­flu­ence of th­ese French refugees can be found in places such as the iconic Cafe Men­gin, started by a Huguenot fam­ily.

And at the en­trance to the Palace Gar­den (Schloss­garten), an enor­mous statue de­picts mem­bers of lead­ing Huguenot fam­i­lies along­side an­cient deities.

There is a strong thread of Protes­tant his­tory here: the univer­sity was founded as a Protes­tant in­sti­tu­tion in 1742; the Old Town Church is on Mart­inLuther-Platz; the New Town Church is also worth vis­it­ing.

But dif­fer­ent threads of his­tory are en­twined in Er­lan­gen.

As I wan­der around Mark­t­platz, I find a bronze plaque mark­ing the spot where books were burned in 1933.

Loom­ing ma­jes­tic above this plaque is the Schloss, the former palace which now houses the univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tion — a univer­sity that had a strong early base of nazi sup­port­ers.

On the other side of the square stands the Palais Stut­ter­heim, an­other gor­geous build­ing with a com­pli­cated his­tory: once an aris­to­cratic res­i­dence, then the town hall, it now houses the city li­brary and a na­tion­ally renowned art gallery, the Kun­st­palais.

On the hunt for art, I find that the Er­lan­gen Art So­ci­ety ex­hibits fan­tas­tic con­tem­po­rary work in a tiny gallery on the cor­ner of Haupt­strasse and Glock­en­strasse.

And in the Loewenich­sches Palais (a former tobacco fac­tory), the Er­lan­gen Art Mu­seum ex­hibits art of the Nurem­berg area post-1945.

Artis­tic pur­suits in Er­lan­gen don’t end here. The pretty streets around Theater­platz house the Mark­grafenthe­ater, the old­est op­er­at­ing baroque theatre in south­ern Ger­many, and next to this is an ex­per­i­men­tal stage, Theater in der Garage.

There is also Lamm-Licht­spiele, a cin­ema that screened its first film in 1922 and is still go­ing strong.

Af­ter lunch I re­turn to the pearl of Er­lan­gen: the Schloss­garten.

This lovely baroque park harks back to a time when Er­lan­gen was ruled by the mar­graves, mil­i­tary com­man­ders of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire.

Sum­mer folk fes­ti­vals in this re­gion are rea­son enough to visit. If you’re in Er­lan­gen in mid-June, catch the We­in­fest, a free, open-air fes­ti­val with bands and lo­cal wine.

Big­ger still is the Bergkirch­weih, a folk fes­ti­val that brings thou­sands of vis­i­tors to the city each May.

One of the best is An­nafest in Forch­heim, 10 min­utes from Er­lan­gen.

An­nafest is held at the end of July in the Keller­wald — lit­er­ally the “for­est cel­lar”.

Hid­den in a for­est on a hill, this is where many lo­cal brew­eries store their beer and serve it out­side.

Forch­heim also boasts an abun­dance of fach­w­erk build­ings, a lo­cal method of tim­ber-fram­ing that pro­duces in­tri­cate fa­cades.

We wan­der the town, along the cen­tral canal with its old wooden fish boxes, stop­ping for fresh fruit at the mar­kets and even­tu­ally find­ing the an­cient town wall.

Near the stone ram­parts is a me­mo­rial to a dif­fer­ent wall — the in­ner-Ger­man wall that di­vided East from West.

Al­though it didn’t pass di­rectly through here, the town erected a gen­uine piece of the fenc­ing along with a bor­der marker.

If you have a car, take the op­por­tu­nity to ven­ture from Forch­heim into Fran­co­nian Switzer­land.

It’s a short drive: head to­wards Wiesen­thau then Wal­berla, a twin-peaked hill with a stun­ning view.

From Forch­heim we take a train to Bam­berg and find that for the first time in a week we are not the only English-speak­ing vis­i­tors.

But it’s easy to see why this pic­turesque me­dieval town at­tracts tourists.

In its cen­tre is an ar­rest­ing sight: the 14th cen­tury Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) stands in the mid­dle of the river.

It is a unique build­ing born of ne­ces­sity, when the bishop would not give the cit­i­zens any land for a town hall.

We wan­der through the charm­ing old town to Bam­berg Cathe­dral — re­mark­able, with its four tow­ers, Ro­manesque el­e­ments and, in­side, the only Pope en­tombed in Ger­many.

The wide, cob­bled square by the cathe­dral stretches across to the Neue Res­i­denz, which for­merly housed the prince bish­ops.

Tours of the state­rooms are avail­able but we ad­mire the rose gar­den and catch a pretty view across roofs and trees to Michael­skirche.

Our visit wouldn’t be com­plete with­out try­ing the lo­cal spe­cialty: smoked beer.

It’s a bit of a hike to the Spezial-Keller but worth it for an­other ex­cel­lent view and the taste of cen­turies-old tra­di­tion.

It’s a taste that lingers as we re­turn to Forch­heim.

Pic­tures: Kiri Falls

The palace gar­den in Er­lan­gen.

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