Hirschhorn: A Medieval Jewel!
Hirschhorn is a beautiful little medieval village about 25 km from Heidelberg along the Neckar river. It is "die Perle des Neckartals"; the Pearl of the Neckar Valley with its old city walls and its castle. If you like Medieval town, you will love this one!
Its name means Deer (Hirsch) antler(Horn) and it might come from the shape of the Neckar river at this point and the fact that deer were very abundant in its woods in the Medieval time. Actually, the nobles of the place, the Lords of Hirschhorn, have deer antler in their coat of arms.
It seems that the first village built at this bend of the Neckar was in fact built on the other side of the river. It was probably built there because of its easy access to the river and the rich soil due to spring flood. This small village was called Ersheim (now Hirschhorn West) and its name appeared for the first time in an official document in 773 AD in the Lorscher manuscript.
The most interesting sight in that village is without a doubt the church called Katholische Friedhofskirche St. Nazarius und Celsus, also called Ersheimer Kapelle (Chapel of Erscheim),and its name first appeared in a manuscript in 1345 AD, which probably makes it the oldest church of the whole of the Neckar Valley.
Although many parts were added through time, you can still feel the Gothic influence on the architecture of this church. The fresques and the tomb stones with the effigies of the Lords of Hirschhorn are magnificent!
There is also an interesting stone, the Elendstein, the stone of the miserable (or the poor), sculpted in 1412 in honor of persons who were assassinated.
Around the church there is a cemetery with tomb stones of different eras, from centuries old to recent ones. It is in fact still the main cemetery of Hirschhorn and the reason why there is the mention of "Friedhof" (cemetery) in the church name.
You have a wonderful view of Hirschhorn from the West side of the Neckar (Ersheim), but better cross the river and go discover the village itself!
It is very easy to wander through it by foot! Actually, only delivery cars and trucks are allowed in most of the old village.
Everywhere you turn your head you can see the symbol of Hirschhorn: it is on the walls of houses, churches and on the city walls themselves! It is also on the tomb stones of the Lords of Hirschhorn.
The old village has not changed much since the 14th century: there are these very narrow lanes between houses, and cobble stone streets, and small staircases to go from one level of the town to the next, slowly climbing towards the castle on the hill.
At one point along the way up, you end out walking behind the houses' roofs of the level below! It is no wonder that every fall this village hosts the Ritterfest (Knight Party); a medieval tournament, with glorious knights and damsels in distress. It is an enchanting sight for such a happening!
There are "Knights" (Ritter) coming from all over Europe: Scots with their kilts and very dirty cloths and hair, genteel Dame from the more "civilized" areas on the continent, merchants from all over the places selling furs and skins, and sweets and herbs and spices etc. There is also a Knight Tournament, with horses and swords!
And of course, there are places to get a bite: around a camp fire you will find all kind of game meat on a skew, and dark beers, and strange tasting wine with spices in it.
It is really as if you were back in time, walking in a true Medieval town: it smells like it, it looks like it and it even taste like it! Fantastic! Wonderbar!
There is another church (Pfarrkirche zur Unbefleckten Empfängnis Maria) which was partly built in the 14th century and of which one very old tower (1392/93) that was part of the city wall, and integrated to the church later, is still standing.
The church was first Lutheran (until about 1636), then Catholic. It was used to celebrate catholic mass until the 18th century. Then renovations were made, an organ added and the church was re-opened for mass once again. It was then closed again for a complete renovation in the 1990. The Taufkapelle (baptism chapel) is now open for prayers.
You can also see many architectural trends in this church, from Gothic to Baroque, with just about everything in between that was fashionable at the time of its building, renovation and addition.
Another interesting sight to visit in the old town on the way to the castle is the "Kloster"(Karmeliter-Klosterkirche Mariä Verkündigung). It was first built as a church in 1406 to: "zu Lob und Ehren unserer lieben Frau Maria, der reinen Magd und Mutter unseres lieben Herrn Jesus Christi" (to praise and honour our beloved Lady Maria, Mother of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ).
The church, which was used by the Lords of Hirschhorn and where you can see fantastic bas-reliefs of the Lords and their coat of arms, was first of Catholic faith. It then became Protestant in 1629 because of the Emperor's beliefs. From 1636 to 1732 this church was the main church of Hirschhorn Parish. Then, in 1803, the Karmeliter-Kolster was open and the church was closed to outsiders.
The church, which was no longer used for mass, was more or less left unkempt until 1998 when the renovations began. It was close completely in 2006 but since then has been reopen to public. It is free to visit but donations to help maintain it are welcome. Concerts are sometime given is this little church.
And the view on the valley from its grounds is "Wonderbar"!
As for the Kloster, it is still in use and can not be visited.
After visiting the church of the "Kloster", you can continue on your way up the hill to the castle of Hirchhorn. This castle has been completely renovated and is now a beautiful hotel with view on the river and the valley below and a fine restaurant.
We stopped there first for lunch after a long walk through the woods and along the river from Neckargemünd and were agreeably surprised to see many other restaurant guests dress the same way we were, i.e. in walking boots and pants, and wind jackets! It is a popular spot to eat on one of the well known trails of the Neckar Valley.
On the other hand, the dressing code is a bit more formal for diner. But as German like to be comfortable, they are rarely overdressed.
The food was delicious, with generous servings, and consisted of specialties of the region: Hungarian stew (Hungerischegulash) made with deer from the area, Wildschwein (wild pig) and other games, as well as tasty wild mushroom and fish such as trout. And the ambiance inside the dining area was very nice, in a romantic-baroque castle style. The view from up there is also quite spectacular, specially in the fall when the leaves change colour.
There is an open terrace in the Spring-Summer and early Fall where you can rest your feet and where the Dunkles Bier is very tasty, indeed!
There are many other places to eat in the village: little bakeries and Tea Room where you can buy an Apfelstrudel or a huge meringue or an onion pie. Or restaurants that specialize in games from the regions. And of course, the Eis Cafe (Ice cream parlour) where they serve Italian ice cream in all shapes and sizes and flavours!
Return from Hirschhorn to Home Page