Gelnhausen, Germany, boasts a colorful past
The town was founded by a guy nicknamed Redbeard. True, people already had been living here on the banks of Germany’s Kinzig River, but when Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa had a palace built in the 12th century, it put Gelnhausen on the map.
The town grew in power and prosperity because of its proximity to the Kaiserpfalz, as the palace is called, although Redbeard was known for his traveling and warring and was often not around. Southeast of the old town center, the palace — although now in ruins — is considered one of the best-preserved palaces of the Staufer dynasty.
In the center of and towering over Gelnhausen’s old town is the Marienkirche, or St. Mary’s Church. Built between 1170 and 1250, it was once, as the name might suggest, a Catholic church, but since the Reformation it’s been Protestant. The high altar inside is worth a peek.
Outside, opposite the western end of the church, is an interesting sculpture dedicated to Elisabeth Strupp, a clergyman’s widow who was a victim of the persecution of witches in Gelnhausen in 1599.
That’s not the only thing in Gelnhausen that reminds one of the witch hunts. A stubby medieval tower known as the Hexenturm (witches’ tower) is where suspect women were once held.
There are plenty of towers to see in Gelnhausen. You still must pass through the Aeusseres Holztor and Inneres Holztor (Outer and Inner Timber Gates) to enter from the north and through the Ziegelturm from the south.
The white Buttenturm is probably the oldest of the town’s medieval fortification towers. If you were entering the city back then from the river, you would pass through the Schifftor.
Besides Barbarossa, a few other interesting people have lived here. Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, the 17th-century author of “Simplicius Simplicissimus,” was born here, as was Philipp Reis, considered by many to be the inventor of the telephone. His bust stands on Untermarkt square.
This square, surrounded by half-timbered houses, is a nice spot to hang out, despite doubling as a central parking lot. A couple of cafes and wine taverns are here, and the town’s pedestrian shopping lane, Langgasse, starts here.
Nearby is Gelnhausen’s other main square, the Obermarkt, with the town hall. Originally built as a covered market in the 14th century, it has been the Town Hall since the 16th.
There are several other interesting buildings in town, including the former synagogue, the gabled House of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the 12th- century Romanesque House and the Gothic House, a 14th-century building considered to be one of the oldest half-timbered houses in the state of Hesse.
There are plenty of other things to see as you stroll through Gelnhausen, and you never know what else might pique your interest.
About 54 miles from Wiesbaden via the A3, highway B43a and A66. From Kaiserslautern, it’s about 100 miles via the A63, A60, A3, B43a and A66.
Any time, but nicest when the weather is good. The Kaiserpfalz is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays from March to October and closes an hour earlier November to Dec. 11.
Entrance to the Kaiserpfalz is 3.50 euros (about $3.85). Parking is about 1 euro an hour at the central parking garage.
There are restaurants scattered through the city, with a couple of nice Italian eateries on the Untermarkt.
The website www.isgelnhausen.de is in German only, but under Tourism there is a downloadable brochure in English with all the sights.