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When you exit Autobahn A5 at Bensheim and take a left toward Lorsch, Germany, you will notice brown markers pointing toward “Königshalle.” As you approach Lorsch, the brown signs change, now saying “Museumszentrum.”

Do not be confused. The two places are connected and across the street from each other on the outskirts of the charming German town.

The Königshalle is one of two structures left of a former Carolingian abbey. The Museumszentrum is a building with historic collections on the abbey and everyday life in the region.

The abbey is first mentioned in legal documents in 764, when it was founded by a wealthy and influential Franconian family and given to a relative, the Archbishop Chrodegang von Metz, in those days the only archbishop north of the Alps.

It quickly became an important religious center and was presented to Charlemagne, bringing it under the king’s protection and giving the monks certain obligations to the throne.

In 1090, a fire damaged many of the abbey’s buildings, which were rebuilt. In 1621, it was destroyed by Spanish troops during the Thirty Years’ War, and from then on, Lorsch inhabitants used the abbey walls as a quarry and built their houses with century-old stones.

At its height, Lorsch’s abbey library held many books, 300 of which had been handwritten. They are now kept in 54 locations in 17 countries around the world. One of the most beautiful works is the “Lorsch Evangeliar,” dated around A.D. 810. The covers are made from carved ivory and the text illustrations use gold ink. For some reason, the book was split up: One part ended up in Rome, the other was lost until it surfaced in 1853 during an auction and is now in London.

The library also included books containing medical prescriptions, most taken from antique sources. They are probably the oldest known from the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, none of the books are in Lorsch. There are reproductions of pages and maps, but the closest originals are in the Frankfurt cathedral or the Darmstadt Landesmuseum.

The Königshalle dates to the ninth century. Despite its name — “king’s hall” — its exact purpose is not known. The inside walls have at least five layers of paintings, the oldest of which are letters of Scripture that cannot be interpreted.

Originally, there was only one large room with a high ceiling. A second floor was put in later.

Reproductions of artifacts from the Lorsch abbey, which is on the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage List, are in the museum center, right across the street from the abbey.

In addition, the museum has models of the abbey from various stages of history, plus a computer simulation of it as it looked at about A.D. 1150. There are also models of cells used by the monks to pray and work, including writing and drawing books of the Scriptures.

Other parts of the museum are dedicated to the daily life of those who lived in the area, including furnishings, pottery and tools, plus tobacco crops and products, manufactured in the area from the 17th century until 1983.

The church ruin in back of the entrance hall was damaged during the big fire in 1090. It was restored and enlarged.

Two coffins are on display in the church. One is said to have contained the body of the legendary Siegfried, hero of the German epic poem “Nibelungenlied,” who supposedly was buried in Lorsch.

There are excavations taking place inside the ruin. Last year, crews were digging in the monks’ cemetery. There is surely a lot of buried history yet to be discovered.

On the QT ...Directions: Exit Autobahn A5 at Bensheim and take B47 west toward Lorsch. Follow signs to the abbey, about three miles from the exit.

Times: The abbey area, including the Königshalle, can be seen on a tour each hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Cost: The abbey tour costs 4 euros for adults, 2 euros for children. Admission to the museum is 3 euros for adults, 2 euros for children, and 1 euro for ages 6-18; younger children are free.

Food: There are several restaurants nearby and in the town’s market square.

Information: Tours of the abbey in English are available upon request by calling 06251-103820 or e-mailing info@kloster-lorsch.de. A detailed history is on the English-language version of its Web site, www.kloster-lorsch.de/lingua/englisch.html.

— Mecki Snippen

Migrated

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