Marburg: A quintessential German fairy-tale town
August 17, 2006
From St. Elizabeth’s Church on the Lahn River, to the dukes’ castle crowning a hill above, Marburg, Germany, is a fairy-tale-type town.
Winding cobblestone lanes, half-timbered houses, a market square with a Gothic town hall, churches and the castle are all part of the appeal of this town in central Germany.
Although the town has been around for well more than 900 years, it came to prominence when Elizabeth, a Hungarian princess and widow of a landgrave, or duke, of Thuringia, moved to Marburg in the early 13th century.
Founding a hospital, and giving up her wealth to help the poor, Elizabeth was canonized in 1235 only four years after her death. The Teutonic knights built a church for her, and her shrine in the Elisabethenkirche became a place of pilgrimage.
Sophie of Brabant, St. Elizabeth’s daughter, founded the House of Hesse in 1248, and her son Heinrich was its first landgrave.
It was a later landgrave, Philipp the Magnanimous, who gave Marburg its other claim to fame in 1527, when he established the first Protestant university in Germany. Many prominent people taught or studied in Marburg, including chemist Robert Bunsen, poet Boris Pasternak and the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, to name a few.
A tour through Marburg is an enjoyable, albeit steep walk.
At river level is St. Elizabeth’s, where there is a 15th-century statue of the saint and her shrine, although her skull and bones were moved when St. Elizabeth’s became a Protestant church after the Reformation. They are now at the Convent of St. Elizabeth in Vienna.
A walk up the hill leads past the Rathaus and marketplace with its St. George fountain. Climbing even higher, you come to the Landgrafenschloss, the castle.
Its buildings are a mix from the 13th to 16th centuries, but there were fortifications on the hill as far back as 1000. Today it houses the university’s museum of cultural history.
On the hike up, you might notice that a lot of the streets are actually steps. Supposedly Jacob Grimm once said, “I believe there are more steps in the streets than in the houses.”
You probably also will notice that the lanes are full of cafes and bars. About 17,000 of Marburg’s 80,000 residents are students. It is they who give this medieval town its pulsating life. A walk down Barfüsserstrasse, one of the old town's few streets with automotive traffic, takes you past student hang-outs next to clothing shops, bookstores and art shops.
Marburg, with its half-timbered houses, churches and castle might show its age, but it is still full of life.
Know and GoGetting there: Marburg is in central Germany, about 60 miles north of Frankfurt. From the south, take Autobahn 5 north to Autobahn 45, head toward Giessen, take Autobahn 485 toward Giessen and Marburg. Stay on the road until it turns into highway B3 to Marburg.
If you are coming from the east (Hanau, Würzburg) take A45 toward Dortmund and then as above.
You can also reach Marburg by train from Frankfurt, Giessen and Friedberg.
Hours: The Landgrafenschloss is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Monday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily November to March.
St. Elizabeth’s Church opens at 11:15 a.m. Sundays year round, except during services. Other days it can be visited from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April through September, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in October, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. November through March.
More information: The tourist information office is at Pilgrimstein 26; telephone (+49) (0) 6421-99120. Next door is an elevator to the old town for those who don’t want to climb the hill. The city’s German-only Web site is www.marburg.de.
— Michael Abrams