Schwäbisch Hall is all that a tourist could ask of a German town.

On the banks of the Kocher River, it has churches, picturesque half-timbered houses, cafe-lined cobblestone squares, fountains, bridges and pedestrian-only lanes.

But Schwäbisch Hall is also a city of theater and art. What other town in Germany can boast an open-air festival played out on the stairs of a church, or Shakespeare staged in a copy of London’s Globe Theater?

The heart of Schwäbisch Hall is the market square with its Baroque town hall on one side and St. Michael’s Church on the other. Built on a hillside rising from the river, a staircase, the so-called Grosse Treppe, leads up to the church’s portal and a statue of St. Michael. In summer, the stairs are used as the stage, with the audience sitting on the market place.

On an island in the river stands the Haller Globe Theater, a 550-seat copy of the original. It is a great setting for Shakespeare, even if it is in German. And considering that when some of us read the Bard of Avon in high school, we didn’t know what he was talking about anyway, it probably doesn’t matter.

Sculptures dot the town and there are many art galleries here, but the center of Schwäbisch Hall’s art world is the Kunsthalle Würth, across the river from the Globe. A private gallery with changing exhibitions, it is based on the art collection of Reinhold Würth, who made his money in the un-artful world of screws. It is housed in a new building on the site of a former brewery, overlooking the river. The old Sudhaus, or brew house, is used for exhibits and features a nice pub.

Covered wooden bridges connect the banks of the river and the islands, good places to relax and watch the world go by. In the summer there is a popular beer garden next to the Globe, and the smaller island, the Grasbödele, is a grassy knoll in the river with a great view of the half-timbered houses lining the river.

For interesting architecture, check out the gabled houses on the Marktplatz that once belonged to a cloister, and the massive half-timbered house that is actually made up of many buildings that were united over the years into one.

A stroll down the town’s many pedestrian lanes goes past shops and cafes. At the end of one lane, the Gelbinger Gasse, stands a tall, graceful medieval tower, the Josenturm. With its half-timbered top, it towers over Schwäbisch Hall. It was originally a church steeple, then a tower in the town’s fortification. It still guards the old town, when entering up Badtorweg, through the Badtörlein gate.

Know & Go• Getting there: Schwäbisch Hall is about 10 miles south of Autobahn 6, between Heilbronn and Crailsheim. Coming from Stuttgart, one can take a drive through the countryside on highway B14 to Schwäbisch Hall.

There is plenty of parking downtown. Expect to pay 50 euro cents per half-hour.

• Hours: Kunsthalle Würth is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission is free. Its Web site is

St. Michael’s can be visited from March 1 to Nov. 15 from noon to 5 p.m. on Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. It costs adults 2 euros and children 1 euro to climb the tower.

• Theater: Performances on St. Michael’s stairs run until Aug. 31. Shows end a day earlier at the Haller Globe Theater. The Web site with schedules for both is

• Information: The city’s tourist office is on the market square. Its Web site, with a limited English-language page, is

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now