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Heinrich Tischner

Fehlheimer Strasse 63

D 64625 Bensheim

Sightseeing in Southern Hesse

for our English friends


1. The Landscape of the Reed


Cow’s Head



2. The Mountain Road





3. Rhenanian Hesse



4. The Palatinate


5. The District of Main




6. Farther towns

Bad Wimpfen




1. The Landscape of the Reed (Ried)

The river Rhine flows through a broad valley which originally was a cleft in the surface of the earth, more than one mile deep. The rivers from the Alpes and surrounding mountains filled the cleft with water and loam washed away from the mountains. In the North there was a barriere of the mountains of Taunus and Hunsrück. One day the water flew over this barriere; this was the birth of the Rhine. The water digged a valley through the mountains and searched a way to the North Sea and our sea gradually lost its water. Since that time there are the plains around Gernsheim. There also was a lateral branch between Rhine and the mountains of Odenwald in a time, as the Rhine had very much water. By an error it is called Neckarbett, i.e. 'bed of the river Neckar'. Later on, this river bed was used by the small river Weschnitz coming out of the Odenwald. The Romans digged a channel to make a shorter way for the Weschnitz to the Rhine; since that time there isn't any water in the Neckarbett; nevertheless it can be recognized until today.

"Father Rhine" formerly was a very unreliable fellow. He overflowed the country and after the flood, he often could not find his bed and created a new one. He had many bows and loops, and the ships needed many days to make their way. Therefore in the 19th century there were built effective dikes to restrain the flood, and the stream was regulated to make a shorter way without loops. One of the most famous old loops is the "Old Rhine" of the Kühkopf ('cow's head').

The lot of water caused that the country was very wet. The reed which could be found everywhere gave this landscape it's name Ried ('reed'). Nevertheless there were some dry places were people could live. Since a long time they tried to drain the ground by ditches. 1567-96 the Hessian Landgraf, the sovereign of the country, ordered to make a long ditch along the Neckarbett, the so called Landgraben ('ditch of the country'). It does exist until today. In the time of Hitler there were made a lot of additional ditches, and since 1966 the underground water is used as drinking water for the great cities. Therefore the ground is very dry today, so that we now must refill our underground resources with water from the stream.

A number of dunes remind us of the ice-time. The unfruitful sand only allows pine trees to exist, but it is an excellent soil to produce asparagus. Further typical agricultural products of the Reed are sugar-beets and formerly tobacco.

Tobacco leaves were cut and hanged up for drying in the barns. Therefor the Reed-tobacco was called Scheuerbambler, i.e. barn-danglers, because the leaves were dangling in the barns.

Today many farmers are cultivating vegetables.

a) Biblis

the center of cucumbers. They elect every year in Biblis during a "festival of cucumbers" the "queen of cucumbers". Biblis also is known by its nuclear power station.

Nearby there are the ruins of a Roman small castle called Stein ('stone, stone building'), which was used still in the Middle Ages

b) Cow’s Head (Kühkopf)

is an artificial island, formed by a loop of the Old Rhine and a shortening channel digged in the 19th century; the largest and one of the oldest nature reserve in Hesse. You can see here the original vegetation of the landscape along the river and experience the monsters of the stream, a special kind of gnats. Outside of the island is a monument reminding the crossing of the army of king Gustav Adolph of Sweden, who came during the War of 30 Years to help the German Protestants against the Catholic emperor.

In the village Erfelden on the Old Rhine, they show an old house, were Gustav Adolph stayed at night.

c) Lorsch

There was a very mighty and important Abbey in Lorsch, founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century, which possessed a great part of Hesse, Rhenanian Hesse and the North of Baden-Württemberg, and it even had possessions in the Netherlands. Lateron the Abbey lost its might and was demolished; today there are only some ruins, the rest of a church and the famous „Door Hall“ to be seen.

2. The Mountain Road (Bergstrasse)

is a very old road along the foot of the mountains of Odenwald leeding from Darmstadt to Heidelberg. It is said to be used already by the Romans. Most of the towns along the road are known since the 8th century.

Because the climate is very mild, the trees are blossoming very early in Spring; many tourists came to see the almonds blossoms in a time, when in the most parts of the country still is winter.

The Western winds bring a lot of rain to the Mountain Road, more than in the plains or the mountains.

At the slopes of the mountains they cultivate wine since the time of the Romans.

a) Alsbach

with the ruins of the stronghold Alsbacher Schloss. Near the village there was found a prehistoric (Celtic?) standig stone which maybe was used to recognize the seasons of the calendar: If you stand at the stone in the morning in the beginning of one of the seasons, you will watch the sun rising behind a special mountain of the Odenwald.

b) Zwingenberg

a small pretty town, the oldest one at the Mountain Road.

c) Bensheim

A regional phrase is "around the back, like the woman of Bensheim". It refers to a war, when French troops had occupied the town. Bavarian soldiers came to free it. The legendary woman showed them a way "around the back" through a secret entrance into the town, so that the Bavarians could drive the Frenchmen away.

Bensheim is the one of warmest place in Germany.

To Bensheim belongs the village Auerbach, and the stronghold Auerbacher Schloss.

In a valley of the Odenwald is a pretty manor-house called Fürstenlager, i.e. 'camp of princes', founded by the Langraf  of Hesse as a pleasure-house for his noble guests.

d) Heppenheim

now capital of a district

with stronghold Starkenburg ('strong castle') on the top of a mountain (now a youth hostel). The castle gave its name to the whole country of Southern Hesse.

3. Rhenanian Hesse (Rheinhessen)

is since 1949 part of Rheinland-Pfalz; 1806-1945 it belonged to Hesse and took its name, because it is situated "across the Rhine". In the time before, it was part of Palatinate or of the Archbishopric of Mayence.

As a part of Germany on the left side of the Rhine, the Frenchmen were interested in Rhenanian Hesse  since the 17th century. The French General Melac devasted the Palatinate with the slogan "Burn the Palatinate". His name is used as a dog‘s name. Also the name of another officer with a name sounding like Oshroh is used in our dialect as a term for a rude man.

In the beginning of the 18th century the Western part of Germany, includig Rhenanian Hesse, was occupied by Frenchmen and incorporated into France. In this time the "German Robin Hood", the famous captain of brigands Schinderhannes was on his tricks. Because there were no German but French policemen and soldiers to cath him, he boasted of fighting against Frenchmen, but he really was a simple and primitive robber, who liked to take from rich men and to spare the poor ones. He is told to have attacked a man who had no money; and when Schinderhannes recognized, that this man really was poor, he gave him a coin. A noble robber indeed! At last he was caught and beheaded in Mayence.

In Rhenanian Hesse they cultivate very much wine.

a) Mayence (Mainz)

Mayence, is the capital of the province and of the Bundesland (Federal Country) Rheinland-Pfalz. In Roman times it even was the capital of Upper Germania and has one of the oldest Christian congregations in Germany with an own bishop. During the Teutonic Migration of Nations in the 4th and 5th century many Christians in Mayence were killed by heathen Teutons, but the congregation survived and laid the foundations of Southern Hessian Christianity. In Mayence, Wynfrith from Wessex with the Latine name Bonifatius resided as an archbishop, called the "apostel of the Germans."

Mayence is famous for its carnival. An old song has the refrain: "Ritzumbaw, tomorrow the carnival will begin". They tell, that a French governor with a name sounding like Ritzumbaw had forbidden carnival arrangements; but the people of Mayence assembled at his palace and shouted the song, until he gave the permission.

b) Ingelheim

In the town are the remains of a palace of Charlemagne. The Frankon and German kings didn’t reside in one single capital, but they traveled around in their country and lived in several palaces, called Pfalz, plural Pfalzen.

Ingelheim is one of the few places in Germany, were you can find red wine.

4. The Palatinate (Pfalz)

A steward of a Pfalz was called a Pfalzgraf; he administratet not only the palace itself, but also a number of surrounding farms, which had to supply the palace. As every noble man, also the Pfalzgrafs, too, tried to enlarge their countries, and one of them – he was not the administrator of Ingelheim – was very successful and gained a large district at the left side of the Rhine, on the Neckar and in the North of the mountains of Odenwald, and soon he changed his title to "Elector of the Palatinate". The Electors in old Germany had the right to choose the German emperor. One of them was the archbishop of Mayence. About 1500 the Elector of the Palatinate also gained Bavaria, and in the beginning of the 17th century he even was crowned as king of Bohemia. The capital of the Palatinate was Heidelberg, and when it was destroyed at the end of the 17th century by Melac, the Electors moved to Mannheim.


For a long time Mannheim was an unimportant small town, until at the beginning of the 18th century, when it became the capital of the Platinate. The Electors built a new city with streets like a chessboard, instead of names they have still today the codes of a chessbord like "A5" or "C7". They also erected the largest palace in Germany in the manner of the palace of Versailles.

5. The District of Main (Maingau)

The Frankons divided their country into districts with the name Gau. A Gau normally was a landscape around a river, and most of these districts were called by the name of the river, e.g. Rheingau = Gau on the Rhine = Reed + Rhenanian Hesse + the slope of the mountains of Taunus, or Maingau = Gau of the Main = the country between Frankfort and Aschaffenburg.

a) Gross-Umstadt

The town has its origines in a very old royal farm Autmundestat, whose name today is shortend to Oomsht. It is called "Gross = Great Umstadt", because there also are Klein = Small Umstadt and Wenigumstadt = Tiny Umstadt.

The town itself and the surrounding villages were part of Palatinate and since 1500 a bone of contention between the Palatinate and Hesse.

Gross-Umstadt has its own wine.

b) Kleestadt

Kleestadt today is part of Gross-Umstadt. It took its name from a celtic word cleta ‚fench‘, which you also can find in the Irish name of Dublin, Baile Átha Cliath.

c) Seligenstadt

In Seligenstadt there was a Roman village. When the Alamans occupied it, they tried to pursue the Roman culture, copying their pots and using their coins, but they were not very successful in doing so. But this example shows, that there always people lived at the place of Seligenstadt since Roman times.

Lateron the place had the Frankon name Ober-Mühlheim 'the upper home with the mill', corresponding an Unter-Mühlheim, which today simply is called Mühlheim on the Main.

In the beginning of the 9th century, Einhard, the secretary of Charlemagne, moved to Ober-Mühlheim, built a church and a monastery and called the place Seligenstadt = blessed place. I can imagine, that he was glad to live here, because he was tired of all the trouble of politics. But I suppose, that he really did not invent a new name, but he re-interpreted an older name of the village, before it was called Mühlheim.

The legend of the town.

The legend tells, when Einhard was a young man, he lived in the Pfalz of Ingelheim and loved Emma, the daughter of Charlemagne. One night, when he visited her secretly, snow has fallen; so he could not go back through the courtyard to his room, because his footprints were to be seen. So Emma carried him back on her shoulders. But alas!, the emperor couldn’t sleep, walked through the palace, looked out of the window and watched the couple in the courtyard. Next morning he was very angry; so Einhard and Emma left the Pfalz and disapeared..

Soon Charles regretted his angor, for he loved his daughter very much, and he missed his secretary, because he couldn't write. But they were not to be found.

Lateron the emperor was hunting; he lost his people in the forest, and in the evening he reached a hut and knocked at the door. A young women made him a meal, which was his most favourate food. Than he recognized his daughter and said: "Blessed be called the name of the place, where I found my daughter." This is said to be the reason, why the locality is called Blessed Place = Seligenstadt.

6. Farther towns

a) Bad Wimpfen

Founded by the Romans, Bad Wimpfen was an independent city in the Mediaval German empire. There are a wonderful Gothic church and remains of a royal palace (Pfalz). The town has the title of a Bad = spa by reason of its salt-water springs.

b) Gelnhausen

The mediaval emperor Frederic I. Red Beard (Italian: Barbarossa) had a palace (Pfalz) in Gelnhausen. A lovely old town, the home of some interesting people:

  • Grimmelshausen, living in the 17th century. He wrote an autobiographical novel „Simplicissimus“, the story of a man during the War of 30 Years; beginning his carriere as a court-jester, then as a soldier, lateron as a mayor in the Black Forest and finally as an early Robinson Crusoe living on a lonely island.

  • the brothers Grimm, famous linguists, who wrote a German dictionary with 33 volumes, a German grammar, books about German myths and legends, Juristic antiquities, Teuton religion...; but the most famous book is their collection of fairy tales, heard by old women and found in old books.

  • Philipp Reis, the German inventor of the telephone. An American had the same idea at the same time.

c) Wiesbaden

Already the Romans used the hot springs at the foot of the Taunus and founded there a spa with the name Aquae Mattiacorum 'watering place of the tribe Mattiaci'. The Teutons interpreted the name as 'bath in the meadow' = Wiesbaden.

A suburb of Wiesbaden, Biebrich, was the capital of the Duke of Nassau. Nassau is a part of Hesse. One of the Dukes of Nassau, William of Orange, also was king of Holland and England. The Dukes built a pretty manor-house with a park in Biebrich.

At the end of the 19th century Wiedbaden was made by the German emperor William II. a chic health-resort with noble guests from all the world. Since 1949 it is the capital of Hesse.


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date: 1998 / 2006

up to date: 09.02.2019