The reason why I went to the town of Schwäbisch-Hall (called only ‘Hall’ by the approximately 35 000 inhabitants) was that I wanted to see an exhibition in the wonderful museum Kunsthalle Würth. Schwäbisch-Hall is situated 80km to the north-east of Stuttgart, the capital of the land Baden-Württemberg in the south-west of Germany. After studying and enjoying the artefacts at length, I went into the town proper.
Hall lies on the rising banks of a small river, the Kocher, the museum is situated on the top of one hillside overlooking the old town centre. The view we have from there looks like the illustration of a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm. Hall was not destroyed during WW2, only a few stray bombs hit some buildings, a fact worth mentioning when writing about a German town. Some houses are more than 600 years old, crooked half-timbered ones which you find picturesque from the outside, but wouldn’t like to live in. No straight horizontal level in the whole building, when you drop something, it’ll roll across the floor at once.
I thought that behind the old facades the flats had been modernised, but a woman told me that wasn’t done, in fact was forbidden, modernisation is only permitted if the lives of the dwellers would be endangered otherwise, for example by broken staircases, railings, tumbling walls, holes in the floor.
When I had descended the stairs from the museum and came to the river, I felt I had gone back in a time machine, I saw some men punting on a raft! There’s a site where you can rent rowing boats and rafts on the opposite bank, just to the left of the wooden covered bridge (one of seven, no German town has more). If you’re interested in taking photos, we might lose you here. But the town centre isn’t big, you’ll easily find us again.
We pass a small wooden replica of the Globe Theatre in London standing on an island in the river (built in 2000) and going up on the other side we see the house where the real Dr Faustus sat and drank with some of his mates, then we stand on the market place in front of the 54 steps leading up to the entrance of the Church of St. Michael.
The Steps! Since 1925 every summer professional open-air theatre has been performed here. According to my informant no actor has ever broken a leg or sprained an ankle when running up and down, amazing!
I wanted to visit the church, but couldn’t, because the steps were cordoned off for the rehearsal of the play ‘Kasimir und Karoline’ (first performed in 1932) by Ödön von Horvath. I heard the sentence "Tonight I’m getting drunk and then I’m going to hang myself, so the world will know what it has lost" so often that it comes to my mind now whenever I think of the steps. The author is one of those Austrians who are experts in Weltschmerz (pain and suffering of and from the world), obviously a typical German thing, because the term has entered the English language.
I had to wait until 2 pm, so I went to the Café on the market place and sat down beside the fountain and the former pillory. Hall had its own jurisdiction in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as the name ‘Gallows Hill’, the house of the former executioner on one of the bridges and this pillory from 1509 show. Some steps lead onto a small platform with a minuscule Gothic roof where the victims had to stand - offenders who had committed petty crimes - to be mocked and spat at.
The buildings round the market place are nothing for stylistic purists, they’re all old, but belong to different periods, the Gothic one, the Renaissance and the Baroque, the overall effect is homogeneous, though.
I couldn’t sit in the Café for too long, it was hot and there weren’t enough
umbrellas, so I went to the Hällisch-Fränkisches Museum of local history. Here I learnt why Hall was such a rich town, its former wealth is obvious in each building. Already 2000 years ago the Celts had found and mined salt in the area, and salt meant money. The salt industry in Hall came to an end in 1924 when the fact that Hall is out of the way of every major transportation system finally made the production unprofitable.
An entire floor of the museum is dedicated to the history of the Jews who lived in that town. Near Hall was a concentration camp where the Jews who had been ‘saved’ from the infamous ramp in Auschwitz because they were seen as fit to work had to build aeroplanes for the Luftwaffe. I knew that already because there’s a plaque in the railway station with information about their destiny. Then there are painted wooden panels from 1738 which had covered the walls of a private synagogue, only one other specimen exists, it’s in a museum in Jerusalem.
Back to the market place, all sights are only minutes from each other, at last I could visit the church. It was begun as a Romanesque basilica and dedicated to Michael in 1156, it was finished only in 1718, so that all following styles can be found in the building. It is richly ornamented and you need some time to study all the artefacts in the church.
‘nuff history! On my way back to the station I strolled through the side streets and felt Italian all of a sudden, on one small square I found three Italian restaurants and cafés! I opted for one with tables and chairs under a gigantic chestnut-tree (the sun was still hot), had an espresso and recapitulated the day. I had to think of friends of ours who live nearer to Hall than we do. They spent many years in Asia and whenever they have visitors from there, they treat them to a day in Hall. Their last friend was a Chinese lady from Hong Kong who seriously considered not returning home and asking for asylum in that cute German town!