Lautertal (Odenwald)

Lautertal Coat of Arms/Gemeinde Lautertal

Odenwald Panorama in Spring/Johnny Glover

A typically magnificant view looking from Lautertal into the expanses of the Odenwald.

It is Germany's second largest area of woodland after the Black Forest and the most important source of beech wood. The countryside is very undulating and varies in vegetation and architecture across the width and length depending, to a greater extent, on the underlying rock (granite to the west and sandstone to the east). Not a very wet area with no major waterways crossing it and only one large dammed lake (Marbach Stausee), it is generally a poor land where farming and forestry has played a major roll over the centuries. The climate is very moderate despite the height of the hills and surrounding countryside being anywhere from 300 to even 600 metres above sea level (only 2 peaks rise over 600 metres). The western edge which lines the Rhine rift valley is very mild and enjoys an early spring and late autumn.

 

Almost in the geographical centre of Germany is the federal state (German: "Land") of Hesse with its capital city of Wiesbaden. Economically well situated, boasting Europe's second largest airport near Frankfurt, together with the large banking community in Frankfurt (the European and German central banks are to be found there), Opel's HQ and largest works are to be found in Rüsselsheim also near Frankfurt and the German Telecom with its traditional HQ in Darmstadt. South Hesse is surrounded by Rhineland-Palatinate to the west (where BASF has its HQ); Baden-Württemberg to the south (hosting SAP) and Bavaria to the east.

At the southern most part of the state, nestled in the hills of the forest of Oden (Odenwald) only a few miles east of the Rhine, you will find Lautertal. Politically it is located within the borough ("Landkreis") of the Hill Road (Bergstrasse) with its area capital being Heppenheim (see map below). Heppenheim is now famous as the birth place of Sebastian Vettel, the reigning Formula 1 world champion.

 

Since the last major political reform of 1972, the Parish of Lautertal has consisted of a scattering of 12 separate towns and villages generally following the valley of the small river called Lauter (see map left), which flows westwards out of the tree covered hills of the Odenwald into the Rhine valley at Bensheim. The largest town of Reichenbach houses the town hall and council offices and is mentioned in documents as far back as the 11th century. It has developed either side of the busy thoroughfare of the B47 meandering its way through the valley from Worms to Michelstadt via Bensheim. This route is called the “Road of the Nibelungs” (Nibelungenstraße) and is steeped in the local and national legendary of the Saga of the Nibelungs (Nibelungenlied).

Lautertal

For the most part a rural area, modern-day Lautertal attracts many people who work in the nearby industrial centres of Mannheim, Darmstadt, Mainz, Wiesbaden and of course Frankfurt to spend their leisure time or even settle here. Traditionally this area is strongly connected with farming (cattle, agriculture and apples) and in more recent times stone working (quarrying, masonry), although there are quite distinct traces of Roman activity in the area.

Beedenkirchen Church/Johnny Glover

Steeped in tradition, religion has played a very strong role in the ancient and more recent history of this area with various dioceses (predominantly Lorsch), but also dukes and barons owning various parts of the land in a forever changing political and social landscape. Predominantly protestant almost every town and village has at least one major building in the form of a church. The oldest being in the outlying village of Beedenkirchen (see photo left) dating from the mid 17th century.

Away from the major thoroughfare Lautertal enjoys a quiet and tranquil existence. Numerous well signposted trails and hiking paths lead you through the unspoilt countryside commanding spectacular views over the hills and mixed forests into the depths of the Odenwald (see photo right) as well as over the vast Rhine valley. A major national hiking path running from the north to south Germany cuts through this area.

Odenwald View/Johnny Glover

Social life consists of many activities as a member of any number of sports societies (football, handball, volleyball, tennis etc.) as well as choral and drama societies, animal/bird breeding clubs, amateur photography and of course hiking clubs etc. with each town and village having their “own” voluntary fire brigade. During the course of a year each club organises its annual event, inviting the general public to attend concerts, plays or other shows or during the warmer season barbecues and beer festivals. The most popular common event of every town and village being the “Kerb” (also known as “Kirchweih”), a parish festivity celebrating the inauguration of the church cumulating in a Sunday afternoon procession through the village where each club has the opportunity of presenting a well decorated float for this climax of the year.

Timber Frame house/Johnny Glover

Although Lautertal possesses no historical buildings of any great importance or fame it is well bestowed with delightful hamlets, country pubs, old farmhouses and other buildings of timber-frame construction some of which can be dated back to before the 16th century. Many lovingly preserved they present the eye with a wonderful sight (see photo left).

Various old town and village halls, giving witness to political times of days gone-by, have been carefully rennovated and kept in good condition. The post-modern architectural delight of the Lautertal town hall in Reichenbach provides a welcome if not undisputed exception (see photo right).

Town Hall/Johnny Glover

The traditional German cuisine has been strongly influenced by Balkan, Italian and Greek flavours. Nevertheless you can still find any number of real German “Gaststätten” in and around the area of Lautertal serving a wide selection of traditional meals and snacks to suit most palates. Generally still family-run they are very reasonably priced.

Photo: Johnny Glover The most important attractions of the area are of unspoilt natural origin. The most famous and certainly spectacular being the “Sea of Rocks” (Felsenmeer). Stretching up the south slope of the Felsberg (514 metres above sea level) for more than 800 metres, cutting through the majestic woods of beech trees over a width of up to more than 80 metres is a massive bed of huge granite boulders beckoning to be climbed and clambered over (see photo left).

Since this can prove to be a very exhaustive pastime for some, there are many well signposted tracks and paths skirting and criss-crossing the area and leading to several spectacular remains of past industrial activities for the others.

At the “Giant Column” (Riesensäule - see right) you can take a welcome break at the kiosk and wonder at the skills of Roman craftsmen who chiselled this rock of 9.39 metres in length and approx. 1.30 metres in diameter out of one solid piece of granite (damaged a few years ago by vandals). Fortunately for us they left in a hurry, fleeing from the advancing Germanic tribes leaving this magnificent souvenir behind.

Lautertal has become one of the gateways into the Geopark Odenwald, a UNESCO project. At the lower access point to the Felsenmeer there is a visitors´ information centre with guides and rangers providing a whole spectrum of activities for those who prefer nature trails to adventure theme parks.

To the east of Lautertal extends the full expanse of the Odenwald (left: panorama over Lindenfels and its castle ruins), being the second largest woodland area in Germany and famous for its beech trees with forestry being an important economic factor. To the west are the wide plains of the Rhine rift valley leading to the hills of the Palatine (Pfalz - has flourishing wine industry).

Bergstrasse

Along the western foot of the hills of the Odenwald stretches the “Hill Road(Bergstraße) is known for its mild climate.

Spring arrives here early, presenting the visitor with a spectacular show of blossoming fruit and other trees and bushes, long before the rest of the country (see photo right).

Bergstrasse/Johnny Glover

On the lower peaks along this route you will discover numerous ruins of castles and fortresses, even an abbey continuing the line of those found further north on the steep banks of the Rhine. From these vantage points you can experience wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. Only a few miles north of the boundaries of Lautertal is a most famous and well-preserved example called the “Frankenstein's Castle”. Perched high up on a hill it is a place, which Mary Shelley had apparently visited or passed by providing her with some inspiration for her famous novel on Frankenstein from 1818 (Tip: Have meal at the restaurant and watch the sunset).

A little closer to Lautertal you will find the small town of Seeheim behind which is the worldwide training centre of Lufthansa. Nearby is the sleepy town of Jugenheim, which has long ties with the Battenbergs (Mountbatten). There is a country mansion commanding a wonderful view over the Rhine valley called Heiligenberg Castle (the grounds can be visited). This was once the family home of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine (the great grandfather of Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh) which was sold in 1920 and is now a training establishment for teachers. Here the Mountbattens are buried in a mausoleum that has been visited by some members of the English Royal Family.

Moving on south and slightly north of Lautertal on the western slopes of the Odenwald lies the ancient town of Zwingenberg being one of the oldest towns in Germany with city rights. The route continues on through the bustling towns of Bensheim, Heppenheim and Weinheim leading finally to Heidelberg all having their wonderfully preserved old town centres that are well worth a visit. Spread along the southern banks of the river Neckar Heidelberg has approx. 140,000 inhabitants and boasts the oldest university in Germany (1386) and the ruins of an historical fortress residence dating back to before the 13th century. On the hillside it commands a magnificent view over the river and beyond - also well worth a visit!

Vinyard/Johnny Glover

Along the eastern perimeter of the Rhine valley on the sun-soaked lower slopes of the Odenwald, in particular between Bensheim and Weinheim, you will see many small and relatively unknown vineyards growing some of Germany’s excellent wines (see photo left). These vineyards offer any number of hiking paths meandering up and down the hillsides presenting the walker with magnificent views and unforgettable sunsets.

Surrounding Areas

Just a few miles west of Lautertal in the rift valley of the Rhine you can follow a trail of ancient history closely associated with the power struggles of emperors, bishops and monks together with pilgrim routes between ancient abbeys, monasteries and other religious centres and cultural shrines crossing throughout the whole of Europe (see map left). In the vicinity there are the cathedral cities of Speyer, Worms (see also the Saga of the Nibelungs) and Mainz. Nearby and still part of the borough of the Bergstrasse is Lorsch. This charming town with impressive ruins of a one-time powerful abbey is UNESCO listed and certainly well worth a visit.

A little further south is the ancient Roman town of Ladenburg (Lopodunum). A town that has often played a strategic role in the numerous struggles and wars between many tribes and settlers rampaging through this part of Europe over the past 2000 years. After a multitude of sackings and plundering over the centuries the town centre is remarkably well preserved still within the old city walls, full of romantic charm and very interesting historic buildings. The history of the automobile is closely connected with this part of Germany. Carl Benz (Mercedes Benz) ran a business in Ladenburg and spent a great part of his life here until his death in 1929. He is buried here and in memory of his life’s work there is an automobile museum.

 

Lautertal has an active twinning committee called APEG and has been twinned with the Parish of Aldenham, near London/England, since 25th October 1980, with Jarnac on the river Charente near Cognac/France since 2nd May 1983 and, as of 5th June 2016, also Dogliani in Piemont, Italy. APEG, chaired by Christiane Stock, would be only too pleased to accommodate your queries in French, Italian, English or German:

h.c.stock@t-online.de

Should you have any further questions on Lautertal please do not hesitate to contact the local council:

info@lautertal.de


Note:

All links are correct at the time of compilation. Any changes please email the local council.


 

Written, compiled and all photographs: Johnny Glover, Lautertal

© 2002/2008/2011