Travel 2019 – Alsace and Baden, Day 13, Sankt Peter, Breisach, Ihringen

Wednesday, 25th September 2019 – Sankt Peter, Breisach, Ihringen

A late breakfast in the Hotel Schlossmühle was very good, though they did try to insist we should have an egg each, and then I had a suggestion or two that met with Lynne’s approval for what we should do with the day. First I wanted to go to Sankt Peter, having been once as a child, probably when I was around 7 or 8 years old. We holidayed as a family along with my godfather Colin, his wife Margaret, and their three children in a campsite in the Black Forest village of Kirchzarten a couple of times, and I can recall this very shiny, gold encrusted place that we went to look at. I wanted to go back and see if I remembered it aright 50 plus years later. I have numerous memories of the place, including learning to swim in the massive open air pool on the site, breaking out in a rash if I got too much sun, and burning my fingertips badly on a camping gas lamp, but the church was the thing that really stuck in my mind. It felt odd to be back somewhere I’d not been for half a century. We set off along the absurdly winding road to Sankt Peter.

On arriving we found a parking space easily and then walked up towards the church, stopping off at the Tourist Information office just in case there was any information we needed ahead of going inside. There are suggestions that there was a church on the site at least as early as 1093, probably some sort of Romanesque basilica. Whatever it looked like, it burned down in a major fire in the 15th Century. The replacement was a Gothic building which was repeatedly restored as a result of various wars, so that by the 17th Century what they had was a church with a Gothic façade and Baroque interior. Eventually, under the rule of Abbot Ulrich Bürgi, a new church was planned and built by the architect Peter Thumb from Vorarlberg between 1724 and 1727.

The new church had a Baroque façade and furnishing, which could stand comparison with the churches of St. Blasien and of Ebersmunster. It’s impressive from the outside, but that is as nothing to the inside which is magnificently over the top, with an incredibly impressive high altar, among other things.

There are side altars decorated with stuccoes, gold-adorned statues of the Dukes of Zähringen, who founded St. Peter’s Abbey, and a variety of other fripperies carved by Josef Anton Feuchtmayer, whose reputation was made in the south of Germany and Austria. It’s one of those places that has so much gold in in that you could be dazzled on a really bright day. This was clearly not a church that was short of money, at least when they carried out the build anyway. Everything that could be gilded, was gilded.

The monastery is the only building in the region that was newly built in the Baroque period and is pretty much unchanged since then. You can also, if you go on the right day, visit the rest of the Abbey complex including the library, which is pretty much more of the same, but on an even bigger scale. We didn’t arrive on the right day, so you’ll have to make do with the official photo of it. Isn’t it amazing? If you do decide to visit and you want the full tour, these are on Tuesdays (11:00), Thursdays (15:00), Sundays and public holidays (11:30).

Oh and it that doesn’t whet your appetite, there’s also the Festsaal… Again, not my photo sadly.

We headed back out of town, driving back much the way we’d come, and heading for the Kaiserstuhl, the premier wine growing region in Baden. It centres around a range of volcanic hills on the eastern banks of the Rhine and is known for producing some of Germany’s finest red wines, notably from Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder), Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). With a climate that is borderline Mediterranean, it’s one of the warmest places in Germany and the wines reflect that. The name Kaiserstuhl means “Emperor’s seat” and is reputed to date from 994, when King Otto III of Germany held court in a nearby village. We were aiming initially for Breisach, a reasonably sized town, formerly known as Altbreisach, and is right slap bang on the Rhine, midway between Freiburg and Colmar. It’s directly opposite the town of Neuf-Brisach, in Alsace.

The Celtic origins of the town’s name come from the word for breakwater, which is appropriate because the hill on which Breisach is built used to be an island in the middle of the river whenever the levels rose high enough. This one stopped in the 19th Century when the engineer Johann Gottfried Tulla straightened the river out.

It was obviously a site that was good for settlement though, because the Romans took it over from the Celts, and built an auxiliary castle there. By the 13th Century, building of the cathedral had started, and by the early 16th Century Breisach was a significant stronghold of the Holy Roman Empire. On December 7, 1638, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, who was funded by the French, conquered the city and tried to make it the centre of a new territory. After his death in 1639, his general gave the territory to France, and 9 years later the Peace of Westphalia confirmed the town as French.

However, less than half a century later under the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) returned the town to the Holy Roman Empire, but it was reconquered in 1703 by Marshal Tallard at the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession. 11 years after that in the Treaty of Rastatt on March 7, 1714, Breisach was again returned to the Holy Roman Empire. Meanwhile, the French founded Neuf-Brisach (New Breisach), over the river. As if that wasn’t enough, by 1790 Breisach was part of Austria, though not for long. In the revolutionary wars of 1793 the town was heavily damaged and then, in 1805, it was annexed to the re-established state of Baden.

Breisach was the frontier station on the Freiburg–Colmar international railway line, but the railway bridge across the Rhine was destroyed by the Allies during the Second World War, along with 85% of the town, and the cathedral was also heavily damaged. You would not know it to just look at the town now. Mind you, given its history, it is no surprise that after the end of WWII the citizens voted by a massive margin (85% in favour) to be a “European city”. This is not, according to the mayor, “an empty phrase: The confession is still valid; the spirit of this European city determines the life of citizens in the border town of Breisach”. It’s an interesting city in many respects and I must admit, as it is celebrating its 1650th anniversary during 2019, I was slightly surprised as to how free of tourists it seemed to be!

Having found a useful free car park just on the edge of town, we walked in, noting that there were lots of plaques pointing out sights of interest, even though many of the buildings have obviously been reconstructed in the post war period. We found an attractive looking café, the Elsässer Hof, close to what appeared to be a city gate, and parked ourselves for a coffee before the lunch rush started (and start it did; there’s a lot of renewal of the surrounding streets going on and the workmen knocked off promptly at 12 and fetched up at the terrace tables ready to eat). The street we were sitting on had a nice water feature to one side, and water running along a decorative channel as well and the whole place had an air of being cared for by those who had the means to look after it, a contrast to the neglect being inflicted on a lot of English towns I could name.

It’s a bit of a route march up to the cathedral but we decided we should do it, and after coffee we set off through the gate and up the hill, the cathedral looming above us as we climbed.

The Stephansmünster is a Romanesque-Gothic church dating from the 12th Century with expansion and remodelling in the Gothic style taking place in the 15th Century. The exterior was heavily damaged in the Second World War, but inside there are three important works by some of the greatest artists of their time. They are the monumental murals of “The Last Judgment” by Martin Schongauer (1488-1491), a reliquary containing the bones of the city patrons St. Gervasius and St. Protasius from 1496, and – the most gorgeously detailed filigree sandstone rood screen and high altar by the Master HL from 1523-1526.

The building dominates the higher section of the old town, and after we’d walked around the outside, looking both at the views from this commanding point, and for a way in, we managed to locate the entrance and step into a building empty of people. Given what we found inside, it should be packed with visitors, and should probably be taking large amounts of money off said visitors. There’s a notice forbidding photography, a short leaflet, and some postcards on sale, and that’s it!

The first thing that catches the eye is not the massive murals, but rather the spectacular high altar by the Master HL, about whom not much is known. He may of may not be Hans Loi or Loy, though even that is in question. Whoever he really was, he signed his works HL and was active all over the area in the early 1500s. The stonework is gloriously elaborate, and shows the coronation of Mary in an extraordinarily vivid depiction. God the Father and Christ hold a decorated crown high over Mary’s head while the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovers above the whole. The church’s patron saint, Stephen, is shown on the left wing alongside Saint Lawrence, while the right wing is dedicated to the city’s patron saints Protasius and Gervasius.

The Last Judgment murals by Martin Schongauer are also stunning but take more effort to discover, because they are very faded. The artist worked from 1488 until his death in 1491 on this masterpiece of mural painting. It’s been the victim of a lot of things including a somewhat botched restoration in 1931, but it still impressed with its detail. On the west wall Christ is enthroned as the judge of the world, seated ona rainbow with banners pointing to the verdict. On the north wall is a depiction of hell, where a sea of ​​flames symbolises the torments of the damned. In contrast on the south side is a depiction of the Blessed Elders entering paradise, a large tablet describing the heavenly joys.

The third major treasure is the silver reliquary containing the remains (possibly) of the two city patrons, St. Gervasius and St. Protasius, completed in 1496 by Strasbourg goldsmith Peter Berlin. It is decorated with saints and scenes from legends, including a reproduction of the transfer of the bones of the city patrons to St. Stefansmünster.

For a while we just sat and stared at the altar, before deciding we really needed to get some lunch. Just over the square in front of the Ratshaus we found a hotel, the Hotel Stadt Breisgau, with a restaurant, Augustins, that promised a terrace with a view. It was too cold to sit outside but we managed a well-placed table inside where we could enjoy the spectacular views across the Rhine towards the Vosges mountains.

In addition to a great view, they also produced a delicious pumpkin soup, which was just the thing on a day that was cooler than what we’d been used to on the trip.

When we eventually went back outside the weather was becoming blustery and threatening more rain. It held off a little longer as we investigated further, learning about the history of the upper part of town, including finding another of the town towers and gates. This is the Radbrunnenturm, which includes a 41 meter deep well, built during the time of Bertold V. von Zähringen in 1189. The tower was once also the town hall and court, with its own torture chamber just as in Riquewihr. These days it’s an exhibition and concert hall.

We didn’t manage to find the Blue House, the oldest house in Breisach, but we did read about the history of the Jews in Breisach. In the 14th Century they lived on the Münsterberg as wealthy merchants, but when plague broke out, they were scapegoated and murdered in 1349. Jews returned to the Münsterberg from about 1375 to 1425, but they were expelled, and only allowed back in 1640 when the French took over, as they supplied the French army in their roles as livestock and grain traders. By 1850t the community made up 17% of the population of the town. Once they were granted legal equality in Baden in 1862, many Jewish families moved away and settled in the larger cities, and the population in Breisach was reduced to around 250 people by 1933. The community had a synagogue, a ritual women’s bath, two cemeteries (Synagogue Square and Isenberg) and the parish hall, today’s Blue House. When the Nazis organized the murder of European Jews in early 1942, the Jews from Breisach, who had been imprisoned in France were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau with the help of the French, where at least 50 of the Breisach Jews were murdered. The Blue House is intended as a memorial to all of them so I’m sorry we didn’t locate it, despite tracking down as many of the information plaques scattered around the town as we could.

Unexpectedly, we did find the Festspiele Breisach Open Air Theatre, though the season was well and truly over (we’d missed productions of “The Jungle Book” and “Charley’s Aunt”) and we had to settle for looking at the auditorium and empty stage.

We also found a new, rather lovely garden, a recreation of the Franciscan Monastery’s physic garden. It was a charming space, with seating and with fabulous views down over the surrounding countryside. It was a place to linger and enjoy the flowers, the bees and the rest of the world rushing by while you relax. It’s also the scene of concerts during the summer.

And then we decided it was probably time to start heading back, if we wanted to stop off in Ihringen to buy some wine. The history of Ihringen is closely connected to its wines, and they are very good wines. They should be. They’ve been growing wine here since at least 962, with documented evidence that the town was very much a wine growing community. It was also an important strategic point thanks to its proximity with the French border, so it was frequently dragged into the various armed conflicts that plagued the region. We didn’t get time to look around, because we spent ages trying to find a parking space, and then an open wine cellar prepared to sell us anything, largely because the harvest was in full swing and most capable people were out in the vineyards picking this year’s crop.

We did find the Weingut Ingrosso open though, largely because they were just emptying their lorry into the vats in the yard. The orignal company, H. Pflüger & Co was founded in 1790 by Josef Hebting, based in Freiburg, and was taken over in 1987 by Ingelore and Angelo Ingrosso (he came from Italy as a guest worker, and stayed to marry Ingelore). She died two year’s ago, and her daughter and son-in-law now run the place, because Angelo is ill with Alzheimers and can no longer work. In his youth, though, Angelo brought in the equipment to start producing what is regarded as their speciality wine, which is made in ancient Roman clay amphorae, the Merdinger Bühl Vino di Angelo Rotwein Halbtrocken. We bought a dozen red wines from them, including some 2013 examples of the wine that had been matured in the amphorae, which you can see in the background in the previous photo. Satisfied with that, we headed back across country to Glottertal and the hotel after a very interesting and busy day.


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