When you hear the words "Swiss Chalet", what type of building comes to mind? Probably a building like the one at left in the first picture -- thick beams of wood in a web-like pattern with plaster in-between, colored in perfect contrast. But one need not go to Switzerland to see such architecture, it is quite common in Germany, particularly in the southern regions previously known as Swabia. One Swabian town, Schwäbisch Hall, exhibits this architecture so well, it appears cheery and bright even on an overcast day! And, it is really easy to get to.
Sprawled along a deep valley on the River Kocher, Schwäbisch Hall is as pleasing to the eye as it is challenging on the legs. The majority of the town is on the eastern bank, which rises high into the hillside. The first photo shows the Marktplatz at the base of the city's main church -- St. Michael's. The Rathaus is the yellow building to the right, displaying the city's symbol, the double-headed eagle.
The market square is the main commercial attraction. Surrounding St. Michael's is a theater, and gallery, several restaurants, and numerous shops. The commercial district extends straight down the hill towards the river along Neuestrasse. Most of the buildings have preserved their Swabian character despite hosting modern-day fashion stores.
But to capture that true Swabian character, one must venture all the way down the hill to the river. The second photo perfectly depicts that 'Swiss Chalet' character I mentioned earlier. The colorful buildings, peering over hardened concrete bridges and levees, seeming to let time pass by....
The valley is quite wide, and the river divides for much of the city limits, leaving several islands and a city park in the center. Quaint covered wooden bridges connect the islands together. The third picture was taken of "Im Haal", at the first fork in the river. The bridge leads one to the Haller Globetheater to the right. The church prominently in view in the left is St. Michael's. As you can see, Im Haal is also one of the city parking lots -- there seven around the city, the ones highest in the hills seemed to be larger and had more available space.
Schwäbisch Hall hides much among its many side streets. There are several castle remnants about, from the massive Neubau at the city's southeast corner to the old city walls scattered throughout. Some buildings appear to be toppling slightly downhill, and one wonders how they still stand! The western bank houses several buildings of historical significance and also hosts the town's brewery.
The surrounding area is very pretty and worth a short drive. About ten minutes away from downtown Schwäbisch Hall is the Schloss Colmberg, shown in the last photo. Colmberg is now part of a university, and the exterior grounds are accessible free of charge. One can drive almost up to the entrance, so after mountain-goating it in the city, you can take a more leisurely stroll here. The outer wall is remarkably well-preserved and the castle grounds are in excellent shape, while the view is very pleasant. Definitely worth a visit.
Schwäbisch Hall is more easily accessible by car than train. It is only a half-hour drive south and west of Rothenburg, but less obviously touristy (although it sure packs in crowds during the annual town festival). Yet, it has tremendous character and color that embraces the picturesque Kocher river valley. It is proof that one can find the charm of the Swiss Chalet elsewhere from Switzerland.
Trip taken 13 April 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin