The draw of Maulbronn was a description we read somewhere about it being one of the best-preserved monasteries in Europe, yet one few have heard of. Sounded like a challenge to us! Indeed, despite it being less than an hour's drive from our home in the Heidelberg area, none of our friends or colleagues had heard of it. So, in conjunction with a shopping trip down in neighboring Pforzheim, we thought we would take a drive through the woods north of the Black Forest and check it out.
It didn't take us long to figure out why our colleagues knew so little of it, it is about as out-of-the-way as one can get. Maulbronn is accessible mainly by back roads that cut through quiet farmland and occasional dense forests. Tom's immediate impression was that Maulbronn was a residential retreat, perhaps for the well-to-do or ruralites who worked Pforzheim or Stuttgart to get home to some peace and quiet.
Maulbronn was basically a monastery with a little town attached. It was originally a 9th-century Cistercian monastery, the same order as Orval and Chimay in Belgium. Like those others, Maulbronn was fully self-contained and heavily fortified. Very heavy stone walls and tall watch towers surrounded it, and it had a huge and foreboding entrance gate. But, the monks were wine makers and the hills above the monastery were set up for grapevines awaiting the next growing season.
The interior of the monastery grounds now serve as the main market square for the city, and much of the architecture has changed. Where once were massive stone houses are now half-timbered houses atop rock foundations. The house in the first photograph is an example. The Maulbronn town hall (off the photo to the left) was similarly constructed, a modern face atop an old foundation. The market square was filled with similarly newly-made restaurants and shops waiting for tourists to come. In summer, tourists were probably greater in number, but in February, all was rather quiet despite the usually sunny and warm day.
The monastery complex made up the far end, and was very impressive. We bought our tickets at the Tourist Information Bureau (also inside the monastery walls) and went inside. First was a cellar that contained a number of artifacts from the original structure, as the monastery had been destroyed and rebuilt throughout its history. Next was the main courtyard that included an external view of a terrace that contained the fountain shown in the third photograph. A walk around the north half of the courtyard took us around a series of small chapels, meeting rooms, and residential spaces. Many of these rooms were cleared out of furniture, left only with the wall and ceiling decorations.
The highlight was the Klosterkirche, the exterior of which is shown in the second photograph. We were surprised to find out that this church was now Protestant, as the Cistercian order was Catholic, but much of the original ceiling and wall murals remained intact, though seriously faded. There was not the impression that the church had been recently renovated, which was actually rather nice.
We toured the full exterior of the monastery complex via a walking path that followed well above the market square level, allowing us to get a high view of the place. Off the northwest corner, we came upon the Tiefer See, a nice little swimming reservoir that probably got some good use in summer. As we followed the stairs back to the market square, we came across a couple of vintage craft shops selling earthwares and porcelain from local artisans.
All in all, Maulbronn was a very nice visit. A good place to go for a couple hours, not including the beautiful drive on the back roads to and from. As we had passed a couple other inviting towns along the way, it seemed like Maulbronn would be best enjoyed as a stop along a summer's Sunday Drive across the northern Black Forest region. But definitely remember to reserve the time to visit the monastery museum itself.
Trip taken 28 February 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin