The old German kingdom of Baden (literally translated to "baths") once followed along the eastern half of the Rhein river valley, and included portions of the Neckar and Tauber valleys. Now comprising half the modern state of Baden-Württemberg, Baden is now no longer uniquely identified in the minds of many Germans. Even the state flag bears no resemblance to the original kingdom's colors of red-yellow-red. Rastatt, located just a few minutes south of Karlsruhe, is a little different. Rastatt wears its Badische heritage proudly, even more so than many of the surrounding towns that even bear Bad or Baden in its name.
Rastatt is a pretty big town, with its old city neatly wrapped by a sharp bend in the Murg River, a small tributary of the Rhein. Although it has an "old city," it has in fact been almost completely rebuilt and renovated, presumably because of so much damage having been done after the wars. We had the pleasure of visiting Rastatt on a perfectly sunny April afternoon, where the blue skies brightened up the fresh paint job on many of the old city's attractions. We went to spend part of the day at the city's Frühlingsfest, so the downtown had plenty of people.
We parked our car in the garage under the Badner Halle (a small, modern exhibition hall), at the southeast corner of the old city. When we emerged, we came upon the scene shown in the first photograph -- of the lemon-yellow Wasserturm ("water tower") and Pagodenburg. The latter is a Baroque tea house built in the 18th century by a nobleman. The terraced garden is simple bushes now, but it looked like it once harbored a gorgeous flower garden. Not shown was the Einsiedeiner Kirche, a beautiful little chapel also built in the 18th century.
We followed Herrenstrasse toward the downtown, coming upon some fine guesthouses offering Badische cuisine, then turned down Rappenstrasse to the main street. The Badische architecture along the way could be described as based on sculpted sandstone with occasionally gilded edges and Germanic writings. Like in Karlsruhe, light yellow was a very common building color.
Kaiserstrasse was the main street, and the second photograph shows the first scene from it. In the foreground was the Bernhardsbrunnen, and the town's main church, St. Alexander's, sits in the background. The opposite side of St. Alexander's faces the main market square that also contained the Rathaus and the Alexiusbrunnen, or Alexius Fountain. The Rathaus looked particularly new, like the paint was still drying. It was a beautiful sandstone-and-yellow building with the city's tic-tac-toe style emblem emblazed in the front. With all the activity in the Saturday market still on-going, it looked like a happening place to be.
We sought out a spot for lunch somewhere nearby. We found that the pedestrian zone in Rastatt was not that big, maybe a couple blocks wide, but had plenty of Badische restaurants to offer. (As it was in April, there was also plenty of spargel specials on the menu! Yum!)
After lunch, we continued our exploration of the old city, heading toward the Schloss. The next landmark of note was the city museum, shown in the third photograph. Located on Faneserplatz, this building was listed in the tourist map as a Vogelschen Haus -- to us it looked like an old tiny convent. Though the photo doesn't show it, Faneserplatz was also the site of a couple outdoor cafés.
We made it up to the Schloss next, shown in the fourth photograph. Compared with its Baroque cousin in Bruchsal, the Rastatt Schloss was fairly plain, with its courtyard gardens long paved over. But indeed, the Schloss was quite a popular attraction with several tour buses of people going in. We elected just to walk around the back to visit the Schlossgarten, which actually turned out to be disappointed because there were no flowers, just bushes and orchards. Not to say it wasn't beautiful, it was, but we wouldn't classify it as memorable. There were some other old surviving structures (the Museumstor and Rastatter Rätsel) about as well, plus we found a very old-looking Hofbrauhaus, a very nice place but entirely unrelated to the famous Munich house of the same name.
After the castle, we went down to the river, then across to the festival. The Murg River is normally small, but it is channeled very deeply to account for the heavy runoffs during the spring coming off the Black Forest mountains to the east. In fact, the levees were so tall that they had caves where a number of teenagers hung out and hid from the prying eyes of their parents. The levees themselves were thick enough to carry walkways with benches for pedestrians, and these were a good yard or two above street level (Murgstrasse).
The festival was held in the Festplatz on the outside of the Murg, a plaza roughly two blocks large in a primarily modern residential district. Crossing back across the river, we explored the older residential district along Murgstrasse. This district looked completely untouched by modernity, with its half-timbered buildings sagging and crumbling slightly on the exterior while all around them were structures undergoing heavy renovation. The front doors of these houses were only five to six feet tall, which gave the impression they were originally built by dwarves! But that must have been the norm at the time.
The city of Rastatt is best visited during a special event that draws the crowds. It is a charming enough place on its own, but is not so distinctive that it holds the attention or imagination during a normal day, without perhaps being part of a grander itinerary involving other area attractions (or Karlsruhe itself). It's very nice, though, and visitors there will certainly enjoy the friendly Badische atmosphere.
Trip taken 24 April 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin