Also available: Segment on the Schwäbisch Gmünd Christmas Market
The town of Schwäbisch Gmünd brought back some distant memories. It was the first German town I'd ever set foot in, well over a decade ago.
In December 1989, I was an Army Signal Corps captain, just having pinned on my new rank mere weeks after the Berlin Wall fell. My unit was already in the process of deploying to Germany from Fort Drum, New York on the annual REFORGER exercise (the REturn of FORces to GERmany exercise to demonstrate NATO resolve against the Soviet threat) so the exercise went on as scheduled. My unit established a communications node on a mountaintop not far away from Schwäbisch Gmünd. The drive up the mountain was really icy and dangerous, I remembered, and there was a very thick blanket of snow. I stayed up in that site the whole two weeks of the exercise, only going down to the town once, very briefly. But I remembered the town being so beautiful, unlike anything I'd ever seen in the states.
It wasn't until the Christmas Market season in 2002 that I went back. Walking around the town, I quickly realized how little of it I remembered, but I did remember all the Swiss-chalet style buildings, old churches, and the gorgeous town hall. It was nighttime, though, and the town was crowded with visitors and the Christmas Market booths. To truly remember it, I knew I had to go back. So go back I did, on a wintery Saturday in February after a thick snowfall just like the ones I encountered during my 1989 deployment.
Schwäbisch Gmünd is indeed a beautiful little town that looked great under a blanket of white. Its downtown was colorful and marked with several magnificent towers. Its surrounding area was high rolling hills that were covered in snow. And its people were very friendly. I do not recall what units were located near Schwäbisch Gmünd during the Cold War, but judging from the number of American-themed clubs, I presumed there was an American presence there at some time. (If any of you readers know, feel free to tell me, please!)
As particulars of the city go, Schwäbisch Gmünd sits on the confluence of the Rems and Josefsbach Rivers. Neither of these rivers are very big, but the depth of the artificial basins they run through nowadays suggest past flooding.
The second photo shows the first scene to greet you as you enter the inner city from the train station. It is the Fünfknopfturm (Five Button Tower), which looks old but actually only dates to 1918. By following the main road from this tower, you will hit Bocksgasse, the main east-west pedestrian road leading to the Marktplatz (the main market square, shown in part in the first photo).
The downtown is really not that big, and can be combed quite comfortably in a few leisurely hours. The tourist bureau's pamphlets were great, marking roughly thirty points of interest that were all easy to find.
The Marktplatz was definitely the place to start. The Rathaus was really impressive -- pink and concrete sounds like an awful combination, but not when it's done right! The Marienbrunnen (the fountain) was covered in February, but they had it exposed duruing the Christmas Markets, and its was quite impressive, gaily colored. My personal favorite on the Marktplatz was the 13th Century Johanniskirche, shown in the third photo. It sat near the center of the square very invitingly, but I noticed that its visitor hours were very restricted (two to four PM only on most days in the winter).
I noticed the tower of the Munster (Catholic Cathedral) over the tops of the buildings behind the Rathaus, so I went. Surrounding the Munster was the Saturday market, part of which is shown in the fourth photo. In the background, you see the "Swiss-chalet", or half-timbered houses that are common in Swabian towns (see also Schwaebisch Hall).
When 11:30AM came around, I heard the Cathedral's bells ringing loudly, but after further review, I noticed they weren't coming directly from the belfry. As it turned out, the Cathedral's bells weren't located on the Cathedral, but in a separate tower called the Glockenturm across the sidewalk from it.
Parts of Schwäbisch Gmünd's old city walls and some towers remain standing. A few of those towers looked renovated. Most of them were on the east side, with the Schmiedturm being the prettiest (it is located at the town's major eastern intersection toward the highway).
Meanwhile to the west, across the Josefsbach, lies Schwäbisch Gmünd's parks and conference center. In the middle of the park sat the "Rokoko Schlösschen" or tiny castle. This building shared the pink-and-concrete structure of the Rathaus I described earlier (it really doesn't look that bad, does it)?
Having seen so many beautiful towns like Schwäbisch Gmünd with common or related architectures, my recent visits didn't leave me as awestruck as in 1989. But I enjoyed the town nonetheless. For those traveling to Stuttgart, for example, Schwäbisch Gmünd is easy to get to. It is a town so beautiful you'll remember it for ... um, 15 years?
Trip taken 8 February 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin