The city of Fulda sat on its namesake Fulda River in eastern Hessen, close to the border region with the former East Germany. Our draw to Fulda was precisely due to its former relevance as a Cold War frontier, and indeed our visit to Fulda was in conjunction with a trip to the border zone at Point Alpha just about fifteen minutes away, located on a hilltop overlooking the Fulda Gap. With the border fully opened and the former East German states fully re-integrated, Fulda had modernized its industries and was restoring its downtown -- a downtown that had a number of Baroque treasures and wonderful surroundings.
The only shame of the trip was that we hit it during an especially wintery time, getting pelted with sleet as we made our way to Mass in the Cathedral. There was every indication that in sunny summer weather, Fulda was magnificent.
The main draw in Fulda was its large palace, whose entrance is shown in the first photograph. The palace and its grounds made up most of the northern part of the old city. The palace building was H-shaped, with an outer courtyard and inner courtyard (it was the outer courtyard facing the street that is shown). The exterior of the palace was relatively plain compared to many other Baroque palaces such as found in Bruchsal, but the interior was wonderful. Visitors could go through sections of the palace for a nominal fee and see some of the royal quarters and ballrooms. The main ballroom was especially worth seeing as it contained portrait paintings of all the former electors or rulers of Fulda. There was also an interesting display of Fulda's numerous partner cities spread out around the world. (We also found it rather neat that huge sections of the palace were reserved for city offices. Beat any town hall we'd ever seen.)
The second photograph shows a portion of the Schlossgarten, the gardens that ran oblong across the side of the palace. Obviously, this was not the time to go see a lot of flowers! We estimated that the gardens were probably a good four to five hundred yards wide with areas set aside for summer outdoor concerts.
Meanwhile, the palace grounds were much more than just the palace and the gardens. The large structure at ground level in the second photograph was the orangerie that also boasted a magnificent café. An impressive school gymnasium peeked through the trees just to its right. The main guardhouse, called the Wallenstein Chapter House, still stood facing the entrance from across the street. The Tourist Information Bureau was established next door to Wallenstein, at the street corner.
Religious structures were among the most numerous landmarks in Fulda, and rarely could one venture around the old city without seeing a church, monastery, or convent. In the distance in the second photo was the most magnificent of Fulda's ecclesiastic structure, the Frauenberg Friary. Located about a mile from the palace gardens, the Frauenberg sat on a steep, isolated hill with its own gardens that became a city park. The St. Mary's Abbey was located at the side entrance to the palace and was enclosed by remnants of the old city wall running along Nonnengasse, a small cobblestone road, one of the few original cobblestone roads we encountered. Then facing the entrance to the Schlossgarten was the extraordinary St. Michael's Church, a Gothic style church perched high on a stone wall overlooking the Fulda Cathedral.
The Fulda Cathedral was easily the second-grandest draw in the city. It was the home of St. Boniface, whose name graced a number of Cathedrals and Churches across predominantly Catholic sections of Germany. The Cathedral was shown in the third photograph, and was easily one of the most beautiful of those we have visited. While the exterior looked slightly (but only slightly) battleworn, the interior was brilliantly restored to royal white with portions of its original interior decorations restored. One of the things we remarked about the decor was its asymmetry -- most Cathedrals had close to mirror image sculptures lining both sides, but this one did not. The St. Boniface crypt, located behind the altar, was especially magnificent with its marble staircases and huge altar to the great saint. We also made special note of the throne located to the right of the altar from the priest's point of view. These were common among Holy Roman churches, but this one appeared to have been restored to its original appearance rather than being a token historic placeholder.
Fulda's Cathedral was also home to the extraordinary Cathedral Museum, shown in the fourth photograph. This Museum was by far one of the best ecclesiastic museums around, including an impressive array of vestments and religious artifacts dating back to the Cathedral's origins. It also contained some great religious artwork. Its hours were limited, but well worth an hour or so.
We spent much of the rest of our time in the downtown shopping area, which was quiet -- perhaps due to the weather. However, there were some treasures down there well worth unearthing. The fifth photograph shows two of them. At the right was yet another church, the Stadtpfarrkirche (or Reformed Church) which also had an extraordinary interior. At left was the old Town Hall, a very classic half-timbered Hessian structure that served as a storefront and function hall. The new Town Hall faced the opposite side of the church and was a somewhat standard red sandstone building facing the a small marketsquare.
The main market district ran from the front of the train station across to the huge University square, marked by Fulda's large Vonderau Museum. The university buildings are classic heavy-stone institutional structures, surrounding by more modern department stores. Surrounding the square were a number of cobblestoned streets with stores representing major European chains, but the side streets had some very nice restaurants (we found a particularly good Greek one). We did not go down all the way to the river zone, which was a park when the waters were normal -- but served as a floodplain when they went high in the spring.
The city of Fulda was really nice, despite the weather (which of course we had no control over). Fabulous museums, a tremendous history, and lots to do. It was also the largest city in a mostly rural section of eastern Hessen, which made it an ideal place to stay when touring the region.
Trip taken 6 March 2004 -- Page last updated 23 October 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin