There were many places in Germany registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list due to their historical significance. One of the oldest such places was the site of the remains of a 9th century monastery in the small southern Hessen town of Lorsch. Although not a knock-your-socks-off piece of eye candy, the fact that so much of the monastery site remained somewhat intact (albeit restored) after some 1200 years was extraordinary. The citizens of the town have done a lot to turn the site into a good-quality educational experience.
And the rest of the town was rather upscale and pretty. We got the impression that this was a nice, quiet place to live that was well within commuting distance of places like Frankfurt (Main) and Mannheim. Most of the town was residential. We walked around several blocks and it seemed like all the houses were new (and some were ultra modern).
Leave no doubt, the monastery was the main attraction, with the modern town merely occupied space around it. The monastery covered all the high ground in the town center, surrounded by a high, crumbling stone wall on all sides. The parking lot was located outside one of the walls, shown in the second photograph. We walked around the wall to the main street, past several flower beds, and up the road to the center square.
On the way up, we came upon an elementary school class that was apparently there to visit the town museum. It was really cute -- several of the boys were dressed up like monks, in simple one-piece brown tunics with a classic monk-ish tan rope. Not sure why they would have dressed up that way and not the entire class, but hey...
The city museum was located directly across the street from the monastery's old entrance gate, shown in the first photograph. It was the only truly decorative structure still standing in the monastery grounds. The alleyway behind it led to a large chapel of plain stone.
There were several landmarks around the monastery grounds. The most impressive was the Tutzenhaus, which was basically a chicken barn. The barn was still used for raising chickens, and we saw a whole host of chickens running about the grounds there (but it was in an area not open to the public). In front of the Tutzenhaus was an old herb garden, still in use and containing several herbs that the old monks used to grow. Various ruins of old fountains and foundations of buildings were scattered about as well. Signs posted around the grounds showed the full structure of the original monastery and provided an easy guide, providing that one read German.
After touring the monastery, we visited the town center and wandered some of the adjacent city blocks. The main marketplace was just beyond the monastery entrance, and was dominated by the beautiful half-timbered town hall, shown in the third photograph. Surrounding the marketsquare were several half-timbered guesthouses clearly set up for the throngs of tourists that probably bussed in during the summer. Lorsch also had a couple impressive little churches, and numerous religious relics all over the downtown -- such as large stone crucifixes and memorial / dedication stones.
Admittedly, Lorsch was best visited with a guided tour. While the monastery was interesting and the town very nice, the context provided by a knowledgeable source would have made the visit much more educational and helpful. But that in no way detracted from the town's beauty nor its livability.
Trip taken 10 April 2004 -- Page last updated 25 October 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin