In August 2020, we spend four days in Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria). We are in the middle of a severe weather front with heavy rainfall which gives us the opportunity to explore the culture of the area (instead of going for hikes). After past night with the splashing rain that made the rivers leave their beds, we visit Bad Reichenhall, where already the Romans had found salt. Bad Reichenhall is near the border with Austria.
Eye twinkling at Bad Reichenhall
First we notice nice signs of humour at Bad Reichenhall. “Puffer” (buffer) is a nice name for a zoological shop, and the way they write “ZOO” is very inventive, even “eye twinkling”. It is a nice coincidence that “puffer” is also a fish in English (“Kugelfisch” in German).
“Bärenstark” means “as strong as a bear”. May be, you will be as strong as a bear, after having eaten these berries or Beeren. “Beerenstark” is an allusion to “bärenstark” – the two words sound similar. May be, the driver is also “bärenstark”, as he has to carry the boxes with the berries when delivering them.
This whale reminds me of the whale that swallowed (and gave back) Jonah. Nice children’s paintings!
Welcoming city centre of Bad Reichenhall
The city has an old tradition, but in 1834 a fire destroyed it completely. The city centre has been reconstructed nicely after 1834 and is now a pedestrian area.
Here we stand in front of the old townhall built in 1849.
The frescoes show Saint Rupertus (7th century), Charlemagne (emperor of the Romans 800-814, king of the Franks from 768), Frederick Barbarossa (Holy Roman Emperor, 1152-1190) and king Ludwig I of Bavaria (1825-1848). To their sides stand Caritas and Justitia.
I shake my head wondering: What an interesting mixture of personalities across so many centuries! But then I learn that they are all connected with Bad Reichenhall. Rupertus is said to have rediscovered the existence of salt after the Romans had left, Charlemagne seems to have supported the foundation of the first Zeno church (which later became the Zeno monastery), Barbarossa is one of the patrons of the Zeno monastery and Ludwig I ordered the salt factory to be rebuilt.
The pedestrian area with the Church Saint Aegidius in the background is pretty and tidy…
… with inviting backyards. Everything is just a bit wet at the moment after that much rain.
We enter the church Saint Aegidius. It has been remodeled in gothic style in the 15th century and had to be reconstructed entirely after the fire of 1834.
The baths of “Bad” Reichenhall must have seen better days
In the 19th century, Bad Reichenhall started to make use of the medicinal benefits of salt. In 1848 the Bavarian king Maximilian recovered here for five weeks, and then, Bad Reichenhall was an important venue for High Society. Art Nouveau buildings and the garden (Kurgarten) of 4 hectares remain from those days. During National Socialism Bad Reichenhall became a garrison city and after the Second World War, the caserns were used by the Americans and then by the German army. The first casino of Bayern was built here in 1955. In 1996 the German Health Care System was reformed and Health Insurance stopped paying for treatments at health resorts. Bad Reichenhall lost its main clientele. Though their government started to adapt the offerings to a younger clientele, the signs of past grandeur can be seen. For instance one of the luxury hotels offered rooms for 39 Euros per night and this “Curhaus” looks deserted.
However, the “Kurgarten” is beautiful…
… and the adjacent Jugendstil Kurmittelhaus der Moderne from 1927 has been carefully renovated.
May the efforts of the city to attract more guests be successful, as it has more to offer than baths and health care: Hiking in the mountains with and without the support of cable cars, the tradition of winning salt (and telling about it in a museum) and the rich cultural heritage.
The Church Sankt Nikolaus with the Neo-Lombardian belfry
When entering Bad Reichenhall by car, I can notice the belfry of the Church Sankt Nikolaus.
The original belfry was teared down in 1861 and then reconstructed in Neo-Romanesque Lombardian style.
The apsis is the original from the 12th century. Human sculptures and lions are alternating in the frieze.
I like the lions that look at me.
Sankt Nikolaus is the parish church of Bad Reichenhall. It was built in 1181-1189, enlarged in the 19th century and renovated in 1967 to restore the Romanesque overall impression. The fresco in the choir is from the 19th century.
A beautiful Romanesque portal and gothic treasures: The cathedral of Saint Zeno
The Augustinian monastery of Saint Zeno was founded in 1131. The cathedral replaced the former building from Carolingian times (806 A.D.). Saint Zeno protects from floodwater which was a problem at that time and it is still a problem today, as the inundations of this past night show.
The plans for the construction of the cathedral were ambitious – a nave 90m long. Construction halted around 1160, but completing the cathedral was then supported by emperor Barbarossa – the monastery thanks him with his portrait in the cloister (which we cannot visit). Built in Romanesque style, the cathedral was enhanced by gothic elements after a severe fire in 1512. Much of the equipment in the cathedral is from the early 16th century.
The Romanesque portal from the second half of the 12th century is the show-piece of the cathedral. It is assumed that the masters came from Piacenza. The portal is made from white and red (local) marble. Two lions holding prey animals in their paws guard the entry (one of the lions is hidden).
Madonna with the child sits in the middle of the tympanum. She is flanked by Saint Zeno (left, patron of the cathedral) and Saint Rupert (right, the man who rediscovered the existence of salt around 700).
The choir stalls of 1520 are made out of oak wood. Also the Coronation of the Virgin on the altar is from 1520. The fresco in the choir, painted in 1935, follows the tradition of early Christianism showing Christ as Pantocrator.
The altar of Joseph is newer; it is from 1875. I am astonished to see Hubertus with a deer. Later I learn that the baron who donated the altar was a passionate hunter and he wanted to see Hubertus on his altar. Joseph heads the altar and to his left side stands Sebastian.
The beautifully carved wooden pulpit with the evangelists’ symbols is late gothic or even early Renaissance, from 1522.
Also the baptismal font with the frieze of angels carrying instruments of the Christ’s Passion originates from 1522.
To round off our visit of Saint Zeno, we stroll through the romantic cemetery with old trees and enchanted corners.
May be we have to return one day to see the cloister that is mostly closed. This would require some pre-organization.
Salt – already used in Roman times
Already the Romans used the salt deposits in the area of Bad Reichenhall. As we already saw, Saint Rupertus found the salt fields again around 700. Even today, 50% of the salt consumed in Germany is provided by Bad Reichenhall.
In the old salt factory built in 1844, salt was produced until 1929. It is now a museum. Unfortunately, the line of tourists at the entrance looks like an hour waiting time or so. We take a photo of the well house with the well chapel Saint Rupertus…
… and start our city excursion without waiting in line. After our stroll through the city centre we return and have lunch in the old salt factory. I love the modern furnishing in this traditional factory building and we enjoy delicious salads. To be recommended.
Our car waits for us not far from the salt factory. Through puddles – some pretty deep – we return to Ruhpolding.
Markus Moderegger and Martin Wirth: “Die Kirchen in und um Bad Reichenhall”, Verlag Plenk Berchtersgaden 2019;
“Bad Reichenhall – St. Zeno”, Verlag Schnell und Steiner 2008
Bad Reichenhall in Wikipedia
St. Nikolaus in Wikipedia