Around Basel – Eiserne Hand with historical boundary stones

Boundary stones tell stories. Where I live, they tell us about the history of the Regio Basilienis. One example are the historical boundary stones along the “Eiserne Hand” (“Iron Hand”) at Riehen.

The “Iron Hand” looks more like a finger. It belongs to Riehen and reaches into Germany, between Lörrach-Stetten and Inzlingen. The “Iron Hand” is about 1.7km long and 50m-300m wide. The boundary line encompasses 3.5km overall (red line around “Herrenwald” and “Maienbühl”). 

Source: Swiss Topo and my own photos

More than 40 boundary stones mark the border along the “Eiserne Hand”. I show some stones on the map above. The oldest stone is from about 1500. 


The oldest boundary stone with the red bishop’s crook, about 1500

The oldest boundary stone (#61, about 1500) is nicknamed “Bischofstein“ (Bishop’s Stone). In 1500, the Bishop of Basel resided in Basel, and Riehen was one of his possessions. The stone shows the red bishop’s crook on the Swiss side. It is the only red bishop’s crook along the “Eisernen Hand”. The black bishop’s crook below is the coat of arms of the CITY of Basel that we will see on all the other boundary stones.


Coats of arms of the Schönau family NORTH of the “Iron Hand”

On the German side of the Bishop’s Stone #61 from about 1500, we see the coats of arms of the noblemen of Schönau. 

Stone #61 is on the northern border of the “Eisernen Hand” (towards Stetten which is located north of the “Iron Hand”).

Towards the north, the Schönau family marked more boundary stones, such as #51 from the year 1600,…  

… and stone #59 from 1700.

The Schönau were a powerful noble family in the Black Forest. The city of Stetten uses the three rings of the Schönau family in their coat of arms today. 


Coats of arms of the Reichenstein family SOUTH of the “Iron Hand”

Along the southern border of the “Eiserne Hand” (towards Inzlingen, located south of the “Iron Hand”), I find five stones with the coats of arms of the noblemen of Reichenstein. They owned Inzlingen as a fief. The years I identified are 1717, 1737 und 1752. 

Examples are the stone #69, with no year, …

… the stone #70 from 1737, …

… and the stone # 71 from 1739.

This is the view of the German settlement Inzlingen that once belonged to the Reichenstein family; I took the photo from the path aolng the border of the “Iron Hand”, in the rain.

By the way: The coat of arms of the Reichenstein family can also be found along the boundary path behind the Chischona and on Reichenstein Castle at Arlesheim. 


Boundary stones marked by the Grossherzogtum Baden (Grand Duchy of Baden) (1806-1918)

From 1806 to 1918, the German area bordering the “Eiserne Hand” was called Grossherzogtum Baden (Grand Duchy of Baden). That is why we find the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy with the slanting red bar on yellow background (years I found are 1830/40/42/48/56).

The most beautiful boundary stone is #54 from 1842 with the crown.

The other stones just show the red bar on yellow background such as #65 (no year, I assume mid 19th century).

Later the Grand Duchy invested less effort and marked their stones just with “GB” for “Grossherzogtum Baden”. I found nine stones with “GB” with the years 1888, 1898 and 1900 engraved. This is stone #71a from 1888.

By the way, boundary stones with the red bar or the letters “GB” are found along all the borders of Basel with Germany, for instance also on the Chrischona. 


Republic of Baden from 1918 to 1945

From 1918 to 1945, Baden was a Republic; from this time, I found one boundary stone, #60, marked with „RB“ (“Republic of Baden). 


Unified as Baden-Württemberg from 1952

In 1952, the German area bordering the “Eiserne Hand” was unified to Baden-Württemberg. I found two boundary stones from 1954 showing a plain “D” on the German side. 


The “turning point” marked by the “Dreieckstein” (“triangle stone”)

The “turning point” of the Eiserne Hand is marked by the so-called “Dreieckstein“ (“triangle stone”), stone #64 from 1717. Here the German communities Lörrach-Stetten and Inzlingen meet the Swiss community Riehen.


The black bishop’s crook of the City of Basel on the Swiss side

On the Swiss side, Riehen was acquired by the bishop of Basel in1270. After the reformation of 1529, Riehen remained with the city of Basel. The city of Basel has always marked their side of the “Eiserne Hand” with the (black) bishop’s crook, and the crooks vary in shape. Here are some examples. 

The city “owning” the black bishop’s crook can be seen from the boundary path along the “Eiserne Hand”. 


Boundary stones tell stories; they tell us about history

Boundary stones tell stories. Where I live, they tell us about the history of the Regio Basilienis. One example are the boundary stones along the “Eiserne Hand” or “Iron Hand”: On the German side they mark the evolution from the possesions of the noblemen of Schönau and Reichenstein (family coats of arms) to the Grand Duchy of Baden (elaborate representations of the coat of arms – slanted red bar on yellow background – and plain “GB”). Later the duchy became the Republic of Baden (RB). Now we border the German state of Baden-Württemberg (plain “D” on the stones). On the Swiss side the stones illustrate the evolvement of Basel as the bishop’s residence (with the red bishop’s crook, before 1529) to the protestant city of Basel (with the various black bishop’s crooks). 

The “Iron Hand” is just one example of historical boundary stones. There are may more examples, such as the Benkenspitz (border with France), the trail to the Schauenburger Fluh (border between Basel and Solothurn) or the border of the Prince Bishopric of Basel such as above Biel-Benken. And – there are many more boundary stones waiting to be explored.

May some of you decide to discover the stones of the “Eiserne Hand” and later turn to the borders with other cantons, with France, with Germany or check, where the historical Prince Bishopric of Basel has left marks. The small monuments are hidden in forests and fields around Basel and they speak to us.  We just have to listen to them.



  • Wiki  entries about the Eiserne Hand, about Stetten, about the Grossherzogtum and the Republic of Baden
  • Homepage of Stetten and Baden,
  • Information website of the Wasserschlosses Inzlingen,
  • Working material (Arbeitsmaterialien) Heimatkunde Riehen.




Erbach in the Odenwald – the ivory city with medieval charm

In August 2022, we are on our way from Berlin to Switzerland, via Thuringia and the Odenwald.

Now we are in the Odenwald, where today we have seen the Castle Wildenburg and the Abbey Church of Amorbach. On our way back, we stop at Erbach, the city of ivory carving. 

We park our car and cross the river Mümling lined with half-timbered houses.

We stand on the Market Square. The protestant City Church of Erbach (1750) can be accessed through the gate called “Städtelbogen”.

The City Hall is from 1545. The statue is called Räibock and commemorates the day labourer Johann Adam Fleckstein (1849-1917). He was a known character at Erbach. He worked as a carpenter, as a messenger or he waited at the train station to serve incoming passengers as a porter. The citizens liked his odd humour. He wears a servant’s cap and a carpenter’s axe and a saw. 

A second monument decorates the Market Square. It is Duke Franz I zu Erbach-Erbach (1754-1823). He was probably the most important duke of Erbach. 

The dukes of Erbach resided in the Castle, built from 1736-1902 (first in Baroque and later in neo-Baroque style). The castle we see today was built reusing foundation walls and the oak posts of the former moated fortress from 1140 that later was reconstructed as a Renaissance castle to finally become the Baroque castle of today.

The donjon from the year 1200 has remained, the Gothic pinnacle is from 1497. 

Today, the castle presents the antique collection of Duke Franz I and the collection of ivory artefacts.

In 1783, Duke Franz I introduced ivory carving to Erbach after having travelled through Europe for six years. On his educational journey, he saw collections of precious ivory works and also learnt how to process ivory. Back at Erbach, he set up his own ivory workshop.  Ivory became an important economic sector at Erbach. The rose of Erbach won a prize at the World Exhibition of Vienna in 1873. Erbach attracted artists, became the German ivory centre and founded the school for ivory carving in 1893. Because trading elephant ivory has been restricted since 1973, the artists now use mammoth ivory that mostly comes from Siberia in Russia. While in former times, ivory shops could be found in almost all streets of Erbach, I now only find Jürgen Schott’s workshop on the internet. 

On the Market Square, we visit the shop of Jürgen Reimer, also an ivory artist. I like the finely carved animals. 

Nearby, I notice this boy telling his father “Vadder-do!” meaning “Dad – this way!”. It seems to be urgent for dad.

Where does “Vadder” (father) have to go to so urgently? The children’s town rally offers three options for the answer: (1) the church, (2) shopping (3) the toilet. Now, it is your turn to guess…

We have a different solution; we take a seat on the Market Square in front of a nice restaurant to round off our visit with a coffee.

We leave the charming medieval city, again crossing the river Mümling.

From our two hours visit, I will keep good memories of the historic ensemble of the medieval city of Erbach. May be, I would have to return to explore more medieval streets, the pleasure garden with the orangery along the river Mümling and the workshop of Jürgen Schott.  

Tomorrow, we will return to Switzerland, after four wonderful weeks of travelling: Riedlingen, Ulm, Nebra, Berlin (here I enjoyed the eye twinkling of the City Cleaning Service and commented about the Heidelberger Platz), Thuringia with Neustadt an der Orla, Castle Burgk, Schleiz, Plothener Teiche (ponds), along the dams of the upper Saale, Lehesten, Lauscha, Weimar, Rudolstadt, Erfurt, Arnstadt, Eisenach, Schmalkalden, Steinau an der Strasse, and the Odenwald with Lindenfels, the Castle Wildenberg, Amorbach and now Erbach.