Around Basel: Historical secrets on the hike from Rodersdorf to Flüh

The area around Basel is full of secrets. 

Source: Swiss Mobile (with my notes added) 

In October 2020, I hiked from Rodersdorf to Flüh (red line), and discovered five secrets:

  1. Historical border stones from the years 1817, 1890 and 1951 between France and Switzerland – why from 1817? And can you see the “D” (Germany or “D”eutschland) hidden “behind” the “F” for France? 
  2. Biederthal and its castle, Burg (Biederthal) – why are they separated by the border between France and Switzerland?
  3. Why does the canton of Solothurn (SO) “own” an exclave within Basel (BL)? What can the Burg Rotberg tell us about this?
  4. Why did the Romans dig a cart road (“Karrweg”) into the rocks to get from Flüh to Hofstetten – avoiding the valley? 
  5. The Chälegrabe above Hofstetten – why is this spectacular gorge called “Chäle”-Grabe”?

In this blog, I will start with secrets #1 and #2, while leaving the other secrets for the next blogs.


1 The historical border stones between Metzerlen and Burg

Where the (car) road from Rodersdorf up to Metzerlen reaches the highest point of the pass, it touches the border between France and Switzerland.

The hiking signs to the Remel (or Raemel in French) are on the French side.  

Here we find stone #109 that is from 1890. It shows the edge of the French/Swiss border pointing to the wooden steps,…

… where the path lined with more historical border stones starts. The stones are either

  • from 1817 (just after the Congress of Vienna, 1815),
  • from 1890 (the Alsace belonged to Germany since 1870/71) or…
  • from 1951 (which happens to be my year of birth). 

After having climbed the wooden steps, we come across stone #110 from 1817. Why 1817? At the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, statesmen and diplomats had reorganized Europe, which needed to be documented.

All border stones from 1817 show the coat of arms of the Swiss canton Solothurn with S and O engraved to the sides.

On the French side, the French engraved the fleur de Lys. After 1870/71, the Germans, having conquered the Alsace, removed the flower to replace it with “D” for Germany. After World War I (1918), the Alsace became French again, and the French changed the  “D” into the “F” for France, but the “D” can still be seen (border stone #110). 

There must have been an inventory of the country borders in 1890. The Alsace was still part of Germany and Bismarck had just resigned. The 1890 stones have an “S” with a cross engraved on the Swiss side (stone #116).

The stones from 1951 have been produced more “efficiently”: A plain “S” and a plain “F” mark the countries (stone #115).

The pretty path with the border stones winds through the forest and crosses the romantic Y-shaped canyon of the Geissberg above Biederthal.

At Burg, we leave the canton Solothurn. We are now in the former Prince-Bishopric of Basel. 


2 Biederthal and its castle Burg (Biederthal) – why are they separated by the border between France and Switzerland?

In 1168, Friedrich Barbarossa, the one with the red beard, gave the area to the Habsburgians, as a fief. They built the castle or Burg Biederthal in 1250 to watch over their tithe courtyard Biederthal (Dinghof). In 1269, the archbishop of Basel bought just the castle/Burg of Biederthal, without its tithe courtyard Biederthal, which remained with the Habsburgians and later became part of France. This is why the country border separates the castle from “its” village. Burg now became a village of its own.

In 1946, Burg selected this coat of arms.

Source: wiki entry for Burg

Where does the coat of arms come from? The answer: The archbishop of Basel granted Burg as a fief to the noblemen von Wessenberg. They owned it from 1401 to 1793. Around Burg  we can find the historical border stones of the Wessenberg. One well-kept stone is a few meters below the summit “Remel/Raemel” above Burg. From the Wessenberg, the community of Burg took the coat of arms in 1946.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna decided to merge the former Prince-Bishopric of Basel with Switzerland; Burg became part of the canton of Bern, belonging to the district Laufental. Later, in 1993, the Laufental (with Burg) voted to join the canton of Baselland instead. Nevertheless, many border stones around Burg have kept showing the coat of arms of Bern, the bear. This stone with the bear of Berne marks the border with France, just below Burg.

Border stones from 1817, 1890 and 1951 and a castle separated from “its” village by the border of France and Switzerland – yes, the area around Basel is full of secrets that can be discovered hiking.





Around Basel on a rainy day – in search of the Benkenspitz or Bänggeschpitz

Today it is a rainy and rather warm mid-February day in 2017. I set out to discover the Benkenspitz or “Bängeschpitz”. This is a narrow forest “wedge” of Benken (Switzerland) extending into France between the two French villages Hagenthal and Neuwiller (the border between Switzerland and France is drawn in pink on this Swissmobility map).


This “wedge” called “Benkenspitz” is some 900m long and some 100m wide. The narrowest place is at the “entrance” in the south – just 62m wide. In the Internet I found some secondary information that says this forest “wedge” has already belonged to Benken, when Basel acquired it in the early 16th century. It is assumed that this might have been a good place for hunting. Actually I came across quite a few hunting stands in this area both on the Swiss and on the French side.

My  blog “Around Basel – looking for old boundary stones on a sunny cold day” talks about my cold winter walk to the boundary stones between Oberwil (that until about 1800 belonged to the Bishopric of Basel) and Benken (that – with Biel – had been acquired by the town Basel soon after 1500). Today it is rather warm and rainy. The Passwang is still covered with snow.


I am on the Bielhübel in front of the water reservoir with its natural pond.


Not far from here are the beautifully restored boundary stones from the 17th and 18th century that mark the border between Oberwil (Bishopric of Basel) and Biel-Benken (belonging to Basel).


I continue my way above Biel and come across a lady on a very, very dirty mountain bike. “Have you seen anyone on a mountain bike – I have lost my husband… no?… “Matthias, Matthiaaaas”… I do not want to frighten the animals, there is so much deer around here… I am from Spain… Matthiaaaas, Matthiaaaaaaass…” and finally Matthias replies and she is happy. “You are looking for boundary stones?… there is one not far from here…”, she says knowing well the history of Biel-Benken. Right, here it is, shortly before reaching the Swiss hiking path marked in green at the Swiss-French border.


From here I continue along the Swiss-French border between Neuwiller and Biel-Benken. A small footpath follows the boundary stones, marked with the Swiss cross on one side…


… and with the “F” for France on the other side (1816 – this was just after the Congress of Vienna in 1815).


Later this well prepared hiking path ends and continues as a muddy path. EXACTLY where the nice path ends and the mud begins is – guess what – the border between France and Switzerland.


I cross this road to continue following the boundary stones. I meet a lady with two dogs. She comes from Neuwiller in France and takes out dogs of various owners. We speak French with one another while one of the dogs barks loudly at me – with a French accent.


After having paved my way through a muddy meadow, I cross the road connecting Benken with Neuwiller. Again, it is very clear, where the border is. Baselland (Basle Country), the canton of cherry trees, says good-bye to the cars crossing the border and driving to Neuwiller in France.


I cross the road and follow the ditch that is the border between Switzerland and France. This one boundary stone is nicely coloured on the Swiss side.


Still following the ditch I approach the “entrance” of the Benkenspitz. It starts on the meadow between the two forests.


I first see the boundary stone to the west of the “entrance”. I am confused, but then I find the stone marking the east of the “entrance” to the forest “wedge” and enjoy the view of the Jura hills in Switzerland.


I continue along the east line – one boundary stone after the next to make it all clear, where Switzerland ends in this narrow wedge and where France starts.


A huge tractor cuts trees – in France. I  have reached the end of the Swiss wedge called “Benkenspitz” and return back along the west border – again well  marked.


I leave the Benkenspitz behind me and continue to follow the French-Swiss border. This is an interesting cooperation: A Swiss traffic sign (only residents are allowed to drive here) and a French hiking sign of the Club Vosgien.


And – across of this French-Swiss cooperation – be aware, following this hiking sign takes you to France, only allowed when having nothing to declare!


Along vineyards the boundary stones lead me down towards Benken.


I take the bus back to Bottmingen – good that public transportation works so efficiently.

So much to discover around Basel – the Klus and the Burgengratweg

The Klus west of Aesch near Basel – wine and culture

West of Aesch near Basel there is a small valley with southward looking slopes that have a tradition of wine growing – it is the largest wine growing area around Basel. On the hills around the Klus valley there is culture – a dolmen tomb, an old cave and various castles (all ruins). The ruins south of the Klus valley are connected by the marked “Burgengratweg” (“ruin ridge path”), and there is another ruin north of the upper Klus, Frohberg, that is more difficult to reach out to.

aesch w pfeffingen

I like the Klus and check out the marked hiking paths and the more hidden unmarked paths to get ready to lead the Monday Nordic Walking group to the tomb and the castles. Thank you, Andreas and Helga, for uncovering the secrets of this valley to me.


The Dolmen tomb 

I start my walk above the vineyards in the forest following the yellow hiking signposts. A brown plate directs me to the dolmen tomb.


Only the basis of the tomb is left and protected by a fence. Originally it has been covered with stone slabs and must have been some 2-2.5m high. It has been built around 2500-1500 BC (late stone age or bronze age).


Nearby I have a wonderful view of the Klus vineyards and the forest hiding the ruins along the “Burgengratweg”. The Gempenplateau can be discerned in the background.



Looking for the ruins defending the Klus

A narrow path takes me up to the ruin Frohberg that is well protected sitting on the top of an almost inaccessable rock. The castle has not been explored by archaeologists. They assume that it has been built by the Schaler family in the 13th century, perhaps as an additional stronghold against the family Münch that also owned a castle overlooking the Klus valley. Like most castles around Basel it has been destroyed in the 1356 earthquake and may not have been reconstructed. Later the bishop of Basel owned Frohberg with the farm Tschöpperli/Tschäpperli and gave it to the family Thierstein as a fief. They managed the farm from the nearby castle Pfeffingen.


Today, the Tschäpperli farm is one of the renowned wine growers of the Klus.


These are some of their vineyards.



A short round hike on unmarked paths makes me discover the lama farm

I walk towards the Blattenpass and turn left on an unmarked path to cross the Bielgraben (“Biel ditch”). A beautiful panorama view of the Tschäpperli vineyards and a charming path under birch trees…


… take me to this sign announcing llama xing. Llama xing – here in Switzerland! Yes, the farm “Obere Klus” has lamas – among other animals. The lamas are rented out for hikes.



The narrow and sometimes exposed Burgengratweg (ruin ridge path)

About 50m down the valley I enter the Burgengratweg. There is warning: The path is not in good state, you go there on your own risk. Well, it is narrow, stony, with roots – pretty rough for standards around Basel, but there are more dangerous hiking paths in Switzerland. Each of the sights I will come across on the Burgengratweg has a plate that explains the history.


After having crossed a small creek, I reach the Schalberghöhle (Schalberg cave). Firestone tools and animal bones from 50’000 years ago  (“Moustérien” ) and from the late stone – and bronze age (about 3500BC and 1000 BC) have been found here.


The first castle is Schalberg, built by the family Schaler (they have also built Frohberg). After the earthquake they rebuilt this castle. They later sold it to the bishop of Basel (1437) who gave it to the Thierstein family as a fief. Soon thereafter the castle must have been abandoned, as it is no longer mentioned in the archives.


Also the second castle, Engenstein, belonged to the family Schaler. The castle was also called “Alt-” or “Vorder”-Schalberg. A dizzying iron ladder leads to a platform. It has been given up already in 1280, probably, because the family had built the “newer” Schalberg castle not far from here.


The next castle, Münchsberg, built in the 13th century, belonged to the family Münch that later also sold the castle (with farms) to the bishop of Basel and received it back as a fief.


The last castle on the Burgengratweg is Peffingen above Aesch and the namesake village Pfeffingen. Its origins go back to the 11th century. In the 12th century, the family Thierstein owned Pfeffingen (along with nearby Dorneck). From 1522 it belonged to the bishop of Basel; his bailey then lived here. In the late 18th century the castle was abandoned. It is currently being renovated.

As it starts to pour with rain, I leave the forest and the narrow, now slippery ruin ridge path.


Strolling through the vineyards and discovering innovative wine growers

In the rain I prefer to stroll through the vineyards. There is a round tour with posts explaining the business of wine growing throughout the year.


Monika Fanti is a winegrower that also runs a small restaurant (“Winzerbaizli” or “little winery pub”). I like the names of her wines: “ilFANTIno”, “exKLUSivo”, “FANTIssimo” and “mySEELEdröpfli” (literally translated: “my soul droplet”). I take a leaflet with me announcing “Neus vo eus”, meaning “news from us” in the dialect of Basle Country.


I plan to get back to this place. Some of the wines of Monika Fanti would be a great addition to my gift drawer – besides, of course, trying them out myself.

A few meters higher up I find “chez Mitz”, where I can hear laughing through one of the open windows – I think a Sunday brunch is going on. Teddy bears sit on the window sills looking down at the hikers.

Really, the Klus of Aesch is a charming corner! I look forward to the Monday walk with the group and I will surely come back more often.

So much to discover around Basel – Pratteln

My new mountain bike takes me to Pratteln and I discover who has been here before…

This year – 2015 – I bought a new mountain bike. I set out to explore more of the secrets around Basel to plan the nordic walking hikes that I am now guiding – with my eyes restored. My next target is Pratteln. This small town has published the excellent and very detailed “Heimatkunde Pratteln 2003” (Emmy Honnegger et alii) and a nice Website. I pick a few cherries that might add to the walking experience around Pratteln – I love to know more about the places that I am hiking to. And – any misinterpretations are my own fault – I am not a historian.

Karten Pratteln

Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T – Basel


Pratteln – why are you called “Pratteln”? Ah, you were a “small meadow” near Roman Augusta Raurica

The name “Pratteln” comes from the Latin “Prattelum”=small meadow. Pratellum was a suburban service center for the Roman town Augusta Raurica, with farms and crafts business. It seems that, after the Roman empire had collapsed, the Alemanni did not settle here before the 7th/8th century, and the population continued to speak a Roman language. If the Alemanni had settled here earlier, the alemannic second sound shift would have transformed “Pratteln”  to”Pfratzelen” (“Heimatkunde”) or “Pfrasseln” (wikipedia). I prefer “Pratteln”  to “Pfratzelen” or “Pfrasseln”. We Swiss just say “Braddele”.

The large farms surrounding Pratteln today indicate that it must have been a beautiful service center for Augusta Raurica. Here is Mayenfels above Pratteln that is now a school.



There were settlements in Pratteln long before the Roman times – perhaps

To the south of Pratteln there is the “Hohle Gasse” – a very steep and even today mostly unpaved path that connects Pratteln with the “Chäppeli”.


It was here that a school boy found a hand ax in 1974. The ax is older than any other ax found in Switzerland – the estimates I could find reach from 120’000 to 350’000 years (sources: “Heimatkunde”, p. 71 and Website of Kanton Basellandschaft). It is not clear, whether the glacier has transported the ax to this place or whether the owner really lived around Pratteln. Too long ago to know for sure.

Signs of settlements from stone, bronze and iron age have also been found around Pratteln (see Heimatkunde p. 72).


Medieval times: Monasteries and the noble family of Eptingen. Later owned by protestant Basel

Until around 900 AD the monastery of Murbach (Alsace) had possessions in Pratteln. Reminiscence today: The church of Pratteln is dedicated to Murbach’s patron, Saint Leodegar. The church was later sourrounded by a wall to protect it against the floods of the Talbach (Heimatkunde, p. 97, the wall is called “Kirchenbering”).


Other reminiscences of those early days  can be found in the field names. For instance starting around 700 AD, forest areas were cleared to gain space for agriculture. These areas were then named Blözen (related with “entblössen”=to bare), Rüti (medieval German “ruiten”=to clear) or Stockmatt (when the thick roots (“Stock”) remained in the meadow (“Matt”)). Other names describe the topology: “Halden” is less steep than a “Rain” (Moderhalden and Blözenrain). “Goleten” points to a landslide that left stone blocks (My Ernst also said “Golete”). In the “Cholholz” – there was a charcoal burning site (Heimatkunde, p. 25f).

In the late 11th century the monastery of St. Alban, just east of the city  gates of Basel, was given possessions in Pratteln. St. Albanstrasse and St. Albanmatte in Pratteln remind us of this today.

In the late 13th century the noble family Eptinger settled in Pratteln (presumably it was a feud from Habsburg).  In the 13th century, they built two castles, one in Pratteln in the valley (surrounded by water) and a second one on the Madeln hill above Pratteln. After the 1356 earthquake, they rebuilt the castle in the valley. Owned by the government since 1773, it is no longer a water castle today, has been beautifully renovated in the 1960’s (see Ernst Zeugin) and is open for the public (guided tours).


The castle on the Madeln hill (Madlechöpfli) has not been rebuilt after the earthquake. Today only the ditches can be distinguished on the hill, the remains of the ruins have been covered up in the 1930’s to protect them from further decay. No spectacular ruins for today’s hikers on the Madeln summit – just another picknick spot in the dense forest. But, when having a picknick on Madeln, beware of the Madlejäger or hunter of Madeln. He comes with twelve white dogs, when the weather is changing. He has suffered until these days, because he had killed the owner of Schauenburg to marry the widow (Heimatkunde, p. 318). Below, the “bosky” highest point on the mountain range in the background is the Madeln hill.


In the 15th century, Hans Bernhard von Eptingen built the monastery of Schauenburg and a chapel with a hospice in the Geisswald just above Pratteln. The place is called “Chäppeli” which reminds us of Hans’ chapel that does no longer exist – after the reformation (1529) the stones have been reused to build the parochial house of Pratteln. The fountain is said to give curative water and the Geisswald seems to be an energy spot emitting 8000 Bovis (“Geiss” pointing to what we call Kraftort in German). This was a good place for a chapel and now it is a good place for a vast picknick and play ground. The foto shows the area with the fountain in the background.


In 1521 the family Eptinger sold the castle and part of Pratteln to Basel – for 5000 Gulden. 1549 the Habsburgians gave up the rest for 3000 Gulden. However, with their coat of arms – an eagle with  red tongue and red claws –  the noble family Eptinger is omnipresent today, on banners, on the cars of the firebrigade, in gardens… everywhere. To differentiate their banner from the emblem of Eptingen (also a former possession of the Eptinger family), Pratteln has added a black frame.

I found the emblem on the little hut at the picknick spot “Chäppeli”.


and everywhere in the center of Pratteln  that today, July 31st, is preapring for the Swiss national holiday on 1st of August.



Modern times – salt and industrialization… and taking care of the medieval village center

In the early 19th century salt was found near Pratteln. This started the industrial development.

Based on a geological map, Peter Merian forecasted the chance of finding salt on the shores of the Rhine. Carl Christian Friedrich Glenck dug, found salt in 1836 (116m under the ground) and a year later, he opened the first saline factory. Now the Swiss Rhine Salines produce 450’000 tons of salt a year in the valley and on the adjacent hills of the Plateau Jura, south of Pratteln and Muttenz.

The presence of salt as an important component attracted chemical factories. From the motorway, I have always seen the signs of the “Säurefabrik” (“acid factory”) – now I know, the Säurefabrik came here in 1918 to combine salt with iron sulfur which results in salt – and sulfur acid (Heimatkunde, p. 107). And Ciba, Novartis, Sandoz and many more national and international enterprises form the industrial complex of Schweizerhalle between the railway and the Rhine river today – this sight is taken from Google Earth.

Schwei$zerhalle Google Earth

Source: Google Earth

Despite the industrial evolution, Pratteln kept its charming historical center and makes it worth a visit.



Vineyards – first mentioned in 1284 and a pastor from the 17th century that must have loved the wine…

There are vineyards to the south of Pratteln. They were mentioned first in the books of the monastery of St. Alban in 1284. The production was then around 60’000 liters. In 1749 a historian praised the vines of Pratteln, “in particular the red wines are among the good and dense wines of our region (gut und kräftig).” (Heimatkunde, p. 170). In 1807 there were 47ha of vineyards (in the valley and on the hills). Now just about 6.7 ha are left, all on the eastward looking slopes of the Ebnet (see Weinbauverein Pratteln). There are two professional and  20 hobby wine growers producing about 60’000 bottles a year.


One of the two professional wine growers runs the Leuengrund. It has a small restaurant (open from October to February; this is a Straussen- or Meienwirtschaft, announced by a bunch of flowers, a custom based on Charlemagne (768-814)). Find below the Leuengrund with its gorgeous view. I will come back here in autumn, when the restaurant is open.


In the 17th century, the pastor Christoph Hagenbach (1596-1668) had a small half-timbered house built on the edge of the vineyards, overlooking the Rhine valley with the Black Forest and the Vosges. It was here that he prepared his sermons (perhaps the wine helped him find the right words). After him, this wonderful spot is called “Hagebächli”. Look at his cosy little house…


…  and the view over Pratteln to the Dinkelberg beyond the Rhine river and the Vosges in the background to the left.



Well, I am impressed by the history of Pratteln. I love to share it with the nordic walking group, when hiking here. Andreas and Helga, thank you for having opened my eyes for the secrets of my home region around Basel.

So much to discover around Basel (the Hardwald with water supply and Roman watch tower as well as an idyllic restaurant)

Andreas and Helga love the idyllic restaurant “Gasthof Solbad” just bordering on the Rhine

In the summer, the Gastof Solbad opens their garden bordering the Rhine. It is a great setting under a weeping willow. On a sunny day in June 2015, Andreas and Helga take their Nordic walking group to this idyllic place.



Our walk through the Hard and along the river Rhine (Rhein)

To get to the restaurant Solbad in Schweizerhalle, we have to cross the Hard. “Hard” actually means “forest”. We start in “Neue Welt”, walk along the river Birs, climb up to the Hard, oscillate a bit to make enough kilometers (10 to 15km) and then take the “Rheinpfad” that leads along the Rhine with posts of interest on the way. The restaurant Solbad is in Schweizerhalle.

Karte Hard

Source: Karte Schweizmobil


The Hard – a paradise for walkers and indispensable water supply for Basel

The Hard supplies water to Basel.

As this panel says, water from the Rhine becomes pristine water (from the Rhine=Rhein, made pristine=”rein” – a game of words in German).  Rhine water is pumped up and then purified in filters.


The purified Rhine water is directed to water channels with gravel beds. It sinks to the ground and adds to the Hard groundwater. The clean water from the river and the ground is then transfered from the Hard to the Langen Erlen north of Basel that also has its own groundwater. From there it is provided to the town.


These water channels are part of the purification system in the Hard. They add to the romantic atmosphere that walkers find here.


There is a control system to feed the water channels.


Wooden bridges allow to cross the water channels. We make a loop following the water channels and then leave this area to continue along the Rhine.



Along the Rhine: The Romans were here – and left their marks

This late Romanic watch tower borders the Rhine. It was built in the late 4th century, when the Romans came more and more under pressure by the Germanic and Alemannic tribes. Just the stone basement is left and has been preserved in 1975.



Dismantling of a huge industrial building in Schweizerhalle

Not far from the watch tower – when still walking in the woods – we hear a terribly loud noise. When leaving the woods, we see this huge industrial building that is now it being dismantled piece by piece. When walking by, we almost have to protect our ears.



Navigation driven by muscles

Our last place interest is the “Schiffahrt mit Muskelantrieb” or “navigation driven by muscles” (named “Rothus” on the map).


These are the boats that are driven by muscles – we call them “Weidling” which is similar to a “punt”, as Wikipedia says.


Soon after this boats place we reach the garden of the restaurant Solbad and order a drink to cool down.

Thank you, Andreas and Helga, for having showed me some more secrets of Basel region. From the restaurant Solbad I walked back home the same way to enjoy it once more and take the fotos using my iPhone. I look forward to more treasure hunting with you.


Around Basel – The Ermitage near Arlesheim is full of surprises

My grandma loved the Ermitage – and took me there, when I was a child

My grandma loved the Ermitage. Around 1900 she went as a child, and later in the 1920-ies she came with her in-laws from Heidelberg. Then in the 1950-ies, she took me to the Ermitage.  I was a child and I still see me stand on this platform and feed the carps with old bread found at the bottom of the huge hand bag of my grandma, amidst great fruit candies. The platform is still the same.



On June 27th 2015, the Ermitage celebrates the 230th anniversary – a great opportunity to learn more about it

The Ermitage is the largest English garden in Switzerland. It was created in 1785 by Balbina von Andlau-Staal (wife of the bailiff of the prince-bishopric of Basel) and her cousin, Heinrich von Ligerz. As opposed to the geometric French gardens, the  English style gardens were made to look natural, following Chinese garden architecture rules. The rules included setting up places of interest such as caves, ruins, monuments, fountains, water falls or leisure corners, and the Ermitage garden benefited from the steep hill of the Birseck castle with its natural caves. Already in 1785 the garden was open to the public.

A few years later during the French revolution, the garden was devastated by the farmers around Arlesheim and by French troops. Also the castle of Birseck (former seat of the bailiff) was destroyed in the process. In 1811 the son of Balbina, Conrad von Andlau, had the Ermitage rebuilt, supported by Heinrich von Ligerz, now an old man. The castle of Birseck was partially rebuilt and integrated in the Ermitage garden. The garden reopened in 1812. It subsequently changed ownership various times and since 1999 it has belonged to the Stiftung Ermitage Arlesheim und Schloss Birseck.

My sources are: The Ermitage Website , “Die Höhlen der Ermitage bei Arlesheim” (by Erich Plattner) and also listening to the guides in the garden.

On June 27th 2015, the Ermitage celebrates the 230th anniversary. Places of interest such as the caves or the Birseck castle are open and looked after by members of the foundation (Stiftung) or by citizens of Arlesheim.


Ab uff d-Sogge

“Ab uff d’Sogge” –  this is how we Swiss say “let’s go” or literally “let us go on our socks” (“Sogge” are “socks” – as shown on the sign). “Ab uff d’Sogge”… Arlesheim invites us to the Ermitage. Well – let us go and  “ab uff d’Sogge” to explore the surprises of the Ermitage that has dressed up for the anniversary of 230 years.


Source: “Die Höhlen der Ermitage bei Arlesheim” by Erich Plattner.


A cheese cake and a coffee – the cosy garden of the Schleiferei is open

Near the entrance to the Ermitage is the so-called “Schleife”, a small house. A basket contains material about the sights and activities in the Ermitage. The garden is a coffee place today. I have some cake with a coffee. Water is free. It is spiced with fresh mint leaves.


In the background above the garden is the Birseck castle sitting on top of the hill. On the slope under the castle, winding narrow paths invite to explore the caves, monuments, the house of the brother in the wood (Waldbruder) and more secrets hidden in the English garden.


The old mill is open

The old mill is open today. There is a gallery inside. Earlier today there were anniversary speeches held in the mill.


The main entrance to the hill area with the winding paths and caves is behind the mill. It is called Felsentoreingang (rock gate entry). Erich Plattner sells his book just next to the main entrance. I buy two copies, one for me and one for the Austrian friends that have taught me so much history and geography while taking me for walks aorund Basel.

This is Erich Plattner’s plan of the caves and the winding narrow paths leading to the Birseck castle. It is the best map that I could find.

Übersicht Höhlen

Source: “Die Höhlen der Ermitage bei Arlesheim” by Erich Plattner.

In detail, Erich Plattner explains, how the caves emerged in a former riff area (shore of the paleolithic Thetys Sea) and then were transformed at the edge of the later Rhine valley ditch (p. 45ff). He also describes, how the garden architects transformed the caves to fit into their English garden concept. Many caves were enlarged and decorated, however the Calypso cave was destroyed, because they built a large platform above it, for a carousel at that time. Most caves have names taken from the Greek mythology such as Apollo or Diana. Diogenes and Salomon Gessner (around 1780 a famous poet from Zurich) also have received their caves.


The Proserpinagrotte – well explained by a professional tour guide

I dive into the garden using the path behind the Felsentor and reach my first cave, the Proserpinagrotte. Every twenty minutes, Sibylle von Heydebrand lays out the history of this cave which is the largest in the garden.


I join the next group. Inside is a large hall. Stairs lead to the next level, and they are lit by petroleum lamps common at the time, when the garden was built.


Listening to the guide and reading Erich Plattner’s chapter about the Proserpina cave, I start to understand, how important these caves were for the experience that the English garden architects intended to provide to visitors. The architects enlarged the three halls of the Proserpina cave and connected them using stairs and corridors. Proserpina (or Persephone) was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and she was kidnapped by Hades. She represents the idea of death and resurrection and this lead to changing arrangements in this cave. In the first setup, there was a gate to the cave – or the underworld. A bench in front of the gate invited to meditate (there is still a bench here today). The first hall was the underworld, represented by a black altar, a spying dragon and a crocodile, all lit by lamps. Stairs lead to a platform with a statue of Proserpina on it. There was also an owl that had eyes lit by a lamp. When going up the stairs, a devil made of wood would jump into the face of the visitor. Rather scary. This tunnel of horror setup was changed after two years; free masons redid the cave. They made the allegory of the death on the first floor less scary and left the Proserpina statue on the platform. Visitors reported that they were very impressed by the allegories of death and resurrection in this cave. During the French revolution the cave was destroyed completely and then rebuilt. In the first hall Heinrich von Ligerz built a tomb to remind of the death of Balbina in 1798. Today there is a copy with a typing error, as our guide points out: The date of death is 1788 – no, it is 1798! (More details in Erich Plattner’s book on p 97ff).


The path winds uphill to the Birseck castle

Climbing towards the Birseck castle, I come across this inscription for the founders of the Ermitage… it is near the Diogenes cave.


The Birseck castle is open for visitors today. I climb the tower,…


… look down into the garden,…


… enjoy the view to the Goetheanum and the Blauen, …


… and listen to music played in the chapel.


In the great hall nearby, a group of students from the Goetheanum (“Am Wort”) recite Faust and sing songs composed by Schubert. The language of Goethe is very sonorous, but difficult to understand. Well, the Goetheanum is not far and I am impressed by the professionalism of the performance.

The castle keeper tells us that after having been destroyed in the French revolution, the Birseck castle was rebuilt not based on original plans, but based on what was thought to match best an English style garden. The tower and the great hall as well as the pinnacles were the result of those ideas. Only the chapel has remained from the former Birseck castle.


Activities for children in the Weidhof just behind the Birseck castle

It is already half past two and the Ermitage event closes at 3 PM. I enter the Weidhof just behind the Birseck castle. A young boy sits next to an empty pastry bowl and a waffle iron.


Kindly he tells me that there will be more pastry and he disappears, but then does not come back. I look around and discover with how much love this children’s place has been set up.There is a castle tower with a garden next to it (this must be a garden with mushrooms and flowers, and there is even a stork on the roof),…


… a paintings gallery,…


… and this must be a shop to buy paintings.


I think back of my childhood and my grand’ma that had often taken me to the Ermitage. With a smile on my face, I leave this place, feeling sorry that I was too late to watch the children producing and selling works of art here. This children’s playground is a great idea.


The brother of the wood nods “thank you”, when given money

Now I oscillate a bit to find the brother of the wood. I come across this strange hut – or whatever it is. It takes me some time to understand… this is the wood log pile of the brother of the wood. Of course, clear, the brother needs wood to heat his little house. And the pile of wood cannot be too far. When the door is closed, this “thing” looks almost like a pile of wood. But the phantasy of the garden architects was unlimited. They added a door to the pile that can be openend – and from inside there is a great view of the Gobenmatt valley. They must have done this construction with a twinkle of an eye. Or of two eyes even.


Not far from the wood pile there is a chapel (handy for the brother, should also not be too far to walk) and then I find the brother reading in his book. A girl and her mother are inside the house as well. The girl gives some coins into the bowl and the brother nods. Yes, these garden architects surprise me with all their phantasy. Mum and her daughter leave the place. I am now alone with the member of the Säulizunft that looks after the brother. Together we think about Arlesheim and only now I understand – not all Baselland is protestant. Of course not, I could have understood this before. Arlesheim was part of the prince-bishopric of Basel, which was a catholic institution. And it was only after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that Arlesheim became part of Basel (and after 1833 it split off with the rest of Baselland to become part of the half canton).


Close to the brother of the wood I find the Gessner cave with the memorial of this poet known around 1800.



Walking down to the Birseck Ermitage cave and the carousel platform

I walk down to the Birseck Ermitage cave and the carousel platform. This was the place for leasure. Once upon a time, there was a carousel here and stairs lead to a stage for musicians.

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Well, I just sit down, look up into the crowns of the trees and dream. I think, this is what the garden architects wanted to give us – just dreams.



Enough for now – I will come back

I am full of new impressions. And I know, I have not found all the surprises that this English garden holds. I leave now, and I intend to come back and book a tour with Sibylle von Heydebrand. May be for our next meeting with my school mates.







On the road – discovering so much around Basel: To the southeast (V)

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

Now that I can drive again (being so happy about this), I sometimes park my car below the Schartenfluh to take pictures and get more acquainted with the middle part of the Gempen plateau. In this blog I am talking about the Schartenfluh (another “rock”), the border path (Grenzweg) between Arlesheim and Dornach behind the Goetheanum, the dome of Arlesheim and the vineyards “Schlossberg” and “Steinbruch”.

Karten goetheanum

Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T – Basel



The Schartenfluh (sometimes called “Gempenstollen” or “Gempenfluh”) is the rocky landmark topping the Gempenplateau that can be seen from far – here is a picture taken from the fortification of Dorneck.


The view from the Schartenfluh is superb and goes across the trinational area of Basel with the Jura, the Black Forest in Germany and the Vosges in France. When the weather is clear, you can even see the white Finsteraarhorn in the Bernese Alps. This selection shows the view of the Blauen, the Bruderholz and the suburbs of Aesch and Reinach stretching along the Birs.


A tower invites to get an even better overview of the trinational area around Basel.


Climbing this tower requires to be free from giddiness.



The dome of Arlesheim

The roman-catholic church of Arlesheim is called “dome” indicating that it once has been much more important than a mere “church”: Correct. The dome and the related buildings have been built around 1700 to become the new noble residence for the cathedral chapter (Domkapitel) of the Prince-Bishopric of Basel (Fürstbistum Basel). The Fürstbistum Basel were the secular possessions of the bishop of Basel who resided in Pruntrut (he had to leave Basel during the reformation in the 1520’s). The cathedral chapter is the noble committee of the bishop. The Fürstbistum Basel was dissolved in 1792 (Napoleon) and the former dome became the roman-catholic church of Arlesheim (sources: Home Site of Dornach  and for the Fürstbistum Basel: Wikipedia and “Historischer Atlas der Region Basel” edited by the Christoph Merian Stiftung, 2010).

Here is the dome of Arlesheim taken from the vineyard “Schlossberg” of Arlesheim.



Vineyards in Arlesheim – more grand cru than I thought at first sight

There are two vineyards in Arlesheim: The Schlossberg (“castle slope”) and the Steinbruch (“quarry”) (see Weinbau im Birseck). The mild climate of Arlesheim has always been favorable for growing wine.  Both vineyards are steep and looking south to capture as much sun as possible.  The noble committee of the bishop loved the wine of Arlesheim. Perhaps this is why they had their dome built here?

Sometimes Frischluft organizes visits to the vineyards. They praise the wine of the traditional winegrower, Erich Rediger. Quergut has recently been founded by two new and innovative winegrowers, the couple Huber/Bühlmann and Thomas Löliger. End of September they invited guests to their Schlossberg vineyard. I went and found myself amidst a group of teachers and artists – Michael Huber is a part time teacher at the Gymnasium Oberwil and a part time musician. His father has already grown wine here at the Schlossberg. Michael now follows in the steps of his father. In addition to Pinot Noir he has recently planted Shiraz and Cabernet Jura (the latter for blending, Michael tells me). The white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc (Michael says, the global warming makes it possible here) , Cabernet Blanc (a new breed of grapes) and Pinot Gris (in German: Ruländer or Grauburgunder). In the scorching sun I enjoy a sparkling Schlossberg Suuser (fresh wine) with a delicious pumpkin soup and later a fruity glass of Pinot Noir from the Schlossberg.


These are vines in the Steinbruch or quarry.



Grenzweg behind the Goetheanum (border trail)

My friends from Austria stopped once in the restaurant Schlosshof close to the ruin Dorneck. From here, a steep and romantic trail is following the border between the two suburbs Arlesheim (belongs to the canton of Rural Basel) and Dornach (part of the canton Solothurn). The border stones are the proof that there is a border here.


The Grenzweg is a quiet path along a creek. Bridges lead to the gardens of noble houses. Also birds are invited to live and breed here.


In addition I am surprised by this unusal view of the Goethenaum from behind…


… with its heating house (Heizhaus)…


… and with its glass house (Glashaus).


The name “Goetheanum” is derived from the German poet Goethe. Based on admiring Goethe for his Spiritual Science, Rudolf Steiner founded the Anthroposophical movement in the beginning of the 20th century. He made the Goetheanum their world center. The first Goetheanum was built in 1908. It was a harmonious wooden building  avoiding right angles – like most anthroposophical houses do here in Dornach. The first Goetheanum was destroyed by arson in 1922. My gran-ma lived in  Basel then and told me that the fire could be seen from far. She was sad, because she found the wooden Goetheanum was beautiful. For the second version of the Goetheanum, Rudolf Steiner selected concrete. Again avoiding right angles the second Goetheanum was completed in 1928.

The glass house (Glashaus) in the back garden was built to manufacture the stained glass windows for the first Goetheanum made out of wood. Also made out of wood, the glass house gives us an idea of what the wooden Goetheanum had looked like before the fire. The glass house has recently been renovated. It houses the school of Spiritual Sciences.

(see wikipedia and the Goetheanum homesite )


So many gems around Basel…

… to my opinion it is just a pity that the reunification of the two half cantons of Basel has been denied in September 2014. Before the voting weekend end, there were many posters in Rural Basel (or “Baselbiet”) proposing “no – we remain independent”. A frustrated citizen from Basel Town may have added the remark: “We also do not want you, farmers” (Mir wänn euch Buure au nid”).


This makes me a little sad, as I have always loved both Basel Town and Rural Basel – and this year I was happy to benefit from the hiking options in front of my house door – in both half cantons.



On the road – discovering so much around Basel: To the southeast (I)

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

As from April to August some surgeries forced me to stay at home, I walked and walked discovering and rediscovering gems around Basel. Here are some of them in the southeast of Basel, starting with a first selection.

This map shows the hill of Wartenberg (between Muttenz and Pratteln) and the long stretched mountain plateau of the Gempen southeast of Basel. The Gempen belongs to the Tabular Jura.


Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T – Basel


The Ermitage – the romantic landscape garden near Arlesheim

The Ermitage is a romantic English style landscape garden in the Gobenmatttal above Arlesheim (in English also: Hermitage). The garden dates from 1785, was destroyed by Napoleon in 1793, and has since been renovated repeatedly.  The Birseck castle (also destroyed by Napoleon) is part of the garden.


Along the Gobenmatt creek, there are a few houses. The entrance is marked by an aqueduct, the former mill and the house of the gardener with the  annex that was used to produce tobacco for some time (“Tabakstampfe”).


There are three ponds. The first pond is small…


… and it is fed by a small rocky waterfall.


The second pond is larger. It is full of memories for me. When I was a child, my grandmother often took me to the Ermitage. In her huge bag she always carried old bread, and we stood on this wooden platform to feed the carps. I was surprised to find the wooden platform unchanged, but feeding the carps is no longer allowed. What do kids do today – do they play carp feeding on their iPhones?


The rocky hill under the castle Birseck hosts attractions such as caves and hermits cells – I visited the monument for Jacques Delil (also called Virgil de Lille). He translated Virgil and he was a nature poet. After the revolution in France, he emigrated to Basel and wrote “les hommes du champs” that contains this wish: “If anyone would devote a monument to me, it should be under a poplar and near a creek.” He returned to France later and died in Paris in 1814 (Wikipedia ). Basel remembered his wish and erected this monument below the castle ruins..


His wish is written on a slab that stands behind the monument


It was the two Austrians with their Nordic Walking group that took me back to the Ermitage after many, many years. Arlesheim makes a nice target point with its magnificent cathedral (Dom). Our group enjoyed lunch in the friendly restaurant Rössli.

In case it would stop raining (it has been raining all July and August this year), I propose this picnic spot – it is just above the Ermitage in a romantic setting bordering the Gobenmatt creek. Of course it provides a luxury barbecue grill, as most barbecue places around Basel do.



On the way to Schönmatt: The farm that looks like a boat: Ränggersmatt.

A third class road (Schönmattstrasse) leads from Arlesheim to the Schönmatt on the Gempen plateau. On the way there is the farm “¨Ränggersmatt“. In the late 18th century a man called Renker owned a small house on this meadow. In 1821 Conrad von Andlau built the farm with this hipped roof (Walmdach) that reminds me of a boat.



Behind the Ränggersmatt I find another great picnic area… the wood is already waiting to be used for the next barbecue.


And behind this picnic spot the Grenzweg (“border trail”) to the Schauenburg starts.


The trail following the border between  two cantons and leading to the Schauenburger Flue

Yes, I have been on this trail before. I always came here with Ernst, and we balanced our mountain bikes over wet blocks of stone, when heading to the Gempen (Schartenfluh). I then always wondered, what these “stone blocks” were, but we never stopped to look at them more closely. The trail was slippery and needed caeful attention from us bikers. When I came here as a Nordic Walker, guided by my friends from Austria, they pointed out to me that this is the border between the canton of Rural Basel (Baselland) and the canton of Solothurn.


And they showed to me that some of these boundary stones are old… this one is from 1660. 1660 – this was long before 1833, when Basel split into Basel Town (Baselstadt) and Rural Basel (Baselland), when the farmers revolted. In 1660 there was just one canton of Basel ruled by Basel Town. Hence, the boundary stone shows the emblem of Basel Town: It is a bishop’s crook with the handle looking left – and it is black on white (the color has faded here).


The emblem of Rural Basel is also a bishop’s crook, but the handle looks to the right and is red. The inhabitants of the two Basel will vote about being reunified soon. Some parties in Rural Basel are against the reunification, as the red (rural) bishop’s crook on this poster says defending himself against the black crook attacking him.


Wait a minute, what has happened to the emblem on this boundary stone of 1667. Also 1667 was long before 1833. Hence the crook has to be of  “Basel Town” with the handle pointing left. Yes, the crook’s handle is directed to the left, but someone has painted it red to make it look more like Rural Basel, But it is not quite right… Rural Basel would have to exchange all border stones….



A Gallo-roman temple on the Schauenburger Flue

Another Nordic walking tour with Andreas took me to the Schauenburger Fluh above Frenkendorf. On the edge of the rock (Fluh in German or Flue in Swiss German) was a Gaelic and later a Roman temple. Not much is left  of it.


On, I find the detailed history of temples made for circumambulation (Umgangstempel) that could be found in Roman towns and also in salient locations such as wells, lakes or hills – the temple on the Schauenburger Fluh being one of the most extreme examples – built directly above the rock.  This is what historians think it looked like.



And this foto shows the cliffs from below (from Alt Schauenburg).


Below the cliff is the hotel and restaurant Bad Schauenburg. When working for Ciba-Geigy and Roche in the 1980/90s, I spent some time here participating in brainwaves, enjoying the excellent food and the hotel in this quiet setting.



There are more treasures around Basel

These were some of the treasures southwest of Basel. There are more… and I will continue to write about them. Looking back I just wonder why I knew so little about my homeland.


On the road – discovering so much around Basel (to the southwest)

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

From April to August this year some surgeries forced me to stay at home. So I walked and walked and walked around my hometown Basel. Almost every day, I started at my house – alone, with a group of Nordic Walkers guided by two Austrians, with friends or with family members. Often it were foreigners that unveiled new treasures to me that I had not noticed before, though have lived in Basel since three years old.

After having blogged about the treasures of the Bruderholz south of Basel, let me continue with the hill of Allschwil/Binningen and the creek “Birsig” in the southwest.


Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie 213T Basel – 1:50’0000


Friedrich Oser – a priest and a poet in Biel-Benken

Just above Biel-Benken there is a memorial for Friedrich Oser who became a priest here in 1884. Friedrich Oser wrote poems that were set to music and are well-known with German speaking choirs. Friedrich Oser is a very local celebrity, and he has a memorial just above Benken…


… with a great view of the Blauen, part of the “Faltenjura” or Jura mountain range with folded layers (as opposed to the “Tafeljura” or Jura consisting of plateaus, sometimes called “Tabular Jura”).

My friends from Austria showed to me that it takes just a 90 minutes to walk from my home to Biel-Benken, and they introduced me to Frîedrich Oser.


Biel-Benken is a charming twin village (Biel and Benken) that has kept its rural character. There are two excellent restaurants, Heyer and Zihlmann. We shared an excellent lunch in the quiet and shady garden of Heyer.


The “Löliwald” or literally “dumbass forest” near Biel-Benken (then I find out “Löli” means “grove” and not “idiot”) 

A friend from England, Adrian, invited me to walk from Oberwil to Biel-Benken – he knows a romantic path through the wheat and rape fields along the creek Birsig.


The path crosses the Löliwald, and ends in Biel-Benken, where all streets are labeled “Löli”: Löliring or Lölimattweg etc.


I laugh out  loudly. “What is so funny about “Löli”, what does it mean?”,  Adrian asks. “Hm, something like “idiot” or “dumbass””, I answer, “and “Löli” is different from “Glünggi” – do you not know the famous song of Mani Matter  “Schimpfwörter sy Glüggssach“.  Later I find the toponomastic reason for the name “Löli”: It is said to relate to “Loch” (German) or “Lucus” (Latin) =”Grove” (in German: “Hain”) describing a light forest of oak and beech trees. I also find a bleak story about a murder in the Löliwald that happened here in 1913. The Internet tells me, there are more “Löli”-forests in Switzerland, and they must all be groves – no, there is no congestion of Löli or idiots in them.


French lunch culture in a cosy garden in Neuwiller

From Biel-Benken, Adrian and I continue our walk through the forest to France. On the French side, we oscillate on a muddy path that vanishes in a swampy meadow. Guided by two ladies with a mastiff, we eventually find the path that takes us to the village of Neuwiller. In the garden of  the Auberge de Neuwiller , we celebrate a great French lunch – three courses and  an Edelzwicker (blended white wine from the Alsace). I feel like being far, far away from Basel and Switzerland. And an hour later, we are back in Oberwil and in Switzerland – a straight hiking trail connects the two villages (no border check points here).



Later I come back to Neuwiller with Barbara, enjoying a lovely zander fish with Riesling sauce accompanied by a glass of Alsacian Riesling. We notice there is a “Grenzwaggle” (border walk) of 12km around Neuwiller that I might explore later.


With Barbara I walk back the 2.5km from Neuwiller to Biel-Benken. Now I easily find the muddy path that vanishes in the swampy meadow and I guide a group of lost hikers through it. Half an hour later, we reach the hill above Biel-Benken and the lovely view of the mountain range Blauen and the ruin of Landskrone in the south.



The nature reserve Herzogenmatt – a small gem

While walking on the hill of Allschwil/Binningen, I also came across the Herzogenmatt. This is a nature reserve close to Allschwil. The website tells proudly about the rare species of amphibians living here.

This romantic path leads through the nature reserve Herzogenmatt. We count seven wooden bridges crossing the creek.


An artist has created this scuplture – maybe dwarfs are protected here as well?


The path ends near this pond with white and pink water roses and with water lillies.


The Herzogenmatt is a small gem just half an hour away from my home… and I only discover it this summer.


A short walk from Herzogenmatt to the water tower of Allschwil

From far, I had always admired the elegant water tower of Allschwil. With my 1:25’000 Swiss topo map, I find it tucked away in the forest. It is not far from Herzogenmatt. It was built in the 1970’s and is open in the afternoon on weekends .



Vo Schönebuech bis Ammel

Vo Schönebuech bis Ammel ” – this is the song of the Baselbiet or “rural Basel” (Baselland). Schönenbuch is on one edge of it and Ammel is on the other edge (Rural Basel separated from Basel Town in 1833 – there was a revolution of the farmers against the patricians in town).

Schönenbuch is a two hours’ walk from my home and a short hour from the watertower of Allschwil.


On the way to Schönenbuch (or in Swiss German “Schönebuech”), there is a romantic bridge across the Mühlebach. Note the yellow signs marking the official hiking trail. There is a dense network of well marked hiking trails in Switzerland.


I have never been at Schönenbuch before. I find a quiet village on a hill. There are farms, mansions, family homes, a restaurant and a small church.


Watch out for cats in this idyllic village – please drive slowly, this road sign says.


One of the farms sells freshly picked cherries. I buy some cherries and eat them sitting at the table in front of the farm.


The green ordinary Basel town bus 33 connects Schönenbuch with Allschwil and Basel.


More treasures – the footpath along the Mühlebach (mill creek) leading to the Mühli in Allschwil

My friends from Austria unveil another secret to me. Not far from the Allschwil water tower there is a romantic footpath along the Mühlebach to the center of Allschwil. The Mühlebach is the creek that drove water mills.


We reach the gorgeous village center of Allschwil with its timbered houses and the restaurant Mühli , where the millwheel is still turning. There is a garden behind the watermill. I remember that 13 years ago I had an excellent dinner in a restaurant near a watermill – this was in Homs in Syria where the watermills uplifted water to the fields high above the river. Are the mills of Homs still turning? Maybe I should plan a dinner in this garden, when the summer rainfalls of this year will stop to remember my evening in Homs and think of the people in Syria.


Our target for lunch today is the Jägerstübli, one of the rustic restaurants at the center square (Dorfplatz) of Allschwil.


There are more walks around Basel…

These are some highlights I found on the hill of Binningen/Allschwil. I discovered more great places and treasures around Basel, and I will continue to tell about them.



On the road – discovering so much around Basel (to the south)

Discovering treasures, while being forced to just walk around Basel

From April to August this year some surgeries forced me to stay at home. I was allowed to walk and I walked and walked – starting with the Bruderholz. This is where I grew up in the fifties and sixties. As a child I strolled here with my parents, played in the woods, sledged or took my first efforts on skis. Now I rediscovered the treasures of the Bruderholz in more detail –  and I am telling about them. Now that I fell better, I started to take pictures to illustrate my stories.


The Bruderholz – south of Basel

The Bruderholz is an extension of the Alsacian/French hills called Sundgau. It is a plateau about 150m above Rhine level bordered by forests. On the plateau, loess enables agriculture. The farms sell their products. Legend says that the forest brothers  (or hermits) lived in the forests surrounding the plateau –  or perhaps there were just three hermits that lived near Klosterfichten – legends are never precise. The name “Bruderholz” is derived from the legend of the forest brothers (Bruder = brother, and Holz = wood) – perhaps.


Source: Bundesamt für Landestopographie “Basel 213T” – 1:50’0000


St. Margarethenkirche – Saint Margarethe Church

St. Margarethenkirche is a protestant church overlooking Basel. I like the terrace offering a great view of Basel, the Black Forest and the Vosges. I sometimes attend the service of the singing priest of Binningen, Tom Myhre. He sings his (down to earth) sermons and plays the guitar. When I was a child, my grand mother told me proudly that as a young girl she was allowed to play on the organ. This must have been the organ from 1884 that has been replaced later in 1964.

The origin of the St. Margarethenkirche is full of legends: Three sisters, Margarethe, Ottilie and Chrischona, built three houses of prayers in the 3rd or 4th century: Saint Margarethe on the Bruderholz, Saint Ottilie on the Tüllinger Hügel north across Basel and Saint Chrischona on Chrischona to the north east across Basel. At night their lamps burnt to greet one another and the people in the valley below them. Later these houses of prayer became churches.

The Margarethe church has been confirmed to exist in the 13th century. It has been renovated several times and has received the current right angle shape  (Winkelhakengrundriss) in the 17th century. A farmhouse is connected with the church. Cows graze on the meadow below Margarethen…


… and there is also a vineyard of 2200 square meters on the west slope that gives 2500 half liter bottles. The wine can be tasted here in the restaurant Schällenursli located in the rick of the farm.



The Battery built in 1815 to defend Basel

The Battery is a popular target for people taking their dogs out. As a child I wondered what the “Battery” has in common with electrical batteries. Dr. Google says about the Battery: Around 1815 Basel was being shot at from the fortification of Huningue (on the French frontier bordering the Rhine). Basel erected fortifications and one of them was our Battery located at 365m. It is a quadratic entrenchment for heavy canonry and was called “La Superbe”, and later “Battery”.

In the two World Wars 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, the Battery was used again to host the Swiss border troops. The “Wehrmännerdenkmal” (monument for the soldiers) was erected north of the Battery to commemorate that.


The border between Basel town and the village of Bottmingen divided the Battery. When the revolution of 1833 had separated Basel town and rural Basel, Bottmingen also split off from Basel town to join rural Basel. The border between the two cantons of rural Basel and Basel town now divided the Battery. This odd situation was corrected in 1954 and since then the Battery has fully belonged to Basel town.

After 1945 trees have grown on the Battery. Since then children have come here to play – biking, hiding and running in summer and sledging in winter. I was one of those children in the 1950’s and 1960’s.


Once per year there is a warlike scenario like before 1945: On first of August (the Swiss National Day), the giant Bruderholz firework is shot off from the Battery.


The Bruderholz water tower

Not far from the Battery the water tower  offers a spectacular view from the top – over Basel to the Black Forest, the Jura, the Sundgau and the Vosges. The water tower was built in 1926. There are two parallel staircases leading to the middle level  (with the balconies) and from here one wooden staircase goes to the top. This was a wonderful playground for us; as children we used to play catch for hours. Four or five of us would fit into one compartment of the revolving door at the entrance (we had to drop 10 Rappen or .1 Franc to enter the tower).



Some small ponds and nature reserves

The Bruderholz hides some small ponds and nature reserves. Here is one example: This pond is near the hospital (Bruderholzspital).


And this is another interesting example: On the roof of the Froloo reservoir it was decided to let nature take over the former reservoir construction place, with no further human intervention. This is called a “Ruderalstandort”  or “ruderal area“).


These are the ruderal plants that have taken over so far  without any human intervention (the path may have needed some human intervention, nevertheless).



On the plateau the loess is fertile and enables farming and garden centers

The rather flat plateau of the Bruderholz is fertile. There are wheat -, corn and vegetable fields as well as cherry and apple trees, overlooked by the Jura mountains (on this picture we can see the Gempen).


The farms sell their products – for example the Bruderholzhof .


Among other things, the Bruderholzhof sells porc meat. Note the green and white Bio but – this is eco meat.


Some farms offer self picking berries – such as strawberries, blackberries or raspberries “Beeri” is what we Swiss say for “berries”).


I often shop in the garden center “Bauer” that grows and sells flowers and trees on the Bruderholz plateau.



Following the forest brothers on very hot summer days

On very hot summer days, I walk along the slopes of the Bruderholz plateau. The slopes are covered with forests that protect from the sun. This is where the forest brothers lived that are said to have given the Bruderholz its name.

I enter the forest near Münchenstein…


… I find romantic creeks along the steep slope…


… and small bridges…


… and lots of picnic spots with elaborate barbecue grills…



Battle of Bruderholz – 1499

A small detour to Reinach takes me to the monument reminding of the Battle of Bruderholz.


The Habsburgian rulers of the German empire intended to limit the freedom of the Swiss Confederacy (Eidgenossen). On March 22nd 1499 the Swiss defeated the German army at the Battle of Bruderholz during the Swabian War. Later in the same year the Swiss defeated the Swabian League again near Dornach. In the peace treaty signed in September in Basel, the Swiss Confederacy became largely independent from the German empire (ruled by Maximilian I of Habsburg) and Basel joined the Confederacy two years later in 1501.


Froloo – the electricity hub, the water reservoir and the picknick area

The Froloo disposes of an electricity hub, a water reservoir  and a huge picknick area with a barbecue grill and a cottage.

The electricity hub is one of the most important hubs in the North West region of Switzerland. It is being overhauled now. There will be a new transformer packed into a building which frees up 7000m2. Also some power supply lines will move underground.


The water reservoir Froloo is one of four drinking water storage tanks in the area. They are fed by eight ground water fountains. The other three reservoirs are Rebberg, Hollen and Bielhübel.


The picnic area is large and boasts of a luxury barbecue grill – like all barbecue spots on the Bruderholz.



Leywald – the nature amd sculpture trail

South of Reinach there is the Leywald. I wonder, what kind of forest the “Leywald” is, and Dr Google says “Ley” is a cliff or escarpment (Loreley in Germany is a dangerous cliff above the river Rhine). Hence I expect to find the Leywald-forest climbing up a hill. Understanding “Ley” makes it easier for me to find this forest, as I saw no signposts pointing to it.

The Leywald hosts a trail that combines learning about the forest and wooden sculptures near a barbecue area .


I recognize fgures from fairy tales like “der kleine Muck” or “little Muck” (“Muck” is a name). The sculpture trail is a great place to visit with children. My Austrian friends take their grand-child here, and this is how I heard about the trail. Why is it always foreigners that know my country better than I do?


Because this is also a forest trail, bushes and trees are labeled. This is a great place to learn or teach about the forest.



Orthography is a matter of luck – Orthografie ist Glückssache


“Krise”=crisis and  “hier nicht”=not here. But someone wrote “Kriese” instead of “Krise”… yes, orthography is a matter of luck and I always smile, when I walk by this electricity hub.

Then – Switzerland tries to stay clean. People who take out their dogs have to retrieve little plastic bags at the “robidog” dispenser, pick up all the dog leaves on the way and throw away the small plastic bags after having tied them up carefully.  These dog toilets are called “robidog”, because it is Robi AG that has provided the box and the plastic bags. They even provide apps to find the robidog dispensers. Bravo is another provider that prevails in Basel town. Basel blyb suuber – Basel stay clean!


There are more treasures around Basel

These were some of the treasures south of Basel. As I extended my walks to the southwest, southeast and north of Basel, I will continue to write about what I discovered and rediscovered here.