Schwäbisch Hall, Germany
I took an opportunity to return to the town of Schwäbisch Hall in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. It’s an underrated destination in my opinion with a well-preserved Altstadt, a surprisingly excellent art museum and American football.
The town is immensely walkable with especially scenic views along the river Kocher. Exiting the train at the Bahnhof on the south side of Schwäbisch Hall, you walked a bit downhill and soon crossed a covered wooden bridge into the heart of the old town.
I came across a strange little coin-operated theater on one of the islands you crossed in the middle of the river. It immediately reminded me of the “Welcome to Duloc” scenes in Shrek. The reflection of town in the theater glass fit perfectly over the dancing figures. I had that tune in my head the rest of the day.
I stayed in a small apartment in the top of a renovated timbered building facing the Marktplatz and towering St. Michael’s church. The bells would sound regularly in the mornings and evenings but mercifully fell silent during the mandated German Ruhezeit (quiet time) at night.
Staying in the heart of the Altstadt allowed me to wander the tangled streets and alleys of Schwäbisch Hall. I had time to discover hidden gems including the Kunsthalle Würth, an art museum located along the river.
For a small town, this museum presented a surprisingly excellent art collection. The current exhibit covered works depicting sports and free time with groupings for sailing, hiking, football and other activities from modern times back to the ancients.
It was a refreshing break from what could be a monotonous procession of darkly religious and pious portraits usually found in European art museums. Amazingly, there was no entrance fee. The entire museum felt more like a celebration of humanity rather than a serious ordeal.
The farmer’s market opened early on Saturday morning and people clamored around stands selling white Spargle (asparagus), strawberries and flowers.
In one quiet corner, I came across an overgrown cemetery. Lines of somber stone crosses marked an area for World War I soldiers. In another corner was a memorial in Polish for concentration camp victims during World War II.
Of course, current events dominated the news now. While looking over magazines in the train station, one cover depicted the German federal eagle strangled by oil and gas pipelines. Germany’s dependence on Russian energy came into sharp focus after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The headline read “The German Disaster, how our country fell into the clutches of the Kremlin”. Despite the expected massive hit to its economy, Germany recently announced it would support a European Union ban on Russian oil.
Walking back through town, I considered the history, good and bad, this place had weathered.
There was an extensive American military presence in Schwäbisch Hall for many years at nearby Hessental Army Airfield and Dolan Barracks after World War II. The last units left in 1993. An American football team called the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns remained part of that legacy.
I went to a game Saturday evening at Optima Sportpark to watch a buddy of mine, Luis Back, play linebacker for the Unicorns. Although not quite an SEC gameday environment, I was impressed by the setting and enthusiasm of the fans. At times, the excited PA announcer would provide calls in English followed by a detailed explanation in German.
It was a bit surreal to be in Germany surrounded by Germans cheering for things like a first down. Late in the second quarter, they really cheered (and so did I) when Bach intercepted a pass and completed a long return for a touchdown. The Unicorns would go on to beat the visiting Swedish team handily.
Where else could you enjoy a quintessentially German experience of half-timbered market squares, busy beer gardens and sidewalk cafes, an excellent art museum and an American football game?