Visiting Schwäbisch Hall

Visiting Schwäbisch Hall

I regularly peruse German instagram tags looking for new places to visit, and I had noticed one place kept popping up: Schwäbisch Hall. I remembered passing the exit on the Autobahn quite a few times, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it was a cute Fachwerk (half-timbred) town, but not much else. One Sunday, we went to investigate, and am I ever glad we did.

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Who can resist these cute Fachwerk houses along the river?

Who can resist these cute Fachwerk houses along the river?

Schwäbisch Hall history

I had assumed that the town was named for a building, but in fact the ‘Hall’ refers to the West Germanic word for ‘drying something by heating it’ and by extension the saltworks that was the town’s min industry for hundreds of years. Possibly. To be fair, no one is exactly sure, and the town itself was just called ‘Hall’ for much of its history. The ‘Schwäbisch’ bit refers to Swabia, a linguistic and cultural region of Germany that includes much of this south west corner of the country – but isn’t actually a state or officially delineated on maps. It has its own German dialect and a very specific (and incredibly good, I should add) group of foods and dishes.

A cold snowy day in Schwäbisch Hall

A cold snowy day in Schwäbisch Hall

The town itself has been the site of salt production since the 5th century when the Celts started boiling off the water from the local saltwater spring, and the last saltworks shut down only in 1925. Before the advent of refrigeration, salt was an absolutely critical substance, allowing people to preserve and dry foods to last over the winter – think sauerkraut, sausages, bacon, pickles. Salt was also used to clean kitchen equipment and surfaces, preventing the spread of bacteria. You can see why a town like Hall would become very prosperous as the centre of salt production.

Colourful houses face the Marktplatz

Colourful houses face the Marktplatz

What to do in Schwäbisch Hall

This gorgeous town survived the Thirty Years War and the Second World War mostly intact when it comes to Fachwerk buildings. Just wandering through the old town is a good few hours activity. The town is set into a little valley around the river Kocher. The Marktplatz is up the hill a bit, and features these three colourful houses you can see in my photo above, as well as an impressive staircase leading up to the church of St Michael. These steps have quite a history of their own, as this is the site of a great outdoor theatre festival that has been running since the 1920s. In the summer you can catch the weekly farmers market here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until midday, and during Advent the Christmas market is here as well. The South German Cheese Market takes place here at the beginning of May as well.

Checking out the ducks, who knew full well where the food comes from at this time of year!

Checking out the ducks, who knew full well where the food comes from at this time of year!

Wander down the winding streets towards the river, and you will find a couple of covered bridges, a park, playground, and the rebuilt Globe Theatre. Down along the river you will also find the Hallisch-Frankisches Museum. For free entry you can learn about the history of salt production, the open-air theatre, and marvel at the piles of historic artefacts from medieval torture chairs to remnants of Celtic stonework.

On the other side of the river and up the hill is the big art gallery, the Kunsthalle Würth, with a rotating exhibition schedule (check their website). This is no small town gallery – when we were there, they had works by Botticelli, Rembrandt and Rubens. There’s the Firefighting Museum (Haller Feuerwehr Museum), which we missed out on with our visit unfortunately! If you’ve got a small person into fire engines, this place will be a huge hit.

We also took a couple of hours in the Großcomburg Monastery on a hill above the town, and it’s so worth the short bus ride.

The covered bridges are particularly cute.

The covered bridges are particularly cute.

The 'new' City Hall, which replaces an old half-timbred one destroyed by fire sometime in the 17th century.

The ‘new’ City Hall, which replaces an old half-timbred one destroyed by fire sometime in the 17th century.

You can see the hills rising up beyond the town here.

You can see the hills rising up beyond the town here.

The famous St Michael's church with it's front steps used for open-air theatre productions.

The famous St Michael’s church with it’s front steps used for open-air theatre productions.

 

What to eat in Schwäbisch Hall

We didn’t have a chance to have a proper meal in town but living so close to Swabia, I can definitely share with you some excellent Swabian dishes you absolutely should try.

Maultaschen are a bit like big ravioli, but much denser. Traditionally filled with meat and cheese, these pasta pockets are called ‘God-cheaters’ in Swabian, referring to the story that the monks would eat them during Lent, hiding the meat from God by covering it in pasta dough. Now you can find Maultaschen of all varieties, from vegan to chicken. The classic way to have it is in broth with chives, but you may also see it served pan-fried. If you go into a grocery store in this region, you will find entire chiller cabinets filled with Maultaschen. They are definitely a favourite in our house.

A bowl of steaming Maultaschen I made at home.

A bowl of steaming Maultaschen I made at home.

Käsespätzle is a glorious glorious thing. Spätzle are little egg noodles made fresh by rubbing the dough over a pot of boiling water. Käsespätzle involves taking those freshly cooked little noodles and layering them with mild cheeses and butter, then topping the whole melting mass with crispy fried onions. You can get this as a dish to itself, or as a side with something else.

Potato salad is a German specialty, of course, but the Swabian version is famous. Instead of a mayonnaise dressing, the Swabian potato salad involves vinegar and onions, it’s quite sharp tasting and a good foil to the richer dishes.

How to get to Schwäbisch Hall

By car, you can reach Schwäbisch Hall in about two and a half hours from Frankfurt or Munich. By train, it’s about three hours from either Munich or Frankfurt, involving a change or two of trains as Schwäbisch Hall is on a smaller branch line.

You can book your train right here, in English:



Hotels in Schwäbisch Hall

We didn’t stay overnight, but for a small town, Hall has a fair amount of cute little places to stay. It’s worth keeping mind that the Goethe Institut runs a popular German language programme here, so book your accommodation as early as you can.



Booking.com

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