|A Walking Tour of Old Baumholder|
|Though peripherally related to WWII history, the Altstadt is too interesting to miss. Begin your tour at the Rathaus Parkplatz described above.
First stop is the Rathaus, directly in front of the parking lot. The original 1814 building was rebuilt after the “Great Fire” in 1880 and includes a clock which must be handwound daily. The sobering display of Baumholder’s war dead is in the first floor foyer on the left. On the second floor just right of the staircase is the “history room”, open mornings during the week. Note the old property book, the chest which contained Baumholder’s historical records (and was almost discarded by accident a few years ago), and the handbell which served as a public alert system until 1953. The room was donated by Herr and Frau Grimm from proceeds of their history book on Baumholder.
The model of Baumholder was constructed to exactly match 1760 property maps and shows an Altstadt virtually unchanged for 500-600 years. The streets and many of the buildings from the original maps are easily identifiable.
Of particular note is the 1585 wall enclosing the town. The fortress was locked and patrolled at night and had two gates plus a “back door” to allow transport of bodies into the old cemetery. The wall was two feet thick and eighteen feet high surrounded by a waterless ditch fifteen feet deep and sixty feet wide. Many town improvements during these years were initiated by the church-based government in Zweibrucken. Some houses in the lower spots even had running water during these years, a result of the five hundred meter difference in elevation from upper to lower Baumholder. Unfortunately most of the many half-timbered buildings in the Altstadt burned in 1880.
Exit the Rathaus and bear right across the street to Badegasse. The perfectly preserved “Schmiede Bier” (blacksmith shop) is a few meters past the corner on the right. The shop remains fully functional and was operated by the same family from 1840 until 1973.
Continuing up the street one block to the triangular corner, look to the right on Scheer Strasse, house # 4. Frau Grimm moved into this house with her aunt after her own family home was bombed in Saarbrucken. It was from this house she watched the Amis roll into town in March 1945.
Walk further up the hill to the intersection of Badegasse and Oberstrasse. The building on the right corner with “Erbaut 1898-1899” on its side is the old Baumholder School. US troops headquartered here when they entered the town in March 1945. One of the many public fountains stood on the northwest (upper left) corner of the intersection. The fountains were covered over when underground water lines were laid in about 1910.
Turn left on to Oberstrasse, a narrow street which housed farmers and craftsmen in earlier years. The intersection of Pfennigstrasse (marked with a linden tree and bench) was the Middle Age site of the weekly town market, one of the first in the area. Another public fountain stood in this location. The fire of 1880 began in the house on the northwest corner when straw in the ceiling was ignited by a cooking fire.
Continue one block straight ahead on Burgfrieden Strasse, turning right at the next corner. About thirty meters up the street – and only 150 meters from the US Army post - is the Dicker Turm, or “Fat Tower”, providing a panoramic view of Baumholder. Herzog Johann von Zweibrucken used wine tax to build this lookout post in 1500. Remnants of the original city wall are visible to the right of the entrance, which in Middle Age fashion is wide enough to admit only one person at a time. A 1969 photo inside the tower shows the structure prior to renovation in 1982-88.
Backtrack to Oberstrasse and bear right at the intersection with Kirchpfad. The orange-trimmed Catholic Church of St. Simon and Jude is just ahead at the west end of the cemetery, with the older Protestant Church at the east. Frau Grimm said in earlier years it was local custom for Baumholder couples to walk up this hill to their wedding.
Across the street and in between the churches is the 1936 Nazi-built Kindergarten. This charming building with wood-framed windows has been restored but looks much as it did when it was built. The “new cemetery” from 1914 is across the street from the “old cemetery”, under the playground next to the Protestant Church. The 1500’s city wall ran along the right (downhill) side of this street.
Note the stone arch on the right side of Kirchpfad, leading to the Protestant Church. This 1579 Leichenpfortchen, or “Corpse Gate” was an opening in the city fortress to bring bodies in for burial. A small bridge stood just in front of the gate.
Turn past the Leichenpfortchen to the white Protestant Church, the older of the two churches. Parts of the church date back 800 years, with the sanctuary itself built in 1748. According to the present pastor, the uncomfortably-narrow pews in the sanctuary were perfectly suitable to people of smaller stature and used to sitting upright on straight chairs. Early 1930’s photos show a much darker church interior with abundant wood trim; the church was renovated in the early 1950’s as funds became available, and perhaps to make an emotional break with the war years. The pastor laughed and said “Now we are beginning to make it look old again!”
Just west of the front door a plaque marks the spot where 2003 construction unearthed a skeleton. The bones were dated to 920 by researchers in Koln, likely indicating a settlement was present at that time in this location.
Exit the church and walk down the steps. The Rathaus and parking lot are straight ahead a few blocks, but the east gate of the city during the Middle Ages is only a short distance to the left on the Hauptstrasse. The pedestrian crosswalk at Hinter Haselweg marks the eastern edge of the city in 1760.
Turn right at the corner and walk a few blocks down the hill to see the city pond or Stadtweihe. The large sports and school complex built between 1956 and 1963 is just adjacent to the lake. Visitors can still take a swim in the 2 ½ acre spring fed lake at a small beach directly across from the complex. Herr Grimm said it’s “good swimming”, just like 75 years ago when he spent “almost every day” of his younger years swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter.