With a history stretching back 1,250 years, Bretten is a delight. In town are colourful half-timbered houses, a maze of alleyways, unusual museums and the legacy of a famous son. Out of town are the vineyards of the Kraichgau hill country and, nearby, the Stromberg-Heuchelberg Nature Reserve. This unspoilt countryside is perfect for hiking and biking, while the annual summer festival is a major event, for locals and visitors alike. Best of all, Bretten is just an hour northwest of Stuttgart.
Martin Luther’s best friend
Philipp Melanchthon is known in world history as the scholarly companion to Martin Luther. Born in Bretten in 1497 to the Schwartzerd family, he later adopted the Greek version of his birth name: Melanchthon. As an adult, his cool, calm, organisational skills were the perfect foil to the Reformation hero’s charisma and rhetoric. Learn more about him at the neo-Gothic Melanchthonhaus. One of the town’s most important sights, it is built on the site of Melanchthon’s birthplace (www.melanchthon.com/Melanchthonhaus-Bretten/en/index.php).
The St Peter and Paul Festival
This four-day spectacle is the oldest folk festival in the state. Now on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, it commemorates the successful defence of Bretten in 1504. Some 4,000 men, women and children dress in medieval costumes and play out episodes from the town’s history. There are drums, music, folk dancing and all the fun of 500 years ago – especially on the final day, when a huge procession winds along the cobbled streets (the first weekend after 29 June). Other annual events include the five-day wine fair (end of September) and the traditional Christmas market with crafts and a skating rink (December).
Bretten at a glance
- Where: One hour northwest of Stuttgart; idyllic location in Kraichgauer hill country
- Population: 29,000
- Climate: Sunny and mild
- Landmarks and events: Melanchthon House Museum; St Peter and Paul Festival in early July
- Weekly Market: Wednesdays and Saturdays in the marketplace
Eating and shopping
Head for the lovely old market square, bordered by colourful 300-year-old half-timbered houses. Sit at an outdoor table; sip a glass of local wine; soak up the sun; watch the world go by. On Saturdays, the market bustles with shoppers loading up with fresh, local, organic produce. Shop at the Weisshofer Galerie for organic food, fashion, crafts and children’s toys. For a feel of the past, with great food and drink, head for the 300-year-old Lamm (15 Pforzheimer Strasse). Sit in the Alte Stube, the old tavern, the Enoteca, or down in the vaulted cellar. In summer, the garden is delightful. Order Flammkuchen, Alsace-style pizza and a bottle of local wine.
Guardian Angels and Tanners
The Deutsches Schutzengel-Museum, the German Guardian Angel Museum, is a one-off. The paintings and carvings of angels come from around the world, different religions and across the centuries. Find it in the handsome Schweizer Hof, just minutes from the market square. By contrast, the Gerberhaus, Tanner’s House, is the oldest building in town. Dating back to 1585, it is home to a tannery and leather museum
Man’s best friend
The Brettner Hundle, the Bretten Dog, is a local hero. It was during a siege that the council decided on a cunning plan. They fed all the remaining food to a dog. The plump pooch was sent through the gate, as proof that the inhabitants still had plenty to eat. The dismayed enemy abandoned the siege – after cutting off the dog’s tail. Or so the story goes. A statue of the tailless canine tops a fountain in Melanchthonstrasse.
Although the town’s walls are long gone, three medieval towers survive. The most impressive is the Pfeiferturm, dating back to the 13th century. Borrow the key from the tourist office (3 Melanchthonstrasse) and climb up for the views.