Isn’t it curious how all small German towns look alike, as if they’re following a certain pattern? You’ll always find the same key elements: enchanting centuries old half-timbered houses with stacks of flowers hanging from their windows, a stream cutting the town in half, and of course, the icing on the cake, a medieval castle standing tall overhead all of the above.
Far behind all those big cities crammed with people and their hassle, narrow winding roads take those curious enough along seemingly endless valleys and forests, all the way to those idyllic towns postcards always reminded us of their existence, yet we never thought were true. It is a sort of unwritten rule that after almost every tight turn, woods make way for settlements that I bet were the inspiration behind the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, such classics as Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and even Rapunzel. Frankenjura, or Franconian Switzerland, makes no exception. In fact, it represents the very essence of German mysticism and tradition. Plus, its vast forests would have made the perfect hideout for Robin Hood and his band of vigilantes.
Think fairy tales, princesses, and noblemen. Then close your eyes. What do you see? I can tell you the first thing that pops up in my mind, and that’s Pottenstein. Somewhere in the very heart of these mysterious woods lies a small town that reads bohemian and laid back lifestyle like nothing else. Pottenstein is your typical medieval German town. It embodies everything that could ever make me feel that I’m living the fairytale. Strategically located at the convergence of three valleys, it is enclosed by oddly shaped limestone cliffs, the ancestral guardians of these woods, it’s as if giants had a blast playing around with all kinds of boulders in these parts. There’s a peaceful town center where both locals and visitors gather each evening, with a charming water fountain at the feet of Saint Elizabeth’s statue, so simple and yet so graceful. A not too long main street with perfectly aligned traditional half-timbered houses is filled with beer gardens and souvenir shops. Only here and there, incredibly narrow alleys break the pattern. And those who dare to venture on one of these dark and claustrophobic alleys are in for a treat. You’ll be taken behind the houses, where a gently flowing stream makes its way, filled with trout, its riverbed assaulted by vegetation, giving birth to small isles. So many pedestrian bridges cross the river, as if every house has its own, pots of flowers hanging by their handrails. Tiny green spaces open up in the most unexpected of places, with old statues and small fountains, something like a fantasy world, the kind you never thought could actually be real.
From everywhere you stand, you’ll feel as if someone or something is watching you. Perched high up on a cliff, the Pottentein Castle guards the valleys underneath. Burg Pottenstein is the oldest castle in Franconian Switzerland. Around 1,000 years old, its history and faith is bound to Saint Elizabeth, and numerous legends and stories still cover Pottenstein like a thick mist.
Saint Elizabeth was the widow of Louis IV, Landgrave of Thuringia, a federal state in Germany under the Holy Roman Empire. She was held hostage within the castle walls between 1228 and 1229. Many buildings in town still bear Saint Elizabeth’s name, and she is believed to be the protector of these lands. Built at the beginning of the 11th century, the Pottenstein Castle is still inhabited today. Since 1918, the Barons, a family of aristocratic origins, and the Baroness of Wintzingerode took over the estate. The castle is open for visitors in weekends during summer. Only three rooms can be visited, out of which the most popular is the Elizabeth Room.
Pottenstein has everything you could ask for from a town where time slows down. Dominated by a fascinating castle bathed in legend, there’s your customary centuries old chapel, restaurants, beer gardens, souvenir shops, a lovely stream, a mountain shop, a mountain rescue headquarters, or Bergwacht, and even its own brewery, Wagner Brau, which you simply must try. What’s even more, Pottenstein is located in the heart of Frankenjura, a rock climbing paradise with more than 10,000 climbing routes for all tastes, one of the largest climbing areas in Europe. Pottenstein is one of the start-off points for rock climbing in Frankenjura, but there’s also plenty to do in your spare time for fun.
Sommerrodelbahnen Pottenstein, literally meaning Summer Toboggan, is a major tourist attraction in the area. Just outside of town, simply let yourself be guided by the loud screams of people riding down the summer bobsleigh, and you won’t miss it. There are caves to explore, such as the famous Teufelshohle, the Devil’s Cave, the longest in Germany. And it seems the area surrounding the small town abounds in fossils. There’s even a shop selling fossils in the town center, from small to really large pieces, all quite cheap. Pottenstein is definitely one of the best places to stay at when in Frankenjura, and I could easily move here for a few weeks, with my life all packed inside my Members lightweight luggage set.
There was something in the way the shades of green of the forests and pastures blended in with the colorful half-timbered houses and their flowers, as well as with the washed-up gray of the castle above, that made me question whether I was imagining the whole thing. It all seemed unreal, as if painted by a gifted painter with such mastery that not even my camera could capture, only the eyes and the mind that will keep these images locked in forever.