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Gengenbach: Historic Spot with Good Wine in the Black Forest

Located in the central Black Forest, Gengenbach is a small town that offers three things above all: a lot of history, good food and excellent wine. Almost 2,000 years ago, humans already lived in a settlement at this very spot.

Gengenbach, December 6th, 2020. Update: Berlin, September 28th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — Before tourists have eyes for all the beauty and historic buildings around them, they need to be fed well. In Gengenbach, a picturesque wine-growing town of around 11,000 inhabitants in Germany’s Black Forest (read separate piece ‘The Wonders of Germany’s Black Forest‘), getting great food is not a problem at all. The opposite is the case: It is hard to get out of there without overeating.

The ‘Niggelturm’ tower is in sight. So, we must be in Gengenbach. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

No Coincidence

The dark sauce on top of the roast venison they offer at some of the town’s better restaurants is interesting indeed. So is the fact that truck driver-sized meals are being brought to the tables. By the way: What about wine?

They rebuilt the old aqueduct they had hundreds of years ago. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Oh yes, Gengenbach has an annual Wine Fest in September, which is no coincidence, because the town is part of the Ortenau wine region in the Baden wine area. It is all about wine down there. They grow a big grape variety which includes Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Pinot Noir. The waitress who brought the roast venison was surprised when the author ordered an ‘Apfelschorle‘. To locals, that kind of scandalous order is a no-go.

People have been living here for 1,900 years. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Roman Brick Kiln

About 46 years before that nice looking plate of roast venison was delivered to that table, in 1974, the world was still standing. That year, archaeologists unearthed something which, to them, looked exactly like a Roman brick kiln from the second century. Surprisingly, the object turned out to be a Roman brick kiln from the second century. This sensational find proved that there was a settlement right there, some 1,800 to 1,900 years ago, one the inhabitants of which used a Roman brick kiln.

The roast venison comes in dark sauce. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Some 1,100 years later, in the late 12th and early 13th century, a farm and a market at the very same spot developed into a town. Gegenbach was mentioned in a document written in the year 1231. Another 135 years later, in 1366, it became an imperial town. The sky was the limit.

Don’t let them fill you up too much with their good wine. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Turned into Rubble and Rebuilt

In the Thirty Year’s War, which took place in the 17th century, Gengenbach was basically turned into rubble in two wars. After being rebuilt, a big fire in 1789 destroyed dozens of buildings. Once they were rebuilt, the town got the look it still has today.

The Earth was round last time we checked. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In the 19th century, Jews were not allowed to live in Gengenbach for a while. At some point, they returned. But the few Jews who resided there disappeared when the Nazis came to power. It took Gengenbach a while to come to terms with its history. Now, there is a plaque that commemorates the former Jewish congregation, and a small memorial for deported Jews of Gengenbach.

Once you made it to the ‘Obertor’ gate, you are close to the food. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

A Good ‘Spot B’

More than half of all Gengenbachers are Catholics, about one in six residents is Lutheran. There is a mosque as well. In 2019, the inhabitants mainly voted for democratic parties, meaning the extremist right-wing ‘AfD’ luckily does not have a following there. The town has never had a female mayor, but it is not the only one.

Getting lost is easy in Gengenbach. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The Black Forest offers so many nice spots. Gengenbach, with its historic buildings, its good food and wine, is one of them. It is a good spot B that can be discovered on the way from A to C. Combining a visit with some hiking in the hills around town is another good idea.

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