Whatever the season Aschaffenburg is always worth a visit, whether for the magnolia blossom in spring, for Pompeiianum Palace in summer, for Bavaria's oldest English landscaped park in autumn, or for the works of Cranach, Grünewald, Kirchner and Schad in winter. And with Aschaffenburg being a compact town, you can discover its many sights on foot.
This palace, made of red sandstone, is one of the most significant and beautiful Renaissance buildings in Germany. Its unique features include the chapel (complete with Renaissance altar, pulpit and portal sculptures by Hans Juncker), the royal living quarters, the world's largest collection of architectural models made from cork, the state gallery with paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Palace Museum of Aschaffenburg that houses works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Christian Schad.
The many features of the park stretching between Johannisburg Palace and the Pompeiianum include a topiary walkway over the medieval town wall, the neo-classical 'breakfast temple' and part of the former town moat that was landscaped by Friedrich Ludwig Sckell in the 18th century. The Pompeiianum is surrounded by a mediterranean-style section of garden that was laid out in the mid-19th century and features fig trees, araucarias, almond trees, vines, Italian poplars and pines.
This replica of a Roman villa was built at the behest of King Ludwig I, who was inspired by the excavations in Pompeii, and it is the only one of its kind in the world. Architect Friedrich von Gärtner did not overlook a single detail in his design of the atrium and interior. The exquisite frescoes and floor mosaics, for example, give art lovers an ideal replica from which to broaden their understanding of classical culture. The Pompeiianum was badly damaged during the Second World War but reopened in 1994 following several phases of restoration. Since then it has been used to exhibit original Roman works of art from the holdings of the State Antiquities Collections and the Glyptothek in Munich.
The basilica dates back to the days of Duke Liudolf of Swabia in the 10th century and is the only church in the world dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Alexander. In 982 Aschaffenburg – and therefore the former abbey – was incorporated into Mainz and the church and monastic college came to be a dominant factor in the Mainz archbishop's choice of residence. In 1821 the abbey became part of the Bishopric of Würzburg and on its millennial anniversary in 1958, Pope Pius XII made the church a papal basilica – the only one within the bishopric. Today the basilica features a wealth of exquisite historical works, including a 10th-century Ottonian crucifix, Grünewald's Lamentation of Christ and the Maria Schnee Altar as well as a beautiful Romanesque cloister.
The museum's medieval treasure chamber houses an exquisite collection of goldsmith works and liturgical artefacts. Objects made from silver, rock crystal and gold are among the items on display here. The treasury of St. Peter and Alexander comprises every type of ecclesiastical art from the Middle Ages, and includes fine examples of manuscript illuminations, textile crafts and panel painting. The focal point of the exhibition is the Altar of St. Magdalene, a work from the studio of Lucas Cranach the Elder.
With its extensive stucco work, the deconsecrated former church of the Aschaffenburg Jesuits (built between 1619 and 1621 and badly damaged in the Second World War) provides a stunning backdrop for exhibitions of internationally acclaimed art. The exhibition programme changes four times a year. From 2017, as part of the art gallery's expansion, the new Christian Schad Museum will be displaying the world's largest collection of works by this renowned artist of the New Objectivity movement.
The route from Johannisburg Palace to the town hall is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, where traditional bars and quaint restaurants occupy pretty little half-timbered buildings.
With its olive trees, lemon trees and little oleander bushes, Theaterplatz square exudes a mediterranean charm that is heightened by the presence of one of Europe's largest sundials. From the elevated position of the Stadtloggia building you can read the local time from the shadow of the 6.4m 'gnomon' against the lines and arcs on the square's pale granite. The nearby information centre presents fascinating facts about astronomy and the sundial. The modern glass frontage on the other side of the square belongs to the municipal theatre that was originally built in 1811 but suffered heavy damage in the war. The theatre is home to one of Germany's most beautiful neo-classical auditoriums.
The park started life as the menagerie of the archbishop before work began in 1777 to transform it into an English-style landscape garden. The old orangery in the eastern section is home to the famous Hofgarten Kabarett comedy theatre, as well as two restaurants and a beer garden. A particularly romantic spot in the park is the ruin of an old Beguine abbey set in the middle of a small lake. In springtime the main attraction is the magnolia grove with more than 40 magnolia trees, some of which are over a hundred years old.
The influential Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born on 6 May 1880 in close range to the Bavarian/Prussian border train station in Aschaffenburg. As a small boy he drew pictures of trains, locomotives and life on the street – childhood drawings that he reproduced in woodblock prints as an adult. Kirchner attributed great significance to his early childhood experiences in Aschaffenburg and referenced them in his later works of art. The house in which Kirchner was born survived the war virtually unscathed and since 2013 has been used as a documentation centre for Kirchner's childhood and as a venue for Kirchner-related exhibitions.
Historical documents such as photographs and newspaper articles illustrate the turbulent lives of the Jewish community in Aschaffenburg, which was one of the largest in Bavaria. Events that occurred locally are used to shed light on political developments and their repercussions. It also becomes clear how heavily the Jewish residents influenced the town's economy and cultural life. The former Rabbi house, where the museum is located today, was once only a short distance from the synagogue that was built between 1891 and 1893 and destroyed in the 'Night of Broken Glass' of 1938, and in whose memory a grove of plane trees was planted in 1984. A short film, featuring a virtual reconstruction of the synagogue, tells of the building's remarkable history.
The oldest of Bavaria's English-style landscaped parks was established in 1775. Friedrich Ludwig Sckell lent Schönbusch Park its classical form, while Emanuel Joseph von Herigoyen, architect to the royal court, designed the various architectural features on the site. The classical palace features a sweeping vista to Johannisburg Palace, while its rooms, with their Louis XVI inspired furnishings, provide an insight into regal domestic life at the end of the 18th century. Kleine Schönbuschallee, a 2.4km avenue of lime trees, connects the 150-hectare park with the town.
Aschaffenburg's convenient location, just 40km from Frankfurt, means it is very easy to reach. Whether you're planning a stopover, a day trip or you're staying a few days to enjoy the magical Spessart hills – a visit to Aschaffenburg is always a memorable one!
Information: Aschaffenburg Tourist Information (see below)