Villingen-Schwenningen is a city with two separate centres, nestled between the peaks and taiga of the eastern Black Forest. The older of the two, Villingen was founded by the mythical Zähring family, and its millennia-old city walls are still guarded by three gates from the 13th century.
A little younger, Schwenningen rose to become one of Europe’s top watchmakers in the 19th century, a craft that permanently shaped the cityscape. Schwenningen also happens to be the source of one of Germany’s most famous rivers, the Neckar, which emerges in a misty swamp just south of the town.
See if you can time your visit for late winter, when Fasnet unleashes bizarre folk figures into the streets.
Let’s discover the best things to do in Villingen-Schwenningen:
1. Willinger Münster
The heavyweight attraction of Villingen’s Old Town is the magnificent Gothic Münster with its 50-meter-high tower.
It started as a Romanesque church in the 12th century, but in a fire in 1271, the cathedral was rebuilt in high Gothic style.
Those charming towers appeared a little later in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Puritans were in charge here in the 19th century, which unfortunately deprived the cathedral of its most valuable accessories.
But in 2006 it received 51 carillons, one of the largest carillons in southern Germany.
The carillon is an homage to the historic Grüninger clock foundry in Villingen, and it chimes every day at 10:05, 12:05, 15:05 and 18:05.
2. Franziskanermuseum Villingen
The museum is located in the old Franciscan monastery in Villingen, which was dissolved in 1797 after more than 500 years.
Although the name sounds religious and the setting is atmospheric, the museum is more concerned with the rich human history of Villingen-Schwenningen and the Black Forest.
There are seven millennia to explore, and one of the most fascinating exhibits is the reconstructed burial chamber of the Celtic princes, dating back to 616 BC and excavated in the 1970s.
The wooden room is located in the center of the room, and display cases on the walls display 300 precious artifacts such as amber jewelry and amulets, as well as everyday utensils such as razors and nail clippers.
The museum also hosts exhibitions about the famous carnival in Villingen-Schwenningen, a collection of medieval tapestries and a collection of clocks assembled in the city.
3. Uhrenindustriemuseum (Watch Museum)
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Schwenningen was a center of mass production of clocks and other timepieces.
The museum is located on the grounds of the Württembergische Uhrenfabrik Bürk, which was founded in 1855 and is the oldest industrial watch manufacturer in Schwenningen.
The brand was the market leader in precision portable clocks used by the Night’s Watch and later produced alarms and timekeeping devices for railway systems.
Bürk went out of business in the 1980s, and the factory recalls both the history and development of watchmaking technology, as well as the daily life and well-being of the people who work here.
Best of all, you can watch skilled watchmakers hand-craft their alarm cuckoo clocks, which are then sold in the museum’s shop.
4. Münster Brunnen Villingen
Next to the church there is a fountain on Münsterplatz, unveiled by Black Forest artist Klaus Ringwald in 1989. The quirky octagonal sculpture here is made of bronze, gold, enamel and concrete, condensing 1,000 years of the city’s history into a monument.
Each of the eight sides deals with a different period, combining inscriptions with carved figures.
Look closely at the window frames around each character and you’ll see how they change from Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau.
5. Willinger Statmore
Looking at a map of Villingen, it’s easy to pinpoint the location of the city walls.
The ditches protecting the partially intact interior walls form an almost complete oval park belt around the old town.
Three of the four gates survived: Oberes Tor in the north, Riettor in the west and Bickentor in the east.
They are almost identical, built in the middle of the 13th century and about 20 meters high.
The Bickentor is attached to a circle, which appeared in the late 16th century when Villingen was converted into an artillery fortress.
In the western Käferbergle area, the wooden battlements on the walls have been restored, and the most impressive of the remaining towers is the Romäusturm, which dates back to the late 14th century and was used as a prison from the 1500s.
6. Heimat- und Uhrenmuseum Schwenningen
This museum about clocks and local culture is housed in a half-timbered building built in the 1700s that used to be the teachers’ residence.
First opened in 1931, the museum explores the history of Schwenningen from several perspectives: there is an exhibition about the Alemanni tribes around Schwenningen 1300 years ago, and the interiors of rural dwellings, which A 16th-century stone marks the source of the Neckar, as well as 19th-century horse reins from the long-abandoned saltworks in Wilhelmshall.
Upstairs, you can dive into local watchmaking craftsmanship, which has an extensive collection from workshops across the Black Forest.
In addition, there is a private collection of timepieces from the famous watchmaker Hellmut Kienzle, dating from the 1500s to the 1800s, collected from watchmakers all over Germany.
7. Aussichtsturm auf der Wanne
Overlooking Villingen’s old town from the top of Wanne Hill, 778 meters to the east, is an observation tower built in 1888. With its octagonal footprint, three platforms and a steel lattice structure, the tower was completely different from other buildings of the time, and the tower was 30 meters high.
The bell tower was cast and assembled by Glockengießerei Grüninger, a bell foundry in Villingen that dates back to the 17th century.
8. International Aviation Museum
This aviation museum is located in a hangar at Schwenningen am Neckar Airport.
Go inside and see light aircraft like the WWI-era Fokker Dr. I, as well as hundreds of model planes, early de Havilland Ghost jet engines and various ejection seats.
On the asphalt outside, more pistons and jets, gliders and helicopters flew from either side of the Iron Curtain.
Some of the more notable parts are the MiG-15, Aérospatiale Alouette II helicopter, Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, F-104G Starfighter and Hawker Sea Hawk.
9. Schwenninger Muss
On the southern edge of Schwenningen is a three square kilometer marsh and peat bog.
It may sound intimidating now, but Schwenninger Moos has a hiking trail through spruce and birch forests that runs past the pier, allowing you to gaze at this unusual landscape.
What makes Schwenninger Moos so interesting is that over 400 different species of plants thrive in this nature reserve, many of which are rare peat moss.
But the Schwenninger Marsh is also the source of the mighty Neckar, from which the 362-kilometer Rhine journey begins.
10. City Park Möglingshöhe
Merged with Schwenninger Moose in the north is the city park of Schwenningen.
Large areas of the park are occupied by dense forest and are accessible by walking trails.
In the clearing there is a children’s playground, flower beds, hedges, shrubs, sculpture paths and a pond.
But the park’s most famous feature is Nekakel, a monument that marks the official source of the river.
The actual Neckar spring is more widely distributed and emerges in the Schwenninger Moos.
But the emblematic Neckarquelle monument, redesigned for the 2010 National Garden Show, pumps water from deep underground into fountains and down stone pipes into ponds.
11. Benedictine Chapel
The Benedictine church in Villingen is the preserve of a monastery founded in the city in the late 17th century by monks who were forced to move several kilometers down the road from St. Petersburg.
Georgen im Schwarzwald during the Reformation.
The church has a Baroque architecture of its time and was not completed until the 18th century due to the Nine Years’ War and the War of the Spanish Succession.
The nave is 50 meters long and has a stuccoed barrel vault, bordered by galleries, 16 meters above the church floor.
The original organ was designed by two members of the prestigious Silbermann family in Alsace, and although it was demolished after the dissolution of the abbey, it was faithfully rebuilt in 2002.
12. Hubenlock Park
From Villingen’s old town, via Riettor, you will reach Hubenloch, a hill in the west of the city, topped by a 9-hectare park.
When the Baden-Württemberg State Garden Show (Landesgartenshow) came to Schwenningen, the Hubenlochpark was filled with rose gardens, with 100 rose species blooming in summer.
At 750 meters, this is also known as one of the highest rose gardens in Europe.
Another small attraction added before the show is the 25-meter observation tower, which has another satisfying view of Villingen, this time from the west, surrounded by the Wanne hills.
13. Zehndersches Haus
At the Bärengasse in Villingen, you can stop and see some of the most striking half-timbered houses in Villingen’s Old Town.
Zehndersches Haus was built in 1690 for the city’s Augustinian monastery.
What surprises you about the building is its size, with a huge ground floor that could have been used as a warehouse and sales room.
The upper level of the wooden structure is where the living quarters take place.
The house badly decayed at the end of World War II before being rescued in 1970.
14. City Rundle
Mauthe is another staunch watchmaker in Schwenningen, producing timepieces in the city for 130 years and by five generations of the same family until the 1970s.
The Mauthe brand peaked in the 1950s when Volkswagen owners who could drive 100,000 kilometers without major repairs received Mauthe watches as gifts from Volkswagen.
After the factory closed in the 1970s, one of the round gates was converted into a shopping mall, City Rondell.
City Rondell houses a range of popular German retailers such as Gerry Weber, Bijou Brigitte and Esprit under one roof.
In Germany, when most people think of the name Villingen-Schwenningen, they think of the eccentric characters who hit the streets at Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). The most famous of these is “Naro”, dressed in white linen attire decorated with medieval-style images of flora and fauna, with four 18-kilogram bells hanging from his chest.
But the strangest and most important part of the outfit is the wooden mask painted bright orange.
Other characters in the parade are the “Altvillingerin”, dressed in early 19th century fashion with a silk shawl and turban, and the “Wuescht”, who wears straw-filled trousers and a kind of wooden shield for children to throw pine cones and Snowballs are used on them.
Many of these eccentric characters date back to the Middle Ages and have lived through plagues, wars, and bans from the authorities.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany
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