By Lisa Qian
Centuries-old monasteries, castles and palaces crowd Europe like a legion of tourists flocking to Buckingham Palace or the Eiffel Tower. But within this congested class of history and beyond the typical tourist fodder, there exists an entirely different league of fairytale fantasy, a group of attractions that offers a divergence from the flux of selfie-stick clad visitors whose only other goal beyond snapping pictures is finding free WIFI to post those pictures.
But it’s not just the breed of visitors that separates this class—the difference also lies within the institutions themselves. These attractions are not heavily marketed antiquities meant to be milked for every last dollar—or euro—they’re worth. They don’t have brand or name recognition. Instead, they’re local and undiscovered, well-kept secrets that are content to flourish in their relative peace.
And to a lucky visitor, this league offers immersion, communion and tranquility, the kind of visit that’s about steeping oneself in the past, that’s about appreciating serenity and beauty within the fast-paced lives that we all lead. Bebenhausen, a former Cistercian Monastery on the outskirts of Tübingen, Germany, exemplifies all of these virtues. In a sleepy hamlet of 300, the monastery is a lullaby to dreams of twelfth-century chivalry.
The architecture is an idyllic blend of medieval styles. The cloisters themselves are Romanesque, but the towering stone steeple swirls upward with the intricacy of Gothic carvings. Through the years, its appearance has stayed much the same, although after the Reformation, the abbey was abandoned for 150 years, only to be rediscovered by the Kings of Württemberg. They found the location ideal for a hunting lodge and in 1868, many of the interiors were converted to the style of the 19th century. Its more modern history is likewise fascinating. For seven years after World War II, Bebenhausen was the government seat of Württemberg-Hohenzollern, a French-controlled portion of Germany. In 1952, Bebenhausen lost this distinction when France’s three parts were merged into a single state, which we know now as Baden-Württemberg.
These days, the pace is much slower. The monastery sees perhaps a school group a day, but for the most part, it’s quiet. Morning visits in particular are often silent and one might find the place empty, save for the ticket seller. But that’s perfect for a picnic on the beautiful green, which allows for relaxation and communion with the abbey’s beauty. It doesn’t take much imagination to see life here almost a millennium ago, with the silence as a guide.
But beyond the exterior, of note in particular are the refectories. The summer refectory’s painted groin vault offers an opulent contrast to the asceticism that the Cistercian order’s reformer, Bernard of Clairvaux, championed. Württemberg-Hohenzollern’s parliament met in the winter refectory, and one can only imagine how much debate and discourse the room saw as the state attempted to rebuild itself after the devastating war.
The hunting lodge is also well worth a visit. It was the portion of the monastery converted to suit the needs of the kings of Württemberg and, after the abolishment of monarchy, housed the line’s last King and Queen. They lived in Bebenhausen for the rest of their lives and their modern amenities are abundant. A kitchen that still works today and a bathroom with faucets and plumbing are just some of the reminders of our propinquity to history, and a visit to Bebenhausen allows just that history to live on.
- April 1 – October 31, Mondays 9 AM – 12 and 1 – 6 PM, Tuesday through Sunday 9 AM – 6 PM
- November 1 – March 31, closed Mondays, Tuesday through Sunday 10 AM – 12 and 1 – 5 PM
- Available in English upon advanced arrangement
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Lisa Qian is a freshman in Silliman College. Lisa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.