Square, rectangle, diagonal and lots of jewelry to go with it: Along the German Half-Timbered Houses Route in northern Hesse are towns where you can best experience the flair and architecture of past centuries. Because there are still many impressive houses built of wood, stone and clay..

As recently as the 1960s and 1970s, they were left to fall into disrepair, preferring to build new and completely modern. But that was a long time ago, and today we love half-timbered houses again - and marvel at the perfectly renovated old houses made of wood, stone and clay that make our old towns shine. What strong contrasts of wood and light facades! What patterns, what attention to detail ... In many places, people are even building with half-timbering again today - because it looks beautiful and because natural materials like wood, stone and clay provide a first-class indoor climate. 

Worth seeing half-timbered towns

The solidly built half-timbered houses in northern Hesse were mostly built in the 16th to 19th centuries - and you don't need to be an architecture expert to be inspired by them. You will discover particularly beautiful examples that bear witness to the passionate craftsmanship of their builders in Fritzlar, Frankenberg, Schwalmstadt, Spangenberg, Melsungen, Rotenburg an der Fulda or Eschwege, for example - they are located along the German Half-Timbered Houses Route. Roughly speaking, this runs from the Elbe in the north to Lake Constance.

Farm barns and half-timbered castles

Have you ever wondered how such a house was actually built? Because if you know more about a subject, you discover a lot more and look at it with completely different eyes. So here's a mini basic course in half-timbered construction techniques. Most of the houses still standing in Germany today have a brick base on which the wooden skeleton construction was built - so there were fewer problems with rising damp. You can tell by the sheer dimensions and the amount of gimmickry and ornamentation whether the former clients of timber frame construction had money to spend - and in northern Hesse you'll find everything from the simple-solid timber frame farm barn to the little castle with wood. It is fun to take a closer look at the building constructions and to think about who originally built and used the respective building.

Sample buildings

Incidentally, people have been building with wood in rural regions for much longer than in the city - which is why many unique buildings worth seeing were built in northern Hesse as late as the 19th century. In urban areas, stone houses were already being built for the most part at that time - they were considered more modern and were less complicated in terms of fire protection. By the way, experts can often tell from the patterns of the half-timbering in which region a building is located - but that is of course a whole science in itself.

Stands, struts, plinths ...

On the masonry bases, craftsmen now erected a lattice of vertical wooden posts and horizontally and diagonally inserted struts. The spaces in between were then stabilized with small branches and filled with a mixture of clay and straw - sometimes also with quarry stones or bricks. Finished? Not quite, because stability was first given to the houses by a wooden floor sill. This was a wooden frame resting on the ground or a wall, in which all the posts were fixed. Such a threshold was given to each floor. In this way, it was possible to build up to five floors on top of each other - sustainably, with natural materials and almost without nails and screws. The timbers were sawn out in such a way that crosspieces found a firm hold - a kind of complicated plug-in construction. The constructions of posts and struts, supports and transoms, sleepers and beams lasted for centuries - and continue to fascinate the local population and guests to this day.

Town hall in Frankenberg

The best thing to do is to stroll through the villages and small towns of northern Hesse and let yourself drift - usually the next special house is just a winding alley or a corner away. And each one, with its construction, ornamentation, figurative sculptures, Bible verses and aphorisms, reflects not only its own architectural history, but also that of the region. And the life of the builder. Frankenberg, for example, had achieved a certain prosperity in the 16th century through copper and silver finds: the half-timbered town hall with its ten pointed towers and its playful ornaments tells of this wealth and probably also of the growing self-confidence of the local middle classes. Moreover, it would make a splendid fairy-tale backdrop ...

Exemplary architecture

The pride of the citizens is also represented, for example, by the patrician house "Löwe" in Bad Sooden-Allendorf or the "Kaufhäuschen" in Fritzlar, which was built between 1475 and 1480 by the merchants' guild of that time. Melsungen, where you can take a walk along the Fulda, has a townscape like centuries ago. And in Eschwege there are still over 1000 richly decorated half-timbered houses, some with unique carvings. Let yourself drift, pay attention to special details. And imagine how it must have been in these old towns a few centuries ago - when wooden beams were handled, when clay was mixed and straw was brought in for the roofs. Close your eyes, listen to the hammering, pounding and certainly sometimes swearing. The skill of the craftsmen back then has given the region a unique heritage. 

Sleep better in the framework

And if you'd like to try out how it feels to sleep in such an old house made of natural materials - there are many hotels and vacation farms that welcome guests and their questions about half-timbered heritage. A particularly nice example? The 300-year-old Weidelshof of Regine and Jürgen Günst in Naumburg near Kassel. According to experts, even half-timbered wood was used there, some of which is a few hundred years older. So back then, people not only intuitively knew about a good room and sleeping climate. Recycling was also appreciated.

Cover photo: The Frankenberg town hall was built in 1509 and has been enthroned on the market square ever since © Paavo Blafield

In collaboration with Hesse tourism

Hiking through quiet low mountain ranges, old beech forests or orchards, paddling on the Lahn, looking at the most beautiful medieval half-timbered houses and soaking up the atmosphere of historic spas - Hessen makes romantic souls happy all around. But gourmets also get their money's worth on wine hikes, in Hessian butcher shops and with "Handkäs mit Musik", a pickled cheese. Reasons for a Vacation in Hesse there are enough!

More articles from Hesse