Otterberg celebrates 425 years of city rights

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Otterberg, the medieval town north of Kaiserslautern celebrates 425 years of city rights with a variety of events this year.

The next celebration is an entertaining evening offered by SWR radio station presenting well-known singers, local musicians and the gospel choir Body, Soul and Fun at 8 p.m. Thursday in Stadthalle. Advance tickets are available at the local Kreissparkasse bank.

An international high-jump meeting with talented athletes is scheduled to start 2 p.m. Feb. 11. Children’s events, concerts and more sports events will follow to highlight the anniversary.

The official 425th-anniversary ceremony will take place April 2. Roland Paul from the Palatinate Institute for Palatinate History and Folklore will present the local history.

The actual date when the town received its city right is March 26, 1581, proved in a document by Pfalzgraf Johann Casimir. In the 1570s, Otterberg gave shelter to Protestant refugees from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the so-called Wallons. Their hard work and economic understanding helped the settlement to grow fast and thus to receive city rights. Many framework buildings are kept from this time. Also, Otterberg is known as Wallons’ town.

Actually, Otterberg’s history dates back 1140, when Duke Siegfried von Kesselstadt gave his castle called Otterburg to cistercian monks from the Eberbach Abbey in the Rheingau. According to the regulations of their order, the monks started building a monastery with the church at the bottom of the castle in 1168. They needed almost nine decades to finish it. Bishop Arnold from Luettich consecrated the Abbey Church in 1254.

The downfall of the monastery started in 1380 and ended in 15th century. In the Bavarian War of Succession in 1504 the monastery was ravaged and plundered.  In the peasants’ war in 1525, the local farmers and peasants stormed the monastery and destroyed everything they couldn’t carry away. Reformation was introduced in the area in 1556, and in 1559, the last four monks turned away from their faith. The last abbot, Wendelin Merbot, left the monastery in 1561 and in 1564, there was no more monastery. The religious refugees, the Wallons, who started coming to Otterberg used the stones of the monastery to build their houses. The stone-cut picture on the fountain at “Kirchplatz” in front of Abbey Church talks about the foundation of the monastery and about the Wallons moving into town.

The Abbey Church is the token of ***image2***the city and known as the second biggest sacral building in the Pfalz; the Cathedral in Speyer is the biggest one.

Its architectural structure is in the late “Romanesque and Gothic style. In the second half of the 16th century, the church was taken over by the Protestants. In the 18th century, Catholics were permitted to share the church with Protestants, but they were separated by a wall dividing the church into two halves.

During renovations, starting in the 1980s, the wall was broken down. In 1991, renovations were finished and the church was consecrated by the two denominations. The Abbey Church is still a joint place of worship.

The 17th and 18th centuries left also traces in town. The old pharmacy on Hauptstrasse 61 is a framework building from 1608. Today it houses the town library and is a meeting place for senior citizens. The “Blaues Haus,” blue house, on Kirchstrasse 1 was built in 1612 on foundation walls of the monastery. Since 1790 it was a brewery and gasthaus. It received its name in 1926, when, during renovation, the window shutters were painted blue. Today, it still houses a restaurant and the art smith sign haging above the entrance shows the symbol of brewers.

The “Stadthaus,” the old town hall on Hauptstrasse 54, is a Baroque style building from 1753. Today it houses a museum for local history with old craftsmen’s machines, tools and clothes.

More fascinating framework buildings, as well as parts of the well-kept town wall, can be explored on a walk through Otterberg.