The road snakes through the German countryside, through forested hills and past tiny sparkling lakes in Baden-Württemberg. It’s a region famous for Germany´s Black Forest, the kind of place I always hope for when I plan a trip to Germany. Towns lie clustered along narrow, twisting rivers, their brick and half-timbered facades covered by red tile roofs and looking as if they hadn’t changed in centuries.
Which is pretty much the case with Maulbronn Monastery (Kloster Maulbronn). The centerpiece of the town of Maulbronn, this monastery looks largely as it did when it was built by Cistercian monks more than 860 years ago.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You love exploring achingly-beautiful German villages.
- You aim to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
- Good for: Those who love medieval European history, architecture, and art.
Maulbronn is considered the best-preserved monastery complex north of the Alps. Begun in 1147 near the banks of the River Salzach and midway between the Rhine and Neckar Rivers, Maulbronn was the perfect location for a Cistercian community, a brotherhood required not simply to meditate, pray and teach but also to earn its own livelihood through manual labor. This little German valley would provide enough water, timber, vineyards and meadows for the monks and their lay brothers to provide for themselves—and then some—for centuries.
Monastery in the Making
Kloster Maulbronn began with a church (naturally) and a dormitory for the brothers. But over time many more structures were added to the complex including storage buildings, stables, an infirmary, a pharmacy, a cooperage, a vintner’s building and a city wall.
The church itself was enlarged, too, to include a cloister and a dining hall for the monks. And underneath the entire complex runs an underground water system built by the Cistercians centuries ago.
While early buildings at Maulbronn were constructed with sandstone blocks mined locally in the austere, Romanesque style, the monastery’s architecture evolved over time. When the cloister’s south wing was constructed in the early Gothic style in 1300, it was the first time that Gothic architecture had been seen in German-speaking Europe.
Maulbronn after the Monks
In the mid-16th century, after the Reformation, the Maulbronn complex was converted into a Protestant boarding school. Württemberg’s schools had an exceptionally good reputation for producing well-educated students and Maulbronn was no exception, having graduated the scientist Johannes Kepler, poet Friedrich Hölderlin and Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse.
Maulbronn Monastery was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Not all of Maulbronn’s medieval buildings remain. But those that do are in remarkable condition.
Modern visitors still enter the monastery’s city walls by way of the Gate Tower. Inside the Romanesque monastery church visitors see a ceiling of Gothic arches, evidence of a transition between architectural styles.
The Gothic cloister remains a graceful and peaceful retreat, as does the fountain house, one of the most beautiful and often-photographed locations in the monastery. And a variety of medieval artworks are still visible, including pale wall paintings in the arched ceilings of the fountain house and the monks’ dining hall.
Even the landscape continues to show evidence of the Cistercian monks that once called Maulbronn home. Irrigation ditches, manmade lakes and hillside terraces are still clearly visible. And the monastery’s school continues as well, these days called the Evangelical Theological Seminary.
I couldn’t leave Maulbronn before having lunch at the Restaurant Klosterkatz (Monastery Cat). For one thing, its sign bore the image of the cutest little black cat, stretching itself. For another, it sat overlooking the monastery courtyard and fountain, its outdoor tables shielded by umbrellas and pots of pink oleander. I couldn’t think of a better lunchtime view.
- Maulbronn Monastery sits in the heart of Maulbronn, Germany, about 25 miles east of Karlsruhe. The complex is an easy ½-mile walk from the Maulbronn Stadt train station.
- English-language literature is available in the ticket office to help you understand what you´re seeing.
- Guided tours are available in English but you must make arrangements in advance via email or phone.
- Restaurant Klosterkatz’s menu and location.
- Admission fees (German only, 7€) and opening hours (German only).