Lauffen is a town in the district of Heilbronn, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is situated on the river Neckar, 9 km southwest of Heilbronn. The town is famous as the birthplace of the poet Friedrich Hölderlin and for its quality wines – in particular the “Lauffener Katzenbeißer Schwarzriesling“.
It is presumed that the area around Lauffen had already been settled in pre-Christian times, although the only evidence consists of a few bones. The settlement’s high level of frequentation can be attributed to the shallow water between the present old Neckar bridge and the cliffs by the castle and Regiswindis Church. Here the river was fordable for most of the year and the spot used by both men and animals as a crossing point. Such opportunities were few and far between along this stretch of the original Neckar. Indeed, the nearest fords were some kilometres distant. The two prominent cliffs may well have served as lookouts and refuges since primeval times.
The foundations of a Roman estate (Villa Rustica) dating from between the 2nd and 3rd centuries, along with coins and pottery, were discovered some two kilometres to the southeast of the present town centre. Archaeological excavations show that the Alemannians came to the area in around 260 AD upon the departure of the Romans. With the arrival of the Franks in 500 AD, a royal estate was founded together with a church dedicated to St Martin. The ownership of the estate alternated frequently between princes and church. A document from 823 refers to this “church in the tribal district of Neckar which is dedicated to Saint Martin in the Villa Hlauppa.”
The name "Hlauppa" (which has become "Lauffen") is characteristic of places with rapids or waterfalls. Other examples of this derivation are Laufen and Laufenburg. The rapids which are occasionally visible at Lauffen were created by erosion when the Neckar shortened its course after breaking through the neck of a great bow - an event which is estimated to have taken place between 400 BC and 100 BC.
According to legend, the Graf’s infant daughter, Regiswindis, was murdered by her wet nurse and the body thrown into the Neckar. After this incident, the margrave Ernst returned to his home in the Upper Palatinate and the village was transferred back to the emperor with effect from 861, before the expiration of the lease and the death of the Graf.
In 889, 923 and 993, various German emperors transferred their rule over the village to the Bishopric of Würzburg. In 1003, Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor called for the establishment of a convent in the village, which had meanwhile been fortified. A Benedictine convent was accordingly set up under the auspices of Bishop Heinrich von Würzburg.
In 1227, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II mortgaged Lauffen, Sinsheim and Eppingen to Herman V of Baden. In the mortgage deed, Lauffen was first referred to as "civitas" (town with civic institutions). The upward designation to “town” is frequently dated as having taken place in the year 1234. The Margraves of Baden administered the town through a family of bailiffs. A church was built in 1227 to replace an existing chapel and dedicated to the now canonized Saint Regiswindis.
The families of the ruling aristocracy were beset with problems over complex inheritance disputes and mortgage debts. As a result, hegemony over the town changed frequently, transferring to (among others) the Dukes of Teck. In 1327, Lauffen was mortgaged to Württemberg. In 1346, Sir Albrecht (Ritter Albrecht Hofwarth) acquired town and castle from the Margraves of Baden for 3000 heller. However in 1361, he resold his acquisition to Graf Eberhard von Württemberg and his brother for double the purchase price. Due to the proximity of the Free Imperial City of Heilbronn, the rulers of Württemberg demanded a commitment of loyalty from the inhabitants of Lauffen.
In 1474 the first bridge at Lauffen was built over the Neckar thus bringing the entire customs duties for river traffic to the town. The bridge was destroyed by the flood of 1529 and rebuilt in 1532. A town hall was built and a weekly market established in 1480. Two years later, the bubonic plague caused the death of 1,300 inhabitants.
During the Peasants' War, an 8,000-strong army of peasants set up camp between Lauffen and Gemmrigheim in 1525. Bowing to superior force, the town council sided with the peasants - as a result only the convent was sacked. On 13 May 1534, at the Battle of Lauffen, the 11,000 troops of Austria were outnumbered by those of the Rulers of Hesse, whose forces consisted of some 25,000 men. As a result of the victory over the Austrians, Ulrich IV, Count of Württemberg regained his territory and led his subjects towards the Reformation. Lauffen was occupied for over a year in approximately 1547 by Spanish troops during the Schmalkalden War, then reverted to Württemberg. 1564 saw the return of the bubonic plague, which claimed some 800 victims. The plague returned in 1606, 1607 and 1626 although there were fewer fatalities.
During the Thirty Years' War, Lauffen was the scene of several battles and troop movements. The bridge and the nearby ford proved to be of major strategic significance. In April 1622, a large force belonging to Wilhelm, Duke of Saxe-Weimar and George Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach assembled at the bridge to engage the imperial troops. Battle was joined at Wimpfen early in May and resulted in victory for the imperial forces. After this defeat, two companies of the Margrave’s troops and many Neckargartach farmers took refuge in Lauffen. The town was spared major fighting for several years, but almost 20 years of suffering were still to come.
In 1629, a large force of imperial troops moved through the town, to be followed in 1631 by troops of Lorraine. In 1634, Croatian soldiers plundered Lauffen and two days later the imperial forces returned. In November the last 16 head of cattle were confiscated. At Christmas 1634, Lauffen provided winter quarters for five transiting regiments. At Whitsun 1635, the Mühlheimische Kürassier-Regiment seized the entire winter crop, thus creating a famine which claimed 800 lives.
In 1636, Lauffen was sacked by a Colonel Liddaw and his regiment of cuirassiers. In the autumn of 1637, it was overrun by two different regiments - a state of affairs which caused a shortage of food during the winter and resulted in the deaths of 200 people. In 1638, it had to endure the presence of a company of Parischen troops; then, in May and again in September, it was once more descended upon by imperial forces. In the autumn, two regiments of cavalry looted the harvest and, at the beginning of December, three cavalry regiments sacked the town. At Christmas 1638, the imperial general staff took over Lauffen. By the end of that year, the population had fallen to just 30. The misery continued during 1639 with frequent occupations by troops.
The years 1640 to 1642 were comparatively quiet, but in 1643 French Weimar regiments were in occupation, along with the entire French general staff. The so-called “Weimar occupation” lasted until May 1643, when victory was achieved after three days of fighting by the Bavarian army under the command of Graf Fugger. In 1645, the town was again plundered by French and Hessian troops. Subsequently the Bavarians moved back, but provisions were barely enough to feed them. Virtually all that remained were cabbages, beets and new wine.
A year later, Swedish troops joined the Bavarians and extensive defences were constructed. After the armistice of 1647 between France and Bavaria, the town’s defences were razed to the ground. The Bavarians withdrew, to be replaced over the winter by a company of Weimar cavalry. With the failure of the armistice, a French garrison arrived and set about constructing more defences, which nevertheless became redundant with the conclusion of peace in 1648. For many years after the end of the war, and at frequent intervals, Lauffen would be taken over and occupied by troops.
At the end of the Thirty Years' War, the population was 155. The upper castle had been destroyed, the lower one severely damaged. The town’s church was also badly damaged. In all, 270 houses were damaged and 452 acres (1.8 km²) of vineyards, 1,239 acres (5 km²) of fields and 50 acres of meadows had been laid to waste.
The 18th century was also dominated by matters military. In 1704 the Anglo-Dutch cavalry crossed the Neckar at Lauffen, and in 1707, 2000 French horsemen sacked the town for a second time. 1709, a cuirassier regiment from Kürnbach was quartered there. However, more than 100 years after the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, Lauffen was starting to recover from the damage which had been inflicted. In 1721, the town hall was rebuilt and in 1724 the temporarily repaired bridge dating from 1693 was converted into a covered suspension bridge. From 1728, a night watch was established in response to a spate of murders and robberies. In 1744, Lauffen was besieged by the imperial Bavarian army under Feldmarschall von Seckendorff and 1754 witnessed repeated returns of the French. There followed subsequent occupations by troops from Wimpfen and Anhalt.
In 1755, the previous protectorate structure was abolished and Lauffen became an “Oberamt” (administrative area). Thirty years later, 160 inhabitants died of typhus.
Wine growing was improved by abandoning unprofitable varieties. The main variety became Pinot Blanc. The town planted more than 2,000 fruit trees within its boundaries and countless willows along the banks of the Neckar. Agriculture continued to increase in importance.
From 2000 inhabitants in 1800, the population increased to approximately 4000 in 1850. The section of railway between Stuttgart and Heilbronn was completed in 1847, giving rise to the construction of buildings around the railway station. Following a fire on 14 October 1861, a volunteer fire brigade was formed on 19 November of the same year. In 1889, the second shaft of the railway tunnel (584 m) was completed between Kircheim am Neckar and Lauffen, thus removing a major bottleneck on the Frankenbahn railway from Heilbronn to Stuttgart. The year 1891 saw the world’s first long distance transmission of alternating three-phase electric current. This important technical achievement – a link between Lauffen and Frankfurt Main – is described in the section 'Economy and infrastructure' below.
Of the soldiers who served in the First World War, 189 failed to return. A war memorial was erected in their honour in front of the town hall in 1922. This was removed in 1949 to make way for a widening of the canal, and to enable the plaque bearing the names of the fallen to be set into the wall of the old cemetery alongside another dedicated to the even greater number of victims of the Second World War.
In the mid 1930s, work was started on the construction of a by-pass canal for the Neckar. This new canal had the effect of making the rocks of the Pfalzgrafenburg into an island once more. For a time, the cliff was linked to the town via a millrace which had been artificially created, and the Neckar sped in front of the cliffs and the bridge over rocks which had been placed there to produce rapids. (Pictures dating from 1640 and 1800 provide an interesting comparison.) The building of the canal was given high priority – several houses and even the first commercial three-phase power station were demolished. The original generator is now on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Nearby, the Oskar von Miller Strasse (the westerly access road to the cement works) is a reminder of the power station’s previous location. Electricity has since been generated at the dam further upstream. Parallel with the construction of the canal came the laying of a narrow gauge railway for the transportation of stone along the right bank of the river between the Lauffen cement works and the quarry at Neckarwestheim. The railway ceased operation in 1984, with the rails later removed to create a new footpath and cycle way. The engine is preserved on a playground near the old bridge beside the former railway track. The quarry is now the site of the atomic power station, Neckarwestheim (GKN). Between 1935 and 1938, work took place on the so-called ‘Neckar-Enz Line’ between Eberbach and Unterriexingen. This was a series of fortifications designed to resist a possible attack from the west. Eleven bunkers were constructed in the Lauffen sector, none of which had any impact on the end of the war.
There are two locks at Lauffen, both upstream of the castle. The first was constructed between 1938 and 1945 - the second between 1950 and 1951.
Following boundary change legislation in 1938, the administrative area known as the Oberamt Besigheim was dissolved and Lauffen became part of the Landkreis Heilbronn (district of Heilbronn).
During the Second World War the town suffered 37 air raids, this number being partly influenced by its proximity to the decoy target known as ‘Brasilien’, which was laid out to look like the main railway station at Stuttgart. On 13 April 1944, an allied bomber formation was returning to base having failed to bomb its primary and secondary targets (Nuremberg and Stuttgart) when it was attacked by a German fighter and forced to jettison its load over Lauffen. The town escaped serious damage and casualties from the bombs, which were dropped at random and in some cases unprimed. Most fell in fields or the river although some dropped on the Sonnenstrasse, the Brückenstrasse, the old cemetery and in the vicinity of the cement works and St Martin’s Church. There were 59 fatalities including a number of forced labourers. The then mayor was criticised for not having sounded the air raid warning. Secondary targets for the bombers had been in northern Württemberg, Hesse or the Ruhr. As was so often the case, a return to base with the bomb load had not been included in the fuel calculations. The bombing of Lauffen can thus be regarded as the sacrifice of a pawn – a sacrifice in favour of a city.
On 20 June 1959, there was a serious accident at Lauffen when a public service bus operated by the Deutsche Bundesbahn crashed into an express train on the Tübingen-Würzburg (via Stuttgart) route. At the time, this accident was the worst since the Second World War, killing 45 and seriously injuring a further 27. The cause of the accident was attributed to human error on the part of the level-crossing keeper; the level-crossing has since been replaced by an underpass. A commemorative plaque was erected in memory of those who lost their lives.
Following the municipal election of 13 June 2004, the district council of Lauffen has 22 seats. The election result is as follows:
The mayor is also a member of the district council and its chairman.
The town’s colours are green and white.
Lauffen originally bore the coat of arms of the founders of the town, the Grafen von Lauffen (the Earls of Lauffen). This was a clawless eagle (cp. the present arms of the district of Heilbronn). From 1220 to 1346, the town was a possession of Baden, and in 1311 the arms of Baden first appeared in a Lauffen seal. The present coat of arms, one of the type which alludes to its owner, was first verified in a seal for the year 1464. Drawings of the arms in the natural colours survive from the year 1575, although the background of the shield sometimes appears tinged in gold rather than silver.
*Regiswindis Church: The rebuilding of the church in its present form was well underway by 1567 after a fire had destroyed all but the choir three years previously. The church dates from 1227, when it was dedicated to Saint Regiswindis, but previous structures (St Martin’s Church) date back to 741. Fragments of a Mount of Olives painting C 1507 by Hans Seyfer survive on the exterior of the choir.
Regiswindis Chapel: Originally a graveyard chapel dedicated to Saint Ann, its crypt served as a charnel house. In 1901, the piles of bones were collected and buried. The stone sarcophagus containing the remains of Regiswindis were transferred to the chapel in 1882, at which point the building acquired its present name.
*There are many historic buildings in the town centre, including dwellings in the baroque style dating from the 18th century, and those associated with the Kirchberg, which include an old bake house. The curious Grabengasse (moat lane) winds its way by the Kirchberg. This lane is part of the town’s original moat which has been overbuilt with timber-framed houses. At one time it was the route for river traffic, which included even motorised craft.
Lauffen am Neckar was the birthplace of alternating current transmission. For the International Electro-Technical Exhibition - 1891 in Frankfurt am Main, Dolivo-Dobrowolsky and Oskar von Miller constructed a three-phase high-voltage transmission line which came into operation on 24 August 1891. For this, a three-phase alternator made by Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon was installed in the cement works at Lauffen, with an overhead cable to carry the current to Frankfurt - a distance of 175 km. The entrance to the exhibition was lit with 1000 light bulbs and the middle section surmounted by an arch bearing the inscription “Power Transmission Lauffen – Frankfurt 175 km”. At the same time, an artificial waterfall some 6 metres high was powered by electric current. At the close of the exhibition, transmission of current from the Lauffen three-phase alternator was maintained to Heilbronn, which thus became the first town in the world to receive a regular supply of electricity from a remote location. To this day, the name of the local electricity utility, ZEAG (Zementwerk Lauffen - Elektrizitätswerk Heilbronn AG), is a reminder of this achievement.
The town also has a public library.