Charming  Stein am Rhein in Switzerland – a city of art Lilit Mkrtchyan
the frescoes in the Town Hall Square, Stein am Rhein

My visit was supported by Schaffhausen Tourismus which provided a stay in the beautiful Hotel Chlosterhof with enchanting views of the river Rhine. Added to this, I was privileged to visit the castle Hohenklingen with its splendid restaurant on the top (from where you could see breathtaking scenery of the medieval city and the river Rhine) and I was also offered an individual tour through the fabulous town.

Before I turn to the artistic side of the fairytale Stein am Rhine, let me tell you a little history of the town.

The city of Stein am Rhein was created in or around 1007 and was formerly ruled by the Lords of Hohenklingen who owned the beautiful castle Hohenklingen standing on top of the hill. Presently, the castle is considered to be a landmark of the charming medieval city. The Undertor- one of the three main gates to the city became a Clock Tower in 14th century. In 1945, it has been destroyed by an American pilot by mistake, thinking that the right bank of the river Rhine was a German territory. In 1946, the Tower was rebuilt to restore the City Walls.

As the name of the city suggests, in German (since this is the German part of Switzerland) stein means stone and so the city’s name literally signifies stone on the Rhine. Not by a chance, the city was named like this; there is a story inside, according to which a stone is located in the part where the river Rhine links with the lake Constance. In this very part was built the city of Stein am Rhein.

Formerly, winegrowing was one of the main sources of income in the city and monks used to drink two litres of wine per day when they felt thirsty, as the water of the river was not that clean in those times.

During my tour, I was told this amusing story: in medieval times, there was a barn in the town where a beer was sold. Everyone could go there with a mug to fill in with a beer. On the way back home, those with filled in mugs spilled the beer on the lane. In the long run, this lane was named “The Lane of Drops”, because men, who dropped the beer on the lane, cried hard tears. 

Artistic Influence

The centre of the city is a purely artistic jewel, showcasing the medieval past of the city with marvellous frescoes. The artistic influence in Stein am Rhine flourished in 16th century, when three houses in the Town Hall Square were originally painted with Italian lime paint. Throughout the years, the colours were washed away and faded under the sunlight and weather conditions. The owners of the houses on the Town Hall Square felt sad about this and in 19th-20th century decided to repaint their houses, by using mineral materials (innovative colours created by Keim Company) and hired artists to accomplish this. In order to differentiate the buildings, every house owner named their house by a specific theme designating the house. As an illustration, one of the houses was named “House of Vineyards”, some others called- “House of Garnet”, and “Rosenberg”, meaning Rose Mountain, “House of the Red Ox” (second painted building), and “House of Sun”. The paintings on the “House of the Red Ox” were made by a local artist and school teacher Andreas Schmucker who was a self-educated painter and copied some of the paintings of other artists. It was told that in medieval times the streets did not have names, so the house owners decided to correct this.

One of the frescoes in the Town Hall Square demonstrates the legend “No e Wili”: the legend says in 15th century there was a nightly attack on Stein am Rhein. In those times, the city on the Rhein bought the Hohenklingen castle and all the rights associated with it from the indebted lords of the castle, which resulted in deliberation of the town. Hans Laitzer, one of the wealthiest men in the city, became the Mayor of the town by pledging his fortune. In this legend the mayor is portrayed as a traitor because he wanted to give over the town to the neighbouring nobility by a military coup. This is revealed and as consequence he will be thrown into the river to drown. Since 1924, an open-air theatre is performed in the streets presenting the beautiful frescoes. The theatre is based on “No e Wili” legend and was written by Heinrich Waldvogel.

On the Southern wall of the Town Hall building, Patron St. George is depicted. The fresco on the back side wall of the Town Hall portrays a man delivering a speech, who used to be the most important church reformer in German-speaking Switzerland.

The house next to the Town Hall- Weisse Adler (meaning white eagle) originally belonged to the Mayor of the city Constance. The paintings were supposedly made by a local artist Thomas Schmid. If you look at the middle of the building, you will notice originally-painted fresco where the queen puts her hand into the mouth of a lion, trying to convince her husband that she is loyal to him: this is a similar representation of the famous Roman “Boca de la Verità”. This is one of the oldest buildings with a wall painting still in existence in Switzerland. The paintings were made by a local artist and show scenes out of Boccaccio’s novellas and Roman History (Livius, Gesta Romanorum). It was thought that painted houses were seen as a kind of marketing tool.

When you walk a little down the road to the direction of the river Rhine, you’ll find a Monastery with a specially-decorated reception room of the Abbot, exposing three dimensional paintings. In a short passage of time, there used to be a factory producing silk in the Monastery. 

Lovely alleys, open-hearted Town Hall Square, gently-painted frescos with meaningful stories from the past - all of these features add to the fairytale atmosphere of the charming Stein am Rhein... Artistic Stein am Rhein is an idyllic place for creative minds, where inspiring ambience of the city will spark your creativity and propel the creation of notable pieces of art. Not surprisingly, in 1972 Stein am Rhein has won the first Wakker Prize for conservation of its architectural heritage.