The Märchensee (Fairytale Lake): A Quarry or an Ancient Sacred Site Near Rottenburg, Germany?

Fairytale Lake and Quarry

The town of Rottenburg, located in southwestern Germany, is home to a hidden gem that seems straight out of a fairytale. Located in the Rotteburg district of Wendelsheim on a wooded hill, the Märchensee is a picturesque destination that offers stunning views and a mystic atmosphere. In this blog post, we’ll explore the beauty and charm of this enchanting site.

The mystical allure of this place is underlined by the presence of the Via Sancti Martini, a Christian pilgrimage trail that traverses right through it. While this one is a relatively new route, it is no secret that Christian pilgrimage often follows paths that have served as trade or spiritual procession roads since prehistoric times. They also very often lead past ancient pagan sacred sites, not always in the knowledge of the pilgrims.

The quarry site, which was in use until 1960 and encompasses the Märchensee lake, has likely been around for ages. Likely, the Celts and Romans were also present here, although there is no written proof of a quarry until the 18th century. In fact, the entire region around Rottenburg has been densely populated since at least the Mesolithic period, as evidenced by finds. This correlation between Stone Age settlements, Celts, Romans, and the Christian Church always attracts attention and makes you look at such places from a different perspective.

Like other comparable sites, there is a lingering question as to whether this location has always been a mere quarry or potentially an ancient site of profound spiritual significance and power. In the Middle Ages, people were certainly not ungrateful when it came to reusing what they thought were quarries that had been started by someone at some unknown time in the past and then abandoned again. Places that they then, maybe unwittingly, damaged or even destroyed. The name of the hill, the Pfaffenberg, also contributes to the spiritual aspect. Pfaffe stands colloquially for priest and Berg stands for mountain or hill. Priest’s Hill, so to speak. Coincidence?

Find a video of the location at the bottom of the page.

Up the Priest’s Hill

Standing at the foot of the vineyards, it is hard to imagine the treasure that can be found at the top of the wooded hill.

An inscription on the wall of a vineyard, probably unintentionally but very aptly, describes what awaits the hiker up there. It is by Christian Morgenstern, a German poet, and reads: “Dem Steigenden werden Gärten der Schönheit zu Wüsten der Unbedeutendheit”, which translates as: “For him who ascends, gardens of beauty become deserts of insignificance”.

As you continue your hike uphill, the magnificent view falls on the distinct rise of the Swabian Alb, an old low mountain range in the region, and Wurmlingen Chapel, another nearby enigmatic place. More about the latter in a separate post at a later time.

The Pfaffenberg hill where the Märchensee is located

A fairytale lake awaits

When you reach the top and enter the scenery, especially in spring or summer, you feel like you’ve been transported to a completely different world, as if you’ve plunged into the lush jungle of South America.

As already indicated, the Märchensee is part of an old, abandoned quarry complex and is said to have appeared overnight in 1826 as a result of a water inrush that flooded part of the area.

The Märchensee

Through the jungle

On the way from the lake to the quarry, the feeling of being in a jungle intensifies. A narrow path winds its way through the terrain with rugged rock faces on one side and massive, overgrown cairns framed by old dry stone walls on the other.

These mounds, resembling prehistoric tumuli, are officially deemed spoil heaps from the quarrying operation. However, doubts arise upon considering the vast amount of material piled up. Why such excessive waste? Was anything valuable extracted from this site at all? Interestingly, these observations align with those made in other regional quarries that are believed to be ancient, while the more recent ones do not exhibit these characteristics.

The path along the rock faces and stone mounds

The quarry

Stone was undoubtedly quarried on the site, possibly on a larger scale since the Middle Ages. The extent to which old structures and carved rock faces were demolished during this process, and whether the supposed spoil heaps were stripped to extract construction materials, remains speculative. As is the case in similar locations, these heaps consist of stacked layers of countless stones. Low-hanging fruit actually compared to laboriously breaking them out of the rock faces.

The Märchensee quarry

Smooth rock faces

What is noticeable, are rock faces that appear incredibly smooth across wider areas, as if they were deliberately sanded flat. It is not evident whether these remnants could be attributed to particular stone quarrying techniques, like the utilization of large-scale cutting machines. The possibility of such machines being employed seems improbable, and it is doubtful that they would have produced the precise shapes that are observed in this case.

Therefore, several additional inquiries arise: do these sleek walls represent the lingering remnants of something much older? Were all the rock faces artfully smoothed or worked before they fell victim to stone quarrying in large areas? Was the original intention to provide a fitting backdrop for the supposed spoil heaps, given that they are, in fact, ancient monuments?

Smooth rock faces

Decorative patterns or stone removal marks?

In a specific area near the lake, which appears to me to be the oldest part of the complex, there is a distinct treatment of the rock faces. In areas where they have not been damaged by stone extraction, visible hatchings resemble decorative patterns.

Ok, some may argue that these marks are simply remnants of an old quarrying technique known as “Schrämen” (for which there appears to be no direct English equivalent). In this method, such patterns were produced with hammer and chisel when the miners had to create space for further stone extraction, or when they drove tunnels into a mountain. While I lack the expertise to provide a definitive judgment, my intuition suggests a different perspective.

Hatchings on the rock faces

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Märchensee quarry is a fascinating and mysterious site that begs for further exploration and investigation. While it may appear to be just another abandoned quarry, I have a sense that we’re dealing here with the remnants of a place of ancient significance and spiritual power.

If the opportunity arises, seize the chance to explore this captivating site firsthand. Who knows what you may discover and what insights you may glean about its inherent essence.

Map & Video

The Märchensee near Rottenburg
Tour of the Märchensee location

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