The Tannery Trail and Müllheim's Mill Route

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The Klemmbach is a stream that rises in the mountains of the southern Black Forest in south west Germany, and flows west through the towns of Badenweiler, Müllheim, and Neuenburg before emptying into the Rhine. In Müllheim it gave rise to a thriving tannery industry that established itself along its course in the 18th and 19th centuries, with numerous tanneries and associated businesses springing up on its banks. As well as providing an important water resource in the tanning process itself, the Klemmbach was also used to drive mills and flush away the waste.

Although online translators have the unfortunate tendency to favour the modern word "Müll" (meaning "rubbish") the town actually takes its name from a mill first mentioned in 1392, "Müll" being a corruption of the German word "Mühle" (meaning "mill"). That site still exists, although the mill was decommissioned in 1910 and is now a museum. It is located at the end of a charming little tour that starts in the town centre and follows a largely pedestrianised route along the banks of the Klemmbach and back in time through the history of Müllheim.

The tour (which is available as a guided tour - the "Müllheimer Mühlenweg", although only in German), starts in the pedestrianised Wilhelmstraße where it crosses the Klemmbach. The route takes you down Marktstraße ("Market Street"), along the right hand side of the old school and slaughterhouse that sits over the river and down Gerbergasse ("Tanner Alley"). Gerbergasse then crosses a busy road at the Volkshochschule and continues on until reaching the Frick's Mill museum. Along the way there are seven placards that give a little information in German and French about buildings of interest. The following is an English translation. Click any image to enlarge and display in a scrollable gallery.

1. The Thommen Dye-Works

Now a restaurant with a seating area that hangs out over the Klemmbach, the original 17th century dye-works here passed through marriage from dye-master Tobias Willin to Franz Thommen (1767-1820). The operation comprised a space filled with vats for the dye, where cotton was coloured and dried. Water for the dye was taken from the Klemmbach, and after the material was washed and rinsed the greenish waste water was flushed back into the stream. In the 19th century the site was extended with a spinning mill and a water-driven fulling mill, the purpose of which was to pound, compress, and thicken the wool into a felt. The building continued to be used as a laundry into the 1970's, and was converted into a taverna in 1977.

2. Dornsche Tannery

The site of the current day "Alten Gerberei" restaurant and terracotta shop was originally built in 1768 by the postmaster George Heidenreich (who also built what is now the "Alte Post" hotel in Müllheim). From 1836 the property was used briefly as an inn called "Zum Pflug" (The Plough Inn), but from the middle of the 19th century it became a tannery operated by the Dorn family. The water used for cleaning and tanning the hides was taken from the Klemmbach stream. The east wing of the property (right hand side as you look at it from the street) has the characteristic loft of a tannery, with a floor on which the hides were dried and hinged side hatches for ventilation. In the 20th century the property was used for agricultural purposes, and in 1992 was converted to living and business premises.

3. The Old School and Former Slaughterhouse

First erected in 1824/5, this building that sits over the Klemmbach was initially used as the municipal office, following the grant of a town charter to Müllheim by Karl Friedrich, Grand Duke of Baden, in 1810. The lower floor (which featured a trapdoor that opened out above the stream, the more easily to wash away the waste) served as a slaughterhouse until 1912. In 1867, the upper floor of the old  slaughterhouse was changed to educational uses, becoming first an agricultural school, then from 1875 until 1930 a vocational school. Between 1933 and 1945 the building served as the Hitler Youth centre before returning to school use in 1946 as part of the local primary school. Since 1974 the building has been in use as a music school and meeting centre.

4. Tanner's House

The picturesque 18th century tanner's house is tucked between dwellings just behind the Volkshochschule, on the banks of the Klemmbach. On the upper floor facing the stream, below the gambrel roof, are hatches up to which materials were winched, and on the long side of the roof are the original dormer windows. Another example of a typical Tanner's house can be seen on the opposite side of the stream. The production of leather from red hides (for saddles, shoes, etc.) and white hides (for clothes, bags, etc.) was a boom industry in 18th and 19th century Müllheim, and many tanneries were located along the Klemmbach, with a couple also built on the neighbouring Warmbach stream.

5. Krauss White-Tannery

The White Tannery was built in 1803 by Johann Krauss and his wife Martha Fischer. The Krauss family orignially hailed from Colmar in France, but since 1708 had based themselves in Müllheim. The tanner's guild symbol - crossed fleshing knives with which the hide was separated from the carcass - can be seen the door frame. The extensive, well-preserved property with its grand living quarters, cellar, and barn is a significant testimonial of the historic architectural landscape of Müllheim.

6. The Bark Mill

The 18th century bark mill was used to grind fur cones and acorn shells into a fine powder used in the tanning process. The mill was later used by the Durand family to sharpen tools, axes, ploughshares etc. and the mill was still in operation prior to the Second World War, although the mill canal was covered over in 1903 when the street was widened.


7. Frick's Mill

First mentioned in 1392, the mill on the Klemmbach river was originally a manor farm belonging to the Lords of Baden. In 1690 it was taken over by Bartlin Frick and remained in the possession of the Frick family until the mill was decommissioned in 1910. At the end of the 18th century the property consisted of two sloping houses arranged together: the dwelling with mill-room and the servant's quarters with a pergola. Two mill wheels can be found on the right side of the building, past which the mill canal flowed. The mill was renovated and furnished by the town council and the Markgräfler Museum Association of Müllheim and these days serves as a museum and an important relic of Müllheim's economic history.

Images: fstop-mark

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Alamanicus is wandering his old Alemanni haunts, revisiting the places where once he used to drink, carouse, and beat up the odd Roman legionnaire or two. Things have moved on since his day, and the old Alemanni country now lies across south west Germany, French Alsace, and northern Switzerland. Cut through by the mighty Rhine, it is an area of great beauty, and a lot has happened there since Alamanicus last walked this land.


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