Discovering Esslingen – Germany’s Real Medieval City

Esslingen Germany

It’s hard not to love Germany, it’s the Europe that most of us Americans think should exist. Well, in parts at least. But what a lot of Americans don’t keep in mind is that vast swathes of the country were destroyed during the Second World War, necessitating rebuilding and reconstruction. There are a few towns and cities though that managed to escape the ravages of war for one reason or another, that allow us to see what life was really like in the Middle Ages, and one of the best examples of a very well-preserved medieval city is found a short train ride from Stuttgart – Esslingen.

Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of Esslingen before, I hadn’t either. But within thirty minutes of arriving into this small town, I couldn’t help but wonder why that was. It has everything you could possible want, including a history that would impress even the most cynical tourist.

Half-Timbered Houses

Esslingen has been around for a very long time and has been an important city for most of its history. From a major pilgrimage site to a market town, the major north-south highway in the Dark and Middle Ages ran right through Esslingen creating wealth and power. That power ebbed and flowed over the years, but it’s thanks to its heyday in the 13th-16th centuries that we have the classic German city we find today, and a walk through the city center shows you why immediately.

Esslingen is home to more than 200 half-timbered houses, that classic German design that many of us consider to define the architecture of the country. The oldest inhabited house in Germany as well as the oldest neighborhood can both be found in Esslingen, the bright colors and intricate design still showing off the wealth of its owners. While originally used thanks to its practicality, the half-timbered house in Germany is now considered to be an important part of German traditional heritage and luckily they have been preserved not only in Esslingen, but around the country.

I’d seen these beautiful homes in other parts of Germany, but only reconstructed versions for the most part which is what I assumed the buildings in Esslingen to be. They were just too bright, too beautiful and in far too good condition to be centuries old, but I was wrong. Led around town by a local guide, he shared the history of the town with me, including of these gorgeous homes and shops. Owners have obviously kept them up over the years, repairing them as needed and repainting when the colors faded too much; but always in the same original colors and style of the buildings. It’s amazing to walk down a street completely made up of these old homes, and from my own American point of view the age of them still boggles my mind. Homes continuously inhabited for five hundred years or longer is just something that is hard to imagine.


It’s not all pretty buildings in Esslingen; the city has a long history of wine production thanks to the monks who once called it home. The rolling hills surrounding the town are still covered in vines, a signal to one of the main reasons why Esslingen was so wealthy in the Middle Ages. It’s not a common wine though that has inscribed Esslingen into the rolls of wine history; it’s a very special kind of wine known as Sekt.

To call it a sparkling wine or Champagne-like drink is too easy and not entirely accurate, but it’s close. Kessler Wines started in the same production facilities where they work today in downtown Esslingen back in the early 19th century. The founder had apprenticed at the famous Veuve Clicquot in France, learning the secrets of French Champagne production. He brought these basic techniques with him back to Germany but used the local wines in the production of a new kind of sparkling wine. Immediately people knew he was on to something, and the vintages were soon adopted by the wealthy and royal elite as the sparkling wine of choice. In Germany, sekt refers to any sparkling German wine but that term actually was coined in Esslingen. Originally when Kessler tried to ship the bottles, they exploded and so he transported them in large sacks. Sekt comes from an Old German word for sack or bag and the moniker was born.

Today Kessler Wines produce many different styles and types of sparkling wines and you can sample all of them in the tasting room right off of the main market square in town. For a great snack, pick up a bottle of Kessler – Germany’s oldest sparkling wine – stop by a local shop for some snacks, and picnic along the river for the perfect relaxing afternoon.

Canals, waterways and time travel

Wandering around the old medieval town somewhat aimlessly, the first thing I noticed were the canals and the waterways that seem to be everywhere. Esslingen sits on the Neckar River and like most old towns the water has played an important part in its history. Bridges crisscross it throughout the town and canals seem to be everywhere, creating a subtle background of rushing water almost everywhere you go.

The half-timbered houses, the canals and the cobblestone streets all come together to create the perfect walk back through time. As I continued to get progressively more lost, I realized that these streets and the entire layout of the city has changed very little over time. Just as I meandered over the river to find a café, thousands of others before me have done the very same thing on the very same spot. It’s rare not only in Europe but in the world to find cities where time seems to have stopped and where everything really is just as it once was, but that’s what makes Esslingen so very special.

Leaving on the train back to Stuttgart that afternoon, I was perplexed. I couldn’t understand why Esslingen isn’t on everyone’s must-do-in-Germany list, why travel shows and magazine articles aren’t singing its praises. The town gets plenty of tourists, but not nearly as many intrepid souls venture out to explore its alleys and side streets as I think there should be. So if you take away anything from this post, let it be that Esslingen isn’t just a nice city to spend some time in but one that absolutely should be on your own German travel bucket list.

Have you been to Esslingen? What did you think?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

36 thoughts on “Discovering Esslingen – Germany’s Real Medieval City”

  1. While I have not been to Esslingen, I had a similar experience in Mühlhausen back in April. This city would never have been on our radar but we were invited by my husband’s old coworker who has been a life long resident. Mühlhausen did not suffer much damage during WWII either and the amount of original history in this small city is unbelievable. We felt as though we had stumbled upon a hidden gem in Germany that no one knows about. We plan to return to Germany in the near future so we will add Esslingen to our list of cities to visit.

  2. First of all great pics! I love those little towns in Germany that portray the architecture and culture very well. My favorites are Potsdam (where I studied for one and a half year) and Lindau on lake Constance. I’ve never been to Esslingen even though I spent almost 4 years in Germany combined, but there is still so much more I want to see there.

  3. Great town it is indeed, Esslingen! But in Baden-Württemberg in general, there are plenty of similarly beautiful mid-sized towns with equally interesting history. If you should ever spend some time again in the south-western part of Germany, I would also recommend Rottweil. Founded by Romans, the town centre stems from the Middle Ages. If you can manage, visit the town during “Fasnet”, and you will enter a whole new facet of carnival, one that goes back to the Middle Ages as well. Very different to the rest of German carnival tradition.

    Anyway, keep up your great stories from around the world!

  4. First of all: thank you Matt!! I really had some tears in my eyes while reading your words about my hometown!! You’re right: also for me (as a real “Esslinger”) it’s every time a pleasure to be there and I love walking through the cobblestone streets, too (better in flipflops than in highheels…?). Welcome to everyone! And not only bevore christmas, when the medieval market starts…

  5. Thanks Matt, great post – I’m born and raised there … love it !!!!!!!!! Many memories came up looking at the pictures. Very nice.

  6. Matt,

    Thanks for the great article and pictures! I moved from the States to Esslingen in 2000, fell in love with it, and have never left. It’s beauty is timeless! And I buy Kessler by the case ?

    Best regards, Jim

  7. nancy mcanally

    Lovely post! Born and raised in Esslingen, it is so refreshing for me that someone puts my home town out there for more appraisal! Well done and beautiful photos as well

  8. I grew up in Esslingen and looking at these pictures almost makes my heart explode. Sadly I am here, but my heart and soul will always be there.

  9. Wow. You just messed up my itinerary by showing off this charming, historic town! Now I shall be stopping in Esslingen on the way to Tubingen. Would love to connect with any locals for lunch while I am there on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. I will buy food and drink–you provide insight into life in Esslingen over lunch! My personal email is [email protected]. Thanks!

  10. Went to school in Esslingen (Realschule and Fachhochschule). Never truly appreciated the beauty of Esslingen until I moved away. Now I miss it more than words can describe :(

  11. This is my Home Town EsslingenGermany. I left to move to Fresno California, in 1968. My Grand Mother Paula Danieli worked for Kielmyer, until her retirement. yes my Home town is beautiful.

  12. Phillip Garrison

    i was station up the hill at nelligen.Esslingen was a great place to hang out , miss all the little towns in Germany.

  13. I lived just up the hill, near the vineyards, for four years from ages nine to thirteen. I used to go exploring these very same side streets, etc. Esslingen really is a great little town. I can’t wait to get back there.

  14. Anneliese Hellwig-Acosta

    I truly enjoy the pic.of Esslingen, we have to be grateful that these beautiful Historic towns didn’t
    get destroyed. I was born in Germany, and I traveled all over Europe, but missed this lovely town.
    Thank you for posting it.

  15. phillip wilson jr.

    Was stationed at nelligen just up the hill from 79 – 82 , was the first place I took my wife when she got there we and friends had many a great meal and good times there

  16. So many beautiful places to visit in Germany. Many thanks for posting these, another must visit has been added to my diary.

  17. Esslingen is my adopted home since I moved here from a little neighbour town 20 mins away, and I love it so much. But you made me love it even more because you focused my attention to things I was just used to I guess. Speaking of the canals, I never saw it that way must be the fact that almost every city I lived in was positioned on, next to or near by a river. Now I’ll appreciate them a lot more when I walk around the city the last time before travelling australia for a year. Already miss you Esslingen!
    Thanks for your super cool shared experiences Matt!!!

  18. Thanks for showing me my hometown in such a touching way. I think the reason why it is not a well-known tourist spot is the close proximity to Stuttgart. And in general – we Swabians hate to show off what we have and what we are. We love to be humble instead. Unlike the Bavarians who think that they are the epicenter of the world…

  19. Alisha Ravenwood

    I lived in the outskirts of Esslingen for over 3/4 of an year.
    First as an big city dweller it was odd to see such old but beutyfull houses huggin each other when I travelled along the neckar river by feet into the center of the city and done my rounds. But I soon noticed the history and the welcomeing feel that city breaths. I startet to even go just for a walk into the city on some days. Enjoying the feel and the busy live in the small streets. Siting by the small canals that going mid through the city. It grown more and more towards me day by day. And finaly I felt in love with the city. Soon I even felt home there and asked the authoritys to get second home aprovement for my sleeping place there. They granted it. But I had to leave. So Im a bit sad about being back in the Duisburg Area of NRW now.
    If live had been nicer to me, I possibly had ended up as permanent citicien there.
    Lets see what the future brings.
    xxx Alisha

  20. Great photos and comments about Esslingen. It is like our second home. We live in Sheboygan, WI which has been a Sister City (Partnerstadt) of Esslingen since 1967. Both of our children were exchange students in Esslingen in the 80s and our daughter married a guy from Esslingen and they now live in Bildeckingen. My wife and I have been in Esslingen many times and have very close friends there. The Oberburgermeister of Esslingen was just in Sheboygan with his wife, daughter, and a group of about 20 to help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of our People to People chapter.

    We would strongly recommend attending Esslingen’s Christmas Markets. “Markets” plural because the city has both a traditional Christmas Market and a medieval market. In 2013 we were with our daughter and her husband in Bildeckingen and traveled by train to seven Christmas Markets. It was a great experience.

    Thanks for your blog/article on Esslingen. We wish we could spend even more time there.

  21. I was an exchange student living just outside of Esslingen for six months over 20 years ago. It was a beautiful city and a wonderful time in my life-I hope I can make it back there someday!

  22. When I was growing up I spent all of my summer holidays in Esslingen as my father comes from there. It’s a magical place and it’s well worth visiting the neighboring villages too. Thanks so much for writing this, it’s been a trip down memory lane :)

  23. I had a very comparable experience at this small town in Thüringen called Burgk. It really looked straight out of the middle ages! Aww I miss Germany

  24. I lived in Esslingen till I was 19. What a beautiful Town. Have been back many times and found the atmosphere as always, GREAT. I still miss Esslingen and I share my sentiments with Marianne. What a great place to have lived in.

  25. My grandparents were from Esslingen, and I have my entire 65 years been surrounded by etchings and photos of the city. I hope to have an opportunity to visit myself soon.

  26. I was born here in Esslingen and lived here until 3 and half years..I never had oportunity to come back at least once to see Esslingen since then.

    1. I was born in Esslingen in 1957 December. My birth father was an American serviceman. My Father was also a serviceman who brought me to Alabama when I was six…never have been back….only because I couldn’t afford too. Maybe life will smile on me so I can visit…I won’t be holding my breath.

  27. These pictures are absolutely awesome!! I too was born in Esslingen in 1953. My Dad was military & he was fortunate to have orders for Germany many times. I have my entire living room filled with pictures of Esslingen. I hope that I will be able to go for a visit very soon. Thank you so much for sharing your story & these wonderful pictures.

  28. Matt,
    Thank you so much for the walk thru Esslingen~ I’ve never been to Germany, however, my great (x4) grandmother, Marie Kriete and her husband Hermann Poos raised their family there in 1800. Their daughter then married into the Rodenburg family in the same town. They were there until they immigrated to New York in Sept 1857. I love history, and I love seeing where my family spent many years. Thank you again!

  29. Joyce Campbell Murphy

    Army brat moved to Esslingen at age 4. Some of my earliest memories are from there so it sort of feels like my roots. I clearly remember walking to town and back through a tower. We walked around and around, down and down the dark stairs then over cobblestone streets until we came to a street where we shopped. The buildings seemed to overhang that street. I clearly remember loving the Glockenspiel and a particular church where one tower was taller than the other, which was a bit of a puzzle to me. Perhaps someone knows where that tower was?

  30. I turned 18 in Esslingen in 1970. My husband was in the army. He was there for 29 months. I joined him there for 9 months at the end of his tour.

  31. We visited Esslingen several years ago. Esslingen is my maiden name and i have been told thats where my ancesters were from. Its just as lovely as you said!

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