Beilstein, Württemberg

Beilstein (German pronunciation: [ˈbaɪ̯lʃtaɪ̯n] ) is a town in the district of Heilbronn in Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. It is 14 kilometres (9 mi) southeast of Heilbronn. Beilstein is on the Württemberg wine route (Württemberger Weinstraße).

Foundation in Middle Ages

Beilstein developed during the Middle Ages adjacent to Hohenbeilstein Castle, which was built around 1080. After overlordship of the castle passed to the Margraves of Baden in 1234, the settlement was promoted to town status between 1250 and 1288 and is first mentioned as such in 1304. Since then it has changed overlordship several times. Ulrich IV and Eberhard II gave the town to emperor Charles IV, who returned it as a fief. Thereafter until the 18th century, the fief reverted to the next emperor or count before any assumption of office.

Beilstein was also an office and residential town of the Vogt. In the 14th century it was walled. The Reformation came to the town around 1534–35 and a Latin school was founded there in 1540.

Thirty Years' War  Hohenbeilstein Castle in the evening

Thirty Years' War held between Catholics and Protestants claimed many victims by acts of war, epidemics and famines. In 1622, the Battle of Wimpfen was fought near Beilstein.

First complaints occurred when soldiers were quartered with the town in 1623. Many horses were stolen. Bavarian soldiers occupied trade routes to Heilbronn and Schwäbisch Hall, so there was no possibility to buy grain when there was a huge crop failure. In 1628 there were further losses due to the invasion of Wallenstein's troops, demanding 65 bushels of grain in 1629.

The Battle of Nördlingen led to much disease. Eberhard III fled to Straßburg, so victorious imperial troops looted and burned down many towns and villages. Further rise in prices, hunger and epidemics resulted. Nursing of the sick, monthly requisitions, the building of a soldiers' hospital and quartering of soldiers impoverished the population. The number of Beilstein's inhabitants decreased so far that there were just 39 houses habitable in 1641.

Finally the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 ended a quarter-century of suffering. People were able to rebuild their villages, fields, and vineyards. The number of habitable houses increased from 39 in 1641 to 117 in 1655.

Nine Years' War

During Nine Years' War there were several invasions by French troops after 1688. Once the French were able to advance to Lauffen, where Württemberg's troops beat them and forced them back. During the second invasion the French destroyed Marbach and advanced to Großbottwar, Oberstenfeld, Beilstein and Auenstein. Beilstein was burned down almost completely: 105 houses, 30 barns, and the town hall were destroyed. During the next three decades the town was rebuilt according to plans of architect Matthias Weiß of 1693.

Beilstein in the 19th century  view from east around 1900

According to a reorganization of Württemberg's departments Beilstein was seat of Oberamt Beilstein between 1803 and 1806. However, four years later it was merged with the Oberamt Marbach. This became part of the district of Heilbronn in 1938. Around 1840 the town began to knock down its town gates and to expand. Further poverty led to a decrease of population. Many people moved to bigger towns or emigrated. Between 1851 and 1860 67 people emigrated.

The Bottwartalbahn opened gradually between 1894 and 1900 and led to a certain upswing to villages along the railroad. However, settlement of industry stayed backward. In 1907–08 a public water supply was installed. In 1911 a connection to the power station of Pleidelsheim and Beihingen took place.

Time of national socialism

As everywhere the Gleichschaltung took place in Beilstein 1933. Since no Jews lived in the town, no antisemitic actions occurred. From 1933 to 1937 different parts of the Wehrmacht were stationed here. On July 12, 1935, the first medical examination for military service took place. In August 1934 there was a decree to build air-raid shelters. After the outbreak of war in 1939 several prisoners of war were quartered in Beilstein.

 Beilstein and Hohenbeilstein Castle

Until 1944 Beilstein stayed nearly undamaged. There were just three attacks of fighter-bombers causing little damage of property. From February 1944 to April 1945 there were further six attacks causing three casualties and four damaged houses.

In March 1945 the front line came nearer, and army units entered the town, which became the target of a heavy air-raid in the afternoon of April 16, 1945. By this attack nearly 40% of the whole town was destroyed, so it was one of the most affected places of the region. The next night it was very difficult to extinguish all the fires. Primarily, the civilian population focused on saving their own houses, leaving the already strained fire brigade to focus on the rest of the town.

On April 16 there was still heavy resistance from the Germans. The Americans changed their plans and tried to take the town by encircling it. There were several casualties caused by these actions. The Germans had an advantage as they knew the area. In the morning of April 19, 1945, the first American tanks entered Beilstein, despite tank traps set up by the German forces. The Battle of Beilstein took the whole day; military action continued until 11 p.m.

Present

Repairing the damages of World War II took until 1955. Then new growth started in Beilstein. Between 1956 and 1971 new building sites containing around 280 houses were erected. On July 1, 1971, the municipality of Schmidhausen was incorporated into Beilstein.

After 1970 the population increased heavily as Beilstein became attractive to commuters driving to Heilbronn, Ludwigsburg and Stuttgart. Due to a state program of redevelopment, decisive actions were taken in 1982 to change the town's image.

Photographies by:
Roman Eisele - CC BY-SA 4.0
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