Overview of the Odenwald
Highest point
Peak Katzenbuckel
Elevation 626 m (2,054 ft) NHN
Coordinates 49°28′15″N 9°2′28″E / 49.47083°N 9.04111°E / 49.47083; 9.04111
Area 2,500 km2 (970 sq mi)
Country Germany
State/Province Hesse, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg
Range coordinates 49°35′N 9°01′E / 49.58°N 9.02°E / 49.58; 9.02Coordinates: 49°35′N 9°01′E / 49.58°N 9.02°E / 49.58; 9.02
The Reichenbach felsenmeer in autumn

The  Odenwald  (German pronunciation: [ˈoːdənvalt]) is a low mountain range in the German states of Hesse, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.


The Odenwald is located between the Upper Rhine Plain with the Bergstraße and the Hessisches Ried (the northeastern section of the Rhine rift) in the west, the Main and the Bauland (a mostly unwooded area with good soils) in the east, the Hanau-Seligenstadt Basin – a subbasin of the Upper Rhine Rift Valley in the Rhine-Main Lowlands – in the north and the Kraichgau in the south. The part south of the Neckar valley is sometimes called the Kleiner Odenwald ("Little Odenwald").

The northern and western Odenwald belong to southern Hesse, with the south stretching into Baden. In the northeast, a small part lies in Lower Franconia in Bavaria.


Felsenmeer near Reichenbach (Lautertal) in winter
Characteristic sandstone formation near Eberbach

The Odenwald, along with other parts of the Central German Uplands, belongs to the Variscan, which more than 300,000,000 years ago in the Devonian ran through great parts of Europe. The cause of this orogeny was the collision of Africa’s and Europe’s forerunner continents.

In the Triassic, about 200,000,000 years ago, the land sank again, forming the Germanic Basin in which the metre-thick layers of red sandstone could build up. These were later covered over with layers of muschelkalk from a broad inland sea, then followed by sediments from the Late Triassic (or Keuper). The South German Cuesta Land thus formed.

When the land in the Odenwald was uplifted again about 180,000,000 years ago, more than 100 m of the sedimentary layering, in parts, was eroded away down to the bedrock, as can still be seen in the western Odenwald. The bedrock here is made out of a remarkably great number of different minerals, among them gneiss, granite, diorite, gabbro in the Frankenstein pluton, and so on. In the eastern Odenwald, the red sandstone is all that is left of the sedimentary mixture. Farther east in the Bauland, the muschelkalk deposits still overlie the Early Triassic layers. Furthermore, in the south near Heidelberg, there is still zechstein under the Early Triassic deposits.

Roughly 50 to 60 million years ago, volcanoes formed along the great geological faults. Still bearing witness to this time are the Otzberg, the Daumberg and the Katzenbuckel, all extinct volcanoes in the Odenwald. Furthermore, vulcanism with acidic minerals has left a legacy of rhyolites near Dossenheim.

At roughly the same time, the Central European plate began to tear apart so that the Upper Rhine Rift developed. Even as the Upper Rhine Rift valley still sinks today by just under a millimetre each year, the Odenwald, relatively to that, was uplifted to the height it has today. Along the faults, the small rivers Gersprenz and Weschnitz have, in part, carved their courses.

The Upper Rhine Rift is part of a fracture zone reaching from the Mediterranean Sea to Norway. Right on the edge of the Odenwald, it is roughly 2 500 m deep, but has been filled in to its current height by river and sea sediment, for until about 20,000,000 years ago, the North Sea reached far inland, across the Wetterau Depression into the Rhine Valley.

Geological maps


About 2500 BC, there is evidence that the Linear Pottery culture settled along the northern (Gersprenz) and southern (Neckar valley) edges of the Odenwald. About 400 BC, Celts (Gauls) settled throughout southern Germany. Almost all of the Odenwald was covered then with virgin forest, and the outer edges were not settled. Germanic peoples drove the Celts westwards across the Rhine to what is now France.

Roman manor house Villa Haselburg near Höchst (Mümling)

About AD 100, the older Odenwald line of the Neckar-Odenwald Limes was built under Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117). This stretch of the Empire’s border ran from Fort Wimpfen in the Valley (Kastell Wimpfen im Tal) northwards by way of the Forts of Neckarburken, the lesser forts of Trienz and Robern near Fahrenbach, Fort Oberscheidental, Fort Schloßau, Fort Hesselbach, Fort Würzberg, Fort Eulbach, Fort Hainhaus and Fort Hesselbach to Fort Wörth on the Main. Parts of the Odenwald now lay in Roman-ruled Germania Superior.

About 159, the Limes was shifted about 30 kilometres (19 miles) eastwards to the MiltenbergWalldürnBuchen-Osterburken line. In 260, Roman hegemony fell. The Alamanni were also thrusting into the Odenwald and settling the land between the Main and Neckar, after whom came the Franks. In the 5th century, the Franks, under Clovis I, divided the land up into districts.

In the 7th and 8th centuries came Christianization by Irish-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon monks (Pirmin, Boniface). On the muschelkalk lands of today’s Bauland, which favoured agriculture, a broad mesh of settlements arose. The parts of the Odenwald farther in from the rivers, though, with their scant new red sandstone soils remained uninhabited. Four Benedictine monasteries were assigned the job of opening the empty woods up by the central Frankish power (Carolingian), Lorsch Abbey from the west, Fulda Monastery from the east and Mosbach Monastery from the south. Amorbach Monastery had the greatest importance for ecclesiastical, cultural and economic development in the eastern Odenwald.

In the 9th century in the southeastern Odenwald near the now more thickly settled Bauland, settlements were established. The muschelkalk-new red sandstone mineral boundary was crossed.


Where the name Odenwald came from is an open question and still causes controversy today. Following are some theories about the name’s origin:

  1. Some have claimed that the toponym comes from Odins Wald (Odin’s Woods). The main problem here is that the god Wodanaz (known in Norse as Odin) was worshipped in southern Germany under the name Wotan (in Old High German Uuodan; compare Merseburg Incantations).
  2. A further theory holds that there is a link between the name Odenwald and the Roman administrative unit Civitas Auderiensium, which among other things included the range’s northern reaches and might have been named after a tribe called the Auderienses.
  3. There could be some kinship with the word öde, not in the currently understood meaning in German of desert, but rather in the meaning thinly settled.
  4. Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne used the term Odanwald. Therefore, the renowned historian Karl Christ establishs a connection to the Old High German (ahd.) expression odan (=to enfeoff) and presumes, that the Odenwald was a hunting ground, which the King of the Franks Dagobert I. enfeoffed in 628 the Bishopric of Worms.[3]
  5. An eminent geographer of the 16th century, Sebastian Münster, proposed a tribal chief as the name giver (Odtonwald, 821, = Odo's Woods). However, it is not proven whether there actually was a count or duke called Odo (Otto). Finally, Münster's researches do not lead to any result.[4]

Linguists, who research the phonetic changes and the sound shift of the terms, deny the theories Nr. 1 - 3 and prefer Nr. 4 or 5, some historians favor Nr. 2.

Legends and mythology

The numerous Odenwald folk legends are mostly connected with historic geographic sites (castle, town, rock, road and so on) They relate:

In some stories the local aspect firstly is connected with monsters (knight Georg fights against the man-eating lindworm near Frankenstein-castle) and creatures of nature with magic potency (a water spirit changed into a fox near Niedernhausen, the merwoman in the Meerwiese of Waldürn).

Secondly the local legend is connected with the genre of the historic saga: a historic person or an original is portrayed anecdotally (the count of Erbach and Luther, resp. the Raubacher Joggel, landgrave Ludwig VIII: of Hesse-Darmstadt, robber Hölzerlips).

Wild Woman (Wildweibchen) with an unicorn (Straßburg around 1500)

Thirdly a local tale explains an etiological or original myth (aetiological saga). Par example there is explained:

Beside these legends there are two famous and well-known Odenwaldsagas:

In the Nibelungenlied (see also Nibelung) the dragon slayer Siegfried, on a hunting trip (instead of a failed campaign) leading from the Burgundian city of Worms into the Odenwald, is murdered by Hagen of Tronje. Since no exact spot for this deed has been handed down, countless communities, especially in the Hessian Odenwald are squabbling over the right to call themselves “Siegfried’s Murder Site”, for example a spring near Gras-Ellenbach (Siegfriedsbrunnen), Mossautal-Hüttenthal Lindelbrunnen) or Heppenheim (Siegfriedbrunnen).

The ruins of Rodenstein (below-mentioned) and Schnellerts near Fränkisch-Crumbach are the setting of an Odenwald ghost story: during the night the knight Rodenstein (the Rodensteiner) flies with a berserker-cornet through the air to prophesy the beginning of a war (Wild Hunt motif).



Over 600 m

Over 450 m

Over 300 m

Bodies of water

Flowing water

Countless streams rise in the Odenwald, the longest of which are the following:

Standing water

There are a few bodies of standing water in the Odenwald, among which are the following:

Political divisions

Districts (with district seats)

District-free cities

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Odenwald is twinned with:

Transport and tourism

The Odenwald is known as a leisure destination easily accessible from the urban areas of Mannheim and Frankfurt. It is known for its clean thin air and was once known for its health sanitariums. There are many marked hiking paths through the rural areas. Wild blueberries, strawberries and mushrooms are to be found in the forests.


The planned extension to the Odenwaldautobahn, that is, the A 45 (DortmundAschaffenburg), was never realized. Nevertheless, all these Bundesstraßen run through the Odenwald:

Furthermore, the Nibelungenstraße and the Siegfriedstraße run through the Odenwald, partly along the roads listed above.


The Himbächel viaduct on the Odenwald Railway)

Special day trips

The Margarethenschlucht (gorge)
Every year the Heppenheimer Street Theatre Gassensensationen occupiesEberstadt the marketplace and other corners of the old town


The Odenwald is home to many historic castles and palatial residences. In times past the fortresses on the top of the Odenwald mountains controlled Bergstraße and the Weschnitz-, the Gersprenz-, the Mümling- and the Neckar-Valley.


About the Odenwald quite a few songs have been written:

See also


  1. 1 2 http://www.uni-giessen.de/geographie/phy/akn/Exkursionen/Odenwald05/odenwald.htm
  2. 1 2 http://www.geo-naturpark.net/daten/geologie/geologie-geopark.php?navid=328
  3. Morneweg, Karl: Offizieller Führer des Odenwald-Klubs durch den Odenwald und die Bergstrasse. Ravenstein Frankfurt a.M. 1926, S.33.
  4. s. Morneweg, S.33.
  5. Falkirk Twinning Association Archived March 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., www.falkirktwinning.org Retrieved 2011-05-07
  6. text and melody on a private webpage.
  7. text and melody on a private webpage.
  8. text and melody on a private webpage.
  9. text and melody on the webpage of the Catholic Student Association Markomannia Münster in the KV.

Further reading

Monographs and anthologies


The Odenwald in Literature

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/29/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.