Ecological hiking trail – Stop 5:
St. Michael and its kestrels
The steeple of the Protestant parish church St. Michael is home to numerous kestrels, pigeons, and jackdaws. In this neighborhood, the kestrels bring up their young. The kestrels’ neighbors, however, do not have fear them since they are too big to be considered prey. Kestrels prefer food such as blackbirds, mice, or grasShoppers.
St. Michael was first mentioned in the 14th century as simple church hall. Although being Baroque in shape, the Protestant parish church has retained much of its Gothic roots. During the Middle Ages, the building was said to have included 14 altars. Furthermore, the church changed its religious affiliation over time.
In 1663, after the Thirty Years’ War, it was agreed upon to open the doors of St. Michael to both denominations. This simultaneum church existed until 1900 - in 1900, the Catholic church St. Joseph was inaugurated. In 1759, the steeple of St. Michael collapsed, leaving several workers dead. Only two years later, the steeple was reconstructed in the present form.
The kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) living in the steeple of St. Michael is very popular with the locals. In a tiny oval niche just below the onion tower, the kestrels bring up their young. A beautiful rufous hue is present at both male and female kestrels, whereby the male kestrel has a grey head and tail. Kestrels live off mice and other small vertebrates, but they are also capable of catching small birds in flight. On summer days, the shrill cries characteristic of kestrels can be heard over the roofs of the historical district.
Kestrels are by far the most widespread of all falcons native of Upper Palatine. You can see them hovering over a spot right before they swoop down to grasp and kill their quarry. Kestrels used to inhabit open areas with few trees and edges of the forest. Today, they also breed in ruins, high buildings, or spirals. Nesting sites may include niches in rocks, holes in walls, abandoned nests of crows, or even nesting boxes. Kestrels themselves do not build nests. They lay their reddish brown eggs on the bottom of the nesting site.
Historic buildings are often used as a nesting place and living space for numerous species which need to be protected and preserved. Bats may find shelter in interstices or small holes in the extensive roof trusses. Niches and cracks in walls or oriels often serve as a nesting place for jackdaws, crows, swifts, and falcons. Even the renovation of whole buildings does not necessarily imply that the animals are driven out of their habitat. For example, during the recent reconstruction of the spiral of St. Michael, the work time was scheduled as not to interfere with the breeding time of kestrels. Moreover, a ‘flight path’ was left in between the scaffolds and safety nets.
LBV: Susanne Krapf
Old School House (Cultural Center Hans Bauer)
Although many ecclesiastical charitable trusts did existed around 1400, Weiden’s clothworkers decided to start their own foundation which was financed solely by citizens. In 1439, the foundation was inaugurated under the name “The eternal piece of cloth which is cut off from the poor”.
Soon, the foundation amassed a large sum of money so that it was called “Rich Alms”. Since numerous crop failures during that time were often accompanied with the need of people, the foundation’s administration agreed on stocking grain. To stock grain, a large granary was planned and, in 1529, it was built next to the parish church St. Michael. Hundreds of kilograms of grain were stored in four attics lying on top of each other. Every weak, the foundation doled out bread and meat, during fasting periods even herrings, wine, and clothes, to the poor.
The great fire of 1536 saw the destruction of the entire town - including the granary - save for seven houses. In 1538, parts of the granary at Schulgasse were used as a makeshift house for a doctor and a midwife.
Reconstruction began in 1565 under the site supervision of Weiden’s judge Michael Ermweig, who rendered outstanding services to the reconstruction of St. Michael.
The rooms of the building at Schulgasse were used as class rooms of the Latin school. Before the great fire, twelve students and their headmaster and choirmaster had lived there. Opposite Pfarrhof are the class rooms of the German School, which is the equivalent of today’s elementary school.
Until 1877, this house was the only school in Weiden, which is why locals still call it ‘Old Schoolhouse’. In the 1960’s, the house was dilapidated and the town administration considered tearing it down. During the incumbency of mayor Hans Bauer (1970-1976), the administration changed its mind and opted for a conversion of the building into a cultural center. In 1977, the public library and Tachau Local Heritage Museum moved into the building and, in 1979, the town archives and the town museum were added. After the public library moved into the newly renovated “Waldsassen granary” in 1994 the town museum was extended and the first floor was fitted out with the town gallery. The large ‘Culture Hall’ which is the site of many an event completes the Cultural Center.