At the confluence of three rivers on the northern edge of the Black Forest sits the eight largest city in Baden-Württemberg. Pforzheim is one of the small but illustrious set of German cities that can trace its history back to Roman times, when it went by the name Portus.
But in modern times Pforzheim has been dubbed, “Goldstadt” for a jewellery and goldsmith industry that goes back 250 years. Even now, three quarters of all German jewellery is made in Pforzheim, and the city has the only watch-making and goldsmith academies in the country.
Much of your trip to Pforzheim will be spent admiring this rich heritage at museums, former workshops and a glitzy mall that has an entrance plated in real gold.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Pforzheim:
1. Gasometer Pforzheim
The Viennese artist Yadegar Asisi has made a name painting the largest 360° panoramas in the world.
Given they’re as much as 32 metres high and more than 100 metres in circumference, the only venues large enough to exhibit these titanic works of art are former gasometers.
Pforzheim is the latest German city to have a gasometer (1912) converted for Asisi’s panoramas.
And the attraction has the dual appeal of showing off the scale and attention to detail of his painting, but opening up an industrial relic to visitors.
There have been five shows at Gasometer Pforzheim since it opened in 2014, and when this post was written in 2017 there was a captivating image of Constantine’s triumphant arrival in Rome in 312.
2. Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim (Jewellery Museum)
In the International Style Reuchlinhaus from the early 1960s is a museum all about the history of jewellery.
Pforzheim has long been a hotbed for jewellery and watch-making, and there’s a section devoted to pieces made locally by the likes of Victor Mayer, whose company produced jewellery for Fabergé into the 21st century . The remainder of the museum has a broad scope, with 2,000 exhibits going back five millennia and taking in ancient cultures from Mycenae to Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia and the Etruscans.
The most dazzling pieces may well be from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, with brooches, medals, necklaces and earrings by prestigious designers like René Lalique and Lucien Gaillard.
Throughout, the lighting and presentation is first rate.
3. Wildpark Pforzheim
Southeast of Pforzheim is the city’s animal park where almost 500 mammals, fish and reptiles live in a 16-hectare park.
Most of the 70 different animal species in the attraction are native to Central Europe, so you can view a variety of deer species, lynxes, Eurasian otters, long-eared owls, along with animals from other European regions like elks.
Parents with younger children will be pleased with Wildpark Pforzheim for its petting zoo, children’s farm, rope course in the forest and two playgrounds.
Before you come, look out for the schedule of feedings, when you can get even closer to the park’s otters and lynxes and pick up some facts about their habits.
4. Technisches Museum
The grand Kollmar & Jourdan-Haus holds a technical museum about Pforzheim’s watch and jewellery industry.
This Art Nouveau former factory building is listed and has lovely glazed tiles in white green and brown on its street facade.
The museum opened in 1979 in response to some of Pforzheim’s jewellery factories closing, as a way of safeguarding design techniques, but also explaining how jewellery contributed to Pforzheim’s growth in the industrial age.
At 18 stations on the ground floor you’ll be walked through the various production steps, viewing completed pieces of jewellery and the tools and machinery required to make them.
Upstairs there’s a space for Pforzheim’s watch production.
The museum employs experts who once worked in the factories, giving live demonstrations of their goldsmith, chain-making, engraving and guilloche skills.
5. St. Michael
An air raid in February 1945 left Pforzheim in ruins, and the only Medieval monument to be spared was this Romanesque and Gothic church dating from the 13th century.
Even this building needed extensive restorations, which continued until 1957. The church is also known as the “Schlosskirche” as it was once embedded in a Renaissance palace that was demolished in the 1700s.
But a holdover that continued after the palace disappeared is that the church’s crypt was the burial place for the Baden-Durlach noble line.
Stéphanie de Beauharnais, half-sister of Napoleon’s first wife Joséphine is buried here.
Another rumoured burial is Kaspar Hauser, the famous mysterious young man who claimed to have grown up in complete isolation, and was the subject of a film by Werner Herzog in the 1970s.
6. Archäologisches Museum
In Roman times Pforzheim, then Portus, was an administrative centre for the Germania Superior Province.
On the surface there are no hints of the city’s ancient past.
But in 1995 exciting evidence was unearthed at Kappelhofplatz.
The excavation site under a Caritas residential home, has been left exactly as it was.
Crossing the site on footbridges you can make out building foundations, wells, heating systems and even latrines.
And presented next to the ruins are artefacts recovered from the dig like ceramics, swords and carved stones.
Close by, a newly renovated archaeological museum will fill you in on ancient Portus and the excavations in 1995.
7. Fahrzeugmuseum Marxzell
You could take a detour on the way to Karlsruhe and call in at a transport museum in the village of Marxzell.
In a former sawmill, the museum goes back to 1968 when the car enthusiast Bernhard Reichert put his small fleet of cars on show to the public.
Since then the collection has swollen to 140 cars, 70 motorcycles, 150 bicycles, 23 tractors, 16 fire engines and a range of other vehicles like locomotives and vintage trams.
For a vintage car enthusiast, the museum is heaven on earth, with a range of Opel, Renault, Ford, Citroën, BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars from the middle of the 20th century.
Among the special exhibits are a 1936 Rolls-Royce, an Audi 920 from 1938 and a Borgwald Isabella from the 1950s.
8. Museum Johannes Reuchlin
One of the great humanists of the early Renaissance, Johannes Reuchlin was born in Pforzheim in 1455. He helped pave the way for the Enlightenment (he was praised by Goethe) partly by encouraging Christians, Jews and Muslims to enter into dialogue with each other.
He also pushed for the translation of the bible in German quite some time before Martin Luther took up the fight.
Pforzhem’s original Reuchlin Museum in the Late Gothic annexe of the St Michael’s church was lost in 1945. But in 2008 a new attraction opened on the same spot, and over four floors the exhibits explains Reuchlin’s life, teaching, research in Hebrew and Ancient Greek and the influence felt in the centuries that followed.
9. Stadtmuseum Pforzheim
Pforzheim’s municipal museum has two locations, an old schoolhouse and the parish church.
Beginning at the schoolhouse you can immerse yourself in the city’s old ways at recreated watch-making and goldsmith workshops, while there are models and artefacts for other trades like saddling, tanning, underwear-making and shoemaking.
Attached to the schoolhouse is a ladpidarium with Medieval architectural fragments and ledger stones, and a herb garden with sculptures by Emil Salm and Baroque artist Ignaz Lengelacher, as well as a barefoot garden.
The church meanwhile recounts all the big events to occur in Pforzheim since the 1100s, from the wedding of Margrave Carl I and Catherine of Austria in 1447 to the plague in 1501, devastating fires in 1661 and the bombing in the Second World War.
South and east of the Reuchlinhaus is Pforzheim’s main park, a patchwork of flowerbeds and lawns next to the Nagold River.
Where the Reuchlinhaus stands today there was a grand Neo-Baroque performance venue, the Saalbau, which was wiped out in February 1945. The park, dating back to 1885, was also badly damaged but was restored in the 1960s.
At the centre there’s a statue for Otto von Bismarck erected in 1900 and sculpted by Pforzheim native Emil Dittler.
Every year at the beginning of July the park hosts the Begegnung im Stadtgarten, a day of concerts in all kinds of styles from classical to pop.
11. Pforzheim Galerie
Also in the fabulous Kollmar & Jourdan-Haus is the city’s art gallery, which stages up to five temporary exhibitions each year.
Many of these will have themes relating to the Black Forest and Pforzheim’s jewellery industry.
Every year there are also a couple of exhibitions by the professors at the University of Pforzheim’s design department.
You could also pop in to view the Pforzheim’s municipal collection, which is impressive for a city of this size and has paintings by Rudolf Schlichter, Hans Meid, HAP Grieshaber and Manfred Mohr, and sculpture by Gerlinde Beck.
When the mercury rises in summer most people look to the Wartberg, the hill on the northeast side of the city.
Up here there’s an open air pool complex wrapped in woodland where you can spread your towel and picnic blanket in the shade.
If you need to stay in touch you’ll be pleased to know there’s free wi-fi up here.
The pools suit serious swimmers as much as families, as there’s a 50-metre sports pool for laps along with a multi-use pool with a slide for summer mayhem and a shallow play area for the littlest family members.
Out of the water there’s a restaurant/cafe and terrace, a basketball court, small football pitch and ping pong tables.
13. Kulturhaus Osterfeld
One of the landmarks to come through the Second World War in good condition is Pforzheim’s old schoolhouse.
Dating from 1907 this used to be the largest primary school building in the state of Baden and served as Pforzheim’s temporary town hall after the war.
In 1994 it was converted into a gigantic cultural centre.
It’s the kind of place where you’re encouraged to drop by and see what’s happening, whether it’s an art exhibition, play, dance performance, concert or workshop.
In the programme are touring classical soloists, comedians, jazz ensembles and German and international bands of all descriptions.
Opened in 2005, this mall in the centre of Pforzheim takes its name from a rich 19th-century townhouse belonging to the Bohnenberger family that was destroyed in the war.
The centre is a few steps from Pforzheim’s Hauptbahnhof and has all the shops you’d wish for from a German high street, like Jack Wolfskin, the shoe shop Deichmann, H&M, S. Oliver, New Yorker and Gamestop.
If you get peckish, dining options Schlössle-Galerie are a pizza joint, cafe, ice cream parlour, traditional German delicatessen Landhof Standl and a branch of Subway.
Drawing on Pforzheim’s 250 years of jewellery heritage is the largest mall in Europe dedicated solely to jewellery and watches.
It’s the go-to destination if you’d like to buy jewellery hand-crafted in Pforzheim , along with brands from around the world.
But Schmuckwelten also has jewellery-themed experiences to take part in: There’s a working goldsmith’s workshop and a glassware manufactory, where historic savoir-faire is still in practice.
The mall also has two gold-plated vehicles, a Porsche Boxster Cabriolet and an elegant vintage bus know as the Goldliner.
Even the entrance to Schmuckwelten smacks of opulence and is plated with 15,000 gold leaves.