If you did a Destination Search for “Kassel” on the now-defunct website VirtualTourist (VT), you got four entries, the first two of which looked completely identical:
Matches Found For “Kassel”
Europe > Germany > Land Hessen > Kassel
Europe > Germany > Land Hessen > Kassel
Africa > Senegal > Region de Ziguinchor > Kassel
Africa > South Africa > Free State > Kassel
This was not a programming glitch, as there really are two places called Kassel in Land Hessen.
Since there was no immediately obvious way of telling these two listings apart, it was no wonder that some VirtualTourist members occasionally chose the wrong one. (As did the VT staff with its hotel listings.)
At first, the easiest way to tell the difference was to look at the “What’s Close By?” listings on the VT Travel Guide page. If these included “Schloß Wilhelmshöhe, 5.79 km / 3.60 miles” and “Guxhagen, 13.01 km / 8.08 miles”, then you could be sure you had hit upon the city of Kassel, which has over 201,000 inhabitants (as of 2021) and is located on the Fulda River in the northern part of Hessen.
If, on the other hand, the places listed in “What’s Close By?” included “Höchst, 4.74 km / 2.95 miles, Bad Orb, 5.09 km / 3.16 miles” and “Gelnhausen, 7.11 km / 4.42 miles”, then you could tell you had clicked on the listing for a small ex-village in the Spessart hills.
In 2005, the “What’s Close By?” listings in VirtualTourist were replaced by maps, making it somewhat easier to figure out if you were in the right place or not.
This Kassel was an independent village until 1970, when it was merged with the neighboring village of Wirtheim to form the town of Biebergemünd. So now if you wanted to write a letter to someone who lives there, you would address it to “63599 Biebergemünd-Kassel”. Or just “63599 Biebergemünd” — you don’t really need the word “Kassel” any more.
Since I was planning on going quite close by here anyway, on my then-annual bicycle trip up the Kinzig Valley to Bad Orb to attend the premiere at Carlos Krause’s Summer Opera Academy, I decided to take a slight detour and see what this other Kassel looked like.
When Kassel and Wirtheim were merged in 1970 to form the town of Biebergemünd, neither village wanted to give the impression that it had been taken over by the other, so they built a new town hall here in the Bieber Valley about halfway between the two villages.
The building also includes a bowling alley, a meeting hall (Bürgerhaus or “citizens’ house”) and a “yawningly empty” (to translate the German expression) Chinese restaurant. The waitress actually came out to meet me when I cycled up, and was disappointed that I didn’t want to eat there. She hadn’t had a customer all day, evidently.
There is only one church in Kassel, at least only one that looks like a church, namely this Catholic one. As is typical for German villages, nearly all the inhabitants tend to have the same religion, because in earlier centuries they were forced to believe whatever their local ruler believed.
This may sound like an outrageous rule, but actually it made sense at the time because it was an important component of the Peace of Augsburg that was negotiated there in 1555, to put an end to religious strife within the loosely-knit “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”.
Under this agreement, all the princes and dukes and other local rulers agreed not to make war against each other for religious reasons. In the countryside, the common people were required to accept the religion of their local ruler, but in the cities both Catholics and Protestants were allowed to have churches and practice their own religion.
In front of the church there is a monument, as in most German and French towns, to the soldiers who were killed in the First and Second World Wars, wishing them “peace and eternal life” from a “thankful community”.
There is still some farming going on, but on the whole the town looks more suburban than rural.
Biebergemünd-Kassel is still a stronghold of the old German custom of airing out the bedclothes. Sheets and pillows (often also blankets) are draped on the windowsill of the half open window and left there all or part of the day.
Understandably, this custom is no longer practiced in large cities with a severe air-pollution problem.
This is the former station building of a narrow-gauge railroad that used to serve the Bieber Valley. The railroad has long since vanished, and the station building is now (or at least was, pre-Covid) an Italian restaurant called “Spessartbahn”, meaning “Spessart Railway”.
Transportation is now provided by buses, which go mainly to the railroad station in Gelnhausen, the nearest large town.
No German village would be complete without at least one cigarette machine, conveniently mounted close to the ground so that even the smallest child could become addicted without standing on tiptoes. It wasn’t until 2007 that a new law took effect (passed after years of bitter controversy), requiring buyers to insert a card proving they are at least eighteen in order to buy cigarettes from a vending machine.
Back on VirtualTourist, an English member called “Mariajoy” mentioned these ubiquitous cigarette machines on her page about the German town of Bad Salzig. She wrote: “These machines on the street are a thing of the past in the UK because they would just be vandalised. I still can’t believe such a tiny town needs soooo many cigarette machines. Having said that, I saw at least two doctors’ surgeries.”
My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2021.
See also: Since when is Frankfurt in Bavaria?