Fladungen has an Ape Tower.
Okay, strictly speaking it's the "Maulaffenturm", the Tower of the Mouth-Ape. And that's really a pun, because in German "Maulaffen" means "gawker". And up on the side of the tower, sitting on a rain spout, there's a little gargoyle. It's vaguely simian, with long arms and a mouth hanging open in indignation or glee. It's hard to be sure, because 600 years of rain and wind have worn on him. He's sort of an ape-ish shaped lump. But his mouth is definitely open.
So, Gawker Tower, or Ape Tower. Either way.
-- Wait, you ask. Why does Fladungen have a tower at all, with an ape or without? Isn't it a rather modest farming town of just 1,500 people or so.
Indeed. But therein lies a story.
While Fladungen has never been large, it was -- back in the day -- the biggest town for miles around. Fladungen sits at the head of a valley, the Streutal. It's in a bowl of hills on the edge of a plateau; the bowl opens to the south-southeast, where the valley goes down to the larger towns of Ostheim (middle of the valley, 11 km or seven miles away) and Mellrichstadt (bottom of the valley, 20 km or 12 miles away).
Ostheim and Mellrichstadt have some modest strategic value. Control them and you control the mouth and middle of the Streutal. So, they've had some history. Mellrichstadt, in particular, has seen armies come and go; Gustavus Adolphus passed through, and Napoleon's troops en route to Ulm.
But Fladungen... well, it's a dead end. You couldn't easily move an army through the surrounding hills or over the High Rhoen plateau. And if you did, you'd be nowhere very interesting. And it's not rich; it's one of the coldest corners of central Germany. The surrounding hills are rather bleak, with soil suited only to sheep-herding. Until the late 20th century, this area was more or less Germany's Appalachia.
But even in a poor hilly region, people have to go to market. And north or east or west of Fladungen, there's no other large town for 20 or 25 kilometers (15 miles). Ostheim served the middle part of the valley -- still does -- but Fladungen served that bowl of hills and the plateau. It's an area of a few hundred square kilometers, about the size of an American county.
So while Fladungen has never been large, it was -- back in medieval times -- the most important town for half a day's travel around. So it had all the trappings of a medieval market town: a large church, a large town hall, a town wall.
And a jail.
Yup: the Maulaffenturm was, for several hundred years, the county jail. But since it was built in 1335, it's a medieval jail. It's a four-story tower with a narrow spiral staircase going up one side. Inside, there are a lot of little stone rooms with heavy, barred doors and narrow windows. The tower stands along the city wall, next to the north gate of the town, so it could also be used for defense, but for most of its history it was the lockup for all the criminals of greater metropolitan Fladungen. They didn't stop using it for that until the late 19th century, when the newly united Germany rationalized its police system. And it was still being used as an occasional holding cell well into the 20th century...
...which leads us to another post, because there's an interesting bit of local history we've just discovered. But meanwhile: the door into the Maulaffenturm is low, and set a bit into the ground; you would have to stoop to come in. Presumably this was for defense? But anyway, it's led some parents of Fladungen to tell their children that this is where bad children get locked up. And if you look at the tower -- with its low entry, narrow barred windows, and gaping, eroded gargoyle -- this seems perfectly plausible.
More shortly --