AOn the steel engraving of the “Großherzoglich Hessische Generalkarte” from 1823, “Die Schöne Eiche” is written in delicate script north of the Babenhausen district of Harreshausen. This entry is considered the first “official” mention of a tree whose value was already known in the Baroque period. Otherwise, no soldiers from the County of Hanau would have been assigned during the Seven Years’ War to prevent the felling of firewood as a “sacrilege”.
So much fuss about an oak was less due to its age of around 350 years. Here the extraordinary growth justifies unusual means – branches that only rise at the end of the approximately ten meter high trunk, moving like the flickering flames of a gigantic torch stick. Later, deviants were truncated to slender, pylon-like growth until progeny soared into the sky of their own accord, at which point another anomaly occurred – often the leaves do not fall off in winter and thicken into a protective coat.
Today, offshoots of the “mother of all pyramidal oaks” adorn parks and avenues all over the world. Reason enough to designate it as one of the 100 “national heritage trees”, as recently by the German Dendrological Society, albeit only half as high as the previous 30 meters due to lightning.
Another natural monument in Babenhausen is no less impressive: the elm avenue planted in double rows for a good kilometer to Harreshausen. Supplemented by chestnuts and linden trees, it flanked the entrance to the hunting lodge of the Hanau-Lichtenberg counts. The starting point was their castle in Babenhausen, originally built as a moated castle. Although restored, the complex has been waiting for a meaningful use for a long time. Recently, a luxury hotel was under discussion.
This empty space is rather untypical for the completely overhauled old town between the Gothic Nikolaikirche, noble courtyards, city wall and the Gaylingsches Amtshaus. The half-timbered building from 1555, which was renovated on a private initiative, houses the Territorial Museum, a name that alludes to the complicated dynastic relationships of the Hanau branch line Lichtenberg-Babenhausen.
The Beautiful Oak and the settlement of Przewalski’s horses should not be forgotten. Since the withdrawal of an American garrison in 2007, other uses than protecting its post-Ice Age vegetation and housing endangered horses would have been conceivable for the military training area. But nature was given this 85-hectare site “In den Röden”, with five mares and a stallion from the “Przewalskis” taking care of the landscape maintenance. Alone with the offspring it did not want to work out. Now another stallion should fix it, after all, according to the aim of the project supervised by the federal forest, animals, like in related institutions in Hanau or Aschaffenburg, would only be released into their traditional steppes of Mongolia when foals appear.
From the station you can reach the outskirts of the old town in just a few steps via the street Platanenallee. If you don’t precede your visit, turn immediately right into Mayor-Rühl-Strasse. Drivers will find plenty of parking space opposite at the castle or on the right at the Gersprenz. Having passed the former water tower, we are already surrounded by Harreshäuser Allee with its 450 or so trees.
The double rows on both sides of the street are interrupted by a railway line in front of Harreshausen; on the outskirts then half right into Babenhäuser Straße. To the left of this, next to the small green area, there is a magnificent pyramidal oak completely covered with reddish-brown foliage. From there you can also take a shortcut by continuing straight ahead on Stockstädter Weg.