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Station 4: The Protztalbrunnen – A Spring and a “Ritterstein”

What is a "Ritterstein"?

Rittersteine are both landmarks as well as memorial stones. They are used to indicate exceptional places where earlier structures such as mills, farms and forester’s lodges, once stood. Furthermore, they also mark the borders of feudal territories, and commemorate historical events in the Palatinate Forest. Today there are a total of 307 Rittersteine in the Palatinate Forest. Their names are owed to K. A. v. Ritter (1836-1917), who, up until 1912 was the first president of the Palatinate Forest Association (established in 1902). Inspired by an idea suggested by Prof. Dr. Häberle, he started the process of listing and positioning the stones, which since 1912 have been named after him.

The Protztalbrunnen (see figure) is one of these landmarks.


How do springs develop?

The Palatinate Forest is known for its very high rate of groundwater regeneration. Because of the nature of its subsoil and the prevalent cover of vegetation, precipitation seeps easily and efficiently into the subsoil. This presents favourable conditions for both the formation and retention of groundwater deposits. The Palatinate Forest’s Bunter sandstone forms a thick stratum that demonstrates a high storage capacity for groundwater, functioning as an aquifer. The rock absorbs water like a sponge and stores it in its cavities and pores. At least a quarter of the average annual precipitation of 800 mm benefits the new formation of groundwater.

Springs are natural emergence points where groundwater reaches the earth’s surface. In the Palatinate Forest there are around 2,300 springs. Geologically speaking, one can differentiate between contact springs, fault springs and valley margin springs.  

Spring Types

Contact springs can be found where different rock layers intersect. For example, a spring can push through the surface when aquiferous rock layers, made up of sand and low in clay content, such as the Trifels layers of the lower Bunter sandstone, meets a water-retaining rock layer rich in clay, such as the Rehberg layers of the lower Bunter sandstone.

As the area of the Palatinate Forest is characterized by thick deposits of Bunter sandstone that developed unevenly over time as they were lifted up through tectonic processes, the earth’s crust is marked by numerous fractures. These fractures are also known as faults. At these fractures, water that is stored deeper in the earth can penetrate upwards and spill out over the earth’s surface, creating a Fault Spring.

Valley margin springs are overflow springs that develop where there is a transition between the sediments of the valley floodplain and the valley margin.

Many springs do not allow for simple and definite categorization, and cannot be easily ascribed to a certain type of spring.

Where underground water is tapped by technical means, such as drilling, the term “well” is used. In the past the community of Hochspeyer procured part of its water from wells located in the Springental. Starting in the middle of the 1990s, Kaiserslautern’s public works began administering Hochspeyer’s complete water supply. Since then, the wells in the Springental have been shut down. In the deep circular valley of the Springentalbach, one can find the so-called Hungerbrunnen. Although its name would seem to suggest that it is a well, it is actually a spring that only reaches the surface when its waters are supplemented by heavy precipitation. The ominous name Hungerbrunnen derives from earlier times. Back then people interpreted a strong flowing up of the Hungerbrunnen as a bad omen, signaling that a year of famine would follow.