Construction of Limes


A massive fortified border once ran through Germany. It was built around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. This fortified border is today one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

For a time the Romans ruled over almost the whole of Europe. Their realm included Great Britain and also France, in today’s borders, and the south of Germany. In the east their power extended further than the frontiers of Europe. The Asian part of modern Turkey was Roman. They even gave the historical Israel a name which still exist today: Palestine. The Romans even sent their armies over the Mediterranean and for some time occupied the whole of North Africa.

Consequently, a lot we are familiar with today having Roman origin. In the German language we have the example of “Fenster” (window), which in the language of the Romans, i.e. Latin, is “fenestra”. Important German laws are derived from Roman law, for example property laws. With “Cursus publicus”, the Romans devised a predecessor of the modern postal service. The Romans also knew how to cut grooves – the predecessors of tracks – in road surfaces.

However, it wasn‘t easy to keep control of this huge empire. Hence they put up huge fortifications at the frontiers. Two of them are today better known than others. Hadrian’s Wall ran right through Great Britain. It is named after the Emperor Hadrian, who ruled between 117 and 136 CE. With a length of 117.5 km, however, Hadrian’s Wall seems fairly modest when compared with the 550 km long Upper-Germanic-Rhaetian Limes.

In Latin, “Limes” simply means “boundary”. The fortifications started on the Rhine a few kilometres south of what is today the municipality of Rheinbrohl. It then ran south-east to Wiesbaden and then changed direction to run north to the town of Butzbach. After that it went south to the town of Lorch, and then finally continued east to the municipality of Eining near Regensburg. The best thing to do is to look up Limes on your computer, at

The other two terms in the complete name of Limes designate Roman provinces. In ancient Rome, South Germany was known as “Raetia” – we recognise this name nowadays, for example, in the name of the state railway of the Swiss Canton Graubünden as the Rhätische Bahn, (Raetian Railway). The Romans called south-west Germany Germania superior (Upper Germany).

Limes has predominantly the form of a wall. The Romans built watchtowers at a separation of approximately 800 metres along the wall. First of all, these were constructed from wood, which however did not last long. After that, both the walls and the towers were built using stone. One part of the walls and the towers can be seen even today. At other places along the line of the original wall, historians rebuilt Limes. As we would say today, they “reconstructed” it. Since 2005, Limes belongs to the world heritage of mankind. It is in the list of the same name of UNESCO, The United Nations (UNO) Organisation, responsible for culture and education.


Actually it‘s logical that a World Heritage Site belongs to a Märklin setting. However, before the members of the Blaufelden model railway team got down to work, they went on a trip to the medium-sized town of Aalen, only about an hour away by train. Once there, they visited the Limes Museum. As they were in year two of secondary school, the Romans were part of their curriculum, so the Märklin experts could combine their favourite hobby with the serious side of life.

Reconstructing the wall was no problem for them. The Blaufeld team has known all the model building techniques for years. They used plaster to represent the stone walls of the tower and then affixed the walls to a block of polystyrene. Using sharp hobby knives knife they then etched stone grouting into the plaster. They accentuated the grouting with highly diluted black paint. After this had dried they painted the walls with grey paint. Finally they hollowed out the polystyrene block so that it’s possible to look through the windows of the tower.

When they were in their quarters the Roman soldiers spent most of the time on balconies. These balconies were constructed from wood and were supported by the masonry walls. Shelters for the soldiers – even then it rained much more in Germany than in Rome – were also constructed from wood. The Märklin experts made a hut from cardboard for the shelter and fixed longitudinally split branches to the wall exteriors. A tiled roof protected the Romans from the weather. The Märklin experts constructed the balcony on a wooden plank, with wooden battens fixed to the balcony forming a stable balustrade for the balcony.


All around the towers the fortifications were made from vertically positioned logs. The tops of the logs were all sharpened to points: after all, the walls should provide protection for the Romans. Otherwise the Teutons would simply be able to climb over the walls. This type of fortification is known as “palisades”. As a rule, embankments were made, using heaped up soil, and trenches were dug out. With the addition of a certain amount of vegetation and a few trees or bushes the Blaufeld version of the fortifications was complete.

By the way, the Teutons were not the barbarians they are sometimes said to be. They too organised communities, developed spoken and written languages and formed independent cultures. In the past different groups of people were all referred to as “Teutons”. Nowadays we differentiate more because we recognise that the various tribes of Europe always intermarried. Many Romans not born in Rome were granted Roman citizenship. For example, once the Romans had conquered the Sabines they declared the latter to be Romans. It was as simple as that. Moreover, the Romans were not in any way more peaceful than other peoples. Otherwise, they would hardly have conquered half of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa.

Torsten Berndt



… above all, material from your hobby toolbox. You already have plaster, wood, cardboard and polystyrene, but you might need other material too from a do-it-yourself shop. If you go to a carpenter you might  even get free veneer offcuts.


Setting up the model railway: Modellbahn [model railway] Team Blaufelden supervised by Marliese and Siegfried Gehringer
Photos: Marliese and Siegfried Gehringer