To celebrate my newest guidebook, Daytrips in Germany's Rhineland, here is one entire chapter from the book — this one about a visit to Germany's Roman past in beautifully preserved Trier. Although written as a daytrip from Frankfurt, it can just easily be taken from Cologne or Düsseldorf, and much more easily from nearby Luxembourg City.
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The greatest collection of Roman remains to be found anywhere north of the Alps is in Trier, which bills itself as Germany's oldest city. According to an ancient legend, this was founded around 2000 BC by Trebeta, son of Semiramis, the Queen of Assyria. Historians say otherwise, although arachaeological digs do reveal some trace of human habitation dating from that era. What is actually documented is that the city, then called August Treverorum, was established in 16 BC by the Roman emperor Augustus near the site of an earlier Celtic settlement.
Whatever its true age, Trier is certainly a fascinating place. Several of its Roman structures remain in use today, along with well-preserved buildings from just about every era since. For centuries this city was among the most important in Europe; at one time second only to Rome. Those days have long since ended, and Trier is now a relatively minor provincial place. Although it is quite some distance from Frankfurt, its attractions are so compelling that a journey is more than worthwhile.
Trains of the IC class depart Frankfurt's main station at least hourly for Koblenz, where you change to a regular or ICE train to Trier. The total journey takes under three hours, and follows an exceptionally beautiful route along the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Return service operates until mid-evening.
By Car, leave Frankfurt on the A-66 Autobahn, then take the A-3 north past Limburg and head west on the A-48 to the Trier exit. The total distance is about 192 km (120 miles).
Trier can be visited in any season, but note that a few attractions are closed on Mondays from November through March. The local Tourist Information Office, T: (0651) 978-080, is next to the Porta Nigra. Trier has a population of about 100,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Trier is heavily touristed, so it has plenty of restaurants and cafés. Some choices are:
Schlemmereule (Domfriedhof 1B, opposite the cathedral) Elegant gourmet dining in a contemporary setting, with superb wines. Reserve at T: (0651) 736-16. X: Tues. €€€+
Palais Kesselstatt (Liebfrauenstr. 10, across from the Liebfrauenkirche) An elegant wine restaurant in a Baroque setting, with light cuisine and garden dining available. T: (0651) 402-04. X: Mon., Jan. €€€
Zum Domstein (Hauptmarkt 5) Popular for its local specialties, with a superb collection of Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer wines. T: (0651) 744-90. €€
Weinstube Palais Kesselstatt (Liebfrauenstr. 10, across from the Liebfrauenkirche) Under the same management as the Palais Kesselstatt (above), this less-expensive bistro offers superb local cuisine, light meals, and very good wines. T: (0651) 411-78. X: Jan. €€
Walderdorff's Vinothek-Café-Club (Domfriedhof 1A, opposite the cathedral) Light lunches or full meals and great wines in a 19th-century palace. T: (0651) 9946-9210. € and €€
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) (1) and walk down Bahnhofstrasse and Theodor-Heuss-Allee to the ancient:
This is the very symbol of Trier and one of the finest Roman relics anywhere. Built towards the end of the 2nd century AD as a massive fortified gate, it was converted into a church about 1040 and restored to its original appearance by Napoleon after 1804, when Trier was a part of France. No mortar was used in its construction; instead, the stone blocks are joined by iron clamps. The name, meaning black gate, derives from its present color — the result of centuries of pollution. Stroll through the inner courtyard, where unsuspecting enemies could be trapped from all sides.
Adjoining this is the Simeonstift, a former priests' residence from the 11th century that now houses the tourist office and the Städtisches Museum. The latter is devoted primarily to the history of Trier from prehistoric to modern times. T: (0651) 718-1459. €. Reopening in 2007.
Walk down Simeonstrasse past the very unusual Dreikönigenhaus at number 19, a nobleman's town residence dating from 1230. Note the strange location of its original entrance — at an upper level where it could only be reached by a retractable ladder, a safety feature in those days of unrest.
Continue on to the *Hauptmarkt (3) (photo at top of page). The stone cross in its center was erected in 958 as a symbol of the city's right to hold a market. Near this stands a lovely 16th-century fountain, while the entire busy scene is dominated by the Gothic Church of St. Gangolf. One particularly outstanding building is the Steipe, a colorful 15th-century banqueting hall that now houses a wonderful toy museum, which you can visit later. It was rebuilt after total destruction in World War II.
Now turn down Sternstrasse to the:
*CATHEDRAL (Dom) (4), T: (0651) 979-0790. Open daily 6:30-6, closing at 5:30 in winter. No visitors during services. Free.
This powerful fortress-like structure dates in part from Roman times. Over the centuries it was enlarged and rebuilt several times, the most visible changes having occurred during the 12th century. Its interior is an engaging mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles. Don't miss the Treasury (Domschatzmuseum) to the right of the high altar. Among its treasures are the 10th-century Altar of St. Andrew, one of the great masterpieces of the Ottonian period. The precious Holy Robe, supposedly worn by Christ at His trial, is only shown on very rare occasions. Treasury open Mon.-Sat. 10-5, and on Sun. and holidays 2-5, with shorter hours in winter. €.
Stroll through the cloisters, then visit the adjacent Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) (5). The earliest Gothic church in Germany, it was built in the form of a Greek cross during the 13th century, and is noted for its elegant interior. Open daily 7:30-6, closing at 5:30 in winter. No visitors during services. Free.
Closeby, on Windstrasse, is the:
BISCHÖFLICHES MUSEUM (6), T: (0651) 710-5255. Open Mon.-Sat. 9-5, Sun. and holidays 1-5, with shorter hours and closed Mon. in winter. €.
On display here are some fascinating 4th-century ceiling paintings from the palace of the Roman emperor Constantine, discovered under the cathedral in 1945. There are also several medieval statues and other pieces of ancient religious art.
The enormous Palastaula (Basilika) (7), not far away, is the only surviving part of Constantine's great imperial palace. Once the throne room of the emperor, this colossal structure from about AD 310 now sees service as a Protestant church. Take a look inside, then walk around to the adjoining Palace of the Electors, and 18th-century rococo building presently used for government offices.
Paths through the palace gardens lead to the:
RHEINISCHES LANDESMUSEUM (Rhineland Museum) (8), T: (0651) 977-40. Open Mon.-Fri. 9:30-5, Sat. and Sun. 10:30-5. Closed Mon. in winter. €.
The Rhineland Museum features what is probably the best collection of Roman antiquities in Germany. Allow plenty of time to take it all in, from gold coins to mosaics to huge monuments. The displays also feature archaeological finds dating from prehistory as well as a rich selection of medieval art. There is an attractive museum café facing the gardens, a fine place for a light lunch.
From here you may want to make a short side trip to the:
AMPHITHEATER (9) (photo, above), T: (0651) 754-24. Open daily 9-6, closing earlier in winter. €. Combo ticket with other Roman sites available, €€.
Over 20,000 spectators once jammed the terraces of the oldest Roman structure in Trier to watch the gladiators fight, a form of spectacle that continued into the Christian era. Be sure to climb down into the cellars under the arena, and examine the side chambers that served as cages. Much of the stone work was exploited as a quarry during the Middle Ages, but enough remains to imagine yourself back in the 1st century AD, when it was built.
A stroll down Olewiger Strasse brings you to the:
*KAISERTHERMEN (Imperial Baths) (photo, above) (10), T: (0651) 730-10. Open daily 9-6, closing earlier in winter. €. Joint ticket with other sites available, €€.
Not much of this extraordinary 4th-century structure remains above ground, but the maze of passageways below is fantastic and well worth exploring. The baths were established by the emperor Constantine and were among the largest in the entire Roman Empire. Strangely enough, they were never completed nor used for their intended purpose.
If you're still bursting with energy, you might want to walk down to the Mosel River to see a few more sights, otherwise you can save some steps by following the map back into town via Neustrasse and Brückenstrasse.
The long route takes you first to the 2nd-century Barbarathermen (11) on Südallee. These Roman baths were used for several centuries and were once the largest in the world. What little remains of their past glory is in derelict condition and requires a vivid imagination to visualize, although the effect of really ruined ruins can be quite romantic. Take a look from the street before deciding to enter. Presently closed for major repairs.
The Römerbrücke (Roman Bridge) (12) is just a few steps away. Its stone piers were built in the 2nd century AD and still carry the weight of heavy traffic. The upper parts, originally of wood, were replaced with masonry arches during the 14th century, and again in the 18th. Walk down steps to a path along the Mosel River and follow it past the Zoll Kran (Customs Crane), dating from 1774, and the Alter Kran (Old Crane) (13), which goes all the way back to 1413. Both are in excellent condition, and the latter's treadmill can be seen by peeking in the window. The busy adjacent street, Krahnenufer, is difficult to cross here, so walk north to the traffic light and return to Krahnenstrasse, which you follow into town.
KARL MARX HAUS (14) (photo, opposite), T: (0651) 970-680. Open April-Oct., daily 10-6; Nov.-March, Tues.-Sun. 10-1 and 2-5, Mon. 2-6. €.
Both the life of communism's prophet and the worldwide spread of socialism is traced in minute detail in this historic site. Perhaps you can find a clue, in the memorabilia or in the house itself, as to why Marx was so tragically mistaken in his understanding of how the world works. It's worth a try.
End your tour on a brighter note by returning via the 11th-century Frankenturm at Dietrichstrasse 5 — one of the oldest surviving dwellings in Germany — to the Hauptmarkt and paying a visit to the joyful:
SPIELZEUGMUSEUM (Toy Museum) (15), Hauptmarkt 14, T: (0651) 758-50. Open April-Dec., daily 11-6; Jan.-March, Tues.-Sun. 11-5. €.
Although some of the toys are antiques, the majority are of recent enough vintage to evoke childhood memories. Hidden away is a display of toys from the Third Reich, including a miniature tin Hitler riding in an open Mercedes! There is, of course, an entire world of miniature railways, lots of dolls, model cars, tin figures, and other delights.
Text and map copyright © 2007 by Earl Steinbicker. Photos courtesy of Trier Tourist Office.
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