Even without its famous fest, Bad Dürkheim is a heavenly delight

Even without its famous fest, Bad Dürkheim is a heavenly delight

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Of all the cancellations we’ve endured thus far, the absence of the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. But the world’s biggest wine fest, a highlight on many a KMC resident’s annual agenda, would be a highly transmissible virus’s delight.

No matter. This year let’s get to know Bad Dürkheim on its own terms. Instead of breezing past its landmarks on a mad tear to get to the fest grounds, let’s see what the handsome spa town just 25 miles east of Kaiserslautern along the German Wine Road has to offer. A glass of wine just might come into the picture, so let’s take the train and start our tour from the station:

Just steps away from the platform, on Bahnhofsplatz, we find the Wurstmarktbrunnen, a fountain paying tribute to the famed fest. Erected in 1988, this bronze and sandstone beauty commemorates the town’s “fifth season” with an array of merry figures symbolizing wine culture and rural life. The monk symbolizes the historical roots of the sausage market, which date back to the 15th century. On Sept. 29 each year, the name day of St. Michael, pilgrims would come from far and wide to the Michaeliskapelle, a small nearby chapel, to obtain forgiveness for their sins by buying letters of indulgence. Farmers and winemakers would bring their wares to sell to them, and a thus a fest was born.

Turning right onto Mannheimer Strasse and left onto Kurgartenstrasse, we find the Salzgrotte, or Salt Grotto. If you didn’t make it to the seaside this year, this place is for you. Many adhere to the belief that certain properties in the air have a therapeutic effect, and once inside this cool oasis, your mission is to breathe deeply of the air containing beneficial minerals from iron to zinc. The air is said to soothe conditions from migraines to allergies and restore energy. Visitors take in this unique atmosphere in 45-minute increments. The session for families with children takes place 5:00 - 5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 3:00 -3:45 p.m. Saturdays. Adults pay 10 euros, ages 6 – 15 6 euros, and ages five and under pay 3 euros. The place also has a fish spa, in which little fish nibble the dry bits of skin off one’s feet.

Just behind the grotto, we find ourselves in the expansive Kurpark, a green and elegant space of many delights. Test your sense of balance on the stepping stones, tread through the wading pool, or plunge your feet directly into the Isenach, the steam that trickles through the park. Competitive types could go for a round of mini-golf. Or just enjoy a stroll, taking in the sight of whatever happens to be flowering at this time of the year.

You brought your bathing suit, right? It’s time for a swim, and the perfect place for it lies at the far end of the park. The Freizeitbad Salinarium is a spacious outdoor pool with plenty of space for all. Swimming lanes, diving boards, massage nozzles, a lane in which a current pushes swimmers along, a children’s play area and a giant water slide with flashing lights promise fun for kids of all ages. Entry costs 6.95 euros adults and 3.90 euros for children.

Suitably refreshed, we carry on to the Gradierbau, a long, two-story tall wooden wall covered with bundles of brushwood. Saline water flows down through these branches, and as it naturally evaporates in the wind, the air becomes briny and fresh, and is said to be particularly good for asthmatics and those with lung ailments. Originally built as part of an operation for the extraction of salt through a process known as grading, a similar structure has stood here since 1847 and often rebuilt, most recently following fires in 1992 und 2007.

Turning left on Kurbrunnenstrasse, we reach the Dürkheimer Riesenfass, a giant wine barrel. This superlative structure dates back to 1934 and is the work of a cooper from the town who wished to create a monument to the wines of his region. Nowadays the barrel is home to a restaurant which serves regional specialties and meaty fare alongside wines from the local vineyards. Plenty of outdoor seating is available.

Exiting the restaurant, we turn right onto Sankt-Michaels-Allee and left onto Weinstrasse Nord, making our way to the pedestrian-only center, where we find the usual assortment of bakeries, pizzerias, doner shops and ice cream cafes. You just might find that glass of wine you’ve been craving all day.

There are countless hikes to be enjoyed in the surrounding hills and vineyards. A 2.5 mile hike takes you up to the ruins of the Hardenburg Castle. Built back in the 13th century, the biggest castle ruin in all the land served as a fortress and a noble’s residence until it was destroyed by French revolutionary troops in 1794. It may be a ruin, but still there’s a lot to see here. Entry into its premises costs 4.50 euros adults and 2.50 euros for children.

Those with sehr gut German or a laissez-faire attitude to understanding every word said can opt to book a wine hike and tasting, available through the city’s tourist office. This 2.5 hour, 2.5 mile tour takes visitors into the vineyards and presents them with five different wines to try. Dates are available on Saturdays and Sundays, and should be booked in advance through the tourist office. Prost! Fest or no, life delivers no end of precious moments worthy of a toast.

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