Five things to love about Nierstein

Five things to love about Nierstein

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

For the moment at least, we’ve traded in our flights for bike rides and border-hopping weekends for staying home. As we’re constantly implored to keep our social distance, the time is right for taking a closer look at towns that are close to us and exploring them once life gets back to normal. In keeping with this, I share with you five of the many things I love about the town next door to the place I call home: Nierstein.

Nierstein is a small city located on the west banks of the Rhine 12 miles south of Mainz. In 2018, it counted some 8,500 inhabitants. For decades, Americans were a common sight on the streets of town, as the now-closed Anderson Barracks was located just a few miles west of it. The city has a train station and is served by local “S” trains running between Mainz and Mannheim every half hour or so – convenient for day-trippers who come to soak up the town’s best asset: wine.

Wine

Embraced by vineyards to the north and south and the mighty Rhine to the east, winemaking is an important industry for the town. Its residents are justly proud of the Roter Hang, or Red Slope. The area takes its name from the color of a special type of iron-rich soil known as Rotliegende, traces of an era 290 million years ago, when the climate here was sub-tropical. In this soil, many varieties of grape thrive, the most famous of which is the noble Riesling.

Hiking trail

Hikers in Nierstein are spoiled for choice. A steep but manageable trail winding into the hills north of town leads to a watchtower fronted by a grassy expanse and picnic tables. Just west of here is the village of Schwabsburg, with the remains of an ancient castle. From its rooftop viewing platform, visitors can take in sweeping views of the surrounding Rheinhessen wine growing area. Nierstein is also bisected by the Rheinterrassenweg, a distance hiking trail linking Mainz and Worms. The Falkenstein hut, with killer views of the Rhine flowing off in the distance, is a popular picnic spot.

Ancient and recent history

While you’d need days to explore the nitty-gritty of a place where a Roman settlement stood two thousand years ago, two landmarks in particular stand out.

The Glöck is a small vineyard surrounded by ancient lichen-covered stone walls and overlooked by the onion-domed Saint Kilian’s Church. It has the distinction of being Germany’s oldest vineyard to be mentioned in writing. In 742, a church and this vineyard were donated to the Diocese of Würzburg.

Down by the riverbanks where pedestrians stroll, you can’t help but notice a stone monument flanked by information boards and American and German flags flying side by side. The monument, which only went up in 2017, marks the spot where soldiers of the 249th Engineer Combat Battalion constructed a pontoon bridge on March 22 - 23, 1945, allowing elements of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army to cross the Rhine.

Wine taverns

In addition to charming cafes and a gelato stand that does a roaring business on sunny Sunday afternoons, close to a dozen of the town’s wineries serve wine and foods of the season in their charming courtyards. Sitting beneath the leafy canopy of a massive chestnut tree while sipping the sparkling mineral water and wine mixture known as a “Schoppe” on a lazy summer afternoon is a slice of paradise close to home.

A vibrant fest scene

While the first half of the year 2020 is shaping up to be a bust events-wise, the day will dawn when once again people will come together in celebration. Some of Nierstein’s most noteworthy outings include its Open Cellar days, when over a dozen wineries pour their best vintages and visitors can descend into deep cellars lit by candlelight to see the massive wooden casks in which the wine is aged. Open Cellar days take place in both spring and fall. On a single weekend in late June, the wineries of the Roter Hang set up booths directly in their vineyards and serve their best Rieslings, eagerly sipped and sampled by an elegantly clad crowd who obviously knows their stuff. But nothing beats the last weekend of July, when Nierstein’s annual wine fest transforms the marketplace and the surrounding streets into party central. For four days, rustic wooden booths serve mouthwatering treats, vintners pour their wares with a generous hand, friendships are made and renewed, young adults meet their future spouses and an all-ages crowd dances elbow-to-elbow as live bands play hits of long-past decades late into the night.

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