Germany day trip: Neustadt an der Weinstraße
Germany day trip: Neustadt an der Weinstraße
Neustadt an der Weinstraße is a friendly, festive wine town along the German Wine Road, a tourist region within the greater wine-growing area known as the Pfalz. With its busy station at which passengers make connections to trains heading south to France’s Alsace region or north to Bad Dürkheim, it’s a place often passed through in transit but not always given the attention it deserves. Host to Germany’s largest vintner’s parade and the election of the German Wine Queen, Neustadt and its surrounding villages are destinations well worth exploring in their own right.
Portrait of a town
Neustadt an der Weinstraße lies on the eastern limits of the Palatine Forest and a range of sandstone hills known as the Haardt. Two rivers, the Speyerbach and the Floβbach, course through its urban core. Its mild climate, wine culture, hiking and cycling trails and busy event calendar make it a favorite destination for hikers, gourmets and fest-seekers. Some 26,000 residents call Neustadt proper home, and roughly that same number inhabit the nine villages making up its sub-districts.
Things to see
The main sights of the town are easily covered by means of a leisurely stroll about town. Alighting from the main train station, proceed across the square and look at the building to your left. The Saalbau, a handsome hall and event location, traditionally serves as the venue for the election of the German Wine Queen. Use the underground pedestrian crossing and emerge steps away from the tourist office, a trove of maps, brochures and useful information.
Retrace steps back to Gutenbergstraße, turn left onto Schütt and then right onto Hauptstraße. Turn left onto Marktplatz, the city’s beating heart. Dominating the square is the Stiftskirche, or Collegiate Church, a Gothic sandstone masterpiece. Note its gargoyles, put there to repel demons, before stepping inside to admire the church’s painted ceilings and stained glass windows. Since 1705, a partition wall has divided the church for use by two confessions, the choir to the Catholics and the nave to the Protestants. In the middle of the square is the Old King’s Fountain, often used as a backdrop for the wedding day snaps of newlyweds. The square is completed by a picturesque jumble of half-timbered houses and cafes offering outdoor seating.
From the square, a meander in any direction leads past rustic wine taverns, stately townhouses and eclectic shops. Other sights to see in Neustadt include the Casimirianium, for a short time a theological college, as well as the whimsical Elwedritsche Fountain, which pays homage to the mythical bird of the Palatinate. Amongst Neustadt’s handful of museums is the Eisenbahn Museum and its display of steam trains. The Kuckucksbähnel is a restored steam train that carries passengers through the forest and over the hills to the village of Elmstein and back, but only on some dates.
The Pfalz’s newest generation of winemakers are considered innovators, unafraid to try new methods in their vineyards and cellars. The terroir lends itself well to the common German varietals of Riesling, Dornfelder and Pinots. St. Laurent, a fruity, deep-toned red, is more of a local specialty.
Eat, drink, shop
Specialties of the Palatinate to include Saumagen (a pig’s stomach, stuffed with more pork), liver sausage and potato dishes, as well as seasonal fare made of locally-grown asparagus, strawberries, figs and chestnuts, await sampling at rustic restaurants with low-ceilinged, labyrinth rooms appearing centuries old. Gourmets will salivate at the very thought of dining at upscale Urgestein or Esszimmer; the cuisine of Asia, India, Greece, Italy and countless other lands is readily available in town too. Cafes and ice cream parlors serve tasty snacks in less formal surroundings. A mix of boutiques, chains and second-hand shops make shopping a bit of a wild card. Book stores, a health food store and charity shop with handicrafts from impoverished lands sell unique gifts. If possible, time a visit for Tuesday or Saturday, when the farmer’s market sprawls over much of the main square until 2 p.m. From May to October, the market takes place on Thursdays too.
From Neustadt, the hiking and biking possibilities stretch for miles. The Wanderweg and Radweg Deutsche Weinstraße are hiking and cycling trails running some 60 miles between Bockenheim to the north and Schweigen-Rechtenbach on the French border to the south; both of these well-signposted paths cut straight through town. For scenic views, make the short but steep hike up to the Neustadter Bergstein, a rocky outcrop accessible only by foot.
The villages comprising part of greater Neustadt (Diedesfeld, Geinsheim, Haardt, Hambach, Königsbach, Lachen-Speyerdorf, Mußbach and Duttweiler) offer attractions in their own right. In early spring, the tender pink blossoms on the almond trees in and around Gimmeldingen add a splash of color to the still-dull landscape. Hambach Castle, having hosted a protest disguised as a non-political county fair in 1832, is considered the cradle of German democracy. The wine village of Haardt, nicknamed “The Balcony of the Palatinate,” offers sweeping vineyard views. On a clear day, the spires of the Speyer Cathedral can be seen.
An event titled w.i.n.e.FESTival will offer local and international wines and live music Sept. 29 to Oct. 10. A Christmas market takes place from late November through December. The Gimmeldingen Almond Blossom Festival usually takes place in March or April; its exact date is decided at short notice to coincide with the peak blossoming of the surrounding almond trees. In August, the German Wine Road Adventure Day attracts droves of cyclists, hikers and inline skaters to Neustadt and other wine towns of the region.
Neustadt is easily reached by train. From Kaiserslautern’s main station, the ride takes about half an hour. From Baumholder or Wiesbaden, a car’s the more efficient way to travel; anticipate an hour and a half’s drive. No matter the season, visitors will find a bite, a hike or a sight to see.
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