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Bipolar Saarland: From Chaotic Allegiances to Industrial Prowess

Updated: Jan 1

Overview

Situated in the west of Germany, Saarland is bordered by Rhineland Palatinate, France and Luxembourg.


The region has a tumultuous history starting after it was settled by the ancient Treveri and Mediomatrici Celtic tribes.


Over the next 2,000 years, the region underwent changes of allegiance between the Roman, Frankish, Carolingian, French and German Empires.


On 1 January 1957, the territory finally became the smallest state of the Federal Republic of Germany as we know it today.


After having changed nationalities eight times, it’s little wonder then that the Saarland is somewhat of a ‘bipolar’ region, with strong French influences.


Steeped in the roots of Saarland is a rich cultural heritage dating back to its ancient tribes and traces of the Roman era can be found in interesting archaeological sites which have produced some stunning relics, beautifully preserved Roman villas and partially restored Roman cities.


Magnificent castles, mysterious castle ruins and fortresses bear excellent witness to the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods.


The territory’s famous industrial past shared with France at one time has left its mark in the remains of the “Volklinger Hütte”, a UNESCO World Heritage site as evidence of its once great industrial prowess.

After its closure in 1986, it was declared a historical monument, and in 1994 was awarded the status of a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO.


The importance of the site is that it’s the only surviving plant which has kept its original form intact from the heyday of the Industrial Revolution worldwide.


This makes the Saarland one of the top cultural destinations in Germany. Cultural travelers have tremendous opportunities to explore the region to their heart’s content.


The endless idyllic lakes and ponds, splendid riverside meadows and magical forests is a hiker and cyclists’ ultimate nature wonderland.


Whether you want to enjoy the peaceful quiet of a rustic village or hamlet, check out the vibrant nightlife in a majestic town or elegant city, Saarland is waiting to introduce you to its mysterious 'split personality'.


In this article, we focus your attention mostly on places that are not well-known to most travelers and which form part of our Germany itineraries. Enjoy!


Pachten, Dillingen

Pachten is a town situated in the municipality of Dillingen Saarland. Like most villages, you’ll find it hard to locate on a map, but you’ll be surprised at the intrinsic historical heritage of such an ‘insignificant’ place.


Museum Pachten

The location of the museum is very unusual as it’s housed in a former farmhouse. So you might wonder what is the significance of the museum? Well, here it is.


The museum showcases pre-and early history of the district of Saarlouis, as well as that of Dillingen, and ultimately Pachten. The artifacts on display are from the Gallo-Roman period and the Roman settlement of Contiomagus.


Contiomagus was significant in that it could be accessed by two Roman trunk roads, one which led from Metz, France to Mainz, Germany, and the other from Trier, Germany to Strasbourg, France. This provided easy passage to and from Germany and France during an age when tarred, fast highways weren’t in vogue.


The farm’s barn is used for exhibitions, while the basement showcase ancient fossil and mineral collections. The bedroom is furnished with items dating back 100 years, giving you a glimpse into the personal life of farmers during that period.


The exhibition focuses on the Gallo-Roman era and the relics are from a local burial ground, which is one of the largest in south-western Germany. Other relics are from the Stone, Bronze, Iron Age and Celtic periods.


The ceramics, coins, implements and tools that were used in everyday life in and on a farm property date back to the 19th to 20th centuries.


Guided tours will give you an understanding of the different ages represented. The tour lasts for about 45 minutes, and is complemented by the succinct discourse about the history of the house. The museum is also open on a Sunday from 15:00 – 18:00.


Römerpark (Roman Park)

A 15-minute leisurely stroll from the museum will take you to the Römerpark which is located on the same premises as the museum. Called a Roman Vicus Contiomagus, it was a village-like structure, or, in simple English, a Roman market town.


It is estimated that the settlement was built shortly after the Roman conquest of the region and it contains the remains of residential buildings, a former Roman burial ground, a craftsman’s quarter and a temple complex. Part of the Pachten museum’s relics comes from this settlement.


Roam around the village remains to imagine what each part looked like, For example, think about your favorite epic Roman movie and associate the scenes from it with each area. This should give you a good idea and leave some kind of imprint of the area on your mind. After all, the idea of a vacation is to collect memorable souvenirs to be stored in your lively imagination for life.


St. Maximin (Pachten)

Known as St. Maximin and the Fourteen Holy Helpers, it is a Catholic parish church with some awe-inspiring items for such a standard building, compared to the notable and famous cathedrals in the region.


However, what will catch your eye as you walk into the church is the extraordinary organ on the balcony. The next thing that will catch your eye is the outstanding alter piece containing little statuettes of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.


After your visit to the church, it should be lunchtime.


For lunch options, there are three eateries situated near the market square and St. Maximin Church where you can get closer to the locals while enjoying some local fare:


* Gastätte Hauch-Knopp – Wilhelmstraβe 6, 66763 Dillingen/Saar

* Gastätte Hector-Leinen – Friedrichstraβe 16, 66763 Dillingen/Saar

* Café Robert – Friedrichstraβe 14, 66763 Dillingen/Saar


After Lunch


Saarbrücken

For your next visit take a drive to Saarbrücken which will be worth your while, even if the drive is approximately one hour.


There are so many iconic sites to visit, that you might have to extend your stay for another day if you really want to get into the history and culture of the town.


The town’s famous and amazing landmarks are mostly attributed to architect Friedrich Joachim Stengel dating back to the 1700’s.


Ludwigkirche

Ludwigsplatz houses an awesome ensemble that was completed in 1775. Surrounding the church is the Ludwigplatz square is the palace and the civil servants’ houses.


The church is considered to be one of the most stylish and aesthetically perfect Protestant baroque churches in Germany, and after being completely destroyed during WWII, both the church and palace were meticulously and authentically restored to its original forms.


Outside the church, you will be welcomed by statues of the four evangelists in the niches and, 28 figures of prophets, apostles and other figures from the bible in the balustrades.


The interior is adorned with elegant stuccowork, and the galleries on four sides are held up by fine carvings of draped female figurines.


According to a story related by the 1st century BC Roman architectural writer Vitruvius, caryatids represent the women of Caryae who were doomed to hard labor because the town sided with the Persians in 480 BC during the Romans’ second invasion of Greece.


The caryatids are therefore proof of the strong Roman influence in the region.


Basilica of St. John the Baptist

About a 10-minute walk from the Ludwigkirche you will come across the Basilica of St. John the Baptist. The Neo-Gothic church is currently being used for concerts, performances and discussions as part of the project “City Church”.


Stengel was also responsible for this stunning Baroque church built in the 1750’s. The bronze doors show scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist and were remade in 1986 after they were damaged during WWII.


The church has an intricate pulpit dating to 1764 and four confessionals from 1789, each with the famous repentant sinners, namely, King David, Mary Magdalene, Peter and the thief on the cross.


Saar Historical Museum

The size of the museum from the outside can seem deceptive, until you step into it. The museum offers current exhibitions on different topics, permanent exhibitions of the history of Saarland, a gigantic system of fortifications and casemates from the 15th and 16th centuries under the Schlossplatz.


In the galleries on the upper two floors, you can re-visit Saarland 300 years ago through its art, design and everyday items. The galleries also guide you through Saarland’s past from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.


Below the Schlossplatz you can descend into Saar’s Medieval and Early Modern history; This is a perfect opportunity to venture through sections of the Medieval castle to learn more about the history; the Renaissance casemate will complete the picture you have in your mind of how casemates were used during times of war.

Saarbrücken Castle

The Renaissance castle was rebuilt in the 17th century but was again destroyed with only the cellars remaining intact. In the 18th century, Prince Wilhelm Heinrich commissioned Stengel to build a new Baroque residence on the same site. Since then, the castle suffered various forms of destruction and was partially burnt down before it was renovated in 1989.


The architect Gottfried Böhm designed the castle which is now an administrative center and venue for cultural events, conferences and other festivities.


Castle Church Museum

The Castle Church is located to the north of the castle complex in the Late Gothic church dating from the end of the 15th century. In 1743, Stengel re-designed the tower to its present form.

From 1651, the church became the burial place for the Saarbrücken dynasty. Their tombs and memorials can be viewed here, together with glass cases containing Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, candelabras and tabernacles.


The church was damaged during WWII and has become a museum for liturgical art from around the Saar region.


Rathaus St. Johann

A 5-minute walk from the Castle Church will bring you to this graceful landmark, which is the town hall designed in the Gothic Revival style.


The windows in the façade are ornamented with tracery, pinnacles and masses of ornamentation from its Gothic past. On the central tower you will see Saarbrücken’s coat of arms, a clock and carillon that chimes about twice per day, at certain times.


Further down the façade there are a row of statues portraying a miner, a farmer, a brewer, a merchant, a tanner and a steel worker. They are focused on the different major trades in the city at the turn of the century. Also in the same area is a statue of St. George slaying a ‘dragon’, which supposedly is the devil.


Sankt Johanner Markt

By now, you won’t have more time to explore further.


So head to the St, Johanner Market Square, to do some eye-shopping and check out what would be the perfect gifts for loved ones. Check out the boutiques so that when you return the next day, you will know exactly where to go do some shopping.


You will find a variety of bars, bistros and restaurants on the square; an ideal spot to experience the heart-beat of Saarbrücken. Square is a pedestrian precinct, making it a pleasure to mix with the locals in a relaxed atmosphere.


The Baroque fountain that graces the square gives you a direct view of the castle.


For dinner, head to the Fröschengasse where the former craftsmen’s and workers’ houses were located. It was once partly built onto the old town hall and was rebuilt in 1978 according to the Baroque style, while the houses have been transformed into restaurants with quaint courtyards.


Visit the wall at the end of Saarstraβe to take in the view of the river and what lies on its banks. There is a water level meter inn the wall to warn for passers-by of high water levels.

If you happen to be on the square on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you can spend the day looking at the offerings. Visit during these main market days or if you're in the region around Xmas, the market is alive with locals and travelers from around the globe.

But for now, it's nearly time for you to find an eatery to satisfy your growling stomach's craving for genuine local cuisine, The rest of Saarbrücken will have to wait another day!


Other Places of Note in Saarbrücken


Stift Sankt Arnual

Located not far from St. Johanner Markt and within walking distance, lies the district of Sankt Arnual.


The 13th century abbey church is regarded as one of southwest Germany’s prominent monuments. A succession of Princes and the Counts of Nassau-Saarbrücken are interred here.


Another prominent figure laid to rest here is the wife of Philipp I, Count of Nassau-Weilburg who passed away in 1456. His wife, Elisabeth of Lorraine-Vaudemont was one of the first writers in the Early New German language.


Friedenskirche

The Friedenkirche is the old Catholic Church in Saarbrücken which was also designed by Stengel and erected in the 1740’s.


During the French Revolution in 1793, the church was converted into a “Temple of Reason” – which had its roots in a new belief system created by the Cult of Reason to replace Christianity. What happened during this period was that the symbols of Christianity were covered up and replaced by the symbols of the Cult of Reason.


During most of the 19th century, the building was used as a school. However, another incident which added to the church's history happened in 1871, when a student at the school shot and seriously injured two classmates.


Homburg

Your next stop will be in Homburg.


Homburg is a small town in south-west Germany and is not to be confused with Bad Homberg in Hesse. Homburg is an ancient market town and lies on the River Erbach.


The market square is picturesque and surrounded by elegant examples of 17th century buildings. After exploring the square your next stop should be the Hohenburg Castle ruins.


Hohenburg Castle Ruins

Castle ruins might not seem like the most interesting landmark to visit, but if you know a bit about the history of the ruin or if there are guided tours that can explain the significance of the monument, it will come to life in front of your eyes.


The rest is all up to your imagination to put an important piece of history into context. The reward is that you discover an important event in history that you might otherwise have missed during your travels to a particular region; just because you thought there's nothing interesting about castle and fortress ruins.


If you’re travelling on your own, you can use the listening tour app to download a gps-supported audio tour which will help you find your way around the fortress.


Hohenburg Castle was the seat of the Counts of Homburg in the 12th century, who received rights to the city at the foot of the Schlossberg in 1330.


They expanded the castle by building fortifications with bastions. The castle was razed in 1697 and 1714, and its ruins was only uncovered from 1981.


Below the ruins of the fortress, you will find Europe’s largest red sandstone caves, the Schlossberg Caves, with mysterious corridors. As you inspect the corridors, it will lead you into imposing domed halls.


The Schlossberg Caves extend over three floors, hence there is a safety briefing before entering. Group tours are offered in German, English and French.


Just keep in mind that the temperature in the caves are around 10º, so dress warmly and make sure that you are wearing sturdy shoes.


Karlsberg Castle Ruins & Karlsberger Hof

The Karlsberg Castle ruins are close to the Hohenburg Castle ruins. It was erected in 1778 – 1788 according to the Baroque architectural style. The construction of the country palace by Charles II August was designed by Johann Christian von Mannlich. It was Europe’s largest mansion. In 1793, French Revolutionary troops belonging to the French army destroyed it. The property is under the aegis of the Karlsberg Brewery. The picture below is a model of what the castle looked like.


After visiting the ruin, you might want to visit the related surroundings with its stunning views, and is perfect for hikers to explore.


Karlsberger Hof

Karlsberger Hof was once a material warehouse at Karlsberg Castle, and it was the only building which remained after the castle was destroyed.


For the 125th anniversary of the Karlsberg brewery in 2003, the virtual "resurrection" of Karlsberg Castle was implemented. In further efforts to make the history of the former magnificent building and its inhabitants come alive, a historical radio play was developed in 2009 and an information and guidance system was installed.


The implementation of the winning concept of a student competition allows history enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the history of the castle and its residents.


Forest Park Karlsberg Castle


Some relics of the surrounding castle park and the Karlust located some distance from the castle are being protected as monuments and re-visualised. The swan ponds have been repaired and the stilling basin has also been clad and restored. They bear witness to the multi-level cascade that was part of a water world made up of ponds, fountains and grottos.


They can be explored along a small circular path together with the former hermitage (now the Karlsberger Hof Foundation).


Forest Park Karlsberg Castle Hiking

To take full advantage of the area, a walking trail will introduce you to the castle’s remaining building, Karlsberger Hof.


To guide you through the forest park, a team of students from the University of Karlruhe and the University of Pforzheim developed the “ Karlsberg Castle Audio Trail” audio, and it can be downloaded from the link provided below.


The area is lush with vegetation, and is an ideal stop for you to stretch your legs if you’re not hiking in the area.


Roman Musuem Schwarzenacker

About a half hour’s drive from Homburg, you can visit one of the most iconic museums where you can experience Roman history and the history of Homburg.


The Roman Museum is an open-air museum dating back to the Roman Empire, and it used to be a former Roman trading town. The town was founded by Emperor Augustus and was completely destroyed in 275 -276 AD after a raid. Some of it has been reconstructed to give you insight into Roman everyday life.


When you walk through the Baroque garden you will come across a villa that was later erected. It dates back to the 18th century. The villa houses the museum where various relics from the Roman craftsmen and artists are displayed. The relics are displayed on the ground floor.


They are made up of thirty late Baroque paintings which used to be part of the villa. They are on permanent loan from the Bavarian State Painting Collections. What’s even more interesting is to learn how they came into the possession of the Bavarian State Painting Collections. More about that ...


Group Themed Tours


If you love story-telling from the locals, the themed tours will appeal to you. The museum offers some very interesting interactive themed tours for groups. If you’re travelling with a group, taking one of the themed tours will make your visit all the more interesting. The themed tours are made up of fictional story-telling and should be fun.


* Stroll through the Roman City: The relics and walls paint a vivid picture of the formerly flourishing Roman city. The tour is conducted through the open-air museum and lasts for approximately 1 hour.


* The Ducal Maid: The ducal maid worked in the noble house some 300 years ago, and obviously knows a lot of secrets about the goings-on in the house. She takes you on a private tour of the picture gallery in the noble house. The story is based around the removal of the paintings after the troops of the French Revolution raided the noble house. The duration of the tour is approximately 1½ hours.


A Crime Mystery: This tour is also conducted through the picture gallery, and centers around the murder of a certain Baron. Participants have to solve the murder and the duration of the tour is approximately 1½ hours.


Dining


After wrapping up your interactive themed tour at the museum, it’s time to find a place where you can enjoy a delicious dinner.


French Gatronomy: Petite Chateau


Why not skip the German fare and try out the fine French cuisine at Petite Chateau? The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 18:00 to 23:00. Make sure that you book before 19:30 as the kitchen only accepts orders up to this time.


Wine Bars


There are so many wine bars it will make your head spin even before you’ve had one sip of delectable wine from the region. Take a walk through the town to see which one tickles your fancy and enjoy it in the company of locals who might have even more stories to tell than the "maids" at the Roman Museum.


Beer-Lovers: Homburger Brauhaus


The brewery offers indoor-and-outdoor dining options. If the weather permits, you’ll enjoy the ambience of al fresco dining and enjoy the welcoming vibe of the Brauhaus.


Night Owls


If retiring at 11:00 is too early for you, you are adventurous and would like to experiment a bit, you might want to get yourself to Akif’s Nargile Café.


This is your chance to try smoking shisha in a traditional Turkish water pipe (nargile). After having puffed your lungs out, you can sample some cocktails, of which they have an extensive array. End the night with some fresh coffee to get your brain back to its normal self and do take advantage of the delicious biscuits to be washed down with the refreshing brew..


Nature & Hiking in Saarland


Hiking trails through unspoilt woodland and meadows in Saarland is perfect for those who want to experience the region’s natural beauty. The region has top-quality hiking trails and proof thereof is that the Saar-Hunsrück’s Climb was officially recognized as Germany’s most beautiful hiking trail in 2017.


There are over 60 premium trails so you will be spoiled for choice. The Saar-Hunsrück-Steig and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Bliesgau are two of the most outstanding choices.


The landscape of Bliesgau extends far into France and large parts of the area are protected as the Biosphere Reserve. Enjoy the natural beauty of wide landscapes, orchards, meadows, beech forests and pastures, and breathe, just breathe in the fresh and unpolluted air. Added to this is the fabulous fauna and flora, stunning wild horses, enormous water buffalo and numerous bird species that presents nature at its best.


Cyclists can take advantage of the routes along the valley floors for cross-border trips to France and Luxembourg. For those who are super-fit, the arduous ascents of the Hunsrück peaks are challenging if you want to try them. A cultural cycling tour from Saarbrücken to Trier will have you experience the cultural highlights of Porta Nigra in Trier, Villeroy & Bosch and the UNESCO World Heritage site of “Volklinger Hütte” in Saarland in a unique way.


Wrapping Up


A visit to Saarland is exciting as you can easily cross into Luxembourg and France to experience more than one culture in one visit.


Ancient villages and pulsating towns, all offer a wide range of historical heritage that gives the region its bipolar character.


Delectable cuisine from local Saarlandish fare to exotic French dishes makes the region a food-lover’s haven.


Vast vineyards ensure that the region produce premium wines that can hold its own with the more famed vintage of the Rheingau and Rhineland Palatinate.


Unadulterated landscapes with mystical forests and premium hiking and cycling trails are not to be missed by those who are seeking the tranquility of the countryside.


What are you waiting for? Try Saarland to be pleasantly surprised by all the mysteries that the region holds.


Happy travels and ... Carpe Diem!


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