HISTORY OF KAISERSLAUTERN
You are living in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz which was formed as recently as 1946 from parts of Bavaria, Hessen and Prussia which had previously never joined together. The Pfalz borders on Luxembourg, France, and Belgium ad contains two-thirds of the wine growing area in Germany. The Mosel and Rhein Rivers flow through much of the Rheinland-Pfalz and their valleys comprise the main wine regions.
Kaiserslautern itself received the name from the favorite hunting retreat of Emporer (Kaiser) Frederick barbarossa who ruled the diverse lands of the Holy Roman Empire from 1155 until 1190. The Lauter was then an important river that made the old section of Kaiserslautern an island in medieval times.
The symbol of the city is a red and white shield-shaped coat of arms, with an open-mouthed carp on it. This was reportedly the favorite dish of Frederick Barbarossa.
He was a powerful ruler, controlling lands from the North Sea to Sicily, and under his rule, medieval European knighthood experienced its golden age. Ruins of his original castle can still be seen in front of the Rathaus (City Hall).
Although Kaiserslautern’s name and city symbol came out of the 12th Century, its history dates back much further. As early as 800 BC, a prehistoric settlement can be traced to this area. Some 2,500 year old Celtic tombs were uncovered in Miesau, a small town about 18 miles west of kaiserslautern. The recovered relics are now in the Museum for Palatinate History at Speyer.
When Frederick Barbarossa built his castle in the are now called Kaiserslautern (1152-1160), he also built one in Landstuhl to guard the western approach to Kaiserslautern. This second castle was built atop the sheer nanstein cliff and is still called Nanstein Castle.
The Stiftkirche (the oldest church in Kaiserslautern) was constructed from 1250-1350, long after the death of Barbarossa. As the population of Kaiserslautern grew, Emporer Rudolph von Habsburg gave the town its charter in 1276. St. Martin’s Kirche (church) was built from 1300-1350 for an order of Monks. Today, in the courtyard of the churchm a section of the original city wall still stands.
In 1519, Franz von Sickingen became the owner of Nanstein Castle. He became a Protestant, and in 1522 Nanstein was a stronghold for local nobles favoring the Reformation which Martin Luther had begun in 1519. Sickingen and the local nobles began their battle against the Archbishop of Trier, but the attack was unsuccessful, and they retreated to Nanstein. Nanstein was then besieged by German Catholic princes with a new weapon that could break down castle walls – cannons. Sickingen died after the castle surrendered, and the Protestant nobility of the Pfalz were subdued by the Catholic princes.
Count of the Palatinate, Johann Casimir, came to Kaiserslautern during the Thirty Year War (1618-1648). Harsh Spanish occupation for 10 years (1621-1632) was ended when Protestant Swedish armies liberated the area. But in 1635 the ruthless Croatian troops of the Austrian emperor’s army enterd Kaiserslautern and murdered 3,000 of the 3,200 residents. The city was plundered for three days. Landstuhl was saved from a similar fate by surrendering without a fight. It took Kaiserslautern about 160 years to repopulate itself.
The trouble did not end with the peace of Westphalia in 1648. The Elector of the Pfalz had a difficult time with many of his subjects and orderd all castles, including Nanstein, destroyed. The French repeatedly invaded and occupied the area, residing in Kaiserslautern from 1686-1697. The entire Pfalz/Palatinate are was the scene of fighting between the French and German troops throughout the 18th century. In 1713, the French destroyed Barabrossa’s castle and the city’s wall towers. From 1793 until Napolean’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the area was under French administration.
As France declined in power after 1815, Kaiserslautern and the Palatinate became a bavarian province until 1918. After World War I, French troops again occupied the Palatinate for several years.
The depression of the 1930s was particularly severe in Germany. Inflation reached the point where even a loaf of bread cost several million Reichsmark. Workers were paid as often as twice a day so they could spend their pay before it lost value. Paper money was printed in denominations of billions. Germany had one of the highest percentages of unemployment in the world. The economic chaos helped pave the way for Adolph Hitler to take over control of the government and subsequently lead the country into World War II.
World War II had a major effect on Kaiserslautern with more than 60% of the city bombed and destroyed by allied aircraft. The railway and several main roads were primary targets. Heaviest attacks occurred January 7th, August 11th, and September 28th, 1944. Of the 20,000 homes, 11,000 were destroyed or damaged. The cemetary wall opposite Kleber Kaserne still bears shell marks of these raids.
On March 20, 1945, as the last of Bradley’s 1st Army crossed the Rhein River at Remagen, the US 80th Division, 319th Infantry (part of Patton’s 3rd Army) seized Kaiserslautern without resistence. The war was over for this area, but there was little reconstruction until the currency reform of 1948. The pace of the economy remained slow until 1952 when construction for newly established garrisons of American troops brought money to the area.
THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
The best known fest in Germany takes place in Munich in September – Oktoberfest. The Rheinland-Pfalz has wine festivals which are a major tradition where famous Deutsche Weinstrasse, or Greman Wine Route, is located. Within an hour’s drive from Kaiserslautern, you can find a wine festival in any number of villages every weekend starting the last Sunday in August when Weinstrassentag (Wine Route Day) is celebrated. The famous Bad Durkheim Wurstmarkt (Sausage Festival) is held in September and the Deutsche Weinfest (German Grape Harvest Festival) in October. You can get a festival calendar from the Pfalz Tourist Information in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse (Tel: 06321-39160). This charming town is located along the Wine Route.
Nanstein Castle is located on top of a hill overlooking Landstuhl. The castle ruins can be reached from several directions. Look for signs to Burg Nanstein. It’s a very pleasant place to walk around and enjoy the outdoors. From this heaight you have a clear view of the surrounding area.
Hambach Castle is located 1.2 miles south of Neustadt. The palace ruins are just west of the town of Hambach located above the Weinstrasse. It was partially resstored in 1957 and often has open air concerts in the summer. Hambach Castle is referred to as the cradle of German democracy because in 1832, men and women marched up to the castle to demonstrate for freedom and human rights.
Lichtenberg Castle is situated 3.1 miles northwest of Kusel. Here is a castle museum with items related to life in earlier times, as well as a restaurant.
Take the autobahn towards Saarbrucken and exit at Homburg West to visit the Homburg Castle. It is 2.5 miles southwest. There is a 12th Centurty fortress on a mountain top. It was destroyed in 1689, but a circular tower was restored. The ruins remain for a bit of fantasy for the visitors. The view from here is beautiful, making it well worth the drive.
The Mosel Wine Route runs along the river in the midst of the vineyards. The Mosel is the longest tributary of the Rhein. The Romans brought grapes here in the 3rd Century BC. The grapes and landscape remain the same today, with vineyards rising 250 meters above the river. A trip along the Mosel is best in the spring or late autumn.
Cochem is a charming town which also has a fascinating castle, plus numerous wine taverns.
Zell is the home of the famous wince, Schwarze Katze (Black Cat). The tiny town appears to be built into the landscape, with vineyards all around it.
Traben-Trarbach is a wine town in the midst of vineyards and also a health center. The ruins of the fortress Grevenburg above Traben-Trarbach offers exceptional views of the Mosel valley.
Bernkastel-Kues is a picturesque town whose town center and marketplace are worth a special trip. The fireworks display in September is extraordinary.
Trier is Germany’s oldest city and its Roman legacy remains today. Be sure to visit the Porta Nigra and the town square.
Don’t forget to spend a day in kaiserslautern visiting all the local points of interest which add the fun of living in the Rheinland-Pfalz.