With the beginning of daily German classes looming once again, the summer deserved one last trip. And with the offer of a free place to stay from my boyfriend’s brother, we made Trier the first stop. Located in the Moselle River Valley, the drive to Trier takes you through vineyard-covered hills, tiny villages, and remnants of hilltop castles. If time had permitted, exploring each would have been fun. Trier – the oldest city in Germany – can trace its roots back beyond its Roman founding in 15 B.C. and has a history as the residence of choice for many Roman emperors. With the largest collection of Roman buildings outside of Rome (it’s known as the “Rome of the North”), Trier makes it easy to see them all by concentrating the majority in the heart of the Old City – and everything is within an easy walking distance. With that said, despite the abundance of Roman history and its dominance in some parts of Trier, the city is a funny juxtaposition of cultures and styles and a clash of time periods due to its history as a Roman territory and the later tug-of-war between France and German. So it’s stone next to a Gothic church next to Baroque architecture next to Fachwerkhäuser next to some concrete abomination from the 1970’s.
The main square in Trier is colorful and lively, with a daily market that caters to tourists, selling fruits and flowers. Since it is located in the heart of Trier, it also serves as an excellent starting point for a day of exploring the various sites and pedestrian side streets. As a side note, I was told that both the best Eis and Kuchen can be found at shops just off the square – at Christi’s Cafe-Bar and Eis and “Kleine Konditorei” Jänschke. Because it’s the Moselle Valley and it’s known for its wine, Christi’s serves a Riesling-flavored ice cream that’s a must-try, but sadly, it was absent on the day I visited. Try it right beside the H&M!
Remnants of Romans
To the north of the main square is the city’s most recognizable landmark, the Porta Nigra (or just the Porta if you’re a local). This is the only surviving gate of the original four gates of Augusta Treverorum – the name for Trier before it was Trier, and the largest Roman gate north of the Alps. The gates ceased to serve a purpose in the Middle Ages, and the survival of the Porta Nigra is credited to a Greek monk named Simeon who decided to live as a hermit in the gate leading to its transformation into a church. Along with the Porta, Trier also boasts the Kaiserthermen, the Konstantinbasilika – originally Constantine’s throne room and now the only Protestant Church in Trier, an ampitheater, the Trierer Dom, and the Liebfrauenkirche, all of which were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On a rainy day, you can see all of this history in the artifacts collected in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, which I am told is excellent.
Trierer Dom and the Liebfrauenkirche
Off the Hauptmarkt is St. Peter’s Cathedral, the oldest Dom in Germany – and a must-see before leaving Trier. Through the many conquests of Trier, naturally, parts of the cathedral have been rebuilt, which has resulted in its eclectic assortment of styles. The cathedral claims two relics: first, the seamless Holy robe worn by Christ, and second, a nail believed to be used in his crucifixion. My boyfriend’s brother told us that a few years ago, the cathedral put the robe on display outside of its case and that it was wildly popular. I now understand why. From previous experiences at the holy sites of Jerusalem, I was prepared to be able to see nothing. Unlike Easter weekend in Jerusalem, the crowd at the window to the Holy Robe was manageable, but staring into the dark glass, I couldn’t tell if I was looking at the robe or not. Nonetheless, Trier’s cathedral is impressively old and massive.
Not to be outdone, the Liebfrauenkirche – or Church of Our Lady – is the oldest Gothic church in Germany, and I found it equally, if not more, beautiful. What the Dom has in its sheer size, which is impressive, the Liebfrauenkirche has in character and detail – including its atypical floor plan as a round church, Gothic carvings, and beautiful stained glass.
Seeing all of what Trier has to offer in one day is impossible (there are so many churches that I didn’t get to see!), but because of our valiant effort, we rewarded ourselves to a relaxing, wine-filled evening in a Weinstube. I love wine, I loved it even more before moving to Germany where beer is king. So I was very excited to be in one of the more famous wine regions of Germany and with my boyfriend’s brother – a fellow wine-lover. He gave me two places that I’m going to recommend you try, one of which I visited and loved and the other one I wish I could have. Right across from the Dom is a cute little self-service German restaurant called Weinstube Kesselstatt. The atmosphere on the outside patio facing the cathedral – accompanied by their excellent dry, house Riesling and good conversation – was the perfect end to an exhausting day. For those with more time to recover the next morning than I had, Oechsle Wein & Fischhaus offers a tasting of 120 wines for just 15 euros. It’s located on a small side street behind Weinstube Kesselstatt.
Slightly Stepford in appearance and feeling, Petrisberg is a community located on the hill overlooking Trier. With the feel of an exclusive, gated community, Petrisberg is the result of the re-purposing of finely crafted gardens and infrastructure from the 2004 Garden Exposition. We wanted to see vineyard-covered landscape as well so we set off on a hike up the mountain towards this secluded suburb. The hike was hilly, but enjoyable with periodic stops to pick wild blackberries. Once at the top we wandered through the re-purposed gardens from the exhibition and through the streets looking at the more interesting of architecture. Petrisberg is home to the residences and offices of many photographers and artists. With the threat of rain, we stopped in one of Petrisberg’s two restaurants for a quick lunch and to wait out the rain before making the trek down the back side of the mountain.
Trier really was a great place to start our trip, full of history, beautiful architecture, and color. There are so many great things we didn’t get a chance to do: churches, museums, palaces, parks, gardens, hiking. Really, Trier has a lot to offer (check it out here!).