Founded by Augustus Caesar in the century just before the birth of Christ, Trier became known as The Second Rome and still bears the marks of that great empire
By Jim Johnson
|When in Rome|
As a recent walking tour ended in front of Trier's ancient Porta Nigra gate, an Italian visitor exclaimed to his guide, "This is even better than Rome!"
While such a statement might be blamed on too much Riesling, Trier, Germany's oldest city, does contain the largest collection of ancient Roman buildings outside of Rome - with nary a touch of that city's traffic and in a more concentrated, pedestrian-friendly area. In Trier, travelers walk past and through the Porta Nigra, the Roman Empire's largest intact city gate. They marvel at the size and majesty of the Basilika, used in the early 4th century by Emperor Constantine as an audience hall and throne room, and which is the largest single-room structure surviving from Roman times. They explore the expansive ruins of the Imperial Baths, remodeled during the 4th century as barracks for more than 1,000 soldiers. Many of the walls still stand.
They see the foundation of Germany's oldest bridge, then as now a gateway to Mosel vineyards first planted by the Romans.
From the Amphitheater's terraced seats one can almost hear the roar of 20,000 spectators, the snarl of tigers and the groans and frightened cries of gladiators and prisoners of war. It was here Romans gathered to watch animal fights as a prelude to those between man and beast and, ultimately, man against man to the death. In the dank dungeons, it's easy to imagine the last moments before the condemned were forced into the arena.
Founded in 16 B.C. under Emperor Augustus, Trier expanded as an imperial residence and capital of the Western Roman Empire. To serve its emperors and a growing population, the Romans built a city of such unprecedented proportions that it was known as Roma Secunda (Rome the Second) and had a population of 80,000.
After the Empire's fall and the city's decline during the Dark Ages, Trier rebounded strongly in the Middle Ages thanks to the power of the Catholic Church and the town's role as residence of archbishops and prince electors. It is a period that produced an extensive collection of medieval, renaissance and baroque buildings. In the early 20th-century the focus shifted to charming Jugendstil structures.
While stunning ancient architecture is the city's strongest draw, don't miss newer buildings such as the baroque St. Paulin's Church and the Church of our Lady, Germany's oldest Gothic church. Behind these medieval façades, visitors find architectural styles from the 4th through 18th centuries. Trier's expansive Electoral Palace, built as a "wing" to the Basilika, is considered one of the finest examples of rococo style in Germany, and its baroque Palace Gardens are a peaceful green oasis in mid-city. Another popular baroque attraction is the Karl Marx Haus, his birthplace but now a museum.
Perhaps one of Trier's most charming areas is its former Cathedral City, a mostly intact medieval district. Within the former city-within-a-city, a warren of narrow alleys runs between medieval houses. Much of the old wall still stands, though at somewhat precarious angles.
With most of the ancient city built over through the centuries, and many buildings destroyed by bombs, after the war Trier faced a choice of excavating ancient buildings or constructing new ones. Although many tired, boxy department stores from the 1940s and 1950s stand in the shadows of old monuments, the city often chose to dig; mainly out of historic pride and a hope tourists would come. The gamble paid off, tourism and wine are now the city's top two industries. In 1987, UNESCO named Trier a World Heritage Site. In that same year, construction workers building an underground parking garage found the Forum Baths, today one of the city's popular attractions.
"Every time someone puts a shovel in the ground, they find a piece of ancient Trier," said one guide. The moment even a fragment of ancient wall is unearthed, historical preservation laws require that construction stop and archaeologists be called in. Still, much of the old city, the extensive temple district and the 80,000-seat Roman Circus, for example, remains hidden and only partially charted.
Although some guidebooks suggest ways to "see Trier in one day" or even one hour, the city deserves at least two days. With interior visits, it takes nearly a full day just to explore the attractions around the pedestrian district. Several key stops such as the Barbara Baths, Roman Bridge and Amphitheater require a short walk or drive outside the central district, though they are still within the walls. Add a boat ride or stroll along the Mosel and some quiet lunchtime moments at a wine bistro, and two days are quickly filled.
Try to fit in a visit to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, an outstanding archaeological museum with Germany's most extensive Roman collection. Leading treasures include a giant mosaic of a chariot driver, a grouping of magnificent glass artifacts, one of the world's largest collections of Roman coins, and a courtyard with building stones, columns and sarcophagi.
Trier is considered the cradle of German wine culture, and the mile-long Wine Teaching Path winds through vineyards to the village of Olewig. Rotating weekly, village vintners offer tours of their wineries and wine cellars, tastings and light food.
The city also is a staging point for excursions (by car, bus or bicycle) to the remote, volcanic mountains of the Eifel region north of the Mosel, the more rugged Hunsrück Region to the south, to the nearby Ruwer, Saar and Sauer Rivers and along the Mosel itself- either toward the Rhine or upstream to Luxembourg. It is also only minutes from France.
Guided walking tours in English are available Saturdays at 1:30pm from May through October. The two-hour sojourn covers most major attractions from the outside with interior visits to the Basilika and the Imperial Baths. The Amphitheater is not included. The City-Tour Trier, a 35-minute whirlwind in a covered, double-decker bus, runs from March through November with hourly trips each day from 10am to 5pm.
Another option is the Trier-Card, which includes free transportation on city buses. The "TrierTour" bus route includes stops at 16 attractions where travelers can get off and on with no time limits. The card, good for three days, also entitles visitors to reduced admission prices to museums and monuments and on tours and bike rentals. The cost is €9 for adults and €15 for a family of up to two adults and three children.
If budget permits, it's worthwhile to hire a private guide through the Trier Tourist Office. The cost is €65 for two hours, €90 for three hours, and €150 for a full day. The guides- many of them retired teachers or professors- use Trier's history to impart a deeper understanding of how Europe developed over the past 2,000 years. And, unlike guidebooks, they are aware of the very latest discoveries: Just this year, for example, during excavation on the grounds of the city's Mutterhaus Hospital, experts from the Roman Archaeological Museum unearthed a Roman "insula"- a residential city block- as well as a partially paved street and a structure about 130 feet (40 meters) long.
Trier's English-language tourism Website is an excellent source of information and includes current schedules and prices for all attractions. (Note that many attractions are closed or have limited hours from November-March.)
Trier hotels generally offer good value with most double rooms falling well under €100 a night. Some of the best choices are in Olewig, a former wine village now within Trier's city limits. The setting is park-like with hilltop villas and vintners' homes overlooking the town. It's a 15- to 20-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride to the city center's pedestrian zone.
Hotel Blesius Garten
Built as a country estate in 1789 in Olewig, the Blesius Garten provides a charming retreat surrounded by vineyards, parks and woodlands. The Kraft family bought the inn in 1979, and their passion shows in every detail. With individually selected furniture and accessories, the hotel's 63 rooms feel like private bedrooms or parlors- only larger. Some even have plush recliners. The hotel has three restaurants and, since 1998, its own popular microbrewery.
Even-numbered rooms open to the beer garden, which can stay boisterous past some travelers' bedtimes. Room 103, a large double with a small parlor and closet, looks out to quiet vineyards.
Daily Rates: Singles €54-75, double €82-116. Parking garage €6
Contact: Hotel Blesius Garten Olewiger Str. 135, D-54295 Trier, tel +49/651/3606/0, fax 3606/33.
Rating: QUALITY 17/20 VALUE 17/20
Another Olewig option is this 42-bed, family-run hotel, restaurant and winery. While the building is 20th century and lacks the character of some of its neighbor villa hotels, the rooms are spacious and the rates reasonable. When Wolfgang Becker isn't working wonders in the kitchen, he joins wife Christine making guests feel welcome. The neighborhood is quiet with a rural atmosphere, and guests can quickly escape any semblance of city life with a stroll through the family vineyards (the Beckers also give informative tours). Ask for one of the many rooms with balcony.
Daily Rates: Single €40-50, double €75-85
Rating: QUALITY 15/20 VALUE 16/20
Hotel Villa Hügel
This 1914 Jugendstil villa is pure charm- and a good value. The wooded, hilltop setting overlooks the Cathedral, the Palace Gardens and the Imperial Baths, with a backdrop of the Mosel hills. The high-ceilinged rooms are so spacious that some doubles could almost pass as junior suites. Furnishings are plush. A modern addition blends well with the original villa.
Views are to the town or the villa's pleasant gardens. Outdoors, guests lounge in the gardens, on split-level terraces or stroll the property. Inside, are a pool and sauna.
Rooms have city names instead of numbers. Wien, a "smaller" room in the new wing, has a balcony overlooking the garden. The larger Oslo, with a couch and sitting area, looks to the hills. Köln, on the top floor is a huge double, almost a penthouse. Hamburg is the prize room, located in the villa with a panoramic balcony. Although standard rooms are more than adequate, we advise spending an extra €15-20 per night for an oversized deluxe room with terrace or balcony.
Dinner, for hotel guests only, features light, regional cuisine.
Daily Rates: Singles €69-88, doubles €97-136
Rating: QUALITY 16/20, VALUE 16/20
Not to be confused with a youth hostel, the privately owned Evergreen Hostel is a superb choice for budget-conscious travelers of all ages. Rates are low- €32 for a double- and the communal kitchen and laundry facilities also help keep costs down. Admittedly, there are no frills, but the hostel is modern, clean and friendly with private rooms and bathroom facilities. The bunk beds may even appeal to kids and bring back memories for adults. The hostel is just a few blocks from the main rail station.
Daily Rates: Singles €27, doubles €32, quad "family" €48. No breakfast. Key deposit €6
Rating: QUALITY 11/20 VALUE 16/20
Hotel Deutscher Hof
Despite its 102 rooms, the modern, family-run Deutscher Hof feels intimate and personal. Because of the hotel's group trade, all guests can benefit from the availability of handicapped-accessible rooms, rooms for families, special-diet meals (for example: vegetarian, high-fiber or low-fat), an extensive wellness area with massage and cosmetics, a huge buffet and even a bowling alley. One recent guest inquired about an ironing board and had perfectly pressed clothes the next morning- at no charge. The hotel is across the street from the start of the pedestrian zone.
Daily Rates: Singles €60-80, doubles €90-110. Free parking.
Rating: QUALITY 16/20 VALUE 16/20
Dorint Hotel Porta Nigra
This boxy, cookie-cutter, late 60s structure looks out of place across the street from the ancient Porta Nigra. Inside, however, is a perfectly fine four-star hotel in a central location. Request an upper-floor, even-numbered room (such as 414) facing the Porta Nigra. Double-glazed windows eliminate most street noise.
Daily Rates: Singles €109-122, doubles €124-137
Contact: Mercure Hotel Trier Porta-Nigra-Platz 1, D-54292 Trier, tel. +49/651/27010, fax. 2701170
Rating: QUALITY 16/20 VALUE 15/20
One of the better in-town values, the Hotel-Café Astoria is typical of Trier's "urban villas" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its white façade is offset by stone trim and a steep slate roof. The 14 rooms are modern, spacious and bright with large windows and tasteful, if somewhat plain, decor. Bathrooms have small, Plexiglas "cell showers" but are otherwise okay. It's just a few minutes' walk from the Porta Nigra.
Daily Rates: Singles €50-60, doubles €70-82
Rating: QUALITY 14/20 VALUE 16/20
Hotel Zum Christophel
About 100 years old and operated by the fourth generation of the Keufen family, Zum Christophel is literally in the shadow of the Porta Nigra. It offers 11 rooms, most of them spacious and all spotless and modern, if a bit stark. Room 23 is a large double overlooking the Porta Nigra. Room 33, used often by families, has a fold-out couch but no view. Although the two rooms on the top floor have the most character- slanting ceilings, skylights, gabled windows- number 41 is the larger.
For center-city value, it's a toss-up between this hotel and the Astoria.
Daily Rates: Single €55, double €85, family quad €125
Rating: QUALITY 14/20 VALUE 16/20
During World War II, the German army established an anti-aircraft battery on a hillside overlooking Trier. Near that gun emplacement was a small hotel operated by the Pantenberg family. In exchange for wine, the soldiers helped the family dig a cave shelter in the hillside above the hotel. From the mouth of their cave two young boys watched the terrifying, for-real fireworks show in which their city was destroyed by Allied bombers.
The Pantenberg family survived and their Hotel Petrisberg survived undamaged. It is still there today, on that hill above the town hidden away among trees and vineyards. Its owners and managers are the brothers who watched the bombing of Trier from their hillside shelter 58 years ago, Helmut and Wolfgang Pantenberg.
A longtime "Editor's Choice" and always at or near the top of our list of value hotels, the Petrisberg offers always-spotless rooms, a quiet location with fine views, beautiful grounds, and among the warmest welcomes Gemütlichkeit has ever experienced. Highly recommended.
Daily Rates: Singles €55 to 65, doubles €85 to 95, suites €125 to 140. Breakfast rooms and all guestrooms are non-smoking.
In the six years since Christine and Wolfgang Becker converted their small wine bar to a restaurant, Weinhaus Becker has built a superb reputation validated by a one-star rating in Michelin's Red Guide and 17 points with Gault Millau. "I prepare everything myself, from the first appetizer to the last praline," says Becker, who considers himself part chef and part "artistic director."
The menu changes every six to eight weeks depending on what's fresh and in season. Recent appetizers included a "mosaic" of smoked fish, vegetables, sheep's-milk yogurt and greens; sautéed rabbit with mushrooms; and caramelized goose liver served over a poached pear, with vanilla sauce. Main dishes were venison medallions with wild mushrooms and blueberry pancakes; Atlantic halibut with saffron; and shrimp encrusted with a puree of sole and potato served atop sweet chicory. For dessert try ginger soufflé with papaya ragout over white chocolate ice cream. The wine menu is extensive and of course includes many bottles from the Becker's own vineyard.
The setting is comfortable and inviting, with 12 tables in a front room and 10 in back. The dominant theme is wine, from barrels on the walls to carvings of wine presses.
Entrées range from €28-32, appetizers from €17-19 and desserts from €8-12. The restaurant also offers a four-course menu for €49.
Rating: QUALITY 18/20, VALUE 14/20
Café Restaurant Brunnenhof
Although Café Restaurant Brunnenhof offers lighter fare like salmon marinated in Riesling, the city center restaurant is heavy on "comfort foods" like beef-and-beer goulash and pan-fried noodles with onions, bacon, potatoes, garlic and cheese. It's also relatively inexpensive with few entrées more than €11. Servings are large and well-prepared. Although located in the 11th-century Simeon College, the restaurant's interior is 20th century. If possible, choose outdoor dining in the old courtyard with a view to the Porta Nigra. Jazz fans will enjoy the "Jazz im Brunnenhof" outdoor series in July and August.
Contact: Brunnenhof Café, Simeonstrasse 60, D-54290 Trier, tel. +49/651/700295.
Rating: QUALITY 13/20 VALUE 15/20
One of three restaurants at Hotel Blesius Garten, Kraft-Bräu is Trier's largest beer garden. Many guests come to enjoy the fresh beer and to socialize. Many more are tempted by the culinary offerings. Fish dishes, such as rainbow trout fresh from the trout pool and fried in butter, range from €13-17. Meat dishes generally fall between €14-20, such as beef filet with pine-nut crust and rosemary-chili au jus, and lamb in a red-wine mint sauce. At the Brewery-Bistro, almost everything is under €10: ten Nürnberg sausages, beef stroganoff, sliced pork with beer sauce and fried potatoes, and fresh pasta with pesto. They'll also bottle your choice of their beers to take with you.
Contact: Kraft-Bräu Olewiger Strasse 135, D-54295 Trier, tel. +49 0651 3606-0, fax +49 0651 3606-33
Rating: QUALITY 14/20, VALUE 15/20
The speciality at Etage is Eifeler Fladen- a flat farmers' bread typical of the region north of the Mosel. Cooked in a stone oven in an open kitchen, it is served crisp with a choice of toppings like tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, broccoli and shrimp. The best of these is a delicious combination of beans with Mettwurst, a delightful smoked sausage. Although the menu features many regional dishes with various combinations of meat, fish, sausages and cheese, guests with lighter appetites can choose the salad bar, Apple Mountain (apples, nuts and raisins served in yogurt), and Klatschkes (cucumber salad with scallions and Quark- sort of a cross between cottage cheese and cream cheese). A light lunch might cost €8-10, a more complete dinner €9-15. The mezzanine seating offers a nice view of the Art Deco bar, but the rear terrace garden offers the best atmosphere and a quiet retreat from the pedestrian plaza just a few paces away.
Contact: Etage Restaurant, Neustrasse 56, D-54292 Trier, tel. +49/651/912/0858, fax: 994 6708
Rating: QUALITY 14/20 VALUE 16/20
Elevation: 518 feet (158 meters)
Basel 408 km 253 miles
Berlin 729 km 452 miles
Bonn 146 km 91 miles
Frankfurt 189 km 117 miles
Heidelberg 196 km 122 miles
Koblenz 122 km 76 miles
Munich 522 km 324 miles
Saarbrücken 94 km 58 miles
Hourly rail service from Koblenz and Luxembourg and frequent service from Mannheim via Saarbrücken.
Typical Rail Times
Basel 4 hours, 45 minutes
Berlin 6 hours, 50 minutes
Bonn 2 hours, 35 minutes
Frankfurt 3 hours, 20 minutes
Heidelberg 3 hours, 20 minutes
Koblenz 1 hour, 25 minutes
Munich 6 hours, 15 minutes
Saarbrücken 1 hour, 25 minutes
Prices current as of November 2003.