CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI
We moved to Germany about two weeks ago and decided it was time to wet our feet and explore beyond the Kaiserslautern area. That can be an intimidating thing to do for a family with three young kids and only one adult who speaks a minimal amount of German. So, it was a relief to learn that the USO offered a class that taught you how to navigate the German rail system. We signed up, headed to the Kaiserslautern station early on a Saturday morning, and boarded a train bound for Trier. Trier is also close to Spangdahlem.
Trier, the oldest town in Germany, is a two hour train ride from Kaiserslautern through wine country. The scenery featured fields of grape vines that invited future visits to wine festivals and a stop at the Villeroy & Boch factory, which was easy to spot from the train as it stopped briefly in Mettlach. Once we arrived in Trier, our USO guide took us on a brief walk to Porta Nigra, the heart of the town, where she explained the town’s history and urged us to go out and explore.
Porta Nigra, or the Black Gate, was built by the Romans between 180-200 AD. It was part of a system of four city gates that once protected the town, but it is the only gate still standing. Its name is credited to its dark stones that legend says turned black after the Romans returned from a military defeat. Pollution, though not as romantic an explanation, is the true cause of the dark pigmentation. Walking through the Porta Nigra’s huge arches, it’s easy to understand why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You couldn’t help but want to climb to the top, look out, and gaze as far as you could see. We were able to stop in the Stadtmuseum Simeonstift right next to the gate and purchase tickets to tour the museum, which explains Trier’s history and houses artifacts too delicate to be exposed to the elements, and explore the arches. All five of us soon made our way to the top of the gate and looked through the frame-like arches for a panoramic view.
Our trip was perfectly timed as the square below the gate hosted a market. The market featured handicrafts such as leatherworking, woodworking, textile work, and much more. Saturdays often featured such markets, so take that into account when planning your trip and see the Trier tourism website for the area’s event schedule. The festivities continued in the Hauptmarket (main market square) where more vendors offered fresh fruit and flowers. In the Hauptmarket, you could see traces of Trier’s history in the architecture. Many different groups seized the city and influenced its development.
One building hinted at an Eastern influence with its patterned tile and brick work. The original front door on the second story guarded against unwanted visitors, or invaders, who found it difficult to enter without someone inside lowering a ladder or rope. If you happen to be in the square on the hour, you will hear the time marked by bells attached to the front of a building on a side street.
Follow the music and you will find the Spielzeugmuseum (toy museum) right next door. Its contents will add some playfulness to your trip.
The adventure continued after a brief walk brought us to the Trier Cathedral, which houses the Holy Tunic worn by Jesus at the moment of his death. It can be viewed at certain times of the year during religious holidays and festivals. Since a choir festival was taking place inside the cathedral when we visited, we opted not to take our three little ones inside and potentially disturb listeners. We will have the cathedral to look forward to during another trip. The music from the festival pouring out from the cathedral made it easy for one to imagine all the voices that had passed through its doors over the centuries. Attached to the cathedral is Our Dear Lady Church. Its gothic architecture stands out sharply against the cathedral’s Roman style, but they manage to give you the sense that they belong together.
Just around the corner from the cathedral is the Constantine Basilica. Once the throne hall of Roman Emperor Constantine, it is now a Protestant church. The church was heavily damaged during World War II, but has been largely restored. When we entered the basilica, we were greeted by organ music that filled the great hall and emphasized the grandeur of the room.
Our sense of awe continued as we strolled by the Electoral Palace (not open for regular tours, but visitors can attend concerts there a few times a year) and its statue-flanked gardens. The trail continued to the ruins of the Roman baths, amphitheater, and bridge, all of which join Porta Nigra as UNESCO World Heritage Sites that illustrate how prolific the Romans were when it came to building grand structures.
Before returning to the train station for our trip home, we stopped in the central square to enjoy a lovely lunch at Historischer Keller. The restaurant is located underground in old Roman cellars. You can find the entrance marked by signs that look like soldiers in armor, which fascinated our kids. It’s hard to escape how rich the history is in this town, and there is no reason to want to! Traveling to Trier offered our family a chance to imagine all the adventures that await us in Germany and the confidence that we would be able to take advantage of all of them.
Tips For Your Trip:
- Click here to visit the USO website and see what trips they are currently offering.
- Click here to read more about the Porta Nigra.
- Click here to read more about the Trier Christmas Market.
- This picture will have you dreaming about sipping Riesling in Trier.
April – September: 0900-1800
October – March: 0900-1700
November – February: 0900-1600
(Open daily; Last admission 30 minutes before closing.)
Children 17 and under: €1.50
Family 1 (1 Adult and up to four children over the age of 6): €3.00
Family 2 (2 Adults and up to four children over the age of 6): €6.00
(There are discounted tickets if you would like to also visit other Roman ruins or the museum. Additional discounts for groups of 10 or more. For more information click here.)
Tuesday – Sunday: 1000 – 1700
Families (2 adults and children): €9.00
Children to the age of 10: Free
Entrance on the first Sunday of each month: €1.00
Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum)
Tuesday – Sunday: 1100-1700
Limited hours during the Christmas Market – January 2
Youth 11-18: €2.50
Children 4-10: €2.00
Children 0-3: Free
Family (2 Adults and up to 3 children): €12.00
Historischer Keller Restaurant
Monday – Saturday: 1130-2000
Kitchen is open from 1130-1900
Closed Sundays and holidays