Discover the hidden gems of Idar-Oberstein

Story and photos by A.L. Shaff
Contributing writer

Long ago, the villages of Idar and Oberstein fused into one gem of a city that became famous around the world for producing masterpieces from the raw ores.
As explorers found ever-more fascinating gemstones in Africa, the Americas, and even Asia, Idar-Oberstein turned itself from mining to importing then cutting and finishing the stones into high-quality jewelry and artifacts.

Two museums, the German Gem Museum in Idar and the Oberstein Museum in the partner town, give visitors fascinating looks at the past and the beautiful finished products of the master crafts-men who toiled in almost unbearable conditions. But the city provides far more than museums and jewelry.

Cut deep into a sheer cliff, the “Felsenkirche,” or Church in the Rock, requires a short walk up the steps from the town square that lead to a tiny chapel built upon a legend.

Folklore tells of two brothers who loved the same princess, one openly and the other in secrecy.

When the older lover went off the fight in battles, his brother declared his affections for the princess and they married.

When the warring brother came home and discovered the treachery, he slew his kin in a rage. Then, repentant for his sin, he vowed to build a church in the brother’s memory.

Once the church was finished, a small spring began to bubble up in the middle of the floor, and it still runs today. High over the city stands Burg Oberstein, reachable by many steps that pass the tiny church or by car along a circuitous road outside the town.

Though much of the castle was destroyed by fire in 1855, the greater part still stands with a weapons hall, a large culture hall, the Lion’s Cellar, a small gallery room and the entire inner courtyard. 

Most of these rooms can be rented out for special affairs, and a Middle Ages Fortress Fest takes place each third weekend in May (May 22 to
23 this year.)

Burg Oberstein also hosts a thriving summer theater program and a renowned romantic Christmas market. Entrance to the fortress is free but donations are welcome.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 27 to 29, the town will hold “Mineral World Idar-Oberstein” for traders and collectors to display their treasures in the city center and walking passage.

The most famous food offering associated with the Idar-Oberstein area is Speisbraten, a dish made typically with marinated pork or beef roasted on spike over beefwood flames and served with grated white radish salad and potatoes.
The open secret of marinating Spiesbraten involves just the right amount of chopped onion and special herbs.

The old town square features several excellent restaurants that offer Spiesbraten or other German varieties at outdoor venues.

Idar-Oberstein once was a part of the Baumholder military community with a storage base about 10 miles away and an artillery unit kaserne that closed in 2008.
A perfect day trip, Idar-Oberstein offers good food, old Germany atmosphere, a fortress on a hill, and two museums full of history and beauty surrounding jewels and gems. 

The GPS setting is Idar-Oberstein 55743, which is only 46 miles from Kaiserslautern up autobahn A62.