Possibly the most recognized and unvisited castle ruins in Southern Germany stand just east of Kaiserslautern high above the German Wine Road.
As Americans drive to or from Mannheim or Heidelberg on autobahn A6, they see the remains of Burg Leiningen, once one of the most powerful fortresses in the area, then they tuck the vision in their memories for a “someday” visit. For a few minutes, they wonder how to get there and what they’ll find when they arrive.
Most don’t know they’ll find Neu Leiningen (also written Neuleiningen), a tiny village hanging on a hillside with streets as narrow as alleys lined with half-timbered buildings dating back to 1312, and they’ll find fabulous restaurants serving regional specialties with prices that range from ridiculously cheap to wildly expensive. And, they’ll encounter one of the oldest vintners in Germany with a wine-tasting cellar offering fine wines for very reasonable prices. Mostly, they’ll find the heart of Germany.
Named the most picturesque small town on the German Wine Road, Neu Leningen once served as the center of Leiningenland with the Duke of Leiningen ruling from the burg (fortress) at the top of the hill. The four towers of the town wall still stand, but the fortress exists only as a shell of its glorious past.
Festivals and theater productions now take place in the center court where knights and warriors in metal armor once ruled. The burg museum documents hundreds of years of history.
A curious optical illusion occurs in the middle of the burg’s courtyard. When visitors stand near the entrance, they see a heart on the remains of one fortress wall, seemingly dug into the stones by cannon fire.
As the tourists move further toward the center, the heart seems to disappear as only ugly scars show the ripped away parts of the wall.
The Ruttger family has produced wine in this village since 1643, and they have built a rustic wine-tasting cellar under one of the oldest buildings.
For small groups, they also offer their Wein Lädchen, a room lined with boxes of wine of every variety grown in Germany and Ruttger’s versions of wine from surrounding lands.
A gracious hostess will open nearly any bottle in their assortment for tasting. The dry (trocken) Riesling Classic is a particularly good buy, as is their halb-trocken Dornfelder (red wine).
Enjoying Neu Leiningen takes at least a day of wandering the streets, wine tasting and visiting the burg with its museum, all wrapped up with a wild game dinner at Restaurant zum Engle or fresh asparagus on the patio at BurgGraf von Leiningen in a pub room filled with antiques and a warming hearth.
For anniversaries or special occasions, the 4-star Der Alte Pfarrerei (old priests residence) specializes in lavish, romantic four and five course menus.
A little hard to find on the narrow roads that wind through tiny farm villages, Neu Leiningen is best found with a GPS set for Mittelgasse 56, 67271 Neuleiningen.
As spring warms the land and provides opportunities for members of the KMC to discover places that amaze and amuse on short trips, Neu Leiningem should top the list.
No longer will it remain that “someday” trip, but become a reality worth many return trips with family and friends looking for the perfect German experience.