Off the beaten path: Day trips to some of Germany’s hidden gems

Photo by Sergey Dzyuba /

Visitors who make the stop at Voelklingen might continue westward across the border to Metz, France. Aside from the well-documented St. Stephen Cathedral and another antiquated religious building, St. Pierre aux Nonnains, the town offers flea markets, small wineries, bistros and pubs, and a few children-themed places to let the kids blow off steam.

The Porte Des Allemands is a 13th-century, twin-towered structure that once stood in the path of invading forces. It features a walking area that winds through the building, and several shops and restaurants are situated nearby. Just blocks from the towers you can find Eglise St. Maximin, one of several churches and noteworthy for its blue-hued, modern stained glass that was installed under the direction of its creator, 1960s artist Jean Cocteau.

Castle ruins in Homburg, just a 30-minute drive along A6 toward Saarbruecken, are excellent, with drawings and plans that show exact layout and floorplans of what used to be there. There are caves that served various purposes and are located underneath the castle complex. Dress warm: The caves are at pretty a constant cool temperature for exploring in any season. Be prepared to learn, too, as the caves can give the visitor an idea of ways of life from another time period.

There is a fun and spacious park close to downtown with an extremely shallow pond that has a children’s pirate ship at its center. Children can get on tiny boats and use poles to push themselves out to examine the ship. The park also has a rock-climbing wall, a miniature golf course, and large, open fields for volleyball and other outdoor or ball games. Teenagers and younger kids alike will find this place appealing.

Northeast of Kaiserslautern is the Rhine River town of Mainz. It is here that you simply must come before your time is up, for a visit to both the Gutenberg Museum and to trace Martin Luther’s path to reforming religion into what we know it as today.

Take time to drive south for 30 minutes and see Worms, where Luther appeared in front of Roman emperor Charles V in high court. This might inspire you to seek out more Luther-related spots in German towns north of Frankfurt.

Downtown Worms has a walking tour that traces some of Luther’s steps. The city also has castle ruins that are different from castles on the Rhine River hills, as they are set right in the middle of downtown. There is a convenient parking garage with inexpensive day rates plus many restaurants and shops to check out.

Altstadt is the old town portion of Mainz and a place to find authentic servings of sausage and beer, varying representations of medieval architecture, and lots of walking space for shops, pubs, coffee houses, and photo opportunities. A day in Mainz is not enough and it’s probably worth the traveler’s while to book a room somewhere and stretch the experience. The printing press and ancient bible memorabilia take time to explore, so plan accordingly and give yourself time to digest the information.