Hauenstein, a small village about 50 minutes south of Kaiserslautern, is all about feet. Here, they make shoes, sell shoes, export shoes, and their museum tells the history of shoes.
Just as important, the Hauenstein area provides walking trails to enjoy the shoes while hiking the hills, enjoying the forests and breathing the fresh air.
More than 30 factories once produced footwear ranging from military boots to high fashion sandals. The German Shoe Museum, a renovated factory, now displays the history of shoe making that parallels the history of Germany “from the ground up,” so to speak. Today, only a few shoe factories still exist in and around Hauenstein, so now the town mostly does business by selling shoes at the many warehouse outlets that line “The Shoe Mile.”
In the museum at the south end of town and away from the hustle of the outlets, one hears the rattle of running machines where workers once produced millions of shoes.
Spread across three floors in the Bauhaus building, the museum divides into historic eras on the first three floors then presents a vast array of shoe styles on the top floor. The second floor, with expertly created displays of memorabilia, provides a fantastic walk through post World War II and Cold War history.
Though the displays appear only in German, the museum provides audio-guide devices that interact with the displays in English.
Shoe freaks can go wild on the top floor, which houses the Ernst Tillman Collection of more than 3,500 pairs of shoes from ancient Roman sandals to contemporary spike heels. Shoes worn by celebrities also appear on display, including those of tennis players Boris Becker and Steffi Graf and the shoes of French leader Charles deGaulle, as well as work shoes of present German Chancellor Angela Merkl.
A long street of shoe outlets crowds the main entrance of Hauenstein with every kind of footwear imaginable from sports sneakers to high fashion pumps and heels.
Brand names include Converse, Ecco, Sanita, Keen, Naot, Bugatti, Josef Seibel, VANS, Mephisto and Romika. An array of fine Italian leather boots takes up a complete section of Shoe Marke, one of the larger stores. Some smaller firms around town attach their shops directly to the factories.
If a buyer catches the right time, it’s possible to grab a 50 percent discount at closing stores that fail in this highly competitive market. However, most discounts range from 10 to 35 percent off retail. Also, almost every store maintains a sell-off department to clear out last year’s models, off sizes and seasonal footwear at half price.
Shoe stores in Hauenstein, as well as the German Shoe Museum, are open Sundays. Not all of these outlets take VAT forms or credit cards, so ask before buying.
Two parallel routes from Kaiserslautern lead to Hauenstein, each easy to drive in about 50 minutes. Autobahn 62 west of Landstuhl leads to Pirmasens where it connects with A10 heading east. Head toward Landau for 13 miles and find Hauenstein on the right side of the road.
Or, take the B270 from Kaiserslautern toward Pirmasens and connect with the A10. Turn left onto A10, drive east toward Landau for 13 miles, and you’ll spot the shoe outlet stores on the right.
The GPS address is 76846 Hauenstein (Germany).