Mainz, the capital city of Rhineland-Palatinate, was originally established by the Romans as a military post in the first century B.C. // © 2015 German National Tourist Office
Feature image (above): The historic city of Koblenz is located about 1.5 hours from Frankfurt. // © 2015 German National Tourist Office
Cruising the Rhine River might be the most popular way to see Germany’s Rhineland, but travelers can still absorb the richness of the destination by land. River towns such as Koblenz and Mainz are chock-full of German heritage, culture and cuisine, and both make quick day trips from nearby Frankfurt. Even business travelers on a short stint to the area can make the most out of their visit.
For more than 2,000 years, Koblenz has played a vital role in shaping modern German history. The city is about 1.5 hours from Frankfurt, at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
Get a taste of Koblenz’s ancient history by visiting Ehrenbreitstein Fortress via cable car across the Rhine River. The fortress, which overlooks the entire city, dates back more than 5,000 years and has been converted into a museum showcasing the history of Koblenz and the surrounding region.
Take the cable car back down to the riverbank to time-travel ahead a few thousand years. Visit the monument to William I, erected in 1897, which stands right at the point where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet. Then stop at Wacht am Rhein for a traditional German lunch. The kitschy restaurant has a full menu of all the German classics, from schnitzel and wursts to salad and pasta. There is also a long list of local German beers and wines from which to choose.
After lunch, walk along the Moselle toward Koblenz’s Old Town. Once the heart of the old Roman city, Old Town today is packed with shops, boutiques and restaurants. Take a breather at one of the area’s many squares and sit al fresco while sipping a glass of dry Riesling. Make sure to visit Deutscher Kaiser for dinner. This modern restaurant serves more elegant German cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Opt for a seat in the front, from which you can look out onto the Moselle.
A bit closer to the heart of Frankfurt, just 30 minutes by train from the airport, is the city of Mainz. The capital city of Rhineland-Palatinate, Mainz is also an important historic city for this part of Germany. It was founded in the first century B.C. as a military post by the Romans. One of its most famous citizens was Johannes Gutenberg, who was responsible for the movable-type printing press. Mainz is also home to St. Stephen’s Church, a Gothic building with stained-glass windows designed by artist Marc Chagall.
A visit to Mainz should begin in the city’s market square, which sits next to Mainz Cathedral, or St. Martin’s Cathedral. On weekends, the square buzzes with local activity when the farmers market comes to town. Local purveyors come from across the Rhineland to showcase regional produce, meats, cheeses and, of course, wines. One of the highlights of the market is the Mainz farmers market breakfast, which is held Saturday mornings and lasts throughout the entire day. Winemakers from the Rhineland come to showcase their wines in the summer months. Locals meander the market to select goodies to pair with their wine samples from the growers.
After visiting the market, head to St. Stephen’s Church. The building was originally constructed in 990, but what remains is the main church area, which was built in 1267. Mainz was heavily bombed during World War II, and St. Stephen’s suffered substantial damages. It was rebuilt in the mid-20th century, with Marc Chagall commissioned to create nine stained-glass windows as part of the renovation. The windows, which cast the interior of the church in an ethereal blue, depict scenes from the Old Testament and show the relationship and brotherhood of Christianity and Judaism. The windows were important to the reunification of Germany, as Chagall, a Jew, took the opportunity to work on the structure as a way to promote peace and understanding.
Another must-see in Mainz is Gutenberg Museum, which honors the life and work of the inventor of movable type. The museum has a replica moveable-type printing press, as well as two of the original 48 Gutenberg bibles.
If you can’t make the farmers market all-day breakfast affair, visit Haus des Deutschen Weines, a wine house near St. Martin’s Cathedral that serves lighter German fare and features a lengthy list of local German wines.