Practical Travel Tips: Speyer, Germany

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Jim “The Travel Organizer,” who last wrote about the small German town of Deidesheim, Oahu, Napa Valley, Venice, Singapore, Bangkok, Sonoma County and Myrtle Beach, went to to another small town, Speyer and here are his tips should you visit.

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If you’ve read my destination report on Deidesheim, Speyer (pronounced shpire, with a long “i”) is a 1-hour train ride away, costing less than $10USD roundtrip/person but requiring 2 transfers. In the first century, the Rhine River was a natural border separating the Roman Empire from barbarian tribes to the east. Speyer, located at a strategic point on the Rhine, was an important defense as early as 10 B.C.E. Fast forward to 1529, six years after Martin Luther and his “Lutheran Heresy” was banned by the Catholic Church, and Speyer again played a critical role in history. It was in Speyer in 1529 that the term “Protestant” was first used to describe those who objected to the Church’s 1526 “doubling down” on its condemnation of Luther and his teachings. Free organ concerts are often held at the Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church) which was constructed in memory of this protest and features a colossal statue of Martin Luther in its portico.

Memorial Church, Speyer, Germany – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Laetare festival

Laetare Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent, traditionally a day of celebration in the middle of the most somber liturgical season on the Christian calendar. Its name comes from the Latin translation of Isaiah 66:10 in Latin, “Laetare, Jerusalem…,” (“Rejoice, Jerusalem…”) which is the call to worship for this Sunday. Laetare Sunday is also the occasion for Speyer’s annual Laetare festival. As it turned out, the dates of our trip to this region of Germany made it possible for us to join in Speyer’s celebration on March 11, 2018.

The Laetare festival starts off with a children’s parade through the center of town ending in a large open field behind the Domkirche, the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, Speyer’s most famous landmark (see below). Here, after children’s choral presentations and performances by local bands, an effigy of winter – a 20 foot tall snowman – is set ablaze to the cheers of the crowd.

Burning winter in effigy, Speyer, Germany – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

“Must see” attractions in Speyer

Domkirche (“Imperial Cathedral of Speyer”)

Dominating the easterly view from Speyer’s Altpörtel (“old city gate,” the tallest and most architecturally significant of the remaining city gates in Germany), down Maximilianstrasse (the town’s mostly pedestrian main street) is its massive cathedral. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 because it is “…historically, artistically and architecturally one of the most significant examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe” (UNESCO).

We arranged a tour with Ms. Friederike Walter, head of Cultural Management for the Cathedral which was incredibly informative. The Cathedral’s crypt is the final resting place for eight medieval emperors and kings of the Holy Roman Empire.

Speyer’s Romanesque Cathedral – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Historisches Museum der Pfalz (“Historical Museum of the Palatinate”)

Imagine yourself standing where the picture of Speyer’s Cathedral was taken, make a quarter-turn to your right and you will be facing another Speyer landmark, the Historical Museum of the Palatinate (the name for this region of Germany, derived from the Latin word palatium, meaning “palace”, referencing the period in Germany history during which it was ruled over by a prince of Holy Roman Empire). The floor plan is rather confusing as we had to pass through a special exhibition area (requiring a separate ticket) in order to visit the museum’s small Luther Room, which includes a film about the history of the Reformation, a Luther Bible and a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism. Note: Exhibits are mostly in German so have Google Translate ready to go.

The Wine Museum exhibit features the oldest bottle of wine in the world. Dating to circa 325 A.D., this unopened bottle of white wine was unearthed when the tomb of a Roman noble family was excavated in 1867. The Flight Deal readers may be interested in the Lufthansa 747 in the background just to the left in the photo of the museum. It was acquired by the Technik Museum Speyer in 2002 for just 1 euro (although it cost millions to transport, reassemble and modify for exhibit); visitors can actually walk on its wing!

Historical Museum of the Palatinate (747 in background) – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Historical walking tour of Speyer

Speyer’s Tourist Information offers an English translation of its content-rich website through which we connected with Ms. Bettina Heinstein who turned out to be an incredibly helpful resource. She patiently answered the many questions I e-mailed to her, suggested restaurants serving authentic, local cuisine and arranged a walking tour of “the Imperial City” with an extremely knowledgeable guide. If you visit Speyer (and I hope you will!), avail yourself of the friendly, extensive services of its Tourist Information staff and office at Maximilianstrasse 13 about halfway between the Altpörtel and the Domkirche. A highlight of our walking tour was a visit to the old Jewish Quarter.

For 250 years, Speyer had a thriving Jewish community which was destroyed when the Jews were blamed for the Black Plague. By 1939, only 77 Jews remained in Speyer, almost all of whom became victims of the Holocaust (“Jewish Heritage,” Speyer Tourist Information website). Walking down the staircase of Speyer’s incredibly well-preserved mikveh (a cold water bath used for ritual cleansing), constructed during the 12th century, to its pool of clear water is like walking back in time!

Mikveh in Speyer’s Jewish Quarter – Photo: (c) 2018 – Jim Fatzinger, The Travel Organizer

Where we ate

We found two restaurants in the center of Speyer that served authentic, local cuisine and heartily recommend both:

Domhof Hausbrauerei (literally, “Cathedral courtyard brew house”)

If you position yourself where the photograph of the Cathedral was taken and make a quarter-turn to your left, you should see the façade of this charming restaurant. Speyer’s Tourist Information office helped us with a reservation for Sunday brunch on the day of the Laetare festival – very important because every table was either already filled or reserved! We both ordered their fried sausages served with fresh wine sauerkraut and brown bread – less than 10 Euros/person – and washed our meals down with their homemade wheat beer. Delicious!

Weinstube Rabennest (“Raven’s Nest Winebar”)

Just across from the Tourist Information office, a small street (Korngasse) peels off from Speyer’s main drag (Maximilianstrasse). Weinstube Rabennest, at #5, is the real deal. Rated the #6 restaurant overall and #2 moderately priced restaurant in Speyer by TripAdvisor, this cozy restaurant serves “(h)earty portions of regional specialties (to) delight both your mouth and your wallet” (Fodor’s Germany). Weinstube Rabennest serves Palatinate specialties as well as a variety of schnitzels but is perhaps best known for its rumpsteak. Cash only, no credit cards.

Additional tips:

Self-guided scavenger hunt

Did I mention how comprehensive and useful the Tourist Information website for the city of Speyer is? From it, you can download a scavenger hunt of the city (actually 3 scavenger hunts, each with 12 questions to answer, which can easily guide your exploration for a few hours. Tour B focuses on a 1 block radius around the Domkirche.

Free Wi-Fi

You’re never far from free Wi-Fi in Speyer (see map). From what I could tell, the city itself offers 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi.

Free organ concerts

Both the Cathedral and the Memorial Church regularly offer organ concerts. We were fortunate to be able to attend a free concert in the Memorial Church on Laetare Sunday as part of the festival.

About the Author:

I organize things; it’s what I do! I enjoy the natural adrenaline high of travel as much as the next person but I also try to limit the likelihood that the surprises I experience along the way will be unpleasant ones. To this end, I spend more hours than most preparing for each trip. Fortunately for me, I enjoy the anticipation of travel as much as the experience of it. The focus of my trip reports will be to help those who read them to enjoy high value experiences — maximizing enjoyment while minimizing cost. I’ve been a minister, nonprofit agency executive, professor and consultant; my “job” in retirement is planning our next trip. If you would like additional information and/or recommendations, please feel free to contact “The Travel Organizer” via email.

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