Kaiserslautern is the largest city in the western half of Rheinland-Pfalz. But more importantly, it boasts the largest American expatriate population in Germany, a fact it is openly proud of. The Kaiserslautern city web site provides links to the downtown's German-American Partnership Center and has one of the most extensive English-language subsite of any German city. This is not surprising, as the American military has several large bases nearby, like Ramstein Air Base, and the Americans remain a significant employer, especially as the area's manufacturing sector is facing challenges. The American influence also comes into play with the city's shortened nickname, "K-Town", coined perhaps because Kaiserslautern is long and doesn't roll off the tongue so easy. Even some Germans I know eschew the proper name.
But make no mistake, Kaiserslautern is very much a German city with its own indigenous heritage to celebrate. Much of the downtown has been rebuilt and modernized, while the city's premier football club, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, is one of the most recognized and storied clubs in Germany (the last couple seasons notwithstanding). Kaiserslautern is definitely not a tourist haven -- sadly, much of its older structures were destroyed several times over during the years -- but lot of Germans and expatriates alike seem happy to call it 'home'.
This travelogue begins with a walk down the main pedestrian walkway, which is a combination of Steinstrasse to the northeast, Marktstrasse in the center, and Kerststrasse to the southwest. This walkway contains mostly restaurants, bars, and clubs. There is not so much shopping there, the shopping being concentrated in the modern outlet-style malls that surround the downtown. However, there are a number of interesting historic landmarks that remain intact, sandwiched in-between various modern structures as a result of Kaiserslautern's reconstruction.
Most of these are on the northeast half. Beginning in the center and working northeast, the first photograph shows K-Town's grandest old structure, the Stiftskirche. This church was not rebuilt after the wars, instead it was patched up with black cement which shows plenty of scars. A small plaza resides in front of it, surrounded by some of the nicer restaurants in the downtown.
Further up was the largest and nicest plaza on the market street, the St. Martinplatz, with St. Martin's Church and the St. Martin Fountain. With two very large bushy trees in the middle of the plaza, it was impossible to get a good picture of the church, but it was much simpler in structure than the Stiftskirche, inside and out. Facing St. Martin's was the Stadthaus, the former town hall was Kaiserslautern was perhaps a much smaller city. Painted in plain light yellow nowadays, it currently serves as a music school.
The part along Sternstrasse was the best part. Several of the storefronts have been restored in their old style, marked with the year of construction. The side face of one building contained a simple mural showing the walled castle that once stood on that site, plus a couple red sandstone plaques showing the coat of arms of the family that lived there and partial history. Further up were two originals facing each other -- the Altstadt Hotel and Café and the Thomas Zink Museum. The former was a quaint guesthouse, the latter a modern exhibition hall in the shell of an old-style row house.
Although we did not go into the Museum itself, we entered the courtyard and noted the wall of very old pictures of Kaiserslautern. It was clear from those photographs how much the old city has changed -- the current pedestrian walkway once carried trolleys, and massive sandstone structures like the Stiftskirche were the norm (as opposed to the five golden-arched McDonalds we passed by around the city). Most of the photos were prior to World War I, which appeared to be Kaiserslautern's grandest era.
The second photograph shows the Kaiserbrunnen, at the far end of the walkway in a circle where one of the city gates (the Mainzer Tor) once stood. It is a very unusual fountain with a number of grotesque of otherwise odd figures. But in fact each figure has a meaning, described on a sign posted on a nearby hedgerow.
We also walked a circle around the north side of the old city, where the main roads now run, flanked by more modern structures built over the past thirty or forty years. The third photograph shows the Pfalztheater, which is much plainer than the structure that preceded it, based on the Zink Museum photos. The fourth photograph shows a World War I memorial located next to it. On the west side is the one remaining ruin that we saw, called the Casimirsaal Burgruine. Now little more than the fountain of the original building, it almost looked out of place, especially considering the size of the very modern Kaiserslautern City Hall behind it. This Hall is a classic white skyscraper, about twenty floors high and not very decorative. The Burgruine was also flanked by a very loud sculpture of six brightly colored fish that represented the partner cities.
The highlight of Sunday was a morning walk around the Japanischer Garten, shown in the fifth photograph. Situated on a hillside just north of downtown, this Garten is a nice refuge from the city atmosphere. Despite being only a couple blocks large, it consisted of several artificial streams and waterfalls, a massive koi pond, and walking trails. The inclines were very steep, and the views at the top were fantastic. It was a great place to observe the whole city. The Garten was very new -- only a dozen years old -- but was still undergoing final renovations to the entranceway and the café.
The one structure we were hoping to get a good photo of was the soccer stadium, perched on the hillside south of the old city. But even the vantage point of the Japanischer Garten wasn't high enough.
But in general, Kaiserslautern's downtown was not really the center of activity, not like so many other cities. When we arrived Saturday, FCK had just let out a game, but the fans were streaming out, as opposed to what happened in Hannover where they all stuck around for a long while. Some of our American friends told us that most of the better bars and clubs are spread out around the city, anyhow.
Trip taken 1-2 May 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin