I absolutely love it when I arrive in a new town for the first time and wind up joining a town festival. It is such a joy to see the people crowding the streets, dressed in costume and doing traditional dances, showing off the colors of the season, and selling local food and drink. I experienced this is in Germany's Darmstadt and Luebeck, Belgium's Liege, and Linz in Austria. I must now add Landau in der Pfalz to the list.
Technically, the Palatinate city of Landau (i.d. Pfalz) is not on the German Wine Road, instead it is about ten kilometers (six miles) east of it. But because it draws it's cultural identity from it, my tour guides lump them together. I noticed how the wine industry played a role in Landau's history and its weinstubes were very prominent. However, Landau was a true city with an architecture and history distinct from the rest of the region.
I arrived mid-morning on Saturday, which gave me the opportunity to join the Saturday market in the Rathausplatz, shown in the first photo. The square was magnificent. The Altes Kaufhaus (Old Market House) is partly obscured by the statue at the left of the photograph. It was a traditional market hall converted to a more modern shopping center, but its second floor had a huge patio serviced by a restaurant and coffee bar. The patio offered a great view. On the side of the Kaufhaus was an interesting mural depicting life in Landau a couple hundred years ago. The Rathaus was roughly behind me in this photo, a beautiful white house that to me resembled an American colonial manor. (The Tourist Information Bureau is in the Rathaus, but it unfortunately is open on very limited hours on Saturdays).
After enjoying a bit of time at the Saturday market, I decided to take a walk around the city and see what was there. I discovered that the layout of Landau centered on a main road that encircled the downtown, called the Hauptring, with the Main Street pedestrian zone cutting right through it. The Ring was divided by name into four parts -- north, south, east, and west -- although it was clearly one road. Much of Landau's larger structures, including parts of its old city wall, were along this ring.
The ring had a lot of old red and yellow brick buildings, many of which were still in good shape. But unlike some cities where the brick buildings were cookie-cutter alike and lined the streets equally (see Kassel), Landau's buildings were sometimes uniquely shaped and clearly intended to be decorative. A number of them were trimmed with red sandstone carvings.
One example was the Festhalle, shown in the second paragraph. It was built near the turn of the century (1905 to 1907 according to the town website), in art nouveau style, and is used as a conventional hall. It is typically used for art shows and Landau has a regular art festival schedule. The Festhalle was perched on a small hill overlooking the city's park with a huge pond surrounded on the hills by several beautiful residences.
At several points on the ring, I came upon some interesting signs that Landau posted at the turn of the millenium. These signs showed pictures of the city from 1900 and were positioned at or near the precise positions where the photo was taken. It was interesting to compare the photograph with the modern-time view. For the most part, it was clear that Landau's downtown was more heavily industrialized in 1900, but now the factories have been replaced.
Some of the other architectural highlights included: Das Deutsche Tor, shown in the third photo. Although called a gate ("Tor"), it seemed more like an old customs house. It was among the oldest buildings in the city. At the side, the Landauers erected a statue of a lion to accompany the building -- the lion being the symbol of the city. The Bundesamt, or regional government building, was across from the Festhalle. This structure was the most impressive of all, a huge concrete structure with its center topped with a copper dome that resembled a crown or orb (with a cross on top). The most prominent structure left over from the old city wall was the Galereenturm, a 13th-century square brick tower just outside Rathausplatz. The fourth photo shows one of the many unusually-shaped buildings, this one called the Villa Streccius. Once serving as a mansion, it is now an art house.
Returning to the downtown, I followed the two main streets to watch the city festival taking place. It was clearly aimed at children, as there was a whole market square devoted to kiddie rides at one end, games up and down the main street, and children's performances of various types taking place at the other end. An example of the latter is shown in the fifth photo, a large karate demonstration at one of the major street corners. This troupe easily numbered fifty, probably more, and came from a local kids karate club. Groups of kids were brought forward to demonstrate karate exercises in accordance with their belt color. This and other performances (mostly dance-related) drew pretty decent crowds.
My visit to Landau was brief -- alas, the rest of the Weinstrasse was waiting for me -- but it was memorable, especially because the city was so alive with the ongoing festival. Yet, the beautiful colors and history in the city told me that the city was alive much of the year, and as it is near the center of Germany's most prominent wine district, I have to believe it will be lively for a long time.
Trips taken 7-8 June 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin