Trier: Germany’s Oldest Historic City on the Mosel River

Once the Roman imperial residence, Trier is located on the banks of the Mosel River close to the Luxembourg border. It is considered the oldest city in Germany and one of the most diverse and beautiful. In addition to its many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Trier has abundant shopping and culinary delights to satisfy the most discriminating traveler.

Trier was founded by the Romans in 17 B.C.E. under the emperor Augustus. Visitors will, no doubt, be in awe of one of its most impressive architectural feats from its Roman-era past, the Porta Nigra or Black Gate, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large sandstone blocks used for construction weigh up to six tons and were placed one on top of another without any sort of mortar.

This remnant of the second century was part of the city wall and derived its name from the characteristic color of the sandstones that changed from light to dark over the ages. This was one of five gateways to enter and leave the city and is the largest such gate north of the Alps.

In addition to the Porta Nigra, Trier has an additional eight ancient antiquities that also are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the others include the Amphitheater, which could seat 18,000 spectators; the Cathedral, Germany’s oldest bishop’s church; the Imperial Baths; and the Royal Imperial Throne Room, also known as the Basilica of Constantine. The latter is the largest surviving single-room structure from Roman times. The dimensions of this massive hall are approximately 220 feet by 85 feet by 108 feet. Constantine the Great was a Christian convert and played a pivotal role in the early advance of Christianity throughout the world.

The Imperial Baths were erected around 300 C.E. and designed as one of the largest bathing facilities outside of Rome, although it was never actually completed. An ingenious feat of engineering in its own right, it had six boiler rooms that heated the cold water before it flowed into the pool. A series of corridors and tunnels connected various parts of the facility, most of which are well-preserved today. You can tour this amazing subterranean UNESCO site on your own or as part of a group tour.

If you’re looking for a postcard-perfect photo, make sure to visit the Electoral Palace. Many consider the facade to be one of the most beautiful representations of Rococo architecture in the world. The south wing was commissioned by the Archbishop of Trier, Philipp von Walderdorff, in 1756. Some of the best views can be admired from the flower-laden garden with its mythical statues and serene fountain.

Electoral Palace
Electoral Palace

Ron Stern

Fortunately, most of the shopping areas are located just beyond the Porta Nigra along Simeonstraße (Simeon Street). Ranked as one of the busiest shopping areas in Germany, this pedestrian friendly street has a myriad of retail shops, boutiques, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes.

Located at Simeonstraße 8 is a small house that you might just walk right by if it weren’t for the tourists that tend to gather there. This was the boyhood residence of Karl Marx, philosopher and author of The Communist Manifesto. Marx lived here for 17 years until graduating high school.

Just a 10-minute walk to Brückenstrasse 10 is the residence-turned-museum where Marx was born (circa 1727). The permanent exhibition highlights his political life, writings, and influence upon modern culture and the world. Adult tickets are €4 ($4.50).

If you are visiting during the latter part of November or December, you will be able to experience the beautiful Christmas markets of Trier. The medieval Hauptmarket Square is a delightful backdrop to the holiday celebration with around 95 decorated huts, each serving up food and crafts as well as a glimpse into Germany’s rich heritage.

Trier, along with other German cities, has a long history of winemaking — 2,000 years of it, in fact. With some of the steepest vineyards in Europe, the city is known for its excellent Mosel Rieslings (known as “Queen of White Wines”), as well as Elbling, pinot blanc, and Rivaner. You can sample these at many restaurants and wine bars and taverns throughout the city.


Ron Stern

One of these located right across from the cathedral and the Church of Our Lady is Weinstube Kesselstatt. This is a delightful place to enjoy a meal on the terrace and sample some of the region’s top-quality wines. Daily specials are posted inside and the self-service menu includes their “Region’s Best,” which comes on a huge board with a tasty selection of fish, sausages, and cheese (€9.90, or about $11).

If beer is more suited to your taste, you won’t be disappointed. Kraft Bräu is produced in a wonderful little brewery located in the family-run Hotel Blesius Garten. Situated in a small residential area surrounded by hillside vineyards, they have a beer garden, restaurant, and, of course, a variety of beers, including bright, dark, and wheat.

The craft beer scene is growing in Trier and is distinguished by several factors that include brewing in small quantities and using old or special recipes, traditional brewing methods, and independent breweries for production.

Another popular wine tavern, especially on weekends, is Weingut Deutschherrenhof. Located in the Olewig district just a short walk from the Hotel Blesius Garten, they produce small batches of flavor-intensive Riesling from their vineyards. Upon entering the dining room, follow your nose until you see a large wood grill (vineyard vines are used for the fuel) with flames lapping at the seasoned pork steaks being grilled. The aroma alone should be enough to get your taste buds hopping. This sixth-generation family business — kids included — all participate in serving customers. After 40 years at the same location, they have attracted a large, loyal following.

You can sample six wines while enjoying your meal, which may also include side dishes such as salad, fries, and their famous potato celery salad. The price for your pork steak and sides is €14 and the wines are another €11.50.

The Petrusbrunnen (St Peter's Fountain) in Hauptmarkt is a statue representing St. Peter and below him, four figures depicting the four virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. You may, however, have to give in to the latter considering all the sweet temptations around every corner in town.

At Suite au Chocolate, you can enjoy some rich hot chocolate made with Valrhona cocoa from France. Or sit and do some people watching while partaking in an orange-chocolate mousse cake at Biebelhausener Mühle for €1.90. If you like ice cream, then try some unusual “Spaghettieis” at Crema & Caffé, located at Moselstraße 6. Picture a pasta maker with too much time on his hands who decided to try and push some decadent ice cream through a pasta machine, and you have the idea. They have various combinations of chocolate and vanilla ice cream with toppings ranging from nuts, caramel, bananas, and chocolate sauce for €5.60.


Ron Stern

With history, culture, and a wide range of culinary diversions, Trier has something for every age and appetite. Whether it’s a short city break or an extended vacation, Trier is the perfect off-the-beaten-track German city to discover.

Where to Stay:

Hotel Blesius Garten

Located just outside the main shopping area of Trier, the hotel is easily accessed by bus. They have old-fashioned accommodations as well as an on-site restaurant and the aforementioned brewery.

For more information:

Historic Highlights of Germany

Trier Tourism and Marketing Information Center — Conveniently located next to the Porta Nigra, they can provide information and literature about Trier, help to arrange tours, and even assist in making hotel reservations. Telephone: 0651-97 80 80.