Breathe in the fragrance of freshly baked potato and rye bread wafting in the air. Hike along the Rothaarsteig (“Way of the Senses”) mountain trail with its rope bridge, couches and swings (yes, real couches and swings).
Drive along a 347 foot or 106 meter high freeway bridge which soars over the birthplace of Peter Paul Rubens, where some of his paintings are on display in a 13th-century castle. That castle isn’t far from the world’s smallest public museum, in a private home belonging to one of the world’s greatest Beatles fans.
You can do any, or all, of these things and many more if you decide to vacation in Germany’s Siegerland. Siegerland, with the abundant forests of the Rothaargebirge, stretching to the horizon, is a region of contrasts. While it’s one of Germany’s major industrial centers, it’s also divided by the peaceful Sieg River Valley. The Sieg, as well as the Lahn and Ede Rivers, all have their headwaters within the boundaries of the Rothaargebirge Nature Park.
The Siegerland, and the bordering Wittgenstein highlands, offers some of Germany’s finest hiking opportunities with over 3500 km (2200 mi) of clearly defined trails. In addition to the Rothaarsteig, they include the Siegerland-Hohenring and the Wittgenstein Panorama Trail (with views to match its name!).
Perhaps the most charmingly named of all the region’s hiking paths, however, is the Alte Flecken Trail (English: Old Hamlet) which explores the area around Rubens’ birthplace in the city of Siegen.
None of Siegerland’s cities fit the description of an “Old Hamlet” more perfectly than the Old Town of the riverside village of Freudenberg. A single one lane road passes through the Altstadt (the old town center) by the Rathaus (Town Hall) constructed in 1605. The Town Hall bears a plaque commemorating Freudenberg’s 700th anniversary celebration held in 1987.
Freudenberg lies along one of Germany’s most important historical routes, the 2400 km (1500 mi) Oranier Route, connecting all the German towns and cities associated with the House of Orange. If you follow it east from Freudenberg for about 14 km (8 mi) you’ll reach the city of Siegen.
Siegen stands on what were once the ancestral lands of the Houses of Nassau and Orange. It is a great place to stop for a plate of roasted rabbit with a side of potato pancakes, before heading to the Beatles Museum or the Upper Castle to view original Rubens artwork and a replica of an authentic Siegerland kitchen.
Don’t overlook the restored 1930s Apollo Theater. If you’re in Siegen during June or July, take in the dramatic performances of the Siegener Sommerfestival. Be sure to head for the nearby village of Krombach for a stein of the locally-brewed Krombacher beer!
Krombach is actually a district of the larger mountain town of Kreuztal. From Kreuztal’s Altenberg you can follow a hiking trail to the remains of a 13th-century mining settlement. Then fast forward to the 21st century by viewing the 150 m (492 ft) high Ewiger Fuhrmann or Everlasting Wagoner, one of the tallest wind generators on Earth!
About 40 km or 25 miles northeast of Kreuztal, in the heart of the Rothaargebirge Nature Park, is Bad Berleburg, with some of the purest air in Germany. The surrounding villages, with their black and white half-timbered, gray-slate-roofed houses and window boxes overflowing with brilliant blooms, are a photographer’s joy.
Overlooking Bad Berleburg is a Baroque 16th-century castle which, each July, hosts the best classical musicians at the International Music Festival. The castle’s highlight, however, are its parklands where you can stroll among ancient trees, through vast fields of wildflowers, and along sparkling blue lakes.
Pick up the Rothaarsteig at Bad Berleburg, and continue following it to the other delights of this place called Siegerland!