Exploring Kaiserslautern

Once a year I like to explore cities I normally wouldn‘t get to. To see the touristic highlights, to walk through the streets and feel the atmosphere and gain new insights. I did so with Erfurt and Jena in the last years and was always surprised how wrong my image of the city was. This time I took my wife to Kaiserslautern, Germany. Who would go there? Close to Germany’s smallest federal state – the Saarland, not far away from France and Luxemburg?

Kaiserslautern was formerly well known because of its soccer club. The 1. FC Kaiserslautern was playing in Bundesliga and most teams feared to play at the stadium on the famous Betzenberg. But nowadays the FCK is at the lower end of the scoreboard of the second German league. What is there at Kaiserslautern that would make it worth to travel there? The first and most important reason is already shown on the touristic sign at motorway 6 before you enter the city: Kaiserslautern has the biggest Japanese garden in Germany.

Japanischer Garten, Kaiserslautern
Japanischer Garten, Kaiserslautern

That is quite a surprise because you would expect such a garden in Düsseldorf or Frankfurt with their strong Japanese communities. But in Kaiserslautern an organization created a fantastic garden on 14.000 squaremeters with different ponds and garden sections. It was a real pleasure to explore this place and in addition they now have a small eatery where you can get good Japanese starters directly in the garden on weekends. We tried some udon noodles, yakisoba noodles, gyōza (dumplings) and daifuku (rice cake with bean paste).

At the exit there is also a small shop where you can buy some Japanese items. Afterwards we checked in at the Alcatraz – a hotel in a former jail next to the garden. They offer small cell rooms with shared bathrooms but also more comfortable bedrooms. The former usage gives this place a special and sometimes strange atmosphere but it is a great starting point to explore the city center. In the direct vicinity you can find the art museum Pfalzgalerie which is rather small but worth a visit.

Restaurant Spinnrädl, Kaiserslautern
Restaurant Spinnrädl, Kaiserslautern

Later we went to the remains of the former Kaiserpfalz, took a look at the nice Fruchthalle building and visited the Stiftskirche. There is a nice shopping street and a big shopping center but in some side streets you can see some deterioration. We visited the Café Extrablatt (which is a coffee shop chain as I learned) and had dinner at the Spinnrädl, a very good traditional restaurant in one of the oldest buildings in the city.

The next morning we went to the Gartenschau, the former garden exhibition of Rhineland-Palantine. It is now a park with a beergarden and many items to play. It is famous for its many dinosaur models in correct size standing around. At this time of the year there were also many things constructed from pumpkins. Then we walked to the Betzenberg and took a look at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. What we hadn‘t thought about was that the German national team played a match in the qualification for the World Championship there at the same evening – we should have prolonged our stay.

All in all the highlights at Kaiserslautern are pretty limited – but the Japanese garden and the food there where already worth getting to the city. It feels like Kaiserslautern has already seen its best days. And it was quite funny that nobody uses the correct city name, they just say Lautern instead of Kaiserslautern. A special thing is also that there are many people from the United States in this region – because of the US base Ramstein. It is impossible to not hear somebody speak American English in the city.

Burg Trifls, Annweiler am Trifls
Burg Trifls, Annweiler am Trifls

At the end of our trip we wanted to see the surroundings and went through the Pfälzerwald. We had a surprising stop in the middle of nowhere – there was a farmers market some kilometers outside in the forest and I had the opportunity to taste a chestnut bratwurst.  I didn‘t even know that something like this exists, but it was really good! We went on to the Reichsburg Trifels near Annweiler am Trifels where Richard I. the Lionheart was once incarcerated. After a steep walk up the hill we explored the castle on a mountain and had fantastic views. And then there was the long ride back home – but getting to this part of Germany was a nice experience and worth the effort!


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