by Allison Robins
Only an hour away from Kaiserslautern is a laid back version of Rothenburg, just with fewer tourists. Ladenburg, a microcosm of Germany’s natural scenery, is a scenic one-hour drive from Kaiserslautern along the “Deutsche Weinstrasse,” Germany’s wine street.
Claiming to be the oldest German city east of the Rhine, Ladenburg’s history is a tale of Celtic, Roman and classic medieval German influence, still wonderfully evident in the many preserved buildings and ancient city design.
The town of Ladenburg can be reached in many ways: by driving in from the north and parking in one of the many free lots around town or by the river, via a two-minute ride aboard a rickety car/passenger ferry from the small town of Neckarhausen (there are large parking lots on the west bank), or via the expansive riverfront park on the east bank (Ladenburg side). The ferry costs €0.40 per passenger, and €1.20 for a car and driver. It’s worth the brief ride.
Extending more than two kilometers right along the Neckar, the grassy city park offers plenty of shady trees, several casual soccer and Frisbee fields, and various launch points for canoes and kayaks. Picnickers can snack happily on the soft grass while children toss bread to white swans from a surprisingly sandy strip of beach along the riverfront.
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Walk a few blocks away from the river and reach a different but equally distinct world: the town center is a maze of little cobblestone streets lined with beautifully painted timbered houses built as early as the 14th century. Outdoor cafes, three churches and various trade shops and restaurants boast several centuries of loyal business and provide the town center with plenty of historical charm. A crypt dating from the year 1,000 sits below St. Gallus Church, a must-see for lovers of Roman ruins.
One of the town’s highlights is the main market square, complete with a fountain crowned by the Virgin Mary, evoking the town’s Catholic past, and a panorama of colorful timbered houses and shops.
Take a moment to sip an “Eiskaffee” or ice coffee, at one of the many tables in the square, or meander down to a well-preserved section of the original city wall and “Martinstor,” or gate tower. The evocative “Hexenturm,” or witches tower, is the fairy tale tower whose unfortunate purpose was to imprison suspected witches until a confession was obtained.
One of Ladenburg’s claims to fame, the Karl Benz Automuseum, allows visitors to see the auto maker’s history unfold from the invention of the gas-powered car to the inspiring legacy of Dr. Benz, whose final residence is also designated as a historic building in Ladenburg.
An ideal location for a relaxing walk, family picnic or historical tour, Ladenburg also hosts frequent festivals and celebrations.