Idstein: Town boasts traditional German architectural style
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | Stars and Stripes | Published: May 29, 2014
If you don’t like half-timbered houses, stop right here because this is a trip to an old town that has some of the finest old buildings around.
Idstein, north of Wiesbaden and nestled in Germany’s Taunus Mountains, dates to at least the early 12th century.
Over the years the town was a center for civil services and education and home to a well-known school of architecture. Idstein also had an important leather industry. Today, it’s a popular destination and place to live for those working in the Rhine-Main area.
But back to those half-timbered houses. They get their name from the way they are built. A frame of wooden beams is filled with a mixture of branches, clay and straw and then plastered over. The houses are called Fachwerkhäuser, Fachwerk being the filling between the beams.
The oldest residential building in Idstein dates to 1410, a good 80 years before Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World. Many of the houses are adorned with exquisite carvings. The best example is Killingerhaus on König-Adolf-Platz with its colorful faces and birds. It was built in 1615 and is a beautiful example of late Renaissance half-timbered architecture.
König-Adolf-Platz is lined with half-timbered houses, such as the Schiefes Haus, or Crooked House, an 18th-century building with two gables. It is indeed crooked, due to some construction miscalculations.
Obergasse, leading from König-Adolf-Platz, is lined with many half-timbered houses, but one of Idstein’s other jewels is at the top of the lane. The Höerhof, built in 1620, is today an upscale hotel and restaurant. Check out the strange faces carved into its timber.
While visitors can get their fill of half-timbered houses here, Idstein has plenty of buildings that aren’t this design, or at least not completely.
The Renaissance Palace was built between 1614 and 1634 on remnants of an ancient castle. It was home to the counts and princes of Nassau-Idstein. It has since been used, among other things, as military barracks, a hospital and teachers training school. Today it is a public school. Take a walk through its beautifully groomed garden.
To get to the palace from König-Adolf-Platz, pass through the late 15th-century Kanzleitor, the gatehouse that was the entrance to the palace district. The 16th-century buildings here were once part of the original castle and are today used by Idstein’s city administration.
The city’s trademark structure — the Hexenturm, or Witches Tower — is here also. It is Idstein’s oldest building, with construction starting in 1170. While the tower has gone through many variations over the centuries, today’s look dates to the early 19th century. Despite its name, the tower has nothing to do with Idstein’s 17th-century witch trials.
At least two other sights are worth mentioning. The tannery on Löherplatz is the last of 30 similar buildings that once stood here when the town was home to a large tanning industry. The other is the Protestant Union Church. Built in 1340, it is the burial place of the counts and princes of Nassau, and features a ceiling painted with 38 biblical scenes. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovations until 2015.
DIRECTIONS: Idstein is north of Wiesbaden, just off Autobahn A3 heading toward Koblenz.
TIMES: You can visit the town any time, but it’s nicer when it’s warm, especially because of the many outside cafes. Monday through Saturday is better if you want to shop.
COSTS: Parking is cheap, only 50 euro cents per hour at the garages in the center of town. If you drive a large American car, or even a European SUV, beware that the parking slots are relatively narrow.
FOOD: There are plenty of restaurants in the center of town in all price ranges. Cafes abound, and if you are there during the week, the choice is bigger with the bakeries/cafes open during normal shopping hours.
INFORMATION: City website is idstein.de, with an English option.