Freinsheim: Medieval feel isn’t just for show
Some tourists, either by happenstance or design, find the time to visit Freinsheim, a little old German town of wine and walls.
It’s an intoxicating place that can make visitors downright giddy — and not solely because of its tantalizing fermented grape juice. What with its medieval walls, half-timbered homes, baroque architecture and friendly townspeople, there is much to smile about, not the least of which is the general lack of crowds.
“It’s not as marketed as Rothenburg or Heidelberg,” said Petra Laloire, a local tour guide. “It’s still a secret. People who come here feel like they have found something special — and not something everybody knows is there.”
Freinsheim is situated along the German Wine Road in the state of Rhineland-Pfalz. Based on archaeological evidence, the area was occupied 2,000 years ago by the Romans, who introduced wine cultivation to the region.
Written references to Freinsheim go as far back as 774. Largely due to its wine production, the town grew rich enough by 1340 it was able to buy itself out of feudal servitude, Laloire said. That development set in motion a program to construct a defensive wall and a series of towers encircling the town, an effort completed in 1470, the year Freinsheim received its charter.
But walls are not impenetrable. Freinsheim found that out in 1688-89, when French troops leveled the town and others in the region during the War of Palatinate Succession.
French troops “just didn’t occupy the place,” Laloire said, “they burned it down. The only thing left standing was the walls and the watch towers.”
What arose from those ashes is the fairy tale-looking town that exists today.
“It’s not out of a children’s book. It’s real,” Canadian Douglas Fear said during a recent visit, noting that Freinsheim is not one of those towns dressed up to draw in busloads of tourists. “The imperfections are the thing that makes it attractive.”
Unlike other towns, Freinsheim “is not so artificially redecorated,” Laloire said. “People don’t feel like it is part of some presentation.”
Any tour of Freinsheim must include a stroll along the inside of the town wall, where a footpath exists for much of the way. The wall is about three-quarters of a mile long. Of the 19 towers originally built, five remain.
It is against this backdrop that everyday life in the old part of town unfolds. Two men chat under a chestnut tree; a woman haggles with a grocer about the price of vegetables; a restaurateur prepares for his evening clients; and a bespectacled pensioner nurses a glass of wine at Winzerhof Rehg, a tavern connected to a winery.
Craftsmen and wine dealers have become more dependent on tourism, Laloire said, but that hasn’t come at the expense of regular shopkeepers.
Freinsheim “is touristy,” Fear said, “but it is German touristy. It’s worth remembering that this is a place where people live. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It better not be.”
Know and Go
Petra Laloire of the Freinsheim tourist office offers English-language tours. For more information, call the office at (+49) (0) 6353-989294 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.