Meisenheim: An undiscovered delight near Baumholder

Most tourists come to Meisenheim for river sports on the Glan. Boaters line up on Schillerstrasse for a chance to rent canoes for a half-day adventure on the river with HKM Events.


By TERRY BOYD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 20, 2006

The biggest rush from doing travel stories — aside from getting paid for going out and discovering great destinations — is when readers say, “Gee, read your story about X, but have you been to Y?”

Which is precisely what happens when, at the commissary, I run into Lt. Col. Mike Money, head of nursing at the clinic in Baumholder, Germany.

“Terry, I read your story about Herrstein, and I guess that’s a nice 40 minutes on Sunday,” Mike says. “But have you been to Meisenheim?”

Never heard of it, I say. Picture a miniature Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the good colonel says. Authentic, half-timbered, 16th-century buildings on a river. A much larger city wall than tiny Herrstein, a restored medieval village in the Palatinate hills. Lots of cafes on squares.

“We had guests for about a month, and we took them everywhere,” he says. “You know the place they liked best? Meisenheim.” Best of all, it’s 25 minutes from Baumholder, instead of five hours across Germany to Rothenburg.

Sounded good. Turned out to be even better. For the most part.

Everything Mike said was true. Meisenheim is old, picturesque — and my personal favorite — undiscovered. Finally, as promised, a river runs through it, the Glan.

But this is no preserved tourist town a la Rothenburg, Bernkastel-Kues or Rudesheim. Meisenheim is a real town, where people really live. And drive. The single criticism I have is that there is no pedestrian-only zone. Cars are whizzing by inches away as you walk down Untergasse, the main drag, trying to find a cold brew.

The few tourists were mostly sitting at riverside cafes, waiting for Harald and the crew at HKM Events to take them up the Glan for a half-day canoe trip. Which drives Stefan Nowak crazy.

“Where are the tourists?” asks Nowak, who runs Palatium, a quirky silver and gold studio, with his girlfriend, Melanie Grieb. Meisenheim attracts mostly Germans. Sure, a few visitors wander in from Switzerland and the Netherlands, Grieb and Nowak say. But there aren’t enough Americans to even count.

“Why only a few Americans when we’re so close to Ramstein, Kaiserslautern and Idar-Oberstein … 35 kilometers away?” Nowak says.

That, I can’t answer. Meisenheim is about as good as it gets in Rheinland-Pfalz, and has been since the Celts were here 1,500 years ago. Their burial mounds and religious sites are still visible, Nowak says. Since the seventh century, it’s been a strategic — not to mention scenic — trading center on a river between Frankfurt and the French border.

Today, it’s a place where wealthy people from Idar, a jewelry center, and Bad Kreuznach buy summer homes. Where locals walk down from their old mansions to run errands in grocery stores, optical shops and bakeries in 500-year-old buildings. Where you can walk a few yards out the city gate, down to the river and watch a blue heron stalk his breakfast amid teeming schools of tiny fish.

It’s so good, so green, so quiet that Grieb and Nowak gave up city life in Mannheim and Frankfurt, respectively, to return to Meisenheim to open their jewelry workshop in the 130-year-old former livery stable that belonged to Grieb’s grandfather on Schillerstrasse, a few yards from the river.

Now, they wonder, how will they tap into those thousands of Americans just a few miles away who have no idea Meisenheim even exists?

“Hmmm,” I say. “Let me see what I can do.”

On the QT ...

DIRECTIONS: Locals say Meisenheim is 25 minutes from everywhere, which is pretty close to the truth. From Baumholder, head as if you’re entering the H.D. Smith Barracks gate on the far east side, but about 500 meters before the entrance, turn right on L-169, the little road that skirts the training area. Go about 10 miles toward Niederalben, to the juncture with B-420. Turn left and follow signs toward Lauterecken; in Lauterecken, follow signs to Meisenheim. From the Ramstein/Kaiserslautern area, take B-270 toward Lauterecken, then follow signs to Meisenheim.

TIMES: Meisenheim shops, restaurants and beer gardens keep conventional German hours.

COSTS: Sightseeing is free, but boat trips aren’t. A half-day, 10-kilometer guided canoe trip at HMK Events costs 48 euros for a three-person canoe, or 44 euros per family. A full-day, 20-kilometer trip costs 68 euros for a three-person boat, or 64 euros per family. Contact HKM Events by telephone at (+49) (0) 6753-123-919, by cell at (+49) (0) 171-232-1749 or by e-mail at info@hkm-meisenheim.de.

FOOD: Meisenheim has a fair variety of restaurants. There are also ice cream cafes, beer gardens and at least one upscale wine restaurant.

INFORMATION: The city tourism Web site is only in German: www.meisenheim.de. To reach the tourist office, call (+49) (0) 6753-12123 or e-mail info@meisenheim.de.

— Terry Boyd

Meisenheim is beautiful, but isn’t “officially” a tourist town. Its narrow, medieval streets can be choked with traffic, and there’s no Fussgängerzone where pedestrians can walk freely.

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