Also See: Feature on the Dürkheimer Wurstfest, the largest annual wine festival in Germany
The city of Bad Dürkheim is an ideal place to visit the Weinstrasse because of its convenient location and because it is among the prettiest big towns in Rheinland-Pfalz. It is located only a short drive due west from Mannheim off Autobahn 650 (which becomes a major secondary road partway) or south from the Grünstadt exit on A6, so it is really easy to get to. The town has a wealth of attractions both in the downtown and the surrounding areas. Plus, some of the largest of the region's wine festivals take place there each September. But you need not wait until September to go there, Bad Dürkheim is a really great place to go any time of year. I visited Bad Dürkheim twice during my Weinstrasse visits and still didn't quite hit all of it, and hope I can complete the tour in the fall.
I will describe my second visit there because it follows the general itinerary I recommend for a visit. On my first visit, I parked in the south end of downtown which was too far away from all the best parts of town. The second time, I went to the north-east side where all the big parking lots are -- located near the town's signature attaction, the Dürkheimer Riesenfaß, the biggest "barrel" in the world, first photo.
Now, when I first heard of this barrel, I thought, "Hey, wait a minute! I've already been to the biggest barrel in the world, at Heidelberg Castle, which was built to handle 221,000 liters (about 55,000 gallons)!" Well, if you noted the quotes I used on the word barrel in the previous paragraph, you'll learn there's an explanation -- this one may look like a barrel (with a capacity of 1.7 million liters, like the small print on the photo says), but it ain't a barrel -- it's a multi-floor restaurant. But it sure makes for a great conversation piece, eh?
In fact, the Riesenfaß truly is a tourist attraction, as it sits right on the hugest parking lot in the town and is surrounded by a host of really impressive souvenirs. I did not eat in the restaurant, but it is inexpensive and serves mostly basic German fare, and it attracts decent crowds just for the novelty.
Adjacent to the parking lot is the entrance to the prettiest part of town, the Schlossgarten (palace gardens) leading to the Kurhaus, shown in the second photograph. The Schlossgarten was like a collection of small parks, each decorated with a fountain or an elaborate flower display. My tour through the Schlossgarten began with a beautiful sidewalk lined with stout trees and some very lovely half-timbered houses. Scattered about were some impressive statues and monuments as well, along with numerous shaded park benches to comfort the many oldsters I saw wandering about.
The Kurhaus is an old health resort (Kurhaus literally means "cure house"), which has apparently done well over the years, judging from its beautiful gardens and fountains (off the photo to the right).
The heart of the downtown is super charming, as the third photo suggests. It's not really that big, but it's colorful. The buildings featured in this photo were mostly weinstubes (wine bars) or restaurants, covered with flowers. The side streets were strung with flags and banners and flowers were everywhere, like the fantastic display in front of the small church in the fourth photo.
The fifth and final photo shows the main market square, which normally operates as the downtown parking lot but it often closed off for festivals (such was the case one of my trips there). In the background was the town's Catholic church, that reminded me of a mini-version of the Ulm Cathedral. Off the photo to the left was a steep uphill climb leading to the town Evangelical Church, a huge double domed structure that looked almost identical to the Frauenkirche in Munich.
After going around the downtown for a while, I took off on a tour of the surrounding area before heading back to Heidelberg. Bad Dürkheim has two castle ruins that are worth seeking out -- the Kloster Limberg and the Hardenburg Castle. Both are accessed on the same road leading into the Palatinate Forest, following a steep river valley to the west of town. You will know the Kloster Limberg when you see it, it will tower directly above you when you just leave town -- a barren shell of a massive square red-brick structure. The only downside was that there was nowhere I could pull off and take a photo of it, and once you see the Limberg you have already passed the winding convoluted access road to it. I drove back and forth a few times trying to find the access but gave up. Suggestion: Get a city map from the tourist information bureau before you try. Next time, I'll hit both castles and include one or both in an updated travelogue here.
One other things about Bad Dürkheim that's nice is that it's active on Sundays. Some places in Germany (and other parts of Europe) go completely dark on Sundays, but Bad Dürkheim's key attractions, like the Riesenfaß and its souvenir stands, are open for business. Its wine bars were also doing plenty of business on the two Sundays I was there. In summary, if there's one place you go on the Weinstrasse, Bad Dürkheim could be it, especially on a festival day if you aren't scared of crowds.
Trips taken 8 and 15 June 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin