The Saar River valley may be heavily dominated by industry, but that doesn't mean it's all ugly. Far from it. Away from the factories, the Saar is bounded by lovely little towns and villages amidst lush forests and farmland. Then further upstream, near the French border, is one of the prettiest and most historic cities in the region -- the Saarland capital of Saarbrücken, a eyecatching mix of old, historic castles, churches, and market squares with newer and modern commercial centers. Saarbrücken is also a very busy center of culture -- with the facilities to support conventions and art festivals, such as the one I encountered during my visit there.
In a way, Saarbrücken reminded me of Schwerin, a fellow state capital with a similar history. Both were damaged or neglected state capitals during World War II and/or the Cold War. While Schwerin's restoration and restoration would come in the recent days following reunification, Saarbrücken's restoration came decades before, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Her remaining historical attractions were restored, but whole sections of the city were replaced with modern-day aluminum and glass structures, and the new marketplaces are bright and vibrant. The state government buildings also have a fresh appearance. Like Schwerin, Saarbrücken shows a lot of pride in being a state capital.
Saarbrücken's original historic features are widely dispersed around the city and equally divided on the north and south banks. Therefore, I found it best to get one of the special tourist maps with the key locations clearly marked. This map was called the "Stengel Promenade," named after Friedrich Stengel who was an important citizen back in the 18th century. The promenade began on the south bank of the river with the Schlossplatz, shown in the first photo. The photo contains two of the key structures in the plaza, the old town hall and the fountain. Stengel was the one who built this town hall, along with the Prince's Palace (Erbprinzenpalais) to its left, and who planned the construction of the Schloss itself. All these buildings were in the Baroque style, but pure white rather than the colorful forms of Baroque palaces I'd seen elsewhere. The only downside of the Palace is the fact that its center section was condemned in 1965, but rather than be rebuilt in Baroque style it was rebuilt in modern glass. Some like it, I didn't. The historical museum of the Saarland is attached to the palace.
The second photograph shows a view from the palace grounds over the Saar River, including the Alte Bruecke (Old Bridge) which is old only in name. The park region just across the bridge is the west end of Tbilisiplatz, which I presumed was named after the capital of Georgia (why, I never found out). The east end of Tbilisiplatz hosted the city's new Theater and Kunsthalle (art hall), which had a major exhibition on-going.
The Promenade took me further south along Vorstandstrasse toward the steep hills. Among the sights along the way included Nanteserplatz, a park named after Nantes, one of Saarbrücken's partner cities; the Gasthaus "zum Adler", one of Saarbrücken's oldest guesthouses, and the city's famous art school that is still in use. This art school lays across the way to the biggest square on the south bank region, the Ludwigsplatz which is shown in the third photograph.
Ludwigplatz is a huge square bounded on the sides by white Baroque buildings -- all of the same style as the Palace (Therefore, not surprisingly they too were built by Stengel), with the massive Ludwigskirche in the center. The buildings are now mostly regular residences or government offices, but were once exclusively for the upper classes. The exterior of the Ludwigskirche is upscale enough, with its array of Old and New Testament figurines around the roof, but the interior is incredible -- all done in pure white, from the pews to the altar, to the organ (except for the bright and shiny silver pipes).
I followed the Promenade back across the river to the north bank. On the way, I past the Saarkrahnen, a huge old-style crane that was the lone remnant from the days when the city's harbor was right downtown. Retained just for show, the Saarkrahnan is topped with a golden eagle and has a small barrel hoisted in its hook that it used for advertising.
Once across, I followed Bahnhofsstrasse across the main commercial zone. The Bahnhofsstrasse is a wide boulevard running from the main train station to the old part of the north bank. The entire street is new, with modern American-style shopping malls and the majority of the European brand-name stores. Continuing on, the fourth photograph shows the one section in the north bank district where old red brick buildings dominate, the mixture of the brick styles suggesting significant post-WWII renovation efforts. The two buildings in the foreground are the Stadtkirche ("City Church") at left and the Postamt (the main post office) at right. In the background is the tower of the Rathaus (the town hall).
I returned to Bahnhofstrasse and followed it to St. John's Market, the most colorful part of town. Shown in the fifth photograph, this square is the restaurant and club district in the city. With it being such a hot Sunday afternoon, the outdoor bars were doing excellent business.
Several points of interest are on or nearby the square. One is the Stengel-Brunnen, or Stengel Fountain, which is a lovely white Baroque-style fountain that was constructed to honor this architect. There is also the Reformed Catholic Church of St. John and the City Gallery.
I greatly enjoyed venturing around Saarbrücken, and appreciated the many contributions to the city made by Mr. Stengel. It would be difficult to imagine the city having anywhere near the amount of character without him. As I mentioned before, Saarbrücken plays its role of state capital very proudly.
Trip taken 5 July 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin