Idstein in Hesse in Germany is as pretty as can be. Those of you who are acquainted with the half-timbered towns scattered all across this country will know of the loveliness I am talking about. Commonly known as fachwerk in German and Maison à colombages in French, these timber-framed buildings with their quintessential sloping roofs and dark wooden beams date back as far as the 12th century. The phrase ‘half-timbered’ literally means that the logs were halved before being used in making a simple, box-like frame with self-supporting timber and curtain walls made of clay or timber. The use of solid, durable oak beams makes these structures strong, and traditionally, the blackened wood was a product of the natural aging of the timber. Although the design of half-timbered houses differs slightly from region to region, they are synonymous with charming, quaint European towns and villages. While in the UK, the Tudor period half-timbered houses are mostly in black and white, in Germany and France, they are often painted in pretty shades of blue, bright ochre, mint green, and vibrant paprika.
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Idstein is on Germany´s Half-Timbered House Road
In northern Germany, half-timbered houses took on a new perspective and the design allowed people, harvest, and livestock to be under one roof. Central German timber frames have the central section divided into three areas that open to the eaves. These were primarily used as living spaces. In southern Germany, the half-timbered frame developed from the earlier Alemannic wooden post structure, that used wide post positions. One of the interesting characteristics of half-timbered houses in Germany is the abundance of exterior embellishments. These range from decorative ornamental designs to the prevalent religious symbols such as the Saint Andrew’s cross (the other cross of the Germanic people), “Wild men” and fanned rosettes, flared and straight rhombuses, and a whole variety of trees of life through to Christian symbols. These structures are so photogenic that Germany has a special Half-Timbered House Road that stretches for around 3,000km and passes through more than 100 medieval towns, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is called the Deutsche Fachwerkstraße and the route is divided into seven sections, each of which follows the traditional areas of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Hesse, Bavaria, and Baden-Württemberg.
A peaceful, pretty town
Because of its perfectly preserved Altstadt (city center), Idstein is listed along the Deutsches Fackwerkstrasse(German Timber-framed Road). It is a fairy-tale town located deep in the heart of the Taunus Valley and its city center is full of colorful half-timbered houses, winding cobbled-stoned streets, and leaning buildings. Idstein has roughly 15,000 inhabitants, thus making this Hesse town a very peaceful and quaint place to visit. You don´t bump into camera-totting busloads of tourists and the locals have time to give you friendly advice and smiles. The city center has also a few excellent traditional restaurants and when the weather is lovely, Idstein is an amazing place to walk around.
Rows and rows of historic buildings
Despite being located just a train ride away from Frankfurt, Idstein is charmingly quaint and slow. Stepping into this town is like entering a time-warped place where old men smoke pipes in the patches of sunshine, pigeons hop around cooing, and walking around is a real pleasure. It lies in the Taunus mountain range, and the town’s landmark is the Hexenturm (Witches’ Tower), a 12th-century bergfried and part of Idstein Castle. Idstein was first historically mentioned in documents in 1102 and the city was given a charter in 1287. The town´s Altstadt architecture is rich with colorful carvings and impeccable detail and it is an incredible feeling to walk around admiring the half-timbered houses from the 15th to the 18th century. However, there is not much to do there except to soak up the beautiful ambiance and a day is enough to explore the historic town center to the fullest. Arrive early to avoid the harsh sunshine and finish your walk with a hearty traditional lunch at a local Brauhaus (brewery). Idtsein is indeed one of the loveliest day trips from Frankfurt and Cologne.
Idtsein Travel Guide
How to Get There
By Car – Idstein is only 30 minutes drive away from Wiesbaden and Stuttgart and around 45 minutes away from Frankfurt. It is also easily reachable by train from Frankfurt Main (HBF). Idstein Altstadt is around 20 minutes walk from the train station. Taxis and buses are available.
Where to Stay
Idstein has a good variety of accommodations to suit all budgets. The fanciest hotel is Höerhof, a four-star hotel, and restaurant that is housed inside a historic building. The building was given to Henrich Heer, the architect of the Idstein Palace by Count Ludwig II as a present in 1620.
What to see in Idstein
Idstein is tiny and is best enjoyed on foot. The highlights of this charming town are as follows:
- König-Adolf-Platz – This is the main square in the old city center. It is drop-dead gorgeous. The buildings circling the main square here date back to between the 15th and 17th centuries and there are a few shops, cafes, restaurants, and the town hall.
- Killingerhaus – This is the most decorated house in Idstein. Its facade has a lot of carvings and it is of a lovely minty green colour. The tourist information office is located here. It is said that the owner of Killingerhaus moved the house from Strasbourg to Idstein when relocated to Idstein.
- Cafe Zum Löwen – This charming cafe dates back to around 1350. It has a beautiful outdoor porch that commands a view of the entire square and it is right opposite the most crooked house in Idstein.
- “Das Schiefe Haus” (the Crooked House) – It is a whimsical building with two relatively high gabled lucarnes. Painted in a brilliant blue with yellow window frames, the Schiefe Haus is as crooked as can be.
- Kanzleitor Castle – It can be reached by climbing up the steps in front of the Red Town Hall. The access is through a big gate. The castle grounds extend out after crossing the gate.
- Hexenturm – Further ahead within the castle grounds is the famous Hexenturm or the Witches´ Tower of Idstein. Although a bit hard to digest, this postcard-pretty town had once been a famous hunting ground for witches. This bit of history is commemorated by a plaque on the palace walls. A total of 35 women and 8 men were accused of witchcraft and executed here. In 1676, Idstein was quite notorious for its witch trials. The inappropriately named Hexenturm has nothing to do with those gory trials. It is, however, the oldest building in the town dating back to around 1170, and therefore, is the symbol of the town.
- The Residenz – It is the erstwhile Idstein Palace. The building dates back to 1614. Nowadays, it is the location of the Pestalozzi Grammar School.
- The picturesque cobbled lanes – Idstein Altstadt is lined with gorgeous half-timber houses. The loveliest of these buildings can be seen at Kaffeegasse, Obergasse, Weiherwiese, and Kreuzgasse.
- Union Kirche – Union Kirche or the Union Church is an active Protestant parish church of Idstein. Although very unimpressive from the outside, the Union Church´s interior is decorated with a series of 38 paintings by the Flemish painter Michael Angelo Immenraedt, an exponent of Flemish Baroque painting, and others. They follow a program of biblical scenes and are simply magnificent.
Fun Tips on Visiting Idstein
- Attend a witchcraft conference – Every other year in spring, Idstein holds the Idsteiner Hexenmarkt (Witches’ Market) in the castle and palace area with medieval crafts and entertainment.
- Envy Heads and Fright Heads – One of the fun things that you will notice as embellishments of Idstein buildings are the “Envy Heads” or “Grudger Heads”. These are grimacing faces that protrude from the façades of the buildings, sometimes sticking out a tongue. These are symbolic ornamentations that were traditionally used to ward off evil eyes, envy, and hatred. If you look closely, you might even find some “Fright Heads” which are supposed to protect the inhabitants from demons and ghosts, and other forms of evil.
Follow the rest of the Germany series
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