It’s not often you get to go from Fantasyland to “Realityland” within a week. I had the unique experience of experiencing Disney’s newest ride in Fantasyland and then – within three days – visiting Idar-Oberstein in Germany, an authentic mining town. Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train transported me to the world of mining, complete with a 31 foot indoor, outdoor rollercoaster and videogames involving gems. What’s not to love about a family friendly, smooth-flowing roller coaster and animated dwarfs singing, “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It’s off to work we go”?
A few days later, a 737 transported me to a town centered on the rough and tumble world of mining, with nary a dwarf in sight. Idar-Oberstein, a town two hours southwest of Frankfurt, has a long history of mining and gem cutting. Miners used to hand dig gems from the mines, looking for agates, jasper and other precious metals. By the 1800’s, countries around the world shipped their gems to Idar- Oberstein to be cut by the skilled craftsmen. Today the town still centers on gems, with tourists enjoying the pedestrian mall filled with stores displaying jewelry, precious stones and exceptional pastries.
Church in the Rock
The easiest way to describe this attraction is that it is a church built into a rock! The short but steep hike is worth the effort just to
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check out the construction of this landmark. You’ll be rewarded seeing a church with domed ceiling, pipe organ and a steeple, surrounded on three sides by a massive rock. The story behind the church sounds like a modern day soap opera, complete with love, rage, jealousy and a large dose of guilt! Let’s just say it involves two brothers fighting over the same woman with disastrous results!
Picture a typical American steak barbeque on steroids. Idar-Oberstein’s iconic Spiessbraten draws people from around the world. Large chunks of marinated beef, pork or chicken are placed on a round, swinging “hammock” placed over glowing coals. A chef constantly pushes the grill back and forth over the flames. Part of the evening’s entertainment is watching your meat take a ride over the coals. This dish is so popular, many Germans have a Spiessbraten grill in their backyards and spend summer weekends “rocking” their meat over the coals. We ate at the Original Spiessbratenhaus, located in a 700 year old hotel. Delicious meat, along with fried potatoes and Kirner beer kept us happy as we waddled back to our hotel.
The mines located just outside Idar-Oberstein in a nature preserve are the only gemstone mines open to visitors in Europe. The 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the mines is ideal for kids to run and explore various geological sites. We took a delightful tour (complete with hardhats so we looked like authentic miners!) with an English speaking guide who displayed a genuine interest in the mine. Instead of a canned presentation, she added her personal touch to share the mining experience. We gained a real appreciation for the exhausting work miners performed. They worked in cold, damp confined spaces with horrible circulation. I don’t think many of them trudged off to work singing “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho”.
I’ve stayed in hundreds of German hotels and always marveled at the cleanliness of each room. Hotel Amethyst was no exception. The owner happened to be sweeping her front sidewalk when we approached and she greeted us warmly, in English and German. Our large room had original timber from the 17th century along with fluffy, feather-filled duvets. The next morning the owner laid out an extensive breakfast buffet, with eggs cooked to order, even though we were the only guests.
Other Idar-Oberstein Attractions
We had wanted to rent an RV while traveling through Germany but, plans fell through at the last minute. On our next visit to the area, we’ll stay at one of the centrally located campgrounds close to the town. Idar-Oberstein has many additional attractions, including Bosselstein Castle, a historical gemstone waterwheel grinding mill and several museums. Stop by the centrally located tourist office and sign up for a guided tour. Our English speaking leader, Marita Klockner-Kramer, lives in Idar-Oberstein and has plenty of facts and anecdotes about the city. She took us to a breathtaking viewpoint that overlooked the river, churches, hills and timbered houses. I was ready to move!
Many German cities are tourist attractions simply because of their quaint architecture and fantastic pastry. Idar-Obestaein scores high in the quaintness factor but also has an intriguing coal mining history and natural landscape that makes the city worth a visit. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would feel right at home!