Thursday, September 20, 2012
Leistadt - Closest to the Sun!
It’s the journey, not just the destination that counts. Sometimes, on the way to doing something else, you do something you never expected, and it changes you. You learn things, your mood changes, and you see everything around you in a new light.
So it was for us, on the way from something else, to something else, that we happened upon Leistadt in Germany’s Rhine wine valley. It was a perfectly beautiful Sunday morning, just at the beginning of the “new wine” time of year and at the end of summer. We were driving along the narrow main street, craning our necks, dodging the other cars and longing to stop and look at each house in the village. And because we had the time, and it was a lovely morning, we parked at the other end, and walked nearly every street, marveling and photographing.
Leistadt is a very old town surrounded by vineyards in the southern Rhine valley, about an hour’s drive from our home in Karlsruhe. This part of the Rhine valley, also known as the Palatinate or Pfalz region, is blessed with the nicest weather in Germany, and Leistadt is believed to be one of the sunniest towns there. The Pfalz region was occupied long ago by Roman soldiers who planted grape vines on the gently sloping hillsides. Leistadt is said to date back to the 6th century, but the evidence must be purely archeological because the village first appears in written records in the 13th century, and none of the buildings dates back before the village was completely sacked by the French in 1689.
But then it was rebuilt, and today many of its 300-year-old houses are summer and weekend retreats for the wealthy of western Germany’s larger cities. The homes are generally courtyard style, built directly off the sidewalk but sheltering a private garden and patio area within their walls. Most houses were impeccably painted, planted, and maintained. And it seems everyone in Leistadt has grapevines flourishing out of even the smallest bit of dirt available.
Several passersby made the mistake of asking us (in German) for directions to a local site: the Bismarck Tower, or the hiking paths. As soon as I opened my mouth to say that I had no idea, they knew me for a foreigner and clearly wanted to kick themselves for picking me to ask for directions. Leistadt, like many small towns in the Rhine valley, is surrounded by paths to give hikers and cyclists access to the surrounding Palatinate hills. The trails lead past Celtic and Roman ruins, to ruined castles, through areas of geological interest, and always amidst areas of great natural beauty. The vistas from many hiking paths are said to be breathtaking. A wonderful month or two could be spent hiking the Rhine valley trails.
Vineyard vista, from the edge of Leistadt.
Above is the Leistadt Rathaus, or Town Hall, built in 1730.
Small rustic cafes along the way are a part of the hikers’ goal. Naturally, they serve some local white wines, often as a “schoerle” (which we would call a wine cooler or spritzer), and local delicacies such as Winzersteak ( or “wine-makers steak”, a boneless pork chop marinated in Riesling and grilled with onions) or Leberknoedel (liver dumplings) with sauce or sauerkraut. Fortified with such filling treats, a hiker would have strength to complete the loop trail, whether it’s 2 miles or 20.
However, we were not to see any vistas yet, and were content with the views we got of the charming homes and courtyards of tiny Leistadt. Having walked from one end to the other, and worked up a little sweat, we were happy to get into our air-conditioned rental car and continue on our way, changed by the unexpected.