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The town of Idar-Oberstein, though a tranquil municipality in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate region with only 31,000 people, is famous for its gemstones and is a popular destination for hikers and wine lovers. Here’s what to do if you have 24 hours to spend in Idar-Oberstein.
Start your day with a delicious breakfast at one of the cafés. Pancakes seem to be a popular choice, and who doesn’t love pancakes? Brittas Pfannkuchenhäuschen offers sweet and savoury kinds for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu doesn’t halt at widely popular toppings, like maple syrup or ham and cheese. The pancakes there can also serve as a base for a substantial meal when topped with minced meat, beans and salsa or salami, jalapeños, bacon and cheese. Idar-Oberstein isn’t exactly replete with attractions, so you can take your time both at breakfast and at each sightseeing stop.
This seemingly unassuming town does take the lead in one aspect: for more than 500 years, the gemstone industry has shaped life in Idar-Oberstein. Large amounts of agate and amethyst were discovered there in the late 14th century and taken from the ground in a now defunct mine that cultivated a thriving industry of goldsmiths, gem cutters, polishers and engravers who manufactured beautiful jewellery. To this day, local craftsmen and women work with the world’s classiest jewellers.
Considering Idar-Oberstein’s status in the world of precious stones, it’s not much of a surprise that the town’s main attraction is a dedicated gemstone museum. Across three floors of an old Gründerzeit villa, the Deutsche Edelsteinmuseum’s exhibition explores the world of gemstones, showcasing virtually every variety our planet has to offer, be it precious and semi-precious stones, diamonds or crystals. A €7 ($8.65 USD) ticket buys you entry to the museum and tours are offered in German, English, French and Dutch, upon request. On the other side of town, the Deutsches Mineralienmuseum focuses on minerals and displays not only large crystal clusters but stunning jewellery and other artworks that incorporate gemstones. The entrance fee is €5 ($6 USD) and tours for up to 15 people are priced at €15 ($18.50 USD) per person in German and €25 ($31 USD) per person for foreign languages.
If you have an interest in jewellery, head to the Jakob Bengel Industrial Museum across the road where time has seemingly stood still for the past 100 years. Guided tours explain how the antique machinery was used to manufacture metal chains, jewellery and Art Deco pieces. It’s a bit niche but quite fascinating, especially when seen in the context of how much of an influence jewellery has had on Idar-Oberstein.
But enough with the gemstones, it’s time for lunch.
Zum Alten Goten is cute spot to grab a bite to eat before you continue your adventure. The rustic interior of the timber-framed house is just as authentic as the menu. You’ll be treated to a selection of homemade soups, salads and several regional specialities, like potato pancakes with salmon and sour cream or beef goulash.
Look up when you leave the restaurant to spot Idar-Oberstein’s remarkable chapel, which was built into a rock face, as well as the ruins of Bosselstein Castle. That’s where you’re headed next. The 12th-century fortress started to decay after it was abandoned in 1600 but the views from there make up for that. More is left of Oberstein Castle, located just around the corner. Built in 1320, you can still explore the rooms for a small fee of €2 ($2.50 USD) and in-depth tours can be arranged via email if you’re keen to learn more about its history and past occupants.
Idar-Oberstein has some good restaurants to choose from, but whether you eat meat or not, you have no choice but to head to Spießbratenhaus for dinner. Over decades, the region has made a name for itself by mastering the art of the perfect spit roast and locals love it so much that they organise a spit roast festival every summer. The restaurant’s menu offers a choice of slow-roasted beef, lamb or marinated pork, all prepared over an open fire. Vegetarians need not despair: the menu offers several other dishes, whether you fancy pasta or a light salad.
The nightlife in Idar-Oberstein is reduced to a handful of pubs and bars, but a night out on the town might surprise you. The atmosphere is usually quite cheerful and fuelled by draft beer and live music. Both Café Eckstein and Brasserie am Schleiferplatz are open late and worth checking out.