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If you drive through these idyllic places with your eyes closed and on a carriage, with a little imagination you will imagine yourself in epochs that you have only known from history lessons. Once upon a time... and it's still there!









Monschau, mon amour!

The first piece of good news is that you will be able to Monschau old town you are not allowed to drive the car. Why is that good? It makes the illusion perfect: in the former clothmaker's town there is brisk pedestrian traffic, it clatters and clacks on the cobblestones like in a romantic literary film, the only thing missing is the black multi-horse carriage rushing with well-born through such a picturesque picture. In front of the facade of the approximately 300 well-preserved half-timbered houses in Monschau, one involuntarily looks up again and again to Monschau Castle, which was built at the end of the 12th century by Limburg dukes. And sooner or later you will also stand in front of the "Red House", an imposing patrician house from the 18th century, which has become something like the "Eiffel Tower" of Monschau - anyone who has not seen the "Red House" has not actually been there. The last of the many good news in connection with a visit to Monschau, this lovely little town nearby Aachen and the border triangle of Germany, Holland and Belgium: With the "Hohen Venn" you will find a nature park nearby, where numerous hiking trails lead along beautiful meadow valleys.

The special tip: The "Weihnachtszauber" in Monschau is probably one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in the entire country on the four Advent weekends of the year.

And this is how you get to the old town of Monschau by bus and train: Plan arrival.


Freudenberg - In the beginning was fire

Stand still! At first glance, the historic half-timbered houses at the "Alter Flecken" in Freudenberg look like a black-and-white gabled army. They were built in the 17th century - undisputedly an architectural masterpiece © Tourismus NRW e.V.

Sometimes a fire can be a blessing. The citizens of Freudenberg may not have thought so immediately in 1666, when a huge fire destroyed their little town down to its foundation walls. But the fact that the eager citizens of Freudenberg rebuilt their old town as a unified whole - almost geometrically as if on a drawing board in idyllic half-timbering with its unmistakable gables - means that the "Old spots" is today one of the most historically significant old towns in the entire state. Since the 17th century, only the most necessary changes have been made here in the city center. The best way to see how grandiose this parade of gables looks is to take a short walk up to the castle park - this is definitely the best photo spot for such a postcard idyll. By the way, if you want to see every single half-timbered house in Freudenberg, you've got your work cut out for you: The town's list of monuments lists 86 (!) buildings. But hey, who's counting...

The special tip: The "4Fachwerk Mittendrin Museum" already reveals its secret in its name: On four floors, volunteer locals in the middle of their "spot" have compiled museums about their half-timbered home on exactly four focal points. Great initiative.

And this is how you get to the old town of Freudenberg by bus and train: Plan arrival.


Soest - A fresh breeze in old walls

Soest was first mentioned in documents around 830 and is thus around 400 years older than almost all other Central European cities. This can be seen in the townscape, where over 600 half-timbered houses are listed © Tourismus NRW e.V.

Originally, it was said that it was not a good idea to bottle new wine in old wineskins, as it is already written in the Bible. But in Soest in Sauerland this does not apply. The city from the administrative district of Arnsberg, which advertises itself as being 1000 years old, but really not a bit old, always attaches great importance to letting a lot of young life take place in front of its historic walls. The "secret capital of Westphalia" - equipped with a large number of historic buildings such as the Romanesque tower of St. Patrokli or the famous Nikolaikapelle from the 12th century - invites throughout the year to a lot of theater, music and other events that radiate a special charm especially in front of the facades of its museum walls. The Soest Pub Festival, Bördetag, "Soest Art" and, above all, Europe's largest old town fair on All Saints' Day are testimony to the city fathers' desire to make their home town of Soest attractive to young people as well. A little tip: The Dudelmann, a Westphalian stomach liqueur based on a recipe from 1845, is only served at this fair and is said to have miraculous powers... But one of the biggest attractions in Soest is certainly the famous city wall, the so-called Stadtumwallung. Once built to protect the people of Soest, today it is more a mix of physical exercise and entertainment, because you can combine a (not sooo short) walk on the wall with the exploration of a city that obviously looks back on a long and architecturally interesting history.

The special tip: Twice a year, the largest flea market in Westphalia attracts visitors to Soest. The scene of the "Gräftetrödel": Once around the city walls!

And this is how you get to Soest by train: Plan arrival.


Hattingen - Hot iron

So completely escapes Hattingen of its history as a traditional steel location in the Ruhr region after all: the rusty iron sculptures by the Polish artist Zbigniew Fraczkiewicz on the city wall symbolize as "iron men" Hattingens' struggle for its role in the Ruhr region right next to Bochum and food. But that's almost it, which would indicate that Hattingen belongs to the "Pott": Its old town has become a popular destination for excursions due to the multitude of its idyllic half-timbered houses, a secular place of pilgrimage for local recreation with numerous sights. The most important: The painter's corner, for example. It bears its name rightly; in these times, it could also pass for a "selfie angle": The stairs between the narrowly standing half-timbered houses to the church square, in the background the leaning tower of St. George's Church - that already has an (attractive) face. By far the most popular spot in Hattingen, however, is the Bügeleisenhaus, built in 1611. This architectural gem does not bear its name by chance either - its shape is a bit, well... strange even for a half-timbered house. Did its builder know exactly what he was doing? The fact is: Today, the iron house houses the museum of the local history society, and right next door is the tourist information office - you can't get more Old Town center than that.

The special tip: Just take a look at the "Old Town Hall". Not only because the half-timbered house built in the 15th century is simply beautiful to look at. Today, various cultural events take place there time and again, and the gallery of the art association is constantly present there.

And this is how you get to the old town of Hattingen by bus and train: Plan arrival.


Lemgo - Witches Renaissance

Ever heard of Hermann Cothmann, a lawyer who felt called to higher things throughout his life? Haven't you? No need to be ashamed: Cothmann has been dead for a couple of centuries. In Lemgo however, its reputation has survived: probably the most popular sight in the city - and there are quite a few of them - is the Hexenbürgermeisterhaus. Today it houses a museum, but in the 17th century Cothmann resided as mayor in this beautiful house, partly built in the striking Weser Renaissance style. His passion: witches. Cothmann made a name for himself as a zealous hunter on the broom front, and the Hexenbürgermeisterhaus still bears witness to his image today. Beyond that, Lemgo, the university town in East Westphalia-Lippe, has several other such fine Renaissance addresses to offer. On the picturesque market square, local historians and culinary experts feel equally at home, and if you are interested in museums, Brake Castle might be worth a visit. Other sights from Lemgo's historical treasure trove: the Junkerhaus (built by the artist Karl Junker with many elaborate carvings), which is spectacular both inside and out, or the oil mill with its historic water wheel.

A special tip: A one-and-a-half-hour guided tour through the old town of Lemgo shows how deeply and lastingly the Renaissance left its mark on the town. Equally interesting, but perhaps a bit scarier, is the night watchman's tour of Lemgo, with first-hand history and tales of the past.

And this is how you get to Lemgo by train: Plan arrival.


Gräfrath - No Disneyland

Who is interested in the history Gräfrath's the smallest of Solingen's five boroughs, less than 20 kilometers from the Düsseldorf away, will get stuck on a sentence that still means the world to the place today. It reads, "Gräfrath was largely spared bombardment by Allied forces during World War II." Lucky! That's the only way to explain the fact that there are 90 designated monuments listed around the historic marketplace and that little Gräfrath is one of the 56 historic town centers officially selected in North Rhine-Westphalia. Why is that so? One look from the church of St. Mary's Assumption down to the old town is enough to understand. You'll get more than a hint of how splendid the many buildings from three centuries in the center of the village look and how well they are preserved. Bonus, too: discreet info boards on the outside walls of the houses that provide information about the history and former use of the building. If you would like to see such an idyll with your own eyes, we refer you to the only five-minute but poetic short film by Jens Lopez entitled "The Voice of Gräfrath". Best sentence: "People live and work here - that's the only reason it's not Disneyland. Watch the film, afterwards you will surely want to go there as well...

The special tip: Originally, the former water tower in Gräfrath was to be demolished, but fortunately people reconsidered in time. Today, the water tower is the venue for various cultural events as a light tower and thus shines far beyond the borders of Solingen.

And this is how you get to Solingen-Gräfrath by train: Plan arrival.


Off to Neanderland

If the term Neandertal comes up, no explanations are necessary: This is the section of the Düssel River valley between Erkrath and Mettmann that became world-famous for one reason: It was here that the partial skeleton of a Neanderthal, the precursor of Homo Sapiens, was found in 1856. It was later declared Neandertal 1. That not only the Neandertal, but also the Neanderland has its charms, however, is probably known to far fewer people: Whoever takes part in the regularly offered adventure tour "Typisch Bergisch" will be amazed: He will get to know villages like the historical Gruiten in Haanwhere you will come across a lot of wonderfully preserved half-timbered houses in winding streets. Most of these houses were built at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. Particularly noteworthy: The first preserved stone building of the village, the "Haus am Quall", which used to be a farmer's castle. But not only Gruiten holds up the half-timbered flag in Neanderland: there are several more places with historic, well-preserved or restored old towns that are worth a visit: Mettmann is one of them, Velbert-Langenberg, Neviges and Wülfrath.

Special tip: The oldest of these historic town centers can be found "Alt-Homberg", a district of Ratingen, where houses from the Middle Ages are still preserved. Eye-catcher especially the half-timbered house "In der Meuse" in Jacobusgasse 3, it dates back to the 16th century.

And this is how you get to Haan in Neanderland by train: Plan arrival.

Cover photo: Half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and the picturesque Rur River characterize the idyllic image of the small town of Monschau in the Eifel. And yes: the rustic restaurant "Zum Haller" has reopened after a Corona break: Hearty home cooking and beer on tap! © Tourismus NRW e.V.

More articles from North Rhine-Westphalia

In collaboration with Tourism NRW e.V.

Reasons for a Vacation in North Rhine-Westphalia there are plenty - the living Cities, the old Castles and palaces and the unique Nature are just a few of them.


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