Global Gumshoe | Ron Stern
While many Americans are familiar with the German cities of Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt, most have probably never heard of Münster, except to associate it with the similarly named, but made-in-France cheese. Pity too, because Münster is steeped in history and culture, and is an amazing destination to explore.
The first thing I noticed stepping out of the train station in Münster was the huge number of students and bicycles. Crossing the street, it seemed like a river of both flowing around me. I guess that’s why it is called Germany’s bicycle capital.
The earliest roots of the city started with the emperor Charlemagne, who sent out missionaries to then-called Münsterland in 793. This sowed the seeds for the first cathedral in 850 followed by the construction of parish churches and a protective city wall. Today, the wall has been replaced by a scenic tree-lined promenade greenbelt, which runs alongside the Aa river and is a very popular place for strolling or, of course, cycling.
In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia, which effectively ended the Thirty Years’ War, was signed in a room of the Town Hall now known as the Hall of Peace. This building was destroyed during World War II but has been lovingly restored back to its original splendor, and you can take a look inside for a small price. The room contains some rather ornate furnishings and wooden panels along with rare artifacts and portraits of the emissaries involved in the peace agreement.
The first university of the region was also formed here in 1773, and today there are more than 50,000 students who study in Münster. Local residents and students can be found in all of the city’s quarters including the popular Prinzipalmarkt, Münster’s main shopping area. The 48 gabled buildings and covered arcades have been reconstructed since the war, and now house all manner of retail shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Speaking of food, there seemed to be a bakery around every corner and shops offering fine chocolates, gelato, coffee and traditional regional cuisine from the state North Rhine-Westfalia. One of my meals included a sausage, fried potatoes and sauerkraut: quite tasty. You can then wash all this down with a local brew as there are several pubs here and a nice brewery, called Pinkus Müller.
Münster is a pedestrian city and very easy to navigate. I found the tall church landmarks a simple way to remember where to find my hotel. Since everything is close, you won’t need to take a car or taxi but you may want to think about renting a bicycle, if for no other reason than to fit in with what everyone else is doing.
A couple of tips for things I particularly enjoyed: first, I found the best thick-cut pommes frites and perfectly cooked bratwurst on a crispy roll at a little stand right outside the train station. Then, for a nice evening out, try the GOP Variety Theatre, also across from the train station. They have a first-rate show featuring a blend of light, sound, acrobatics, dance and, well, bubbles: you have to see it to understand.
If you have ever been to Germany but have never let your trip planning go beyond some of the larger cities, you are missing some of the best this country has to offer. The cities I visited on this trip – adding to Münster: Augsburg, Würzburg and Osnabrück – are only four out of 13 historical cities that are part of the Historic Highlights of Germany tour group. I have been to many of these cities and only wish I had more time to spend in each one.
Where to stay in Münster: The Treff Hotel (treff-hotels.de) is centrally located in Old Town and is part of the Ramada chain of hotels. The rooms are modern, comfortable and affordable. You will be steps away from shopping, dining and most of the attractions that Münster has to offer.
For more information visit the Historic Highlights of Germany website at historicgermany.travel/.
—Ron Stern can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting ronsterntravel.com and globalgumshoe.com. Promotional considerations were provided by Historic Highlights of Germany as well as the other partners mentioned in this article.