Oberwesel: A Medieval Walk on the Walled and Wined Side
Walking through the walls and into the market square of Oberwesel, it’s clear why visitors are drawn to this quaint town. Locals take great pride in preserving the precious medieval architecture, for which their town is famous, and in keeping up their long-standing traditions. For example, if you’re visiting during the spring or summer, you can’t help but notice the giant wine chalice in market square. The chalice represents the importance of Riesling wine to the region’s economy and culture. Each year, the community elects a “wine witch” who emerges from the chalice as that year’s ambassador for the area’s vintners. The tradition of the “wine witch” dates back to much earlier days when “witches’ fires” were lit in the spring on the banks of the river and in the mountains to scare away the winter demons and, supposedly, improve the quality of the local wines. Each year in Oberwesel, the tradition continues with the election of a new “wine witch” and a community-wide festival. Even if you’re not visiting during the festivities, Oberwesel’s market square features many tourist-friendly cafes and wine bars where you can enjoy the bountiful fruits of the region, including its famous Riesling wine.
The other reason that visitors come to Oberwesel is to see the best-preserved medieval town walls and towers in the Rhine Valley. However, don’t just take my word for it. An expert in medieval fortifications stated: “Of all the Middle Rhine town fortifications, those in Oberwesel are the most extensive, the proudest and the best preserved”, and a government agency in charge of historical preservation stated that Oberwesel’s walls and towers “number amongst the most significant and best preserved medieval fortifications in the entire Federal Republic of Germany. “ In other words, if you’re in the Rhine River Valley, you absolutely must go to Oberwesel to see its walls and towers. As a historian, I’ve seen many walled cities and towns, but I was truly impressed and enamored by those in Obserwesel. Walking along the town walls on the riverside is simply enchanting. One of my most vivid memories of Germany is looking across a sea of lavender to see the eight-sided Oschenturm (Ox) Tower towering above a ballet-like bend in the boat-filled Rhine River. While exploring the cobbled streets and circling the medieval walls, you’ll experience many similar moments of serenity and awe.
After a break at a café or wine bar in the market square, it’s time for a stroll along the oldest stretch of walls and towers in the rear of town. Even if you think you’re “all walled out”, it’s not to be missed! To reach this area, pick up a map at the tourist information office in market square or take a picture of any map publicly posted around town. Exploring the rear walls and towers is like a peaceful walk through the countryside. You may even come across some friendly local horses, like we did. If you don’t have an equine encounter, you’ll still get to see several of the town’s 16 amazing, original medieval towers that have survived to the present. Can you find the one with the drawbridge? It’s now a private residence! If you’ve been dreaming of living in a medieval castle, I’ve got a deal for you. The town council will rent you a tower for 100 years for only one Euro! What’s the catch, you ask? You just have to fund the tower’s renovation. If you decide to take up residence in an Oberwesel tower, be sure to send me an invite! I make a mean schnitzel. Continuing along the rear wall walk, you’ll catch views of the former moat and of historic Schonburg Castle, which now houses a restaurant, hostel, and small museum. Finish up your walk with a visit to the lovely Town Wall Gardens, a gift from a local who used his wealth to start a foundation to beautify his town for generations. Like his gift to the residents of Oberwesel, a visit here will you provide you with vivid memories of medieval German splendor for years to come.
Oberwesel is located in an area known as the “Romantic Rhine”. It’s an hour and a half drive from Frankfurt, and therefore, makes for an easy day trip if you’re flying in or out of that airport. A visit to Oberwesel can also be combined with excursions to Bacharach and/or St. Goar. Click on the map for specific driving directions to Oberwesel.
For information on Bacharach, see my guide “Bacharach: The Most Romantic Town on the Rhine River”.