Right in the heart of the Saar-Lor-Lux region in the centre of Saarland in Germany, will bring you to the capital city of Saarbrucken. Saarbrucken literally translates to Saar bridges, which would make sense, since there are at least a dozen or so bridges here that sweep over the Saar River, although not many people are convinced that this is the origin of the name of the city as the Alte Brucke predates the name by more than 500 years.
Seeped in history, there is evidence of a rich, if somewhat checkered past for the city, with roots going as far back as the Roman Empire in the last centuries BC. Evidence of its strong inclination to France is evident everywhere, in the enchanting cobbled alley ways, St. Johanner Market Square and the charismatic, historic architecture tucked in and around modern infrastructure that dominates the sweeping panorama of this major state capital city.
Map of Saarbrucken
It was a bustling mining town at the turn of the 19th Century, with major economic resources in coal and iron, but a number of events including the Franco Prussian War and World War II – among others, brought the rich mining reserves to its knees from exploitation and destruction.
These days, the city is tenaciously emerging from its stagnation as a neglected mining town and has soared though leaps and bounds earning itself a righteous place as one of the most integral German centers for science, technology and research. Rich in culture, history and the most glorious surroundings, the city is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist hot spots this side of France.
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The Best Time to Go to Saarbrucken
The mild to cool climate of Saarbrucken makes it an all year round destination – even in the chilly winter months. There are festivals and events taking place every month of the year, during every season, so the only thing you will need to take into account when deciding which is the best time to go is the weather and the amount of other people you are willing to contend with.
Summer time when the weather is warm, during the months of June, July and August, the city tends to fill up with plenty of locals and visitors who are out and about enjoying the sunshine. You can expect to pay more for flights and accommodation then, as well as stand in long queues to get into sights and attractions.
Winter time is also busy as Germany has extra special Christmas markets and celebrations at the end of the year. The best time to go if you would still like to enjoy the good weather without putting too much of a dent in your pocket would be during spring – March/April/May or during fall – September/October. The weather isn’t too hot or cold, the hordes have gone back home to work and to school and the prices have taken a bit of a dip, so you can get a bit more for your money around these times of the year.
Getting Around in Saarbrucken
The city of Saarbrucken has an excellent public transport system consisting of a combination of trams and buses. And, because of this, when visiting the city, there is no need to hire a car. The tram system or light rail train system is part of a dual transport system called the SaarBahn. The tram or light rail train travels from out of Saarbrucken right through to France. Don’t be put off by its seemingly rickety and slow pace as it travels in the midst of the city, because as it gets out of the city it speeds up and zips along quite quickly. You can hop on the train every 8 minutes as a new tram pulls into the station, or if you are traveling at night, you will have to wait 15 minutes. The schedules are clearly displayed next to each train stop.
To supplement the light rail train system, there is a fantastic bus system which is on precise German time and absolutely never, or hardly every slightly late or too early. Tickets for both the bus and the light rail trains are part of the same SaarBahn system so you will only need one ticket to use both.
A group day ticket or weekly ticket may save you money as you will have all round access to every stop, it just depends how long you intend to stay.
Major Attractions and Sights
The Alte Brücke or Old Bridge is without a doubt one of the oldest constructions seen anywhere in the city. Built in 1546 by Charles V, it is the bridge connection that joins St. Johann and Alt-Saarbrucken. The original bridge has some 13 arches, but sadly during WWII much of the bridge was destroyed, leaving only 8 arches behind. It was rebuilt after the war, but then again shortened, making way for modern infrastructure.
Saarbergwerke – The Saar Mining Company administration offices. What was originally known as the Royal Prussian Mining Headquarters, the admin offices was a Renaissance-revival architectural masterpiece erected in the late 1800s. Beautifully restored, it now forms part of the majestic shopping centre – Europa Galerie.
Europa Galerie is the historical building located right in front of the main train station and has been created from the original Saarbergweke. The original tiled floors, windows and stairs provide a dramatic backdrop to just over 100 stores, cafes and restaurants.
The Basilica St. Johann was built in the mid 1700s and has been beautifully restored to its former glory as an 18th Century baroque regal dame. Given the title by non-other than the Pope himself, the church was named Basilica Minor and not without good reason. The bronze entrance area and dramatic and legendary church organs – which are still played today, bring visitors from all over the world to experience the church and its glorious music.
The Castle Wall was another pinnacle landmark that has also been moved to make way for modern infrastructure – in this case an urban highway. Even though it has been shifted some 16 meters, the breathtaking views at the top of the wall have not been compromised.
Fröschengasse is the area where homes were once built on to the old town wall in a settlement for workers and craftsmen. Rebuilt after the war, starting in the late 1970s, there are a number of charming and quaint restaurants here now, all in the original baroque styled buildings. Check out the high water level marks that have been recorded on a wall – as a stark reminder of the dances of the river.
Saarbrücken Castle has roots that go as far back as 999, when it held the name Castellum Sarabrucca. Sadly due to the destruction of war and fire, only the original cellars of the castle remain, although it was remarkably and magnificently restored in the late 1980s. Now the modern day host to cultural events and festivals, the castle is one part of this magical city that must not be missed.
Stiftskirche St. Arnual or as it is known – The urban village – is actually one of the oldest sections of the city. A leisurely walk of half an hour from the middle of the city will bring you to a charismatic medieval village cluster set in the original market square. See architecture, buildings and churches from as far back as the 13th century and see the mausoleums of the 15 century princes.
Shopping in Saarbrucken
The city of Saarbrucken is widely known for its delightful shopping and retail delights. People come from all over and many from France, to shop here at the premier retail mile starting at the historic St. Johanner Market place. There is a vast variety of goods all throughout the city. You can meander along the quaint twisty courtyards of Old Town, enjoy the ambience, put your feet up and enjoy a good coffee on a cobbled sidewalk, browse some of the tucked away boutiques and pick up some real quirky bargains along the way.
The big shopping center – The Saar Galerie has been refurbished to incorporate the town’s biggest shopping street, the Bahnhofstraße.
Eating Out in Saarbrucken
Traditional cuisine in Saarbrucken is known for its simple, yet hearty and rich meals with distinctive French and German influences. Sprouting from the days during the mining and farming peak, locals needed their food to be easily available, affordable and energy sustaining to provide them with the calories they needed for a hard day’s work in the mine or the fields. You will still find lots of potato dishes on any Saarbrucken meal table.
When it comes to modern day food and cuisine, the locals are very much in favor of their type of outdoor grilling – Schwenkbraten. In a manner similar to a rotisserie, a Schwenkbraten grill swings meat backwards and forwards over a fire in order to cook it evenly. What is also common is the propensity to mix savory and sweet dishes for a main course – like Bohnensuppe (bean soup) served with plum cake or apple cake served with Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup).
Because the country of Saarland is home to Karlsberg, you can bet your boots you will be washing every meal down with a generous helping of lager. Try the Haus Bruk which has a fantastic selection of regional dishes, great service, warm atmosphere, good wine and good value for money. Schlossgarten is a widely renown small but excellent restaurant. Incredible and unusual dishes, fantastic wine, excellent hosts and should be at the top of everybody’s list.
Several Thai, Indian and Chinese restaurants are based in Saarbrucken.
Nightlife in Saarbrucken
There is so much going on Saarbrucken that there is something for everyone to enjoy. From a cultural point of view, you are literally spoilt for choice, with opera, theatre, ballet, dance, cabaret and fringe shows and music events and shows on right throughout the year. If you are here to party you won’t be disappointed, with plenty of bars, cafes and clubs around, that offer you good party vibes where ever you choose to go.
There are lots of lively cocktail bars to start an evening of good solid revelry off, and even a Vodka Bar. Ovid Vodka Bar has some 300 different vodkas for you to sample – not necessarily all on one night, and great to sit outside for summer. You can see the wall listings of each and every single vodka, together with their countries of origin. Try the banana beer and the Van Gogh’s double espresso vodka, but give the Israel Bread Vodka a miss.
Summer time is fantastic here when the weather is warm, and you can enjoy a chilled beer under the generous leafy shade of one of the many sidewalk cafes or traditional biergartens in and around the city. Many places open late and stay open much later to accommodate the party crowd on weekends.
The Garage is the ultimate club and dance venue, with some great rock music and the best place to dance the night away. 3 huge stages with a brilliant vibe will make you want to party till dawn.
Of Local Interest
Women’s Carnival Weiverfassenacht– February Every Year
This historic and traditional street carnival has roots way back when in the 1800s when the carnival was exclusively open to be celebrated by men only. Today it is closely associated with the revolt of the Beueler Washerwomen in an event dating back to 1823. Held on the last Thursday before Carnival and on the last Saturday of the Carnival where there is a fantastic line up of live music acts and festivities.