Saarbrücken is a likeable city with a vibrant cultural scene, baroque architecture and a French ambience combined with the joie de vivre of the Saarland. This state capital, university city, economic hub and trade fair venue is situated at the centre of a region that spans three countries. If you are looking for an easygoing, friendly city with a feel-good factor, then Saarbrücken is the place.
Saarbrücken's 1,000-year history has been an eventful one. Wonderful baroque buildings created by Friedrich Joachim Stengel, such as the palace and those around Schlossplatz square, bear witness to Saarbrücken's heyday in the 18th century. The palace affords the most spectacular views of a city where Stengel's architectural influence is still evident today. Ludwigskirche church is widely regarded as the pinnacle of his achievements and one of Germany's purest and most beautiful examples of a Protestant baroque church. Other top attractions include the neo-Gothic town hall, the mining headquarters designed by Walter Gropius and Heino Schmieden, and Stengel's Church of St. John, a basilica minor.
City life in Saarbrücken centres around St. Johanner Markt square with its boutiques, bistros, restaurants and picturesque narrow lanes – the ideal place to stroll around, relax and watch the world go by. The market fountain, also a 'Stengel', is the focal point of the attractive pedestrian area. A 15-minute or so walk from here takes you to St. Arnual, the oldest part of Saarbrücken, and its Gothic collegiate church from the 13th century, which is set amidst late-medieval houses. All the districts, from Mainzer Strasse to Nauwieser Viertel, are as tranquil as they are delightful, and have plenty of pretty beer gardens and culinary finesse, infused with a hint of France and the region's own distinct style. "Hauptsach', gudd gess" (the main thing is to have eaten well) as the people of Saarbrücken would say – and that really says it all.
Offering an authentic flavour of the region's industrial past, the nearby Völklingen Ironworks UNESCO World Heritage site is a major checkpoint on the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Art lovers will also find plenty to see in Saarbrücken, such as the Saarland Museum. In the museum's Modern Gallery you can expect to find one of the most fascinating art collections in Germany, featuring works by Rodin, Matisse, Liebermann, Picasso, Ernst, Kirchner and Feininger to name but a few, not to mention Franz Marc's internationally acclaimed 'Little Blue Horse'. Plays and ballet can be seen at the State Theatre venues and on smaller stages. There is also a thriving music and variety scene, with highlights such as the Small Theatre in the town hall and the Sommerszene festival featuring international street performers. Every June, the Franco-German Perspectives festival presents new forms of contemporary theatre, as well as dance, circus acts and chanson française – all of the highest calibre. The biennial Saar Music Festival is organised in cooperation with the Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Lorraine and Luxembourg regions and focuses on the music of a different European country each time. On Sundays between June and August, the palace hosts open-air concerts featuring international folk music, rock, chanson, blues and jazz, while 'Kultur für Kids' features theatre, music, clowns and mime. Saarbrücken is not only a heartland of architecture, culture and festivals, but also a leafy city with plenty of relaxing outdoor activities on offer. Its beautiful green spaces include the palace gardens, the Franco-German Garden and the banks of the river Saar, where there are plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, unwinding in a beer garden or taking a leisurely stroll. So if it's a laid-back city you're after, you need look no further than Saarbrücken.