Because it’s hidden away in North Rhine-Westphalia, most American tourists ignore the city of Münster, but that is a HUGE mistake. Münster has everything most people search for in Germany: a cathedral, a castle with beautiful grounds, an old brewery with famous beer, outdoor cafes with delicious tortes, cobblestoned streets, pedestrian districts, a shopping arcade lined with stores full of the latest fashions or home furnishings, and even ghoulish cages hanging from the church steeple (that come with a story that might just send shivers down your spine). And the Altstadt is surrounded by a lovely walking path shaded by linden trees. The best part of discovering your Germany in Münster? You can easily do it all on foot. Or better yet, grab one of the hundreds of THOUSANDS of bicycles and pedal around this historic city.
Münster dates back to 793 A.D., when Karl the Great set the cornerstone for the monastery on the site where St. Paulus Cathedral (the Dom) now sits. Like all cathedrals, St. Paulus is impressive, but what makes this one extra special is the trick it plays on the eye. Stand in the back of the nave and look toward the altar; the aisle seems like it’s a mile long. But it’s just an illusion. Look up. The vaulting in the back of the church is wider than the front. The church really isn’t that long. Imagine the skill it must have taken to create something so massive that plays with perspective so well. And even if church architecture isn’t your thing, you will enjoy the 24-hour astronomical clock. The hands run backward to follow the path of the sun! And a mechanical figure of Death himself, with the help of Father Time, chimes the hour.
Show up on a Wednesday or Saturday in the Dom Platz and you can enjoy the Wochenmarkt (weekly farmers market). It’s never a bad idea to grab a snack there to keep up your energy. At the market, you will find the usual fruits and veggies, but also flowers, candies (especially black licorice from across the nearby border to the Netherlands), pastries and prepared foods. (I highly recommend the potato pancakes, perfectly crisped on the outside and wonderfully delicious, especially when eaten standing up under the shade of a tree).
And now you get to make a choice… museums or the Prinzipalmarkt. If you go toward the southwest corner of the Dom Platz, you come to the LWL Museum für Kunst und Kulture (Museum for Art and Culture) containing exhibits of Westphalian history as well as modern art. Nearby is the Archaeology Museum, the Geology and Paleontology Museum and the Bible Museum. (This is a university town, after all.) But if you head to the southeast corner, just follow Michaelsplatz to the Rathaus and Friedensaal, and you are on the Prinzipalmarkt.
Although the Friedensaal doesn’t look that imposing, it played an important role in Germany’s history. The treaty for the Thirty Years War was hammered out here, AND the treaty for the Dutch 80 Years War was worked out at the same time, giving the city a reputation for problem-solving. Münster is not a city of industry, it is a city of intellectuals, and people still pride themselves on learning long after they’ve left school.
Feel like doing some shopping? Or maybe you are hungry. The Prinzipalmarkt is the perfect place to satisfy both urges. This beautiful pedestrian zone is the perfect place for a stadt bummel (city wander).
Every store and café has a huge picture window with the latest fashions, seasonal table settings and local breads. It’s almost as if they are competing to have the most beautiful display. The sidewalk is covered by the building above (they pushed out the existing living spaces to get more room), and as a result you have protection from the frequent rain or, as I discovered, the hot sun.
With so many beautiful stores to choose from, your shopping bags will soon be full, and now it’s time to eat! Head to the Kiepenkerl statue, a monument to peddlers and a meeting place for locals. You have a choice of two restaurants, the Grosses and the Kleines (Big or Small) Kiepenkerl. Both serve regional Westphalian food as well as many other German dishes. I highly recommend the Westfälisches krüstchen (a type of schnitzel covered in grilled onions and mushrooms, then topped with a fried egg). On nice days, there are tables set up outside so you can enjoy your meal in the sunshine.
Ready for a coffee? Just wander up the Prinzipalmarkt until you see cake in the window. Or maybe you want some more culture. Pay a visit to the Städtmusem Münster or even the Picasso Museum. Go outside the ring to visit the Schloß (now a part of the university) and see the botanical gardens behind it. And if it’s time for a beer, head to Pinkus Muller for an authentic Westphalian beer experience.
Oh…and those cages?
While you are walking down the Prinzipalmarkt, look up. The Lamberti Church with its pointy spire has three metal cages hanging from it. They’ve been there since 1536, when the leaders of the Anabaptist Rebellion who had taken over the city were killed and their bodies left to rot for all to see. The bones are long gone, but the cages remain to remind everyone that the city of Münster is full of history.
Münster may be tucked away from the normal tourist path, but maybe that is WHY you should visit. This university town is full of surprises and is the perfect place to discover your Germany!
Written by Karen Lodder