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News > Feature - Idar-Oberstein: a treasure of gems, stones
Idar-Oberstein: a treasure of gems, stones

Posted 9/18/2008   Updated 9/18/2008 Email story   Print story


by Iris Reiff
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/18/2008 - SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Between the vast basin of the Isle de France and the middle of the Rhine, the Saar-Nahe basin forms a geological link. At the same time, it forms the border of the southern edge of the Rhineland Schiefergebirge and the sandstone uplands of the northern Palatinate which slope down toward the Nahe River. Right on the border lies the town of Idar-Oberstein, one of Germany's most interesting holiday resorts, surrounded by beautiful Hunsrueck countryside. The picturesque town of 40,000 residents is known as "the world of gems."

With its specialized industry, Idar Oberstein has become the European center of gem and diamond processing and one of Germany's leading jewelry towns. The Institute for Gem Research, the world's first diamond and gem exchange, the German Gemological Society, with a gem-testing institute; technical schools; and permanent exhibitions are all found here.

The famous German Gem Museum or Deutsches Edelsteinmuseum features a display of every type of gem in the world, in both the rough and polished state. Plus, people can learn about the traditional craft of the cutter and goldsmith. Visitors can check out the historic Gem Cutting Center or Weiherschleife, take an excursion into the caves of the Steinkaulenberg with glittering veins of precious stones or explore one of the commercial exhibitions. Also interesting are some of the old cutting works which are still operated by water wheels.

Idar-Oberstein's most common minerals include rock crystals, amethysts, opals, rubies, emeralds, topaz and, of course, diamonds and other precious stones -- many of which are still found in the area of a former volcanic zone.

Tourists come to Idar-Oberstein year round to hunt for minerals in hillside fields and on cliff walls. They search in quarries for agate, jasper, chalcedony and amethyst. But access to search areas is only available with the permission of the tenant or owner, and visitors enter the areas at their own risk.

People can safely wander around on the trails of the old "stone-miners." A forest trail takes them past more than 30 tunnels, which join up inside the mountain to form an extensive labyrinth. The Steinkaulenberg is a monument to the toil that brought the "gem town" into existence.

A visit to the historic mines, situated within a nature conservation area with their numerous tunnels and galleries, is an unforgettable experience for anyone. For a small fee, mineral collectors can dig for treasures in areas especially set aside for them.

Idar-Oberstein is a veritable paradise for jewelry shopping, but also features a number of interesting tourist sites, as well as plenty of entertainment. Take a walk along the picturesque old houses in the valley or stroll through the little marketplace of Oberstein.
Few visitors can resist the Felsenkirche or Church in the Rock. Those who brave the steep ascent to the church are rewarded with a magnificent view of the town and treasures inside.

Built from 1482-1484 by Wirich IV of Daun-Oberstein, the church was restored in 1929 and 1980. With its unique setting in a grotto in the steep face of the cliff, the church has become a symbol for the town.

Situated high above Oberstein stand the two castles -- the Old Castle on the Church Rock dating back to 1197, and the New Castle, which was built around 1330 and destroyed by a fire in 1855. The two castles are surrounded by a wooded parking area containing many rare trees. From the cliff path leading to the castles there are splendid views down into the heart of the town. Within the massive walls of the New Castle, the history of the lords of Daun-Oberstein who resided there comes to life again.

Beautiful scenery, rocky cliffs, hidden caves, isolated castles and good footpaths make walking a veritable joy in the Idar-Oberstein area. One can also travel through the area by horse wagon on a Hunsrueck safari holiday.

The Deutsche Edelsteinstrasse or German Gem Road begins and ends in Idar-Oberstein.
The Historic Copper Mine near Fischbach and the Herrenberg Slate Mine near Bundenbach are both open to visitors and well worth seeing. The Hambachtal Hunsrueck Leisure Park near Birkenfeld provides unlimited enjoyment with its wide variety of attractions.

Despite excellent Nahe and Mosel wines, Idar-Oberstein has a great culinary attraction -- spit-roast meat, which is spicy, juicy and tender.

It's said that agate workers returning from a period of emigration more than 100 years ago brought back the art of grilling meat from South America. The art of spit-roasting has become a tradition over many generations in Idar-Oberstein at all events.

Winter sports facilities at Erbeskopf and Idarkopf, located not far from Idar-Oberstein, offer tow lifts, floodlighting, toboggan runs and good downhill skiing. Several wildlife parks are open all-year round and amateur photographers may find excellent subjects here.

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