One of the more pleasant aspects of living in the Trier region is the architecture. Trier, as I have not been remiss in informing you, was at one time the second city of the Roman Empire. St Helena was born in Trier and Constantine the Great much preferred his mother’s hometown over Rome. Most days, when returning from grocers, I walk past St Nikolaus Church. A dreadful miscreation of the 1970s, it was built over a beautiful, if decrepit, Baroque church which in turn was built on the ruins of Constantine’s summer villa. The foundation stones can still be seen in the crypt, remnants of the bath can be seen – and touched – just beyond the church, nearer the cemetery.
From the church one can also see the former Konz train station. At one time a villa for military leaders of some standing in the region, this Renaissance structure has tragically seen better days. While structurally sound, years of neglect and oiks have conspired to the worst. The sandstone walls are covered with spray-paint and many windows are broken. Inside, graffiti is scrawled on the walls and the ceiling. Some oiks, it seems, have at least that much ambition.
When travelling by train to Trier one passes two minor train stations, Karthaus and Trier-Süd. The latter is unremarkable. It is a platform with an electronic billeting machine. The former, prior to neglect similar to that of Konz Proper, was one of the better examples of Wilhelmine architecture in the region. Although it lacks the pedigree of Konz’s former station, the current, parenthetically, being a utilitarian covered platform with a single electronic billeting machine, it is terribly underappreciated. For the longest time Germany’s 19th century architecture was not taken seriously and quickly disappeared in the post-war era. Sadly, many of the brutally hideous structures that replaced them still stand. Those that remain are finally taken somewhat seriously. As a result of this, there is increasing revulsion at the neglect shown by the now private owners of the former Karthaus Bahnhof.
Trier’s main train station has little to commend it, a 1950s structure which suffered an extensive renovation in the 1970s; it serves a strictly utilitarian purpose and does so adequately. There is a book store, a travel agency, a few billeting machines, a small and underwhelming bakery and a small store selling assorted candies, bottled water, tonics and cigarettes at inflated prices. Despite this, their coffee is relatively cheap and drinkable. Most days before returning to Konz I stop in for a quick cuppa. A cappuccino, café macchiato or “Milchkaffee”, a German interpretation of the café au lait costs a not unreasonable €1.60. A few of the clerks have begun to recognise my hideous visage and make my order with no need to ask.
Walking through Trier is pleasant enough, especially since the historic centre is a designated pedestrian zone. The main market is still active with local farmers selling their produce most days of the week. While perhaps marginally dearer than the grocers, the quality of their product is very much worth the few extra groats. There is a remarkable chemist’s located on the main market, Löwen Apotheke, has been in operation in the same building since 1241. Off the main market to the right, if walking toward St Gangolf’s Cathedral from the Porta Nigra, is the Judengasse. This is an unfortunate false cognate. Gasse in Germany simply means “alley”. It is the 17th century Jewish Quarter and former centre of Jewish life in the city. While small, it was historically influential. Trier was a centre of Jewish life in the Germanic lands and the mediaeval Frankish dialect spoken in the Trier region was influential on the development of Yiddish.
To the left is the Trierer Dom, the main Catholic cathedral. The foundation was built under Constantine the Great. The bulk of the structure is Romanesque; some of the chapels were completed during the Baroque. Many of the artistic flourishes and shrines are rococo. The Cloister is open to the public and is usually free of the crowds loitering about in the markets and even within the Dom. The Dom is home to a remarkable relic. Its prized possession is a robe, the robe ostensible worn by Christ during his crucifixion. Although legally classified as Roman Catholic by the proper authorities, I remain as sceptical of its authenticity as most experts remain of the Shroud of Turin.
The true symbol of the city, other than oiks passed out in pools of their own vomit in the city’s northern edge on a Sunday morning is the Porta Nigra. It is the last remaining of the four Roman gates protecting the city. Much has changed since the Romans built it. It didn’t even come to its present form until the 11th century when a hermit monk made it his home. Successive generations, especially those from the 1970s on, found themselves worthy of leaving their signatures and records of their love interests on the walls. Entrance to this structure is not free. A combination ticket can be purchased at the Simeonstift, the city’s history museum, entitling the bearer to entrance to both the museum and the Porta Nigra. When I went last, the lackadaisical ticket collector couldn’t be bothered to check my ticket so perhaps to say that entrance to the structure comes with a cost is somewhat too optimistic.
Walking north on Paulinus Straβe one can pass by the best ice cream shop in Trier. Sadly, they do not offer any of their ice cream spoons for sale. There is such a shortage of them in the city’s stores as we have all learnt from my previous piece on living with Huns. They would be able to have a corner on the market. There is a passable Chinese restaurant which serves Xiao Long Bao, a type of Chinese dumpling which can make me fall to my knees. Not far away is Dietz Bakery. The best in the city after Clements, they sell sugar pretzels throughout the year. A childhood favourite and the source of one of the more tragically comedic moments of my youth, if you wish to read about that please ask, I on occasion indulge in patisserian nostalgia there. Dietz also bake among the best Brötchen, miniature loaves of bread, in the region. My grandfather’s favourite, he wakes up early several times each week to drive to their Konz bakery. Sometimes, when fresh, I eat one with nothing but hand-churned Norman butter made with sea salt. For some reason, they simply taste best that way.