Just a short 20-minute train ride from Münster, the town of Osnabrück is the only major German city located within a nature park. The Natural Reserve of the Northern Teutoburg Forest, Wiehengebirge Hill or TERRA.vita for short is the largest one of its kind in the country, covering 1,200 square miles.
Osnabrück played a significant role in the development of Germany’s history. In 9 AD, 10,000 Roman troops came through an area nearby called Kalkriese. Bounded on one side by bog and the other by forest, they found themselves marching through a narrow choke point where they were then ambushed by Germanic tribes hiding among the trees. The Battle of Valus and the resulting slaughter of the better-trained and equipped Romans was one of the turning points in the fall of the Roman Empire and the Germanic victory is still a symbol of national pride.
Today, you can tour the award-winning museum at the battle location, which includes interactive exhibits and rare artifacts that have been found here over the last 26 years. Every couple of years they also do a reenactment of some of the battles fought on the grassy fields.
Charlemagne also played a part in the development of Osnabrück. After the 780 establishment of a mission, the town grew into an important cultural and commercial city. St. Peter’s Cathedral towers over the old town area, and after climbing 120+ stairs, you will have a bird’s eye view of the winding cobblestone streets and historical landmarks.
Osnabrück is alive with culture, charm and historical personality. You can find half-timbered homes with ornate facades, an abundance of retail shopping areas and seasonal festivals and museums, including one featuring the works of the renowned artist Felix Nussbaum. Nussbaum was born in Osnabrück in 1904 and his surrealist paintings are widely regarded throughout the country.
When the Nazis came to power, Nussbaum, who was Jewish, was deported to an internment camp. His art, which has survived, shows an ever increasing darkness reflecting his own fears of his impending fate, which was sealed in Auschwitz in1944. The uniquely designed museum carries about 100 of Nussbaum’s works.
For foodies, Osnabrück is the veritable pot at the end of the rainbow. There are coffee houses, sidewalk cafes, a turn of the century ice cream shop (Fontanella Eis Café), a three-star Michelin restaurant (La Vie), a confectionary with gourmet chocolates (Leysieffer), and a family-owned cake shop where I had to visit twice just to make sure the first experience was real (Café Am Markt).
For 10-12 days in May, the town plays host to a large spring celebration called May Week. I would describe this as a massive mix of music, food, beer and wine, and fun. If you have ever been to a German Christmas market, you will have some idea what this is like. Booths offer things like grilled bratwurst, potato pancakes, regional beers, and anything else you can imagine. Marching bands playing old favorites from groups like Herman’s Hermits roam the city while others delight the crowds in a beer hall with pulse-pounding Oktoberfest music.