The Römer is a medieval building in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and one of the city's most important landmarks.
Although I have lived in Frankfurt more than half my life, I was born in a small town called Zella Mehlis. This “green heart of Germany” is surrounded by woods and the hills of the Thuringian forest; and is famous both for being a winter sports destination and for its metal and gun (for sport and hunting) production.
In many ways, Germany’s capital of gemstone industry, Idar-Oberstein reminds me a lot of home. Like home, this city on the Nahe River has a quaint, small-town feel. With its streets dotted with traditional houses, ancient forts and castles, and reputation as a gemstone centre, it is a charmingly romantic area to get lost in. If you want a day-trip out, Idar-Oberstein is truly a gem of a place. From the newly-opened Citadines City Centre Frankfurt, within walking distance of the business and shopping hub, it is just about an hour and a half away.
To begin at the beginning, start with where the gemstones come from – the mines of Steinkaulenberg. They are the only European gemstone mines open to the public and were once the foundation of Idar-Oberstein’s over 500-year-old gemstone manufacturing industry. Now, it is where budding mineralogists and gem-hunters gravitate towards.
You can wander the mine shafts tunnelled deep into Steinkaulenberg Mountain; take a guided tour of the galleries where you will be introduced to the world of precious stones like agate, crystal, amethysts, jasper, and smoke quartz in their original rock; and go prospecting in the fields. Precious stones and minerals are brought to the fields every day for treasure-seekers to try their luck.
Another place you can go prospecting for treasure is at the historic Weiherschleife water mill, the city’s last water wheel-driven gemstone cutting mill. With a sand sieve and some luck, you might just find something on the sheltered sand field that is regularly stocked with minerals from around the world. You can see how the stone crusher breaks down the gemstone geode to reveal the stone within, and how stones are cut with a hand-driven flywheel and then polished to a perfect sheen.
Then immerse yourself in the Gemstone Adventure World (Edelstein-Erlebnistwelt) house in the Gottlieb jewellery factory. The caves and caverns, with underground springs and glowing volcano, are studded with precious stones and crystals. As you journey further, you will emerge in a forested area complete with a misty waterfall. Cap it off with a light show that displays the beauty of the gems in all their splendid jewelled tones.
Move on down the production line and witness how the stones are turned into jewellery and accessories at the Jakob Bengel Industrial Monument, the only authentic manufacturing plant in the city. Go on a guided tour of the factory and marvel at the different technologies and many self-developed tools.
Do not leave the city without visiting the German Gemstone Museum. With 9,000 exhibits, it has all the world’s known gemstones within its halls. In their original shape, crafted into jewellery, fashioned into sculptures, you can admire these precious stones in various forms. About 70 per cent of the pieces are on loan from the old gemstone-working families of Idar-Oberstein. So, unique items not normally available for public display can be admired here.
Bring Home Some Baubles
When you get back to Frankfurt and want to bring home some gemstones, drop by Jewellery Friedrich at the Goethestrasse, the 5 th Avenue of Frankfurt’s Manhattan, just two subway stations away from my service residence. I once had to shop there for one of the residents at a serviced residence I worked at and was impressed by the impeccable service. The shop only allows limited walk-in customers to protect the privacy of its shoppers. The award-winning jewellery is known for its exquisite designs and quality gemstones; and count European royalty and international celebrities amongst its many patrons. This is the perfect place to purchase a family heirloom.
Jewellery is one of the best ways to pass on family tradition. My favourite jewellery is a pearl and silver bracelet and matching earrings that my grandmother gave to me just before she passed away.
Have a Dazzling Drink
As you wind down your day of treasure-hunting, have a drink. I recommend a fittingly named Jewel Cocktail, a dizzying mix of green chartreuse, gin, sweet vermouth, orange bitters and maraschinos cherries.
While Frankfurt can dazzle you with its delights, if you want another kind of dazzling experience, treasure-hunting and gemstone-gawking in the quaint city of Idar-Oberstein is a fine choice.
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