Short Trip to Echternach, the Oldest Town in Luxembourg

November 2021: I deliberately planned a 20-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, to visit Luxembourg on a day trip. Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in Europe, is also the wealthiest country per capita. At first, I planned to rent a car and do the four-hour drive myself from Frankfurt to the oldest town in Luxembourg, Echternach, which lies on the border of Germany and Luxembourg, on the other side of the Sauer River. But after my last trip to Poland recently, when I did this battling to stay awake after a long flight, I decided it would be safer to hire a taxi for a day trip. This way I could just relax and enjoy the countryside and not worry about staying awake. Being the off-season, we found a good deal on a driver for the day that wasn’t much more expensive than if I rented a car.

I wasn’t sure if we could officially visit Luxembourg because the country required the European Covid Vax card and did not allow the American CDC Vax card. But I also knew that there would be no border guards at the country border of Germany and Luxembourg once in the European Union, so there would be no one to check our vax cards. In the end, it didn’t matter anyway because days before our trip, Luxembourg officially accepted the American CDC Vax card.

 

Luxembourg Background

Luxembourg, a small country that prospers primarily in the banking sector, has a long political history of being dominated by its more prominent and influential neighbors like Germany and France. The primary languages are German, French, and a unique dialect that is a mixture of Luxembourgish. The country sat in the crossroads of much destruction left in the wake of invading armies in WWI and WWII. Most recently, in WWII, the Ardennes Forest along the border of Germany was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in world history, the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was Germany’s last stand to defend the German homeland from the western armies.

                   Location of Echternach

The drive across Germany to Luxembourg was rural and beautiful. It was late November and a little chilly, but only in the 40’s, and there was no snow. As we approached Luxembourg, we descended into a foggy river valley. The fog painted an eerie mood to the ancient village of Echternach. Echternach has a history that dates back to Roman times when the Romans inhabited the area. Christian monks settled in remote hermitages in the valley and some caves when the Romans left. The area became a medieval village of 5000 people with old churches, castles, and beautiful architecture that is a mix of French, German and Dutch styles. Much of the town was decimated during WWII during the Battle of the Bulge. 

          Old Stone Bridge Crossing Sauer River into Luxembourg 

Paula Looking Passed the Sauer River

Statue of one of the founding monks of the area

We parked the car and easily walked the village of Echternach. It was a sleepy November foggy morning, and we explored admiring the architecture and old buildings. 

            Old Buildings

   Medieval Building 

Castle Fortification 

We entered an old church and naturally found the darker tunnels that led into the crypts of the founding monks were kept. Outside the church was the entrance of a cave that was fenced off. It contained a sign marking the cave as the home of a hermit who once lived within its depths. 

     The old church and its walls dominate the town extending around the medieval town. 

The old church and its walls dominate the town extending around the medieval town. 

Entrance to the cave hermitage. If the entrance wasn’t on a visible street, I would have hopped the fence to explore the cave.

We had breakfast in one of the cafes where little old men gossip about politics while sipping their morning coffee. Before we could sit down, we were asked to show our Covid vaccine cards required for indoor dining in Luxembourg and Germany.

While we relaxed at breakfast, I tried to imagine the peaceful little town that now existed and the hell it must have been during the Battle of the Bulge as German forces made their last stand against invading American and Western forces.

Memorial Plaque to the Battle of the Bulge on a passing building 

In the early afternoon, we had to head back to Frankfurt airport to catch our flight to South Africa. On the way, we stopped in the German town of Trier, just across the border about 30 minutes. We wanted to see the old Roman ruins of Porta Nigra, which are the remains of a sizeable Roman City gate built in 170 AD. After the Romans left, the building was used as a church until Napolean Bonaparte later ordered it to be returned to its Roman form. We visited the ruins and a Christmas market located in the square nearby and then we headed back to Frankfurt.

Porta Nigra Roman Gate

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