In the Lower Rhine Valley, a short way west of the river is Moers, an understated former mining city with a sweet old centre. Moers’ historic core is still walled by zigzagging ramparts behind a moat. That water defence was an effective way of keeping enemies out hundreds of years ago due to a system of locks that could flood the low-lying land around the city.
Behind the ramparts is the city’s stronghold, Moerser Schloss, once a fortress and now a palace housing the city’s museum and set in a spacious English park. Around Moers there are vestiges of the city’s Medieval past, as well as its industrial heritage at a high spoil tip where the contemporary artist Otto Piene designed a monumental sculpture in 2007.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Moers:
1. Moerser Schloss
First raised for the Counts of Moers in the 1100s, the city’s castle is a moated fortress that was beefed up by Maurice, Prince of Orange in the 17th century.
In its day the castle would have been hard to capture because it sat on an isolated island between low-lying marshland on the left bank of the Rhine.
But an assault by Frederick the Great in 1763 left the defences obsolete, and after that time the castle became a residence for Heinrich Wintgens, a local textiles entrepreneur.
Go in to see the Grafschafter Museum, which we’ll talk about next, or while away a summer afternoon in the grounds at the Schlosspark.
2. Grafschafter Museum
The castle’s interior is given over to a museum on the history of the building, the noble families that used to reside in it and daily life in Moers down the ages.
There are 19 exhibition rooms to peruse, the largest of which is the Rittersaal (Knights’ Hall), which has carved wooden panelling and is decorated with tapestries from the 17th century.
In the castle’s apartments there’s a four poster bed and cabinet from the 1700s, and pottering around you can check out costumes, a collection of dollhouses, furniture, ceramics and tools from every era.
Also make time for the Roman-era artefacts from the settlement of Asciburgium.
The land around the castle had been derelict after Frederick the Great’s destruction of the fortifications in 1764. But at the start of the 19th century Heinrich Wintgens converted this space, including its moat and historic ramparts, into a private park.
The exotic trees and English landscape design remain today.
The property was later bought by Moers as a park for its growing mining population, and later in the 20th century extra leisure facilities were added just south in the new Freizeitpark.
You can also follow the course of the zigzagging fortifications, which border the Schlosspark on its west side and enclose the entire Altstadt.
4. Halde Rheinpreußen
Close to a bend in the Rhine in the north of the municipality is a spoil tip that hits a height of over 100 metres.
The Halde Rheinpreußen is piled with waste from pit 5/9 of the Rheinpreußen mine in the 1960s, but what makes it special is the landmark that was placed on its summit in 2007. The artist Otto Piene, a former member of the ZERO group, conceived a 28-metre tower, reminiscent of a mining tower as a tribute to this industry.
There are stairs up to an observation deck to look along the Lower Rhine valley, while the tower’s glow at night can be seen across the landscape.
5. Schlosstheater Moers
For fans of the arts who also have a grasp of German, the castle’s vaults have housed a theatre since 1975. The Schlosstheater has a separate entrance and with a capacity of 150 is a small but well-regarded cultural venue.
Ever since it was set up more than 40 years ago the theatre has had a reputation for its experimental productions and social criticism, garnering an array of prizes and nominations in the last 15 years alone.
In 2006 the director Barbara Wachendorff was nominated for Der Faust, the German national theatre prize, for a production about Alzheimer’s.
6. Turmmuseum in der Repelener Dorfkirche
The church in the village of Repelen has been proven to be one of the seven oldest in Germany.
This dates back to the 700s, but the current architecture is made up of a 12th-century Romanesque basilica with a slightly later Gothic choir.
To document the long history of the building there’s a small museum inside, which you can see on a guided tour.
This allows you to go right to the top of the old bell-tower, while in showcases there are bibles and historic books from the 16th onwards.
7. Obere Wassermühle
Water has always been vital to Moers, as the city was defended by a moat.
In times of peace this would be drained with the help of a lock system, but when the city was under threat the meadows around the city could be flooded and made completely impassable.
Moers’ last surviving water mill is at the site of one such lock.
The mill was first marked on a map in 1591. The mill has been restored to its 17th-century appearance in stages over the last 20 years or so.
There’s now a water wheel inside, while the interior has an exhibition about the historic process of turning grain into bread.
8. Stadtkirche Moers
The city’s main church used to belong to a Carmelite monastery and was first built in the middle of the 15th century.
The church then fell to victim to a city-wide fire at the start of the 17th century and Maurice of Orange oversaw the reconstruction around the 1650s.
At the southern transept you can still make out an inscription from the year 1655, while the rib vaults in the nave deserve a few minutes.
The church’s organ dates to 1787, and on the pillars beside it you can see where the limewash flaked off to reveal original 17th-century frescoes, showing St Anne, Mary and Jesus in one image and St Barbara in another.
Joining with the Schlosspark to the north the Freizeitpark is somewhere for Moers’ residents to get out and be active.
The park was landscaped on the banks of the Moersbach stream in 1960 and there’s plenty to get up to, especially if you’re in search of something for younger members of the clan.
The park has a petting zoo with goats and chickens, in addition to playgrounds and a mini-golf course.
In winter you can bring young ones to go sledding on the special slope, while in summer you can hire a rowboat at the park’s lake or grab a cool drink at the cafe.
This park has an interesting past as it was founded by Emanuel Felke, a renowned early advocate of natural medicine.
He set up the park in the village of Repelen in 1898 funded by devoted local citizens, as a space to practise his homeopathic healing methods.
In the years that followed Repelen, with the Jungbornpark at its centre, became a health resort of international profile, although almost all traces of that time except for the park itself have been lost.
Over the last decade the park has been renovated with a bandstand, barefoot walking path and water features.
Anyone keen to find out more about Emanuel Felke can find a museum in a reproduction of one of the wooden spa huts that used to be set in the park.
In the hut there are information panels about Felke’s life as an evangelical pastor, and his natural healing methods.
Around the hut are gardens growing medicinal, aromatic and culinary herbs, while two clay baths have been excavated and appear as they did when the resort was at its peak 100 years ago.
At Neumarkt in Moers’ city centre, the Peschkenhaus is a monument that merits a detour.
This listed building is far older than it might seem at first; parts of the Peschkenhaus go back to the 1400s, making it the oldest townhouse in the city.
At the end of the 1700s it was given a Neoclassical update and that’s the style that has made it to the 21st century.
Until 2002 the building housed Moers’ municipal gallery, and now it’s a community centre, used for weddings, meetings and talks, along with contemporary art exhibitions.
13. Kolonie Meerbeck
You can see firsthand the changes that happened in Moers during industrialisation by visiting this neighbourhood that was purposely built for miners starting in 1900. Before that time Meerbeck was a village of just 200, but developed into a settlement for thousands.
Almost 9,000 people live here today in traditional-style gabled houses on tree-lined streets.
The first inhabitants at the start of the 20th century worked at shaft 4 of the Rheinpreußen colliery.
As the mines closed down, Kolonie Meerbeck’s future was uncertain until 1980 when the city bought a parcel of the neighbourhood and invested in its restoration.
Germany’s longest cycle route runs straight through Moers.
The 2,000-kilometre NiederRheinroute is a signposted network drawn up to follow low-traffic roads.
You’ll coast through historic city centres, remote woodland, floodplains and past lakes, and historic landmarks like mills and castles.
And you’ll never have to pedal for too long before arriving at a restaurant or cafe on the route, and you could use the network for a day trip from Moers.
If this sounds like your kind of thing the city information office in Moers will equip you with a map.
The world’s largest inland port is barely 10 kilometres east of Moers.
If you want to continue your industrial odyssey in the Rhine and Ruhr, you couldn’t pick a better next stop than Duisburg.
The Inner Harbour, where seagoing steamships were once unloaded is now a cultural and entertainment quarter.
The enormous old grain silos here have become galleries and museums where you can learn about figures like the map-maker extraordinaire, Gerardus Mercator, who lived in Duisburg in the 16th century.
Inland shipping is a big theme in Duisburg, and the city’s Inland Waterways Museum is an excellent attraction in a converted Art Nouveau swimming pool.
Beyond that, there’s a highly-rated zoo and an award-winning public park built at a preserved coal and steel plant.