In the 8th century the First Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne founded Paderborn around the many springs that feed the River Pader. Paderborn remains a city of Medieval wonders like a cathedral holding the relics of the 4th-century Saint Liborius.
1,200 years after his remains were brought to the city St Liborius is still celebrated by a cheerful city festival in summer that mixes a fair with a holy procession. The bishopric established by Charlemagne became the seat of Imperial Prince-Bishops who wielded both political and religious power, and whose marvellous Renaissance palace is still standing tall.
In the 10th century Paderborn was chosen as a residence by Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, and the remnants of his palace and a Byzantine-style church are open to visitors.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Paderborn:
1. Paderborn Cathedral
The mesmerising cathedral has been the site of a church since Charlemagne founded a bishopric at this very location in the 8th century.
As we see it now, Paderborn Cathedral’s architecture is both Romanesque and Gothic and was completed relatively quickly during the 13th century.
The powerful 93-metre western tower is Paderborn’s most famous image.
Despite sustaining war damage that destroyed the Medieval stained glass, the cathedral is rich with decoration and fittings.
Seek out the Paradise Portal on the southern arm of the western nave.
This entrance is from the beginning of the 1200s and abounds with French-style statues that include one of the earliest images of a standing Mary in Germany.
Also look out for the Pietà, sculpted in Hesse in 1360, an alabaster relief of the Three Kings from around that time, and the Gothic 15th-century Margarethenaltar.
2. Heinz Nixdorf Museumsforum
The largest computer museum in the world is hosted by the former premises of Nixdorf Computer AG. The HNF guides you through five millennia of information and communication technology, from the origin of the written word in Ancient Mesopotamia to 21st-century concepts like artificial intelligence, the Internet and robotics.
There are more than 2,000 exhibits to ponder: Downstairs are artefacts like Egyptian hieroglyphics, early printing presses, 17th-century adding machines, pinwheel calculators and telegraphs.
The upper floor is all about the modern day, and has an assortment of classic computers like the Altair 8800, Apple Lisa, a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A and a Cray-2 supercomputer.
3. Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum Paderborn
With an incredible variety of sacred art from the 900s to the 1900s, Paderborn’s diocesan museum is the oldest in the German speaking world.
It was founded in 1853 as a kind of repository for liturgical works that no had a place in the diocese’s churches.
In 1975 the museum moved into a new building, conceived to resemble a treasure box and built on the southwest corner of the cathedral tower.
Lovers of medieval art won’t know where to begin; the Romanesque Imad Madonna from the 1050s is one of the oldest depictions of Mary in western art, together with manuscripts, paintings on wood and canvas, and an invaluable portable altar by the 12th-century goldsmith Roger of Helmarshausen.
4. Museum in der Kaiserpfalz
In 1964 the foundation walls of the Paderborn’s Kaiserpfalz (seat of the Holy Roman Emperor) were discovered next to the cathedral.
These vestiges date to the 700s and have been incorporated into the design of the museum that was built around it.
You can delve into the history of Paderborn and Westphalia from the 8th century to the 12th century.
There are artefacts uncovered in digs like glassware, wall paintings, jewellery and architectural fragments, as well as exhibits that open a window on building techniques in the Early Middle Ages.
Just beside the cathedral and attached to the Kaiserpfalz is the oldest known hall church north of the Alps .The Bartholomäuskapelle is a Byzantine-style temple that has no architectural equivalent in Germany . It dates to roughly 1017 and was built not long after the Kaiserpfalz.
The church has Byzantine dome vaults, while the decorative capitals atop the twin central row of columns are considered some of the most skilled examples of art from the Ottonian period in Germany.
What’s also remarkable is that the church has come through a millennium intact, and avoided any real damage in the Second World War.
The refined Baroque church in the centre of the city was completed in just ten years between 1682 and 1692. Originally the Marktkirche was a counter-reformation Jesuit church, and the lavish ornamentation on the pulpit and altar reflects that spirit.
Originally installed in 1696 century, the high altar is 20 metres high, sporting gilded Solomonic columns, putti, rich paintings and the Jesuit coat of arms.
The original was lost in the war and between 1989 and 2004 was painstakingly reconstructed over eight phases at a total cost of €4m.
7. Paderborn Rathaus
At the start of the 17th century on the orders of the Prince-Bishop Dietrich von Fürstenberg the city replaced its old town hall with a magnificent new building in the Weser Renaissance style.
In the arcades on the ground floor you can detect a Florentine influence and further up are three beautifully ornamented gables broken by mullioned windows and crested by a weather vane.
The building came through a few refurbishments, the most recent in the 1870s before it was almost levelled in the war.
After that its redecoration was led by the local artist Josefthomas Brinkschröder and completed by 1954.
8. Schloss Neuhaus
The residence for Paderborn’s Prince-Bishops, Schloss Neuhaus was begun in the 1200s and was extended over the next 300 years by each of its famous inhabitants.
The most visible contribution was by Erich von Braunschweig-Grubenhagen in the 1520s when he gave the palace its Weser Renaissance facade.
On the western gable, see if you can make out the reclining stone figure of a man.
This is a memorial to a roofer who was supposedly killed by a member of the Prince-Bishop Ferdinand von Fürstenberg’s hunting party to prove his marksmanship.
The perpetrator escaped capture but returned to the scene of the crime years later and was promptly arrested and executed.
The Baroque formal gardens host the “Schloßsommer”, a series of concerts and exhibitions in summer.
9. Deutsches Traktoren- und Modellauto-Museum
In a showroom on a trading estate in Paderborn’s northern outskirts is a museum endowed with a massive collection of vintage tractors.
There are more than 120, all restored and polished, and together they demonstrate the advances in technology from the 1920s to the post-war period.
The collection was put together by the logistics mogul Oskar Vogel and has models by Porsche, MAN, Deutz, Lanz, Hanomag and Eicher.
Another neat touch is an authentic Shell filling station from the 1920s, while the museum also has a 10,000-strong fleet of model cars, trucks and tractors of different scales and by brands like Siku, Wiking and Herpa.
10. Das Adam-und-Eva-Haus
At Am Abdinghof 11 is one of the oldest and finest half-timbered houses in Paderborn.
This gabled, three-storey house dates from 1560, and what makes it obligatory is the decoration on the facade.
Starting below the gable there are three carved friezes.
The lowest of these is the one that gives the house its name, depicting the story of Adam and Eve, starting with their creation and ending with their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The carvings are hallmarks of the Weser Renaissance style, and also an treasured document from the Reformation.
Up to 2015 the house contained Paderborn’s city museum, and is currently closed, awaiting a new tenant.
In case you still have an appetite for medieval religious architecture, the Busdorfkirche is another enigmatic building consecrated in 1036 by Bishop Meinwerk.
Originally this collegiate church was outside the city walls, but was absorbed into Paderborn late in the 11th century.
The first octagonal design was based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the western facade and two circular towers with conical roofs are all from the original building.
It’s not hard to work out where the later additions were made, as the Busdorfkirche was given a ceremonious Baroque porch and portal in the 17th century.
Inside you can spend a while perusing the 13th-century wooden crucifix, Gothic tabernacle and baptismal font, and epitaphs from the 1400s to the 1700s.
Paderborn’s answer to the problem of medieval water supply was to build small stone reservoirs or “Kümpe” in its squares.
These were fed by the city’s springs using an elaborate system of pumps and wooden pipes.
This method dates back to the 1400s and is only replicated in a select few German towns.
As well as providing water for drinking and washing, the fountains also helped fight fires after devastating blazes in the 16th century.
You can still see “Kümpe” in front of the Rathaus, the Franziskanerkirche on Westernstraße and most memorably the statue of St Liborius at the corner of Kamp and Liboristraße.
13. The Pader River
Now, Paderborn has the distinction of being on the shortest river in Germany.
A left tributary of the Lippe, the Pader is only four kilometres long, despite being broad and having a high volume.
The large amount of water conducted by the river comes from some 200 springs around the city, an upshot of the unusual karstic geology under Paderborn.
The biggest concentration is in two parks, the Park Paderquellen and the Paderquellgebiet.
In the latter you’ll come across the Warme Pader, which is warmer than the rest, coming out at 15°C and producing steam on cold days in winter.
Once a Benedictine monastery, the Abdinghofkirche was also founded in the 11th century by Bishop Meinwerk, and has two Romanesque towers looming over the Paderquellgebiet.
Meinwerk chose this church as his burial place and his sarcophagus was returned here in 1958 after being switched between this building and the cathedral several times since the 15th century.
Inside, a lot of what you see is actually from the 19th century as the church had been in disrepair before a big restoration.
Most of the original decoration had been lost when the monastery was plundered during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, but the real appeal of the Abdinghofkirche comes from long, narrow nave and side vaults.
For nine days beginning on the first Saturday after 23 July Paderborn is given over to a festival going back to 836 when the relics of St Liborius of Le Mans were brought to the city.
Now, the celebration has both secular and religious events: On the Saturday, the shrine and relics lifted from the cathedral crypt and displayed in the choir, and then there’s a solemn procession with the shrine on the Sunday.
On the non-religious side there’s all kind of fun, at a fairground 1.6 kilometres in length at the Liboriberg and the Pottmarkt by the cathedral where handicrafts and traditional delicacies are sold.
In front of the Rathaus meanwhile is the Bierbrunnen, literally a beer fountain, in which beer is poured from a large traditional keg by men in tunics bearing the town’s colours.