In rural and hilly south Westphalia, Siegen is a university city that was once a residence for the Counts of Nassau. That noble family had a difficult period in the 17th century when it broke into a Catholic and a Protestant line.
The Catholics lived in the Oberes Schloss (Upper Palace), on the Seigberg, which has a museum about Siegerland region. The Protestants chose the Unteres Schloss in the lower town, now a university building.
In German Siegen has been dubbed the Rubensstadt, as it is the birthplace of the Baroque master, Peter Paul Rubens. A contemporary art prize in Rubens’ name is awarded five years to heavyweights of the art world, and Sigmar Polke and Francis Bacon are among the recipients.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Siegen:
1. Oberes Schloss
On the 307-metre Sieberg hill is a palace dating to 1259. The Oberes Schloss began as a fortification, joint owned by the Counts of Nassau and Archbishops of Cologne.
Later in the 1400s the Counts of Nassau became the sole lords of the castle and the city, and the property became a little more refined following a fire in the early 16th century.
The rebuild gave the palace its Gotische Halle (Gothic Hall) on the upper floor and Oraniersaal (Orange room) on the second floor.
In the 1700s the palace’s interior was reworked in the Baroque style and in 1905 it became the venue for the Siegerlandmuseum, which we’ll talk about next.
In the Oberes Schloss is a museum for the art and history of the Siegerland region.
There’s no question what the big draw is here: The Rubens-Saal has 10 ten large paintings by the Old Master Peter Paul Rubens, who was born in Siegen in 1577. In this collection is a version of The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, painted in 1618. There are also portraits of all of the members of the Orange and Nassau lines, as well as information about the 2,500-year history of iron ore mining and smelting in the region.
The Gotische Haal is also marvellous for its flooring, which has greywacke stones in a herringbone pattern.
3. Schlosspark Siegen
Outside, the old palace gardens are now a 2.3-hectare park.
The Schlosspark was opened to the public in 1888 when the castle was acquired from the Prussia Empire.
The park is partly walled by Siegberg’s historic fortifications, and you can climb bastions and ramparts for views of the city and the Hüttental beyond . There are many tall, mature trees in the park, as well as flowerbeds, a cafe and a playground for youngsters.
A fantastic time to be in the Schlosspark is spring, when 60,000 tulips are in bloom.
And then in summer there are outdoor concerts at the park’s bandstand.
4. Schlossplatz Unteres Schloss
The history of the Nassau-Siegen house is complicated because in 1623 it divided into a Catholic and a Protestant line.
The Protestants took up residence in a former monastery down in the city centre, some way west of the Oberes Schloss.
The distinguishing feature of the Unteres Schloss is the Dicke Turm (roughly, fat tower), which went up in 1721 and holds a carillon chiming every day at 12:00, 14:00, 16:00 and 18:00. Since the Protestant line ended in 1722 the tower has had a host of occupants, including the regional government after Siegerland came under Prussian yoke in 1815, and a court from 1864 to 1976. After a restoration it now holds the University of Siegen’s library and business faculty.
Schlossplatz, the square in front hosts open-air cinema screenings in summer, and sets up a big screen when the German national football team play in international competitions.
5. Museum für Gegenwartskunst
On the south side of Schlossplatz, in a former telegraph building and its modern extension is Siegen’s museum for contemporary art.
The museum exhibits the Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection, which assembles all the winners of the Siegen’s Rubens Prize.
This pan-European prize has been given out every five years since 1957, and has been awarded to Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon, Sigmar Polke, Hans Hartung and Lucien Freud.
The most recent winner was Swiss Minimalist Niele Toroni in 2017. There are also three or four temporary exhibitions a year for specific artists, movements or themes.
Recent exhibitions have had pieces by Mischa Kuball, Sigmar Polke, Takako Saito and Francis Bacon.
At the highest point of the Siegberg, in Siegen’s medieval core stands the Nikolaikirche, raised in the first half of the 13th century.
The church’s 50-metre tower is impossible to miss for its red and white paint scheme.
At the top of the tower is the Krönchen, a shining symbol for Siegen.
This is a replica for the two-metre, gilded wrought iron crown from 1658. The original hangs above the portal just inside.
Another thing that sets the Nikolaikirche aside is its nave, which has a hexagonal layout.
This goes back to the church’s first Romanesque building and is the only church north of the Alps with this design.
As a mining and smelting city, Siegen was a target for allied bombing raids in the Second World War and was almost completely levelled in one attack on 16 December 1944. But just below the town hall a cluster of old houses from the 1700s were undamaged.
Some have slate cladding, while others are half-timbered.
You can find them on Oberer Metzgerstraße, Löhrstraße and Hainstraße, and in Medieval times these streets hosted the city’s tanners’ and butchers’ guilds.
In September the Altstadtfest on Pfarrer-Ochse-Platz attracts around 10,000 people and brings German and international food stalls, street theatre and concerts in the city’s three churches
8. Aktives Museum Südwestfalen
One street south of the Schlossplatz is a museum about National Socialism in south Westphalia at a historically charged location.
The Aktives Museum opened in 1996 in a bunker constructed 1941. This structure is on the site of Siegen’s synagogue, which was burnt down during Kristallnacht in 1938. So there’s an emphasis on Jewish history at the museum, along with other persecuted groups like the Romani minority, the disabled and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
You can view a profile of Walter Krämer, an prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration, who used self-taught medical skills to treat fellow inmates.
For this he was posthumously awarded the Righteous Among the Nations honorific by the State of Israel in 2000.
9. Reinhold Forster Erbstollen
In the Eiserfeld district is a half-kilometre mining tunnel open to guided tours during the summer.
The Reinhold Forster Erbstollen is an adit, a horizontal gallery accessing the Eisenzecher Zug ore composite mine.
Dating back to the 15th century and operating until 1960, this was a huge operation, with more than 20 interconnected pits.
At the entrance there’s a striking Neoclassical portal dating to 1879 and bearing the date of 1805 when the gallery was excavated.
The Reinhold Forster Erbstollen was dug to support the Tretenbacher Gänge, passages that descend as far as 1,300 metres.
10. Alter Flecken, Freudenberg
Within 15 kilometres west of Siegen is one of south Westphalia’s most treasured scenes.
The Alter Flecken is the town of Freudenberg’s unblemished historic core, composed of almost identical gabled half-timbered buildings.
All these houses date from around the same period, in the 16th and 17th century.
That’s because a fire destroyed Freudenberg’s castle in 1540, and Wilhelm, the Count of Nassau decided to build his new residence outside the town.
This left an empty space to build houses on four parallel streets: Marktstraße, Mittelstraße, Unterstraße and Poststraße, and water channels and wells were installed as a fire prevention measure.
11. Monte Schlacko
In the Geisweid district, not far from the university is a strange landform sometimes called “Fujijama”, after Mount Fuji.
That makes sense, because this slag heap, climbing to 373.8 metres above sea level has a peculiar conical shape.
The heap is made up of waste material from the Bremer Hütte metallurgical plant from 1900 onwards.
The rubble was carried to this spot from the blast furnaces using a cable car.
Monte Schlacko is the highest prominence in Siegen, and due to its nutrient-poor soil is only partly covered by vegetation.
Where there is life it is protected as a nature reserve due to the unusual plants and animals that flourish in this environment.
12. Tierpark Niederfischbach
Visiting Siegen with little ones you can take a family day out to this animal park not far to the west of the city.
The Tierpark Niederfischbach has around 500 animals in three hectares of woodland.
The monkey house (Affenhaus) has southern white-cheeked gibbons and Barbary apes, and among the other exotic species at the park are pumas, Saki deer, Bennett kangaroos, and birds like laughing kookaburras, flamingos and rheas.
Between April and November the park stages falconry demonstrations, and there’s an enclosure where kids can make friends with Shetland ponies, goats and donkeys.
The wooded countryside around Siegen is some of the most sparsely populated in Germany, and if you’re ready to venture into this peaceful, mountainous landscape you could walk a section of the Rothaarsteig.
This 150-kilometre trail passes by just east of Siegen on the way south from Brilon to Dillenburg.
Siegen is near the southern stretch of the trail, you can get onto a side path on foot from the city.
These adjoining trails are signposted with a black “R” on its side over a yellow background, while the main trail has the same design with white on red.
14. City-Galerie Siegen
In Siegen’s lower town, close to the main train station is a mall that opened in 1998 and has 100 shops and services.
When the City-Galerie arrived it moved most of Siegen’s national chain stores to the lower town, while the upper town on Siegberg is where you can find independent and family owned shops.
Meanwhile the mall has all the retailers you’d expect to find on a German high street, like S.Oliver, Douglas, Esprit, NewYorker, Gamestop and Deichmann.
These are joined by a few national fast food chains, like the fish and chips restaurant Nordsee.
15. Siegerländer Krüstchen
If you’re in the mood for some local comfort food, one dish on the menu at every traditional restaurant around is a Siegerländer Krüstchen.
This is schnitzel (deep-fried or grilled escalope), with a fried egg on top, served on a slide of rye toast.
On the side you can normally choose from French fries, roasted potatoes or potato salad, as well as a salad and pickles.
The only true pairing to this dish is a tall glass of regional pilsner beer like Irle, Bosch, Erzqell, Krombacher or Ilsen.