The cultural center of the Palatinate and the central starting-point for wonderful hiking and holiday areas, Kaiserslautern owes its name to Emperor Barbarossa. The beauty of the countryside impressed him so much 800 years ago that he had a palace built in 'Lautern' for himself. The seemingly endless forests have enchanted Count Palatine Johann Casiir, known from history as the legendary huntsman, the 'Jäger aus Kurpfalz'.
Archaeological evidence in the form of a sarcophagus found in 1895 revealed that the mountaintop on which Hohenecken Castle was constructed was fortified as early as Roman times. The final departure of the Romans in 406 AD left the area almost completely uninhabited for several centuries. In 1152, Frederick I (called Barbarossa because of his red beard) started fortifying the Palatinate, building a castle at Lautern and a number of surrounding fortifications, of which the largest was Hohenecken. The Emperor himself often stayed at this palace, which caused the city to be known centuries later as Barbarossa's City.
In 1276, Lautern was granted a city charter by King Rudolf von Habsburg. At this time, a great hall church, the Collegiate Church, was built. Occupation by Spanish, Swedish and French troops during the Thirty Years' War devastated the Medieval city. Under Napoleon, Kaiserslautern was made the seat of a sous-prefecture. After the end of Napoleon's era, the city and the Palatinate area as a whole became part of Bavaria. In the middle of the 19th Century, the Fruchthalle was built, in which the revolutionary government of the Palatinate assembled.
After the First World War, French troops occupied the Palatinate again for several years. However, World War II had a more significant impact on the town. More than 60% of the city was destroyed by Allied air attacks. After the war, the economic pace remained slow and it was not until 1952 that construction of the newly-established garrisons of American troops brought some more money into the area.
The pretty Martinsplatz (St. Martin's Square), the gateway to the old city, displays fragments of architecture from six centuries of civic history. Its pedestal is composed of 10 reproductions of old boundary stones. At one side of the beautiful square once stood the Kaufhaus, which was used for storing the city's grain reserves. You'll also find the Old City Hall here, dating from 1745 and now home to the municipal music school, the House of the Family Rettig, built in the middle of the 18th Century, and the Hotel Zum Donnersberg, where Napoleon once breakfasted.
One of the tallest buildings in the city-center of Kaiserslautern, the Town Hall offers a bar and coffee shop with splendid views of the town and surrounding countryside.
Another highlight is the Collegiate Church. It is considered to be the most significant late Gothic hall church in southwest Germany. Kaiserpfalz Castle, just next to St. Martin's Square, offers impressive ruins to visitors. An interesting landmark is the large Japanese botanical gardens. Another unusual feature is the largest swimming pool in Europe (Waschmühle), 160 meters long, which can be seen from outer space. The major focus of the town's nightlife, with plenty of restaurants and bars, is the district around St-Martins-Platz. On the museum scene is the Palatine Gallery, which was founded in 1874 as a Museum of Trades and Crafts, and today its main focus falls upon painting and sculpture from the 19th to 21st Centuries. Located in Germany' s largest forest area (Pfälzer Wald), Kaiserslautern and its surroundings also offer numerous hiking trails and lakes.