Eifel's location shaped its character, history

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
From volcanic remnants to Roman ruins to Christian relics, the Eifel region offers a variety of artifacts and ways for visitors to see its historical past. 

About 400 million years ago, the parts of Germany and Belgium now called the Eifel and Ardennes were situated near the equator and were covered by a warm, shallow sea. Sediment from the sea bed changed into the dolomite, limestone and clay resources found throughout the Eifel that later became the basis for pottery and other industries that determined the landscape and lives of the people here. 

Parts of the Eifel were formed by volcanic activity, and the region is dotted with volcanic craters. Several volcanic lakes, or Maare, are located around the towns of Daun and Gillenfeld. Although the last volcanic eruptions happened 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, whether the Eifel can or should ever expect volcanic activity in the future is uncertain. 

Roamin' Romans 
While the geological history of the Eifel goes back millions of years, one historic event may have influenced the entire Eifel region more than any other -- the Gallic War.
From 58-50 B.C., the Romans, under Julius Caesar, defeated the Celts and began to settle in the valley along the Mosel River. 

Trier, originally called Treverer by the Celts, became a Mosel trading center. With a population of almost 80,000 inhabitants, it became a Roman sub-capital that controlled the vast Western Empire areas of Belgium and central Germany. 

Over a 400-year period, numerous Roman structures were built in Trier, including the city walls, of which only the Porta Nigra gate remains today. The city also boasts several Roman baths, cathedrals and an amphitheater. Trier's original Roman-built Roemer bridge has survived 2,000 years of flooding, ice and war and still connects both sides of the city. From 293 until 395, several Roman Kings lived in Trier, the most famous being King Constantine, who made Trier a center of Christianity. 

Many Romans also lived in the city of Cologne or Köln. One of the greatest Roman engineering masterpieces was a viaduct that provided Cologne residents fresh drinking water from the Eifel mountains. Roman estates in the city were quite comfortable, including hot-water baths, heated floors and decorative mosaics and frescoes. People can see a sample of the mosaic floors at Roman Villa Otrang, located near Bitburg. 

The Mosel area was a very important region for trade. The Saar, Mosel, Ruwer and Rhine rivers were within reach and allowed the Romans to control the waterways and shipping to many different locations. The city of Koblenz owes its name and existence to Caesar for recognizing the important location of the Confluentes, or merging rivers. 

The history of Mosel wines dates back to the year 600 B.C. when the Celts imported the first wine from Italy. In 1985, an old wine facility was excavated in Piesport on the Mosel. The stone storage basin tanks held about 41,500 liters. Also found were smoke chambers used to ferment the wine faster. 

Over time, the Romans further developed the wine industry along the Mosel. The Mosel offers an ideal climate and soil conditions for growing wine grapes. The Romans also brought the art of pottery making. About 100 ancient pottery businesses thrived between Speicher, Herforst and Binsfeld. 

The Romans were attacked in the middle of the fourth century by the Frankens and the Germans, which inspired the Romans to leave the Eifel. During the attacks and after the Romans left, many structures were destroyed or neglected, and culture in the Eifel region sank back 100 years. 

Down at the crossroads
The Eifel's location at a crossroads of cultural, linguistic and geographic borders helped shape its character, people, language and history. The region bridges areas steeped in German and French heritage. 

Quality of life in the Eifel continued to suffer after the Roman departure until the reign of King Chlodwig of France (482-511 A.D.). Chlodwig adopted the Roman language and converted the area to the Roman Catholic religion. 

Catholicism spread throughout Germany, and large cloisters were founded over the years. Three facilities played essential roles in the Eifel area: the Stablo-Malmedy cloister, constructed in 650 A.D.; the Echternach cloister in 698 A.D.; and the Pruem cloister in 721 A.D. For hundreds of years, the cloisters held a strong influence over the people who lived here. The Eifel later fell under the rule of the Catholic Church in Trier, and religious minorities had to convert to Catholicism. 

Under the elector Balduin from Luxembourg, the Eifel fell under the Luxembourg administration. This explains why the national language of Luxembourg, known as Luxembourgish, is similar to the Southeifel dialect. Luxembourgish originated from Germanic languages and mixes grammatical aspects and vocabulary from German, French and English. 

French and German troops marched back and forth across the Eifel during the Thirty Years' War. France's King Louis the 14th ordered most of the Eifel's castles and battlements destroyed, which is why most castles in the area are in ruins. 

Battles between French and German forces are re-enacted today during the "Rhein in Flames" fireworks celebrations in the summer and in places like Bernkastel-Kues during the September wine fest, where dueling fireworks displays battle between hilltop castles and riverboat artillery. 

The Eifel again belonged to France following Napoleon's conquest in the 19th century. Germany was then divided into many small cities. 

Good times, bad times
The Eifel area became quite poor in the mid 19th century following several bad harvests and war devastation. Wolves terrorized the area for 20 years around 1838, requiring entire communities to take part in wolf hunts. During this time, many people from the Eifel emigrated to the United States and Australia. The people who stayed continued to struggle to survive, mainly as farmers who had to take care of their families. 

Until the end of World War I, Germany was an emperor state. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was ordered to pay for war damages, which put the country deep into debt. Great poverty developed and nine million Germans suffered, unemployed. Hitler took Germany's poverty to his advantage. He promised jobs and bread to all. The Eifel was heavily impacted by World War II. The memories of horrible times that happened more than 60 years ago remain in Eifel people's minds. Despite such hardships, people from the Eifel were historically described as ambitious, loyal and helpful. 

The Eifel is filled with culture and special prosperity, brought about by handmade products that were treasured in the entire empire. Wrought iron and cast iron from Manderscheid is sold worldwide. The Eifel has cattle, milk and dairies. It has many fish and produces fruit for its own consumption. 

For more than 50 years now, the people from the Eifel have become close friends with Americans. Mutual understanding and acceptance for each other's lives and culture made this friendship stand the test of time. The U.S. military came to Bitburg Air Base in 1951 and took over Spangdahlem Air Base in 1953. 

Nowadays, the Eifel has become an attractive tourist region with its rich culture and beautiful landscapes. People from all over the world trek through the countryside to explore or come to try some of the finest wines and help celebrate traditional festivals, where they can taste delicious specialties.