Vibrant small town in Westphalia
The town’s motto is “So ist Soest” – that’s Soest! Of course, it immediately raises a number of questions. “So what exactly is Soest like?” asks the brochure published by the local tourist board. In a nutshell, Soest is a town with a medieval heart coupled with a vivacious spirit and body.
Soest may be a modern, welcoming district town in Westphalia, but one thorny issue is how to pronounce it! The answer is simple. Rhyming with ‘forced’, it’s just a single syllable beginning with a Z sound. That’s Soest!
In medieval times, Soest was an important, influential town. With Soest crossed by Westphalian Hellweg, one of the oldest trade routes in Europe, its entrepreneurial citizens developed extended trade links across Europe. Soest’s liberal commercial class also co-founded the Hanseatic League – a confederation of merchant guilds and later market towns. Soest’s town charter written on a cowhide served as a model for other towns near and far. The town archives contain unique medieval treasures documenting Soest’s proud history. The inhabitants of Soest were so strong-willed that when they grew dissatisfied with their ruler, Archbishop Dietrich of Cologne, they simply kicked him out and chose Duke of Cleves-Mark as his replacement. This was the start of the Soest Feud – a historic event still celebrated to this day as a medieval spectacle in the old town district.
Prominent buildings in Soest
The fact that the ‘secret capital of Westphalia’ (according to Soest’s official website) was one of the foremost towns in Westphalia at the time of the Hanseatic League is also evident from several imposing buildings there. One of them is the Church of St Mary of the Meadow built in 1313, one of Germany’s most beautiful late-Gothic hall churches. In the town centre is the colossal Romanesque tower of St Patroclus’s Church, popularly known as the Tower of Westphalia. Just a few paces away, the famous St Nicholas’s Chapel built in the 12th century almost appears to be crouching. On the other side of the pedestrian zone next to St Patroclus’s is St Peter’s, the oldest church in Soest. It dates back to the 8th century, making it the oldest church in Westphalia.
The people of Soest are especially proud of the almost completely preserved ramparts surrounding the town. It’s still possible to walk all the way around the town on the old wall – which is also a great way of seeing the lush gardens in the old town. Although Soest was once surrounded by ten town gates, the only one remaining is Osthofentor, which is definitely worth a visit. A walk along the ramparts or beside the streams is always a memorable experience, especially when the trees are in blossom.
The people of Soest are experts when it comes to carefully protecting and revitalizing their heritage. Private initiatives work hand in hand with the public sector to come up with exemplary schemes such as the elaborate restoration of green sandstone churches and half-timbered houses, repurposing historical buildings, and painstaking urban renewal.
Almost all genres of music and theatre can be enjoyed at the Alter Schlachthof civic centre and also the venue known as Stadthalle Soest. Top German comedians also enjoy performing in Soest. In addition, the town hosts a number of significant annual events such as the Soest Pub Festival in March, Bördetag in the old town every May, and the Summer Music Festival. Perhaps the biggest annual event is the five-day All Saints’ Fair in November. Held on an area of 6 hectares, it’s the biggest town-centre fair in Europe and has an atmosphere reminiscent of the famous Shrovetide carnival in the Rhineland.
Every year, this fair alone is attended by over a million people. When the number of people in Soest increases 20-fold every November, it’s not due to a mushrooming population or the early winter sales coupled with the Christmas market! Against the backdrop of the time-honoured churches, more than 400 stalls including over 40 rides fill the lanes when the fair opens on the first Wednesday after All Saints’ Day (1 November).
Soest has plenty to offer outdoor enthusiasts, day trippers and curiosity-seekers. For one thing, it’s one of the most bike-friendly towns in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia. And the Soest Börde is the perfect place to explore if you enjoy long cycle rides.
Attractions in the neighbouring health resort of Bad Sassendorf include the spa gardens, a craft market, a classic car rally and saltwater thermal baths. Visitors can go sailing on the Möhne Reservoir, hiking in the adjoining Arnsberg Forest, and mountain-biking and ice-skating in Echtrop. There are also various recreational amenities in the neighbouring towns in the Soest district.
Soest’s excellent transport links are appreciated not just by trade and industry, but also by residents and tourists. The A44 motorway is the fast track to nearby conurbations and eastern Germany, while Intercity and Intercity-Express trains depart several times a day from Soest railway station. There’s also a regional train to Dortmund every half-hour, and the two nearest airports are Dortmund-Wickede and Paderborn-Lippstadt.