It was far from the comforts of Rome, a lonely outpost in a cold, gray land. Standing in the watchtower, Roman soldiers watched across the hills, keeping an eye out for signs of Germanic invaders.
They guarded the Limes, the border between the Roman Empire and the barbarian country from the beginning of the 2nd century to 260.
A defensive line, in Germany, it stretched from Rheinbrohl on the Dutch border in the northwest to the Danube near Regensburg in the south.
Originally a simple string of guard posts, the Limes (pronounced lee-mus) was reinforced over the decades with a wooden palisade, a moat and an earthen rampart to protect the empire from Germanic tribes.
It was backed by a chain of forts, where the soldiers lived. Besides the kastell, as the forts were called, there were often administrative offices, a sacred quarter and, important in Roman life, baths.
One of the forts along the border was in the present town of Osterburken. Nestled in the rolling, forested hills of the Odenwald are a reconstructed watchtower, the remains of the fort, and the Roemermuseum.
The tower and the section of the Limes are outside the city. You can climb to get a view of the surroundings. Originally, Limes Towers usually had a second-floor entrance, accessed by a ladder.
There is not much left of the fort, just a few low walls and foundations. The frame of the main gate was rebuilt using metal pipes.
A look through the Archaeoskop, a binocular-like contraption, shows the visitor what the gate experts looked like in the third century.
The Roemermuseum gives an insight into Roman life in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
The first thing to see is the Roman bath. Generally, the baths consisted of a tepidarium (warm room), a caldarium (warm room) and a frigidarium (cold room). Beyond their purifying function, they were a place of socialization and relaxation.
The ground floor of the museum is full of artifacts found in the area. Pottery, jewelry, weapons and coins are among the exhibits. See the legion of Roman toy soldiers on display.
There is even a small section of artifacts from the people who populated the other side of the Limes.
On the second floor is an exhibition on the religions and deities of the Romans.
At the top of the staircase is probably the museum’s most modern exhibit, a colorful painting of the pantheon of Roman gods. The image covers a full wall.
If nudity makes you feel uncomfortable, even in art, beware, because the first thing you’ll see is Venus in all her naked glory.
Otherwise, the exhibit is mostly made up of different consecration altars. A person had an altar made and was then considered to be under the protection of the deities to whom it was consecrated.
If you haven’t had your fill of Roman artefacts yet, about 20 minutes down the road from Osterburken is Jagsthausen, a small town with a large castle.
There was also once a Roman fort and bath here. The fort is gone, but the foundations of the bath are still visible, along with other relics, including parts of a column dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter.
These are copies. The originals are exhibited in various museums, including that of the castle.
In the end, all the consecration altars in the area didn’t seem to help. The Limes was abandoned around 260 and invading Germanic tribes settled in the area.
Directions: Osterburken is about an hour’s drive from Stuttgart and about 2.5 hours from Kaiserslautern. From Wiesbaden you can take a scenic route through the Odenwald via the A3 motorway and the B469 and B47 motorways. Jagsthausen is about a 20 minute drive from Osterburken.
Hours: The Roemermuseum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. The reconstructed tower is open from April to October.
Cost: Admission is 4 euros for adults and 2 euros for children. A family ticket for parents and their children is 10 euros.
Food: There is a cafe inside the museum.
Information: Online: roemermuseum-osterburken.de. The exhibits in the museum are labeled only in German. Fort and Limes Tower, however, have English descriptions.