The town lies on the river Kyll in the Vulkaneifel, a part of the Eifel known for its volcanic history, geographical and geological features, and even ongoing activity today, including gases that sometimes well up from the earth.
One form of the name Gerolstein first cropped up in connection with the building of the Löwenburg (Castle Gerolstein) in 1115, which was then named as the Burg Gerhardstein. Nevertheless, as early as the Stone Age there is evidence of human habitation in the Buchenloch, a nearby cave. In the Bronze Age, the Dietzenley was used by the Celts as a flight castle. From Roman times, a temple and dwellings are known, and remnants are preserved.
Town rights were granted Gerolstein in 1337. In 1691, the town was almost utterly destroyed when it was liberated from French occupation by troops from the Duchy of Jülich. After reconstruction, there was a devastating fire that burnt the town down in 1708; another, likewise disastrous, came in 1784. In the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville, Gerolstein, along with all areas on the Rhine’s left bank, passed to France, and were only returned to German control in 1815. Count Sternberg-Manderscheid acquired in the 1803 Reichsdeputationshauptschluss as the landholder, among other things, the holdings formerly belonging to the monasteries at Weissenau and Schussenried in Upper Swabia to offset his loss of Blankenheim, Jünkerath, Gerolstein and Dollendorf. It is known that water from the spring that had once been used by the Celts and the Romans was being bottled and sold beginning in 1724. This still forms the basis for today’s mineral water industry in Gerolstein. Late in the Second World War, in 1944 and 1945, Gerolstein’s status as a railway junction town brought Allied air raids down on the town, and 80% of it was destroyed. Town rights were granted Gerolstein once again in 1953.
Bewingen is Gerolstein’s northernmost outlying centre, or Stadtteil, lying three kilometres away from the town centre. Here the Kyll flows in a great bow round the mighty dolomite and basalt massif that juts from the west eastwards. The valley narrows and there is only enough room here for the railway line, a field road and the river itself. The road finds its way to Gerolstein over the Bewinger Höhe (heights), thus somewhat shortening the way to the nearby middle centre. The local lie of the land was brought about by the local volcanic activity, which created two volcanic peaks, the Kasselburgmassiv with the Burlich and the Hahn (“Cock”) on the Kyll’s west bank, and the Rockeskyller Kopf on the east, whose volcanic minerals and deposits of lava, ash and cinders from the Quaternary narrow the river valley.
The placename ending —ingen points to early Frankish settlement. Bewingen had its first documentary mention in 1218 as a holding of the monastery and church of Niederehe. From that mention, it is known that the Brothers Theoderich, Alexander and Albero from Castle Kerpen established an endowment for the Premonstratensian nuns here in the years between 1162 and 1175. The next documentary mention came in 1282, when “Gerhard VI of Blankenheim” acquired lands, among others Steffeln, Niederbettingen and Bewingen. In the Middle Ages, the lords at Kasselburg (castle) and those at Castle Gerhardstein (Gerolstein) held lands and tithing rights in the village. In the time of French rule, beginning in 1794, Bewingen was assigned to the Mairie (“Mayoralty”) of Rockeskyll, and the village remained within the Bürgermeisterei (also “Mayoralty”) of Rockeskyll on into Prussian times. The formerly self-administering municipality of Bewingen was amalgamated with the town of Gerolstein in 1969.
One of the verifiably oldest buildings is the small chapel consecrated to Saint Brice, which underwent repairs in 1744 and 1745. Its Late Gothic quire suggests that there was an earlier church here, built perhaps about 1500.
Büscheich-Niedereich lies roughly 5 km away from the town centre. In 1352, it had its first documentary mention, although Niedereich’s first documentary mention did not come until 1398.
In 1501, the hereditary estate of Eich (Niedereich) belonged to the County of Gerolstein. On 13 May 1661, the hereditary estate was divided into Niedereich and Obereich.
When the French occupied the Eifel in the 18th century, the Counts lost all their holdings. After the French were driven out, the Eifel became Prussian. In 1815, the Prussian government changed Obereich’s name to Büscheich.
The town’s arms might be described thus: Or a lion rampant sable armed and langued gules surmounted at the shoulder by a label of five points of the last.
The town’s arms are actually those formerly borne by the Counts of Gerolstein-Blankenheim, the former landholders. The composition is known from 1567 when it appeared in a seal used by the town’s Schöffen (roughly “lay jurists”). The town has borne these arms since about 1890, but no official approval to do so is known to have been issued.
Beyond the sightseeing attractions listed hereafter, there are other things to be seen in and around Gerolstein, such as the dried-up maar called Papenkaule, the Buchenloch, a 36-metre-long karst cave that served as a dwelling for Stone Age people, the Mühlsteinhöhlen (“millstone caves”) or Eishöhlen (“ice caves”) near Roth, a natural history museum and a district local history museum. A walk leads to the Gerolsteiner Dolomiten, a Devonian limestone reef formed by extinct Rugosa, Tabulata and Stromatoporoids with the Hustley, the Munterley and the Auberg. They dominate the town’s appearance, looming 100 m above the valley.
Gerolstein castle (Löwenburg) ruins, Bergstraße, monumental zone, castle founded in the earlier half of the 14th century by Gerhard VI of Blankenburg and destroyed in 1691, defensive wall in the outer bailey preserved, remnants of living quarters preserved in the main stronghold.
Evangelical Church of the Redeemer, Sarresdorfer Straße 17, cruciform central-plan building after Italo-Byzantine models, 1911–1913, complex with treed lot and fence dating from the time of building, rectory (Sarresdorfer Straße 15 a), former parish house (?; Sarresdorfer Straße 19 a), Classicist hipped-roof building.
Town fortifications, Am Stadtturm 1, Hauptstraße 41, 75, Mühlenstraße 19 (monumental zone), section of 14th-century town wall between a jutting half-round tower (integrated into Hauptstraße 75) and a great tower (Am Stadtturm 1), a further section of town wall with gate remnants (Mühlenstraße 19) and a pillar-shaped town wall remnant (Hauptstraße 41).
Saint John the Baptist’s Catholic Church (branch church; Filialkirche St. Johannes Baptista), Büscheicher Straße, aisleless church, apparently from 1670, west portal 19th century, possibly expanded after 1945.
Niedereicher Straße 6 – former school, one-floor plaster building, apparently from 1906.
Zur Dietzenley 2 – house from 1787.
Zur Dietzenley 3 – Quereinhaus (a combination residential and commercial house divided for these two purposes down the middle, perpendicularly to the street) from 1876.
Niedereich 18 – house with mighty chimney, from 1804.
So-called Davitzkreuz, northwest of the village in the woods, Baroque shaft cross from 1764.
Village centre, Hinterhausener Straße (monumental zone), old village centre with branch chapel and estate complexes on ring-shaped street, 19th century, distinctive village appearance, distinctive street layout.
Hinterhausener Straße 14 – estate complex, house from 1864, commercial building.
Burg Lissingen (castle), Burgstraße/Klosterstraße (monumental zone), stately group of buildings on the Kyll consisting of upper and lower castle, the mediaeval building steadily expanded in the 14th to 17th centuries, commercial building on site of old ringwall, between upper and lower castle a four-floor tower from the 14th century, outer gate at the southwest corner of the upper castle from 1624, in the lower castle a dwelling building, essentially Gothic, park with garden house from 1793, complex includes Klosterstraße 1: estate along street, latter half of 19th century; Klosterstraße 3: possibly a former bursary, Baroque hipped mansard roof.
On the outskirts of the outlying community of Lissingen stands the formerly moated Lissingen Castle, near the Kyll. The oldest parts of the building date to 1280, although the castle had already been mentioned in documents by 1212. Unlike most castles in the Eifel, it was not destroyed. In 1559 it was divided into an upper and lower castle. The lower castle is used as an event and cultural venue.
Gerolstein, Sarresdorfer Straße 17: Evangelical Church of the Redeemer (Erlöserkirche) with Munterley
The EvangelicalErlöserkirche (“Church of the Redeemer”) was built between 1907 and 1913 by Franz Schwechten (the same architect who designed, among other things, Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), and was consecrated on 15 October 1913. The inside is decorated with broad, gold mosaics, round arches and a commanding cupola.
Villa Sarabodis is the name given the remnants of a Roman lordly seat – villa rustica. They were unearthed in the course of preparatory work for building the Church of the Redeemer in 1907. The remnants have been dated to the first century AD. The Kirchenbauverein Berlin (“Berlin Church-Building Association”), which also built the Church of the Redeemer, dug the finds up: foundations and a hypocaust can now be viewed in a protective building.
The Juddekirchhof, as it is known in the local speech, is a Celtic-Roman worship site. It lies above Gerolstein on the Hustley, a part of the Gerolsteiner Dolomiten.
The Roman Marcus Victorius Pellentius had this temple complex built in AD 124. The wall remnants measure roughly 63 by 46 metres. Within this ringwall, foundations of many buildings, among which are two temples, are preserved. One temple was dedicated to Hercules while the other was dedicated to the Celtic goddess Caiva. In 1927 and 1928, remnants of the temple complex were excavated.
Peter Daners: Die evangelische Erlöserkirche in Gerolstein (Rheinische Kunststätten, Heft 445). Köln 2000, 24 S., ISBN 3-88094-854-2
Hedwig Judeich: Der Ammerländer Friedrich Schwarting (1883–1918) Kirchenmaler im Kaiserreich. Tagebuchaufzeichnungen mit Dokumenten und Bildzeugnissen. Hrsg. v. Hedwig Judeich. Oldenburg (Verlag Isensee) 1989, 144 S. ISBN 3-920557-84-0