Soest was first mentioned in a document dating from 836, making it one of the oldest towns in the region. It was located on the Hellweg, an important medieval trade route, crossing Westphalia in a west-east direction. Soest's town charter, noted on cowhides, was a model for the municipal laws of about 70 other towns in Germany.
During the Middle Ages, Soest became one of the most important and prosperous trade places in Central Europe and a principal member of the Hanseatic League. The town's confident citizenry even tried to win their independence from the Archbishops of Cologne. This led to a five-year feud (Soester Fehde), during which an imperial ban was put on the town. The conflict ended with Soest becoming part of the Duchy of Kleve-Mark and receiving far-reaching privileges. This was however a pyrrhic victory: cut off from its hinterland that still belonged to the Archbishops' territory, the city lost most of its economic affluence during the following decades and centuries.
The merchants' residences decayed and most citizens had to subsist on agriculture. Therefore, the town maintained its medieval-to-Renaissance outline rather than expanding and modernising. Even today, two thirds of the city's Medieval wall still exist, enough for you to circle the city. Both the walls and churches are made from green sandstone that was quarried in the region. This special material contributes to the old town's unique appearance. In addition, there are several hundred half-timbered houses from the 15th to 19th century—once a sign of poverty, as the owners could not afford a stone building—now providing a picturesque, old German townscape.
Under Prussian rule, Soest was made a county seat and major railway station, but unlike most cities in the nearby Ruhr region, never developed major industries or population growth. The upside of this development (or rather lack thereof) is that the medieval townscape is mostly preserved and was not replaced by modern buildings.
Soest was an important motif of German Impressionism and Expressionism, being "still quite a medieval city, a splendid nest," as Christian Rohlfs enthusiastically wrote in 1904. In the 1910s and 1920s, the city was home to an artists' colony. Its most important members were Wilhelm Morgner, Eberhard Viegener and Arnold Topp. Famous artists such as Otto Modersohn, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff and Christian Rohlfs often joined the local artist group.
In addition to the painters, also Bruno Paul—a pioneer of modern architecture and teacher of, inter alia, Mies van der Rohe—had worked in Soest several times by creating three city villas there between 1928 and 1931. He was also a prominent cartoonist of the satirical magazine Simplicissimus.
Reaching Soest by train is easy, and the 1 station is very close to the old town.
Intercity trains from Weimar (taking 3½ hours), Erfurt (3:15 h) and Kassel (1½ hours) as well as Cologne (2–2:20 h) and Düsseldorf (1:35) call twice a day. Once a day, there is a direct link from Munich (4:40 h) and Nuremberg (3½ h). Other far-distance connections usually require a change of trains in Hamm, Dortmund or Kassel.
There are half-hourly regional trains from Hamm (15 min), Paderborn (25–35 min), Dortmund (45 min) and Münster (50 min). Every hour a regional train arrives from Düsseldorf (1:45 h), Duisburg (1:25 h) and Essen (1:05 h); every two hours from Kassel (1:35 h).
Soest is on the Autobahn A 44 (Dortmund – Kassel).
The old town is very compact (1.2 km from one end to the opposite). It is advisable to leave the car behind and walk, given the narrow lanes and many pedestrian zones.
The Regionalverkehr Ruhr-Lippe GmbH (RLG) operates eight local bus lines within the town (all of them connect to each other in front of the train station) and eleven regional bus lines that pass through Soest.
- 1 St. Patrokli, Domplatz (next to Town Hall), ☏ . daily from 10:00AM to 5:30PM, During Christmas market: On all Advent weekends (Sat / Sun): 12AM - 2PM. The mighty tower of St. Patrokli is one of the town's landmarks. The Romanesque building was built as a collegiate church after 965. In the cathedral museum in the westwork, one can admire the "Root of Jesse" window, depicting the descent of Jesus. Also worth seeing is the apse painting from 1200 in the Marienchor. St. Patrokli is still considered to be the most extensive of its kind in Westphalia. In the Middle Ages, the 77 m high westwork used to preserve the armory of the city. Even though St. Patrokli is called the Dom (German for "cathedral"), it has never been a bishop's church. The Cathedral Museum is open by appointment.
- 2 St. Petri, Petrikirchhof 10 (opposite St. Patrokli). Tu - F 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sa 9.30am - 4.30pm, Su 2pm - 5.30pm. The "Alden Kerke", the oldest church foundation in Westphalia. The oldest part of the building dates from the 8th century, but can no longer be identified. The chancel dates from 1277 and is of Gothic origin, while the spire carries typical Baroque features. The emperor's loft from 1200 in the nave is testimony to important guests who used to stay in Soest in the past.
- 3 St. Maria zur Wiese (St Mary on the meadow), Wiesenstraße 26. Apr - Sep: M - Sa 11am - 6pm, Su 12am - 6pm; Oct - Mar: M - Sa 11am - 4pm, Su 12am - 4pm. In the north of the old town, the towers of St. Maria zur Wiese ("Wiesenkirche") rise up into the sky. Built in 1313, it is one of the most beautiful late-Gothic hall churches in Germany. The towers, however, were not completed until 1882. Historically and culturally speaking, it may be called a "little sister" of the Cologne cathedral. In addition to important panel paintings from the 14th and 16h centuries, St. Maria zur Wiese houses the "Westphalian Supper" window on the north portal. This painting, created around 1500 by an unknown artist, is particularly fascinating, as it shows Jesus at the sacrament with his disciples. However, instead of a Near Eastern meal, they feast on Westphalian ham, beer and pumpernickel bread.
- 4 St. Maria zur Höhe (St Mary on the hill), Am Hohnekirchhof 3 (200 m east of St. Maria zur Wiese via Wiesenstraße and Hohe Gasse). Apr - Sep: M - Sa 10am - 5.30pm, Su 12am - 5.30pm; Oct - Mar: M - Sa 10am - 4pm, Sun 12am - 4pm. St. Maria zur Höhe ("Hohnekirche") was built around 1220. It boasts a magnificent ceiling and wall paintings. The Byzantine influence is most evident in the ceiling painting in the main choir, the "Engelreigen" (Circle of Angels).
- 5 Alt St. Thomae (Old St Thomas' church), Thomästraße 74 (in the southeastern corner of the old town). "Leaning Tower" is the name of the church of Old St. Thomae, one of the oldest Gothic churches in the city (around 1270). The tower dates back to 1653. A lot of history surrounds its creation. The misalignment results from damage caused by rot in the entablature.
- 6 Neu St. Thomae (New St Thomas' church), Klosterstraße 10 (200 m west of Alt St. Thomae via Thomästraße/Klosterstraße). A former monastery church of the Franciscan Friars (1233), who founded their first monastery in Westphalia here. The former Minorite Church never had a bell tower. The monastery buildings have disappeared today, except for a few remains.
- 7 Paulikirche (St Paul's church), Paulistraße 26 (between Ulricherstraße and Paulistraße). Tu, Th, Sa, Su 2pm - 5 pm; short term changes are possible due to worship services. St Paul's church was rebuilt in the middle of the 14th century in the typical Soest church construction of a Romanesque to a Gothic church and contains beautiful stained glass and numerous figure sculptures. It was originally created around 1200. In 1530, the Dominican Father Johann Kelberg delivered the first evangelical sermon. He and his brother Thomas Borchwede were the pioneers of the Soest Reformation movement. Since 2009, the Paulikirche houses Westphalia's first columbarium - an urn burial ground - in a Protestant church. The most striking feature of this columbarium is that the St. Paul's Church not only urn cemetery but at the same time still worship of the Ev. St. Petri-Pauli parish Soest is.
- 8 Town hall, Rathausstraße (next to St. Patrokli). One of the few Baroque buildings in Soest is the town hall (1713-1716) with its nine-arched hall on the west side. The patron saint of the city, St. Patroclus, sits enthroned above this archway. At the back of the Baroque building is the newer part of the town hall, which used to house a gymnasium. The entire building complex encloses a green inner courtyard, where events are presented to the public.
- 9 Great Pond and Pond Mill (Großer Teich, aka "Ententeich"; Teichmühle), Teichsmühlengasse 3. The "Pond Mill" dates back to the 13th century and nowadays hosts the tourist information. The adjacent "Great Pond" never freezes in winter, as it is fed by countless springs. Diagonally opposite the Pond Mill, on the other side of the pond, there is a replica of the "seesaw". This is a punishment instrument painted yellow (the medieval colour of digrace and dishonour) from which criminal offenders were tipped into the pond for misdemeanours. West of the pond is the Theodor Heuss Park, a formerly private garden, that is entirely enclosed by a wall built from green sandstone.
- Town Wall. The town wall (built around 1180) with a length of formerly 3.8 km, enclosed the old town area of 102 acres. Today, two-thirds of the wall have been preserved. On this wall, and also by the forces, before which the outer wall used to run, you can make wonderful walks today and look into some old town gardens.
- 10 Kattenturm. From the Ulricher Tor you can look out over the Katten Tower (built in 1230), the last surviving defense tower of the former inner town wall.
- 11 Museum Wilhelm Morgner, Thomästraße 1 (next to St. Patrokli), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu - F 2PM - 5PM, Sa - Su 11AM - 5PM. The Wilhelm Morgner Museum houses temporary art exhibitions and a permanent exhibition of paintings by the well-known Soest expressionist Wilhelm Morgner (1891–1917). His artistic ascent began in 1910, but ended abruptly a few years later when the 26-year old artist died in the First World War. Despite his short life, he left behind a rich work, most of which is owned by the city of Soest (about 400 drawings and 56 paintings). The museum also houses the "Schroth Room", a collection of concrete and post-minimal art by the collector Carl-Jürgen Schroth. Designed by the architect Rainer Schell from Wiesbaden and built in 1962, the Morgner House itself is a typical building of the early 1960s and thus one of the youngest architectural monuments of the city of Soest.
- 12 Green Sandstone Museum (Grünsandsteinmuseum), Walburgerstraße 56 (150 m north of St. Maria zur Wiese). M - Sa 10am - 5pm, Su 2pm - 5pm. Here you can obtain accurate information about the history of Soest's "trademark" green sandstone on the basis of numerous information boards and exhibits. For example, one learns what role the green sandstone played in art history and economic life in the Soester Börde region. But it also shows workpieces and stone fragments of no longer existing sacred and farm buildings. Permanent reference to the present: A stone collection, which forms the basis of the current reconstruction work of the cathedral workshop at the Wiesenkirche.
- 13 Osthofentormuseum, Osthofenstraße 70 (at the northeastern corner of the town wall). W, Sa 2pm-4pm, Su 11am - 5pm. This is the only one of the original ten gates in the town wall that still exists. The new building dates from 1523–1526. Inside there is a museum on the history of the town with a unique collection of 25,000 medieval crossbow bolts from around the world.
- 14 Burghofmuseum, Burghofstraße 22. Tu - Sa 10am - 12am; 3pm - 5pm, Su 11am - 1pm. An old patrician's house (built in 1559), which today displays exhibits on the history of art and the city. There is also a permanent exhibition of copper engravings by Heinrich Aldegrever. Behind the Burghofmuseum is the Romanesque house, one of the oldest houses between the Rhine and Weser from the period around 1200.
- 15 Soest city archive (Stadtarchiv), Jakobistraße 13. M - W, F 8.30am - 12.30pm, Th 2pm - 5pm. Soest's city archive accommodates in the Haus zum Spiegel ("mirror house"), a former patrician house, the largest medieval documents and document stock of Westphalia, including the famous old cowhide, the oldest Soest city law (13th century). At the same time, it is the seat of Soest city archeology. A special treasure is the Nequam Book, the "Book of the Good" in 1315. It contains the names of those citizens who were expelled from the community. Gothic miniatures dramatically illustrate the jurisprudence of the time.
Several events throughout the year celebrate the town's heritage and history.
- late-January to early-February: Soest Winter Beams (Soester Winterstrahlen) – a light show illuminates the city and immerses its architectural highlights in a special light.
- March: Pub Festival (Kneipenfestival) with live acts in more than 25 pubs
- May or early-June: Bördetag – festival in the old town
- late-June: Marksmen's festival (Bürgerschützenfest; Saturday after Saint John's) – humorous reenactment of a medieval tradition, where thieves were punished by seesawing them into the big pond; parades of the marksmen fraternities.
- July: Winemakers market
- first weekend of August: Feud of Soest (Soester Fehde; only in years with an odd number) – reenactment of the war that took place from 1444 to 1449. Around 900 fans of the Middle Ages from 12 different nations – dressed in medieval clothing and armour – come to Soest for the occasion and camp for three days in the now drained moat at the foot of the city wall. When the battle for the city is reenacted, they storm the city wall using medieval weapons and cannons.
- September: Börde Farmers Market – the harvest of the Soester Börde, a region of highly fertile chernozem soils, is celebrated with a farmers' market
- October: ProBierBar (beer tasting event)
- November: All Hallows' kermess (Allerheiligenkirmes; Wednesday to Sunday after All Saint's day) – celebrated since 1338, this is Europe's biggest funfair held in an old town (rather than on a separate site outside the town core). During this period, Soest is in a "state of exception": In five days, the town of 50,000 inhabitants receives more than one million visitors. The whole old town is transformed into a funfair area, hosting around 400 attractions, rides and stalls.
- December: Soest Christmas market – while most German towns have their Christmas fair, the one in Soest is one of the most popular and scenic in the region, receiving some 600,000 guests per year.
- Christmas Eve: Gloria Singing – at 7 pm, a students' choir, accompanied by a brass ensemble, sings "Gloria in excelsis Deo" from the four corners of St Peter's steeple. After the last verse, all churchbells of the town join in ringing.
Local specialties include Pumpernickel—a heavy, slightly sweet rye bread, which is common all over Westphalia, but Soest claims to be the place of its invention; and Möpkenbrot—a coarse cooked sausage, made from bacon, pig's head, pork rind, blood and rye grist.
- Hotel-Restaurant Pilgrimhaus, Jakobistraße 75, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. daily 12 – 14 pm an 5:30 – 10:30 pm. Westphalia's oldest existing inn.
- Solista, Walburgerstraße 8, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. daily from 9 am.
- Lamäng Brasserie, Kungelmarkt 4-6, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. daily from 9 am.
- Aloisius, Ulricherstraße 23, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. daily from 17.00; Saturday at high season from noon; sunday und holiday from 11.3o.
- Brauerei Christ, Walburgerstraße 36, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. daily from 12 am.
- Brauhaus Zwiebel, Ulricherstraße 24, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. daily from 11 am.
- Culture house Alter Schlachthof, Ulrichertor 4, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Monday – Saturday from 6 pm.
- Forest-restaurant Steinkiste, Körbecker Weg 8, 59494 Soest-Hiddingsen, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Mo-Fr 17:00 - 23:00; Sa-Su 11:00- 23:00.
- Paradies im Stadtpark, Stadtpark 1, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Thursday 2:30 – 6:30 pm; Friday – Saturday 9:30 am – 9:30 pm; Sunday – Friday 9:30 am – 6:30 pm.
- Hier & Jetzt Restaurant Café, Nötten-Brüder-Wallstraße 21, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tuesday – Sunday 9:00-22:00; Sunday: 9 am-6 pm.
Bullenauge ("bull's eye") is a coffee liquor topped with a dash of cream. It is typically drunk during kermess. Dudelmann is a cordial that is exclusively served during kermess season. Beekeeper Amelunxen's mead and honey liquor are typically associated with a visit to the All Saints' funfair, as well.
- 1 Youth hostel, Kaiser-Friedrich-Platz 2, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 107-bed hostel. Reception is open 08:00 - 20:00. Full and half board available. beds from €31, rooms from €45.
- 2 City Motel, Altes Stellwerk 9, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 3 Deck 8 Designhotel, Werkstraße 8 (close to the railway station), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Modern hotel with 52 bedrooms of different standards from basic to suite and 18 boarding house rooms with kitchens. Bufet breakfast €9.90. Check-in uses a self-service terminal. from €69.
- 4 Hotel Susato, Dasselwall 5, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 5 Hotel am Wall, Dasselwall 19, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Hanse Hotel, Siegmund-Schultze-Weg 100, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 6 Hotel-Restaurant Pilgrimhaus, Jakobistraße 75, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 7 Hotel Stadt Soest, Brüderstraße 50, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 20 room hotel in a 17th century building. Buffet breakfast. double from €85.
- Hotel Domhof, Wiesenstraße 18, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Also has a restaurant.
- 1 Möhnesee. The dam wall was breached during the second World War by RAF bombers in Operation Chastise, resulting in a huge flash flood that killed more than 1,000 people (mostly foreign forced labourers). Nevertheless, the reservoir and its surrounding are a popular recreation area.
- Hamm, 25 km northwest (15 minutes by train)
- Meschede, 37 km southeast
- Paderborn, 50 km northeast (30 minutes by train)
- Dortmund, 50 km west (40 minutes by train)
- Gütersloh, 50 km north (one hour by train)
- Münster, 70 km northwest (50 minutes by train)