Diekirch – donkeys, carnival parades and a sombre military history
On the banks of the River Sauer or Sûre, the town gets its name from the 8th century, when Charlemagne settled Saxons in the area. To convert them to Christianity he built a church, and Diekirch means the “people’s church”.
In the 14th century King John the Blind of Bohemia, best remembered today for founding Schueberfouer, fortified Diekirch with a wall with battlements. The town remained this way until the French occupation in the 19th century, when the walls were levelled and trees planted in their place.
Roman buildings were discovered in the 20th century, including wall ruins and mosaics. In 2008 the remains of a roman villa thought to have been abandoned in the 5th century were reconstructed.
In 1848, Diekirch became a barrack town, housing soldiers in pavilions which now make up the Lycée Classique. The pavilion style housing allowed soldiers to evacuate and assemble quickly.
Diekirch’s mascot is a donkey, which conjures up its agricultural past. There are numerous donkey statues and plaques, a fountain to the humble beast in the town centre, and a controversial weathervane of a donkey on the church, but you can find the real animals in the nearby nature park.
The town today
Nestled between the hills of Haardt, Goldknapp and Herrenberg, it’s a great place to take a stroll or bike ride. The big open square is surrounded by a pedestrian zone, but it’s a town of bridges too. The Sauer or Sûre bridge was originally built in 1842, and there are three more pedestrian bridges that cross the river.
The oldest church in Luxembourg was built in the 7th century, and the alter of Saint Laurence’s Church was erected over a Roman secular shrine. Of the Romanesque edifices built in 1000 AD only the 12th century tower remains. In the 15th century the church was transformed to have two naves in Gothic style. The frescoes, painted 100 years later, depict the life of Saint Laurence.
The crypt houses Roman and Merovingian sarcophagi from the 6th century. Outside you’ll find a monument to J. A. Zinnen, the composer of the Luxembourg National Anthem.
There are several monuments dedicated to the Second World War in the town. A stations of the cross remembers those who were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht, whilst a US memorial has a sculpture by Wenzel Profant. One of Luxembourg’s most famous painters and sculptors, Auguste Tremont, created the memorial to the victims of the war.
Diekirch was the first town in Luxembourg to hold a parade with a cavalcade for Carnival. This was back in 1870 and the idea was to give any profits to the poor, but unfortunately the carnival celebrations operated at a loss.
The cavalcade stopped in 1900 but was resurrected by the then chairman of the tourist office, Jacques Zenner in 1946. Today it is one of the biggest carnival parades with some 50 decorated floats distributing several tons of sweets to the crowds.
Diekirch gives its name to one of Luxembourg’s beers, and you can see many of the advertisements from the past 100 years in the Beer Museum, which includes neon signs, matchboxes, lithographs, barrels and glasses from the brewery. It’s housed in a 20th century art nouveau building on the second floor of the National Museum of Historical Vehicles. The building was once a former car factory, and you can view some vintage cars. The museums are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 18.00 and with entry to both costing €5 (free for those under 21 years).
The National Museum of Military History recounts the brutal fighting that took place in the area during the Battle of the Bulge, with life-size dioramas depicting scenes from the war, and a 3000m² exhibition space incorporating weapons, military vehicles, and archive photos.
The museum also documents the history of the resistance fighters, the Luxembourg Army and there is a section on the Korean War. However the centrepiece is the reconstruction of the crossing of the River Sûre by the US 5th infantry division on 18 January 1945. Entry is €5 for adults, €3 for those aged 10-18 years and free for under 10s.
Found at the Maison de la Culture, the Museum of the history of Diekirch has five rooms each dedicated to a specific theme, from pre-history to the present day. Exhibits include the Roman mosaics found in the town. It's interactive and child-friendly.
At Rue Fresbo you’ll find a small museum dedicated to the history of ancient and modern beekeeping, with products from local hives on sale. It’s open from mid-July to September, from 14.00 to 18.00, with free admission.
Walking, cycling, canoeing
An 11 hectare nature discovery park expands out from the municipal park Im Bedigen, and links to footpaths. It has 12 interactive panels with information on flora and fauna. You can also see some cute donkeys and Scottish Highland Cattle.
The region surrounding Diekirch has a number of mountain bike trails and various hikes. A 12.4km circular walk starts at the football grounds and follows the cycle path to Clemenshaff and Mouschbierg, before returning to Diekirch via Gilsdorf and the field containing the town’s donkeys. There are numerous local walks found on the Visit Diekirch website, ranging from 3 to 7km.
Cycle path 16 links Diekirch with Ettelbruck, and a 19km path (known as the walk of the army), takes in the nearby villages of Burden and Erpeldange in a 1.5 hour cycle. You can also take two station to station cycle routes. The first follows the railway tracks at Diekirch to the Sûre bridge and then joins PC16 to Dillengen before ending at Grundhof station. The second starts in Colmar-Berg and finishes in Diekirch, passing by the Grand Ducal Castle and following the river.
Diekirch also hosts the ING Eurocross annual international cross-country running competition (usually held in February). It was first held in 1969, when it was organised by the local athletic club. The two major races run over a distance of either 13km or 19km and there are prizes for the first three men and women, but Eurocross also has competitions for children, young adults and amateurs.
Visitors will not be short of places to grab a bite to eat. The Smugglers Inn offers cheese plates and truffle burgers, and has an escape room which can be booked for 2-6 people.
Brasserie Al Schwemm is close to the river and a playground, making it an ideal pit stop for families. Open throughout the day from 10.00 to 23.00 it serves schnitzel, salads and fish and chips. Gastropub 46 Am Tuerm has a weekday menu of burgers, Luxembourgish delicacies, pasta and fish.