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Koblenz reveals itself at many levels. At first glance, a cursory look reveals an undistinguished, small, modern city. But don’t rush away. Although more than 85 percent of the city was destroyed in November 1944, this is a city of surprising history, charm, and architectural treasures. The art museums alone could keep some guests captivated for a week. And Koblenz is a perfect base for exploring not only the Rhine and Mosel Rivers that border the city, but also lesser known rural regions like the Westerwald, Hunsrück, and Eiffel.

Koblenz is a case study in the dilemma faced by many German cities after the war: how to rebuild. Many structures retained their old façades but were otherwise rebuilt from the ground up. For a compelling example, visit the Jesuitenkirche, which retains its 17th-century giant rosette window and portal but was entirely rebuilt inside—in boldly modern form—with relics from its lengthy history.

Some buildings have been painstakingly restored. But even today’s most skilled artisans can’t always match their predecessors. Stand at the center of the so-called “Four Corners” in the pedestrian zone. Four ornate 17th-century oriel windows stand over each corner. Three were re-built in the 1950s following detailed designs. Line for line, they probably match the precise specifications and designs of the originals. But the fourth oriel, in its original form, projects so much more life and vibrancy.

Many structures were demolished and replaced by fully modern construction. It’s easy to see how the haste and economy of the 1950s translated into somewhat straightforward, efficient, and unimaginative structures. But buildings from the 1960s and 1970s reveal the more modern flair of the times. Some structures raised eyebrows—but perhaps no more so than the baroque architecture that replaced many Gothic and Romanesque buildings after the French destroyed two-thirds of the city in 1688. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, Jugendstil (art nouveau) architecture must have caused a stir as well. At Firmungstrasse 11, look up to see the giant head of the Greek goddess Hygieia.