Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Daytrippin' - Medieval Quedlinburg

Over the weekend we had a lovely day trip out of Berlin, because as wonderful as Berlin is, escaping the city occasionally just needs to be done. 

Two hours (+/-) south west of the Hauptstadt we found ourselves in Quedlinburg. This charming medieval town lies just north of the Harz mountains, boasting UNESCO protection, for among other things, over 1,300 half-timbered houses. Escaping the worst of the last century's war damage has meant that it is one of the best preserved medieval and renaissance towns to be found in Europe.

We took a tour with "Bruder Michael" who we found quite by chance as we walked past the tourist info point. 1.75 hours and 7 EUR p.p. later we had walked the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt and had learned much more about the city.

Unlike so many other cute German towns, this Altstadt has not been overrun by souvenir shops and chain stores. Whereas Heidelberg's pedestrian area feels like a mall with a DM followed by a H&M, then a souvenir shop, Vodafone, pharmacy, followed by WMF, cute little "gotta have it shop", restaurant, then a Christ, Sparkasse, souvenir shop, DM, pharmacy... repeat. Quedlinburg is less commercial, less touristy, and just less. It is quiet, and serene, and a person can indeed feel the history in the surroundings since it is not so obstructed by commerce.

One of the things I found most intriguing was the fact that women had ruled the town for 800 years. King Heinrich I's widow founded a convent for aristocratic women in 936, and in 966 their granddaughter became the Abbess which effectively gave her control of the city. Each successive Abbess was the center of the town government.

Another interesting factoid, the first German woman who fought for and eventually won the right to attend a university was born in Quedlinburg. In 1754 she received the academic title of Medical Doctor from the University of Halle.

What should you see? The elongated Markt area and Breite Strasse. Like every other small German town, the center of existence is the town square. This one is surrounded by incredible examples of medieval and Renaissance buildings, and buzzes with the residual energy of over 9 centuries of townsfolk. Breite Strasse is half-timber house heaven... for those who are into such things.

Sorry, I can't tell you much about the Romanesque castle and the cathedral except that they are quite beautiful from the outside. It seems that an American soldier absconded with the town's treasure in the confusion after WWII. He took it back home and only brought it out occasionally to show friends. After his death the whole mess came to light, with an eventual return of the goods to their rightful owners against the family's wishes. Bad SoldierBoy, and just a bit stupid as well.

We had coffee/breakfast at a chain bakery on the Marktplatz. It was pretty much like every other store of that company although it seemed that having some sort of metal attached to the face was a pre-requisite for employment, as all employees had piercings in various facial tissue. 

Lunch was enjoyed at the Hotel and Brauhaus Lüdde which had plenty of comfy seating inside amongst the brewing equipment, but also a lovely tucked-away Hof offering their special brews under the trees. I had a baked Käse Spätzle (pretty much cheesy noodles) which were prepared nicely with the only downside being that it didn't have enough onion for my taste. The Schwarzbier however, was EXCELLENT and hit the 4.8 spot. My head was swimming before the noodles hit the table. 

Before leaving for the day we had a desire for more coffee (the juice that lubricates my brain) and perhaps a nice ice cream desert. We ended up at a cute little out of the way place with a name that currently escapes me. Its outdoor seating had finches in a cage nestled amongst the dining tables. (this finch fascination has something to do with Heinrich the Duke of Saxony being at Quedlinburg castle capturing finches when the Royal Delegation arrived to inform him that he had been elected King of Germany... in 916 AD).

It is a town that was saved in the nick of time thanks to the Wall coming down. The communist government had for the most part ignored it, which was a blessing considering how many historical buildings throughout Germany were summarily torn down because there was no money to restore them. UNESCO involvement in 1994 offering funding and protection has helped to control the refurbishment effort and will keep it looking much the same for decades to come. Now let's hope that this charming little piece of time warp manages to escape the grasp of wanton commercialism the same way it did Communism.

All in all a great day trip from Berlin, although I can certainly see the benefit of an overnight stay as well. 

I suggest that all three of this blog's readers make their way to this uncommonly cute town as soon as possible to enjoy its treasures... and I don't say that kind of thing lightly, trust me. Well, except for Greding... and I can't forget Schwerin. But don't spread the word around too much.

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C N Heidelberg said...

Hey, there's no DM in our pedestrian zone!! ;)

Quedlinburg was one of the places we considered for our upcoming weekend away, but it's a tiny bit further than we wanted to go. I hope we make it there sometime! I have been to nearby Wernigerode & Goslar and loved those. Thanks for sharing!

Damon said...

Wow, Quedlinburg sounds great. Your photos, as always, make it look awesome. We'll definitely have to check it out some time!

Just to note, though: most of those shops that you mention in Heidelberg (for some reason everyone's favorite example of "touristy") are there for the locals--not for the tourists. Can you imagine dm or Galleria Kaufhof being a draw for tourists? And, there's no reason to go into an H&M or a Tchibo on vacation since they're basically the same everywhere. Of course, there are quite a few "touristy" places as well (especially in the area near the Marktplatz), but I would assert that if everyday-German authenticity is what you desire (at least in a moderately sized town like Heidelberg), then you should wander over to the section of town that contains the Hallhubers and S.Olivers and H&Ms and dms and such. ;)

Snooker said...

Hey C, you are probably quite right about the lack of DM's... And here I am insinuating two! I just remember two rows of shops that seemed to repeat in a crazy way.
The town selection wasn't my idea, as it was a wish of my parents-in-law... But I've never been disappointed with their travel choices.
We will have to check out your other suggestions. Perhaps for Christmas Market visit or something.

Snooker said...

Thanks Damon for the sweet comment about the photos. Unfortunately half the day was overcast meaning that most of the "good" shots were taken in the harsh afternoon sun.

As for Heidelberg being touristy... Well, face it. The Americans travel in flocks, and the British stag & hen groups are the worst kinds of tourists to have... And Heidelberg has crazy amounts of both. What I've never understood is why H'berg has soooo many American tourists. Shame though, because I really enjoyed your city. And the view from the other side of the river just can't be beat.

I guess I've never thought about the locals shopping in the Ped Zone. There just seemed to be so many tourists milling around.

Goofball said...

I just love historic towns like that! Something I adore about Europe.

Too bad it's a bit a long drive for me to hop over to see it

Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree Quedlinburg is an off the beaten path gem.