Quedlinburg, a small town of about 24,000 inhabitants, located near the Harz Mountains in western Saxony-Anhalt, virtually the heart of Germany, is a prime tourist attraction, particularly for non-Germans.
A rare combination of ancient, medieval and modern historical and artistic treasures are making it a “must” for visitors, much as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Trier, Lübeck and other German historical gems.
Fortunately, the town survived the war undamaged and was valued by the DDR, and so it’s still here to be appreciated with its medieval look and layout intact. As a result, the entire town was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The unbelievably quaint Old Town is any wanderer’s dream. As you walk down the narrow cobblestone streets lined with over 1300 half-timbered houses from almost eight centuries, you are bound to feel yourself transported to another era. Particularly notable is the fact that these houses are restored using original building materials.
Unlike others cities such as Aachen, where Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse) held sway over the Franks, Quedlinburg is the birthplace of a Nation. King Heinrich I (Henry the Fowler) was crowned King of Germany here in 919 A.D. This was the first time anyone had ruled Germany as a single entity. That is why Quedlinburg is called the first German capital.
This first sovereignty lasted for more than three centuries until Germany dissolved into almost 300 tiny city-states, provinces and squabbling communities, only to be reunited in 1871.
Like other towns of the Harz, it owed much of its prosperity to the silver, copper and tin mines nearby. It was also a major market town and member of the Hanseatic League, rivaling Cologne in importance during the Middle Ages. The Rathaus was built in 1320.
This town was ruled by women for 800 years. King Heinrich I’s widow, Mathilde, founded a convent for aristocratic women in 936 and their granddaughter became the ruler of the town as the Abbess in 966. The Abbesses of the convent ruled the city until 1802, when Napoleon invaded and disbanded the Abbey. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the first German woman to win the right to attend a university was a native of Quedlinburg. Dorothea Erxleben was the first woman to receive the academic title of Medical Doctor in Germany in 1754.
The stately Schloss Quedlinburg (Quedlinburg Castle) sits atop sandstone cliffs, looking down at the rows of beautifully preserved half-timbered houses below. Visitors are welcome to tour the beautiful rooms, and marvel at prehistoric artifacts in the castle museum. The sandstone, double-towered Church of St. Servatius in the castle complex is one of the most significant Romanesque buildings in Germany and preserves some of the oldest ecclesiastical treasures in the country.
On the Burgberg (“castle mountain”), or Schlossberg, you will find the Abbesses’ Palace (Residenzbau) and the Stiftkirche St. Servatius church. Inside the Abbesses’ Palace is the Schloss Museum which displays an interesting assortment of Ice Age fossils, Bronze Age artifacts and medieval torture instruments. On exhibit is the cage used to display a captured robber baron in the 1300s.
St. Servatius, the abbey church, is one of the best-preserved 12th-century buildings in Germany. Heinrich I (the Fowler) and Mathilde are buried in the crypt with the abbesses. The church also contains the amazing Treasure of Quedlinburg – the priceless collection of golden chests, religious manuscripts, crystal bottles, ivory combs, and swords, many of which were encrusted with jewels, dates from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.
Harzer Schmalspurbahnen (Harz Narrow Gauge Railway) connects the towns of Quedlinburg, Wernigerode, Nordhausen, and several others, and takes visitors on a nostalgic steam-train ride up to Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. This is one of the most scenic train routes in Germany and is sure to be the highlight of your trip to the Harz.
Here is the birthplace of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Germany’s prime Stress & Strain poet while right around the corner is the Galerie housing the largest collection of works outside of the United States of the American-German artist Lyonel Feiniger (1871-1956). Feininger was the prime spokesman of the Classical Modern epoch bridging Historicism, the Belle Epoche/Art Nouveau- Expressionism and Cubism, being himself a prime spokesman for the Bauhaus style with its worldwide implications.
Fachwerkmuseum im Ständerbau is one of the most ancient half-timbered houses in the country and the very oldest among the 1,300 timber-framed houses in Quedlinburg. Its year of construction is pegged at 1310, and it served as a residential house till the year 1965. Today, it houses a small museum, which walks visitors through the history of half-timbered houses spanning four centuries and the evolution of the town of Quedlinburg. It is supposedly the only museum of its kind in the world.
Situated within an hour of the legendary Brocken Peak, surrounded by lush, deep green forests, plentiful winter sports facilities, limitless summertime campsites, trails, swimming and bathing facilities, and fantastic mountain vistas made accessible by narrow-gauge steam railways, Quedlinburg easily crosses the time barrier between the earliest traces of German history and the 21st century.