Step back in time

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL -

WHILE Ger­many’s dy­namic cities drive much of its ap­peal for in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers, it also boasts many smaller towns where cen­turies of his­tory of­fer ex­quis­ite views of the past.

Fes­tooned with half-tim­bered homes and windy, nar­row lanes and bustling mar­ket­places, they of­fer a chance to lit­er­ally step back in time.

Goslar and Quedlin­burg — both pro­tected UNESCO sites — are two of the best. South of Hanover and west of Ber­lin, th­ese com­mu­ni­ties — each more than a mil­len­nium old — re­tain their ar­chi­tec­tural roots. And since mod­ern in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion largely passed them by, they were not tar­geted and there­fore un­touched dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

No one knows how long Goslar, in the foothills of the Harz Moun­tains, has been in­hab­ited. But more than a thou­sand years ago, it grew quite wealthy due to ores — pri­mar­ily cop­per but also sil­ver, zinc and lead — ex­tracted from its Ram­mels­berg mines.

For sev­eral cen­turies, the town’s wealth grew, and vis­its by the Holy Ro­man Em­peror were not un­com­mon. Th­ese rulers even­tu­ally grew more in­ter­ested in Italy, and rights to the mines passed to no­ble­men who did not in­vest in the town.

To­day, Goslar re­tains hun­dreds of me­dieval houses — both half-tim­bered and slate-cov­ered — an ex­tra­or­di­nary royal palace, lively town square, sev­eral ex­cel­lent restau­rants and the Ram­mels­berg mine, which was still be­ing worked as late as 1988. In­deed, daily guided tours — which can in­clude rides on rail wag­ons min­ers used to trans­port ores to the sur­face — are fas­ci­nat­ing. The ad­join­ing mu­seum de­tails a thou­sand years of min­ing.

Above ground, spe­cific sights in­clude the mas­sive half-tim­bered home of the Siemens fam­ily. Hans Siemens, an an­ces­tor of the founder of the same­named mod­ern firm, built it in 1693. Also, check out the many me­dieval dwellings at Schuh­hof Square, steps from the town hall.

Visi­tors should tour the 16th-cen­tury town hall on Mar­ket Square, and the Kaiser Pfalz, an 11th-cen­tury Ro­manesque master­piece. Ini­tially the site of royal gath­er­ings, in the 19th cen­tury an ar­ray of his­tor­i­cal portraits de­pict­ing great mo­ments in Goslar’s me­dieval his­tory, were in­stalled. If you have ex­tra time, ex­plore the area near the rail sta­tion where an im­pres- sive rem­nant of Goslar’s city walls and a con­i­cal tower still stand.

More me­dieval won­ders are in Quedlin­burg, less than 65 kilo­me­tres away. Town sources say 1,300 half-tim­bered houses are here. Visi­tors also come in droves to climb up to and ex­am­ine the struc­tures atop Cas­tle Hill, par­tic­u­larly the Ro­manesque col­le­giate church of St. Ser­vatius. High­lights in­clude the graves of Ger­many’s first king, Henry I, and his wife Mathilde, along with an ex­tra­or­di­nary trea­sury.

Henry es­tab­lished his res­i­dency on what be­came Cas­tle Hill. Af­ter he died in 936, his son and suc­ces­sor Otto, along with the queen, cre­ated an im­pe­rial con­vent for the ed­u­ca­tion of un­mar­ried daugh­ters of the no­bil­ity.

Though the orig­i­nal St. Ser­vatius was de­stroyed by fire in 1070, its re­place­ment — con­sid­ered to be one of Europe’s finest ex­am­ples of Ro­manesque ar­chi­tec­ture — con­tains the crypts of Henry and Matilda as well as tombs of other early Ger­man mon­archs.

ALSO found here is the trea­sury con­tain­ing manuscripts, a 10th-cen­tury gospel and a 13th-cen­tury knot­ted car­pet whose de­sign is an al­le­gory of Greek myths. It is re­garded as a price­less ex­am­ple of Ro­manesque-era hand­i­work. Near the church are the palace and re­stored cas­tle, home to the ex­pan­sive cas­tle mu­seum.

In the heart of Quedlin­burg’s com­mer­cial area, there are many cob­bled lanes be­hind town hall, a statue of the leg­endary war­rior Roland and plenty of other set­tings ideal for strolling and tak­ing pho­tos.

The Nazis — want­ing to en­hance their le­git­i­macy by es­tab­lish­ing links be­tween them­selves and Ger­many’s ear­li­est kings — paid a lot of at­ten­tion to Cas­tle Hill. In­deed, Gestapo head Hein­rich Himm­ler gave speeches here, in­sist­ing the Third Re­ich was a log­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion of the na­tion’s an­cient his­tory.

Close to the road­way lead­ing up to Cas­tle Hill is the Ly­onel Feininger Gallery. It dis­plays works of the Amer­i­can-born il­lus­tra­tor, ex­pres­sion­ist painter and Bauhaus artist (1871-1956). Born in the U.S., he spent five decades in Ger­many, re­turn­ing to the U.S. sev­eral years af­ter the Nazis came to power. Ul­ti­mately they banned Feininger’s work as “de­gen­er­ate art.” Many of th­ese were pre­served, thanks to their be­ing hid­den by stu­dents and col­leagues un­til the Nazi era ended.

Town Hall over­sees one end of Quedlin­burg’s Mar­ket Square.

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