In 2018, I learned about a new award-winning board game called Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (Quacks of Quedlinburg), and I got curious… then I discovered Quedlinburg is a real place, I got excited! And the more I read about this city stuck in time, I knew that I had to go there. Lucky for me, the German National Tourist Board agreed that this UNESCO city near the Harz Mountains in Eastern Germany was worth a visit.
Quedlinburg holds the distinct title of “most Fachwerk houses in one city”. You will find over 2000 of these wood beamed buildings over 86 Hectacres (that’s 213 Acres to you Americans). Although the interiors have been modernized (electricity, plumbing) the exteriors of the buildings in the Altstadt are almost exactly as they were 200, 300, and even 500 years ago. It’s almost as if the city were trapped in Amber or cast under a magical spell like in Brigadoon. But don’t expect happy peasants to come along singing like in some old Heimat film… Quedlinburg is a living breathing city with schools, doctors, graphic design shops and driving academies. Only the appearances remained virtually unchanged through wars, and even Soviet occupation. Today, this town on the northern border of the Harz Mountains is the perfect place to see 1000 years of history in just a few square Kilometers without the feeling that you’ve stepped into a “Disneyfied” tourist zone.
Follow along on our tour…
The center of the Altstadt is the Marktplatz. Anchored on one end by the ivy covered Rathaus guarded by a Roland statue. Shops and restaurants line both sides of the cobble stoned square. Naturally, there are a few places to get an Eis, and of course, there are several places with umbrella covered tables to sit and while the afternoon and evening away. In fact, Quedlinburg is said to have more café chairs than inhabitants. The Hotel Theophano, right in the center of the Marktplatz, is not only a great place to stay, it’s also a great starting (and ending) point for your adventure.
As easy as it is to aimlessly wander the city, I would suggest taking a walking tour. The city information office in the Altstadt (right across from the hotel) can set you up with a knowledgeable guide who will customize the tour to your interests. (Fair warning… there are other “guides” who may be cheaper, or who promise the moon, but they aren’t as well trained, and our guide was so upset to hear the nonsense that they told their clients). Not much of a walker? Hop on the Bimmelbahn! The cute little train takes you through the whole town… and is great for kids too.
The Bimmelbahn- For an Easy Ride up to Schloßburg
How did Quedlinburg Keep so many Fachwerk Houses?
Head out in any direction from the Marktplatz. Building after building, house after house, all in that traditional Fachwerk style. Sabine, our Tour Guide, gave me some interesting trivia… you can always tell if a Fachwerk house comes from Quedlinburg by looking at the ends of the beams, since many of them come to a 4 sided point. Most homes have dates carved into the beams across the door. And loads of them have beautiful carvings. But why did Quedlinburg KEEP all of these beautiful buildings? Why didn’t they get torn down or modernized?
Once upon a time Quedlinburg was a wealthy city. As part of the Hanseatic League, trade money flowed in to the town, and building boomed. Then, the city fell out of favor, and lost its status. Money dried up. Naturally, when cities and citizens are short of cash, they don’t rebuild, they fix or manage with the things they already have. No new money meant that the old houses were repaired and lived in, instead of torn down to make way for the new.
Quedlinburg suffered no bomb damage in WWI… and was out of the line of fire for WWII. Then when the war ended, the city lay behind the Iron Curtain. The thing is, Quedlinburg was a small city in East Germany that didn’t draw any real attention to itself. The USSR basically ignored it. And, like much of the East, without financial input, there was no way to change the buildings. The city stayed as it was.
Oddly, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that any of the old buildings were torn down. And then it was just one row of houses near the Marktkirchhof. Thanks to German thriftiness, any parts of those old Fachwerk Houses that were worth saving… beams, windows, doors, roof tiles, etc…. were put into a warehouse. These items were then GIVEN to anyone who was remodeling or fixing up a broken-down house. In this way, the past would be preserved, not tossed into the ash pile.
What to See in Quedlinburg
Walk down the Schuhhof. You’ll find the entrance near the Rathaus, a narrow passage (a tunnel really) that opens after 8 – 10 meters. This little Alley is what’s left of the Schumaker’s guild housing for widows and orphans. Today these tiny houses are homes or shops (I need to get back to spend time in the bookshop!). They lead to a wonderful restaurant Himmel und Holle. (If you can, eat in the back garden, it’s lovely).
Himmel und Holle
From the opposite end of the Marktplatz you can head up Blasiistraße then tuck down a side alley called Wordgasse to see the oldest Fachwerk House in Germany, built in the 1300s! Today it’s a Fachwerk Museum (and for just a few Euros, you can learn EVERYTHING there is to know about Fachwerk). The roundish white building with black vertical beams doesn’t have the “fancy” look that many of the city’s buildings do… but it holds hundreds of years of history.( As a Californian, I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that….)
The Oldest Fachwerk Building in Germany
Don’t miss the Schloßberg! Overlooking the whole city, the sandstone hill (or Castle Mountain) is home to St Servatii Church and the Renaissance Castle (now the Castle Museum). It’s an easy walk up the hill, and once you are there, the 360-degree phenomenal view allows you to see the whole city of Quedlinburg, and beyond to the Harz Mountains. (Naturally, there is a cafe, so you can catch your breath and recuperate with a drink after the short hike).
The ring of houses around the base of the hill are not hotels or vacation spots, these are homes lived in by locals. And during the Advent Season, the little neighborhood is extra special, it becomes a living Advent Calendar! Each home is assigned a number, and children can visit on the assigned day to get a treat or hear a story. There is a reason Quedlinburg is nicknamed the Advent City.
Looking down from the Schloßberg
Thousand Years of History
Look straight down… recently, terraced gardens (little Schrebergarten) were built around the base of the hill to strengthen the crumbling sandstone, and to provide green space for locals. Fruit trees planted on a few levels are a reminder that once the town was overseen by an Abbess, whose first responsibility was feeding the people. And that was my favorite story of all. For almost 900 hundred years, Quedlinburg was led by women as a “Kaiserlich freie weltliche Reichsstift Quedlinburg” or “Free secular Imperial Abbey of Quedlinburg” This meant that they answered to NO ONE except the Holy Roman Emperor.
The view from Münzenberg
This year Quedlinburg celebrates the 1000th Anniversary (YES 1000!) of King Heinrich 1 with a special exhibition in the church. Be sure to go inside. One ticket gets you into the Church and the Museum. Although the church itself isn’t “fancy”, inside you will find the grave sites of both Heinrich 1 and Queen Mathilde, as well many amazing treasures that were recently found again after they were lost after WWII, including, jewel encrusted reliquaries and ivory combs. The Castle Museum follows the timeline of Quedlinburg history, from the Stone Ages to the present. Back outside, you can enjoy a visit to the gardens; go ahead and relax on one of the many benches, or visit the café.
Why Go to Quedlinburg?
The Marktplatz by Night
Large scale tourism still hasn’t arrived. My suggestion. Go to Quedlinburg. You still have a chance to see the beauty of this living Medieval City before the rest of the world catches on.