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Wernigerode, A Hunting Lodge at Christmas

December 1 & 2

Written December 26



Dear Friends and Families,


Germany is a great place for weekend trips. Any direction can be a destination, or so it seems to us. On this early December weekend, we chose North, for no particular reason other than we hadn't been that way in awhile. Our goal was Wernigerode, in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt, but first we had to pass through the famous Harz Mountains. In Germany, the mountains are famous for summer hiking but in the States, "Hartz Mountain" has a completely different meaning for all pet owners.


We passed through a few very scenic mountain villages and saw shops filled with typical, local products: bacon, ham, other cured or processed meat, as well as "kitchen witches" in every size and shape imaginable. This seemed a bit like I imagine Coney Island is, but off-season makes even kitschy tourist towns cute and quaint.

  On the way through the Harz Mountains, we passed a marker from the old German-German border. This mountain pass was reportedly one of the most heavily guarded of the Cold War, complete with guards, dogs, and mines. Today, all that's left is a post-unification monument, a stone whose split has been "healed", and heavy tracks leading past the abandoned border gate, into the peaceful woods of eastern Germany.  

Wernigerode has an 800+ year history, but many of the houses date from the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It was a retreat for the wealthy, who's grand hunting lodges can still be seen. When this was a Soviet enclave, these lodges were used by privileged Party and government officials.

Now, they are being restored to other uses, including small hotels like ours. (http://www.wellnesshotel-jagdhaus.de). Across the street, an even grander lodge was being used as a trade school.


Our neighborhood of elegant lodges was about a 15-minute walk from the center of town, where we could see the much older half-timbered village homes. It seemed that most had been lovingly restored, likely since the fall of the German-German border a decade and a half ago. The detail work was especially impressive.



On our way into the center of town, we passed the old rail lines, still being used by a mixture of street cars and steam-powered excursion trains. We watched this two-car tram pass and were reminded of Kiev, where we had regularly ridden on similar Soviet-era cars.


This ancient pink building was originally a 17th Century mill for the clothier's guild and had been surrounded by a canal, presumable to carry away dye and other wastes. Medieval Europe wasn't the paradise shown in today's tourist brochures. The distinctive tilt of The Leaning House (Schiefs Haus) happened when the it gradually slipped into the drainage/sewage canal. Today, the canal is filled, and Schiefs Haus is supported by solid ground but, like Pisa, Wernigerode is proud of their leaning landmark.


Downtown was a walking zone, full with shops and restaurants. This part of eastern Germany seemed to have recovered from the anti-capitalists Soviet era. We did our share of window shopping, but managed to escape without major purchases.

Looking for dinner, we passed on what appeared to be a local specialty: hot dogs big enough for a family. For two or three euros, folks were getting enough bratwurst and bread for at least a day or two.


Instead, we settled into a very nice restaurant, looking out at the twin-towered City Hall or Rat Haus, a famous German landmark. We thoroughly enjoyed watching the lights come up on our first Christmas Market of the year.

Afterwards, we wandered around watching others enjoy their new Christmas season too. This has to be one of the best times of the year in Germany as everyone, tourist or local, looks forward to four weeks of color, candy, lights, steaming wine, and smiles.


The next day, we walked up to Wernigerode Castle. The castle was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries and secured the royal road leading up into the Harz Mountain hunting forests. The walls and gates and turrets were classic German castle material.


  In the 18th Century Wernigerode Castle was remodeled by the Stolberg family into the quintessential hunting lodge. It's hill-top location made it a visible symbol of power and prestige but by the 1930's the maintenance costs had forced the family to open the rooms to the public.  
  The Soviet times saw the family escape to the West, and that era was hard on such symbols of capitalism. However, there has been a post-reunification enthusiasm for landmark restoration and, today, the castle views are available for everyone.  
  Inside, the castle was open as well, but pictures were only allowed in the inner courtyard, where a small Christmas Market was adding a nice touch. Marianne and I did take the tour of the rooms and would highly recommend it. Two- or three-dozens rooms are open and furnished in the manner of the 18th Century hunting lodge of a wealthy family. The guide book says the sponsoring organization is gradually finding the original furnishings and decorations.  


So, that was our stay in Wernigerode, where we learned a new meaning of "hunting lodge" - or, at least, a new opulence scale for lodges. So, once you have seen all the required Germany tourist castles, churches, and squares, give this one a try.


John and Marianne




On our way home, we passed through a couple of nearby vacations villages that probably deserve their own mention. Bad Harzburg was a cute but unremarkable German spa town, except for the town fountain. This collection of whimsical bronze tourists by artist Jochen Müller make the place truly unique.


more: http://www.raymond-faure.com/Bad_Harzburg/bad-harzburg-jungbrunnen.html


At lunchtime, we made a quick visit to Goslar, another old town with restored buildings - and a Christmas Market. By now we had reached the weekend-saturation point, so we did little more than snap a few pictures and visit a few gift shops.

Later, when I did this diary, I went back to the town website and discovered that Goslar is a famous, 1000-year-old town and should be a destination all by itself. Yet another trip we need to squeeze in!



So many places, so little time.


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