Germany excels in pocket-sized days out, towns with such condensed accessible charm that they act like a sandbox. You tip them up, play around with the contents and then lay them to rest in the evening.
There are hundreds of these places in Germany, most boasting their own renaissance gothic Schloss, a stadt brauhaus to keep you fed and watered, and their own unique array of civic trinkets and curios. Whether it’s gargoyles mooning at you, mystic runes painted on old fachwerk houses, daubings of damsels fleeing from dragons, the town carillon chiming it’s own guileless mechanical melody, here is a day-tripper’s itinerary sorted, and Wernigerode in that sense, is no different, it just offers quite a bit more as well.
All the same, I bet you’ve never, ever heard of it.
Schloss Wernigerode, Brauhaus Wernigerode and the fantastical Rathaus Wernigerode are all worthy of your time. The former is an enjoyable ramble with a surprisingly tasteful effort at a gothic castle at the top. Brauhaus Wernigerode is the most middle of the road town brewery you’ll ever visit but nevertheless nice to contribute to a local concern. The Rathaus is spectacular, with twin spires dominating a terra cotta and fachwerk facade. Whether day or night, there is usually a group standing in the central square gawping at it. If you take a moment to be part of that crowd it’s not difficult to appreciate where some Germans developed a high opinion of themselves.
And yet, there’s rather more to Wernigerode than that, as can be discovered from taking time to wander down its quiet, almost deserted side streets. Wernigerode’s central drag is the one that dominates attention with purposeful looking flat-fronted timber frame houses and a busy market town feel, yet try almost any of the branches off that and you’ll be seduced by the silent rustic charm of the low-slung wooden town houses situated on deserted streets, of the kind that would attract people from far and wide if it were in Yorkshire or Norway. Yet here in the Resin (Harz region), deep in central Germany such preservation and tradition is widespread and commonplace. It’s nice to know that a ramble down Grüne Strasse in Wernigerode is almost like a private experience. There is no fee, no queue of tourists, no entrance and exit, no gift shop, no snaking around people posing for selfies.
Despite Wernigerode being in the heart of the Harz and all things fachwerk, the style is noticeably different from the likes of Goslar and Quedlinberg, whose attractions I have extolled previously. There are no dragon scales like Goslar, covering the buildings in a slate suit of armour, and it is decidedly less twee than Quedlinberg. Here there are a great many fully wooden houses amid the half-timber and you really get the sense of being in a place that used to be deeply forested and closeted away.
“Tonight, the mountain’s mad with magic” Goethe
This might help explain why such a great many of the classic fairytales and superstitions hail from the woods and mountains around Wernigerode, whether it is the witches’ feast (Hexennacht) purported to have taken place on the Brocken mountain or the stories of the Brothers Grimm, there is a truly tangible sense that the Harz area is – excuse the phrase – a cauldron of fairy stories, superstition and sparky excitability.
Yes, as you’d expect, Wernigerode trades on that heavily. You’ll barely walk past a shop that doesn’t have it’s own Hexen, nor dine at a restaurant that fails to reference witches somewhere, although in that case that’s not such a bad thing – the culinary interpretation tends to involve adding spice – certainly a plus when you think of German cuisine.
You can see already that it’s really quite a fun place – family friendly, sure, but also deeply fascinating and visually rich with it.
Enough of this – where do I get drunk?
The fun doesn’t stop when the day trippers leave. You’ll find enough entertainment going on in town, and for true pub goers I’d recommend dipping into the kneipe Tommis Pub just off the central square, a real local’s joint. A tad smokey but dark tarred wood, full of conversation and managed to feel vital without being boisterous or hostile, just right. They do Hasseroder Schwarzbier which is as good as any black beer in the region and feels like the right kind of thing to consume in a crooked, slanting and gothic place like Wernigerode.
And guess what, I’m not done yet.
Wernigerode is one of the main hubs on the HSB. Now this is a thing of beauty. A fully operational and regularly running narrow gauge steam train network hurtling through the Harz region. Prices are fair considering, and the experience itself is well worth it, with old fashioned cabins, stately conductors and that rush you can only get when the plume of steam passed by the carriage windows. The network even takes you up to the top of the Brocken mountain, one of the border posts between the old East and West, via a carefully twisty, windy route which occasionally tempts you with views over the mountainside but for much of the time guides you through damp forests and gullies. It’s terrific stuff, and at the top of Brocken there are many trails you can take. I embarked on a 15km hike to Bad Harzburg, which took me via reservoirs, dams, forests and some bewitching craggy foggy gnarly areas where you could just imagine witches establishing a coven, and on there to Goslar. The paths are tremendously well marked in almost any direction you choose, in predictable German fashion.
Well there we are, very much to explore and if you somehow manage to exhaust all of that then there’s this: A REALLY REALLY TINY HOUSE.
If I haven’t enticed you enough, at least visit for the tiny house.
Wernigerode is very easily accessible by bus from Hanover, and is nearby many separate towns of great beauty, meaning it also acts as a great base to shoot out from. I urge you – go!!