Germany

Wernigerode, Germany

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.

Indulge me….

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.

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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.

Tourism!

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.

No?

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!!

 

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Bamberg, Germany

For obvious reasons, there is always a degree of reticence planning a stay of a day or longer in a smaller, unexplored city. Fortunately, Bamberg holds a straight flush of the main things you could think of that make a place great.

As a city of 74,000 inhabitants, Bamberg is approximately the same size as Scunthorpe. However, that coincidence aside, it would be difficult to find two more different towns within 90 minutes flight of each other.

Bamberg boasts the rather obscure fact of being the very first inscription to UNESCO, an institute entirely devoted to preserving and promoting historically significant places and monuments. You would think people would be blazing a trail for it in the same manner they do to nearly every small town in the Loire Valley or the Dordogne, most of which (if you subtract the wining and dining) offer half a day’s interest at most. This city’s inscription covers the entirety of the old town, an expanse of interest which particularly appealed after my last trip to Germany was bookended by a trip to Hildesheim, a city with one fake-historic (albeit very impressive) town square, only a tiny restored oasis of beauty in an otherwise dirty, downtrodden and featureless Scunthorpe of a place. It was clear from cursory research there was plenty of sightseeing to be had. It also made me wonder why Bamberg has become buried under larger more undeserving German cities as a destination, and overlooked by the romantic road/fachwerk town daytrippers who head for the likes of Heidelberg and Rothenburg for their fix of classical architecture and wonky rooftops.

What makes a city great?

There are certain intangible aspects you can’t quite ever articulate about some places no matter how hard you try. However, it’s good to start with the raw materials. I called it a straight flush, right? Well, to labour the card hand theme, here are five aspects I think help make a great city like Bamberg, and indeed any city.

1. Rivers. Any riverside setting is almost always an improvement. The flow of water is a natural respite from the harsh sounds of the city, and feels like oxygen being fed into starved lungs. It’s a place for recreation, for viewing things and furthermore it demands the construction of bridges. No city has ever suffered from a surplus of bridges. Bridges are excellent. Rivers are also a reminder of a place’s historical purpose for existing. The trading, the travel. It also reminds you where the water has come from,where it is going and therefore gives a place a sense of connection. Unlike in Eastern Europe where rivers are often ignored and on the periphery, most Western European towns are either historic or wise enough to have city-planned around the river, making it a focal point. Bamberg is a classic example of this, indeed it goes so far as to put its extraordinary centrepiece, the Altes Rathaus on a bridge over the river. Comprised of a grand tower, a baroque palace, and sticking out on the end, at first glance seemingly dangling unsupported over the river, a large yellow fachwerkhaus. It’s one of those things that really defies existence. You can only see this in Bamberg. Due to the weir, the river rushes past at quite a pace, so much that there are kayak lanes dotting the way. I can’t recall too many cities where the central river has such a strong current. This again gives it a specific character.

2. Hills. Steep-angled pavement and winding streets almost always result in more atmospheric places. It’s the city struggling to tame the surroundings and not quite managing. Whether it’s Bastide towns in France, or Yorkshire Dales villages in England like Howarth and Heptonstall, hills make a huge difference in giving a place a sense of character. Bamberg’s centre is relatively flat on the east bank, however travelling west from the cluster of breweries by the river takes you quickly up the contours and into a series of seven hills, each with it’s own tower and lookout point. The Altenburg is set on the tallest of these, and offers a very attractive 5 mile walk from town and back through parks and woodland, with an extraordinary view of the city along the way. On your walk back you can take a while discovering what is really the undiscovered part of Bamberg, the residential west bank. This area isn’t full of activities per se but the historic housing, undulating winding streets and general prettiness is on another level to many residential areas I can think of. Despite the history all around you, it has the rhythm and local life of an everyday suburb, making it all really, quite special. Especially when it’s Christmas and New Year, and snowing:

3. A Clear Sense Of What The Place Used To Be

A place which has made its mark in history is a fine thing, but if there’s hardly any of it left to look at, to walk through, to smell, taste or experience, well, you’d be in Coventry. You’d be in Kaliningrad. Some of it can be brought back through restoration jobs, but as they are very difficult, not to mention expensive, you are often left with only a hint and a suggestion of the place’s character, and sometime a distinctly fake ‘Disneyland’ type feel. Everybody wants a real flavour of what a city was like in its high period. This is why events like German Markets are so popular, because of our yearning to experience not only heritage, but social simplicity; things you can easily reach out for, eat, drink and touch. Bamberg evidently had two clear high periods, a high medieval period where it was an important town in the Holy Roman Empire, and a later 18th century period where it became a seat of learning and inherited the piles of baroque and classical architecture it’s sitting on. The Alte Hofhaltung with its superb grand timbered ‘Innenhof’ complex and the nearby Neue Residenz sum both of those periods up nicely, and it’s typical of the city that both are still standing. Because Bamberg’s old town is so large as a constituent part of its whole, a walk from the train station to the Altenburg feels like you’ve achieved a transect through nearly entirely interesting mix of historical architecture, almost becoming better, and better as you go along. It’s a rare thing.

4. A centrally located university

Yes, there’s nothing like this to inject energy and atmosphere to a city. Cities filled with young people are immediately more vital feeling, livelier and less predictable. The demand for amenities and entertainment make every bit of retail space in the centre sought after, meaning it’s far easier to find things to do when you want to do them. Bamberg would otherwise turn into a granny-fest like the brilliant, but undeniably pensioner-stricken Goslar , a city I wrote about back in June 2016.

5. A preserved unbroken chain of brewing, pubs and nightlife offering something unique.

A vast amount of holidaying and travelling should be spent absorbing local nightlife and local brews. It is almost a test of any place worth a damn. If a town’s residents can’t be bothered to congregate and spend time with each other then what do you have left? A dormitory where people wake up, get in their cars, drive to work and return home without having made any input into the city they call home. People sneer at the admittedly drab working men’s clubs and shitholes dotted around the place, but everyone in them is contributing to their town’s identity more than many of you are out there. Places without local life are vacuous and pointless dormitories. Pleased to inform you Bamberg is about as far away from that as you could imagine.

Bamberg offers nine (9) independent breweries in the altstadt alone (I put the digit in there a la the final score vidiprinter for when people need to rub their eyes). I don’t need to tell you that’s rare, going on unique. These breweries aren’t closed doors sold-elsewhere places either, these are German brauhauses also offering their own pub, and usually their own restaurant with it. The jewel in the crown is Aecht Schlenkerla‘s pub, in every single way one of my favourite public houses and the epitome of an atmospheric, authentic, and traditional style pub. Dark wood, beams, a window-hatch for serving, gravity pulled beer direct from the barrel, roaring fire, shared seating, friendly locals, and the unique rauchbier.

Rauchbier must be among the most acquired of all beer tastes, being as it is, smoked, something most people are familiar with powerful tasting meats and cheeses, not so much liquids (though there is the smoked tequila Mezcal my girlfriend has introduced me to). Rather like kissing a smoker for the first time, I must confess on a first tasting there is an initial urge to recoil as the smoke flavour engulfs your mouth. Locals assured me that it takes 3 pints of smoke beer to get used to it, and after that it’s fine. I did manage to cross that threshold, though over the course of 2 years preceding this visit, meaning I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect! However, the standard Marzen rauchbier is very nice indeed, perfect for a winter beverage, being hearty, thick and brown with a lovely aftertaste that invites you to dive in and have more. It’s a peculiar flavour but one you very quickly get used to, much as I suppose the Germans would find with English Bitter.

Luckily for the timid there is the usual array of local Pils to try, along with some interesting other beers, as Franconia is famous for its Kellerbier, a delicious unpasteurised and unfiltered ale second only to Hefeweizen in my opinion, as the German’s finest contribution to brewing.

Food-wise, you are deeply ensconced in Wurstland, people. Franconian food starts with sausages and sauerkraut, and everything else is relegated to second place. Most food orders simply involve barking a number at a middle aged woman in a milkmaid’s outfit who will return in due course (usually 5 minutes max) with that quantity of sausages. The Bambergerwurst is a medium sized and thickness grilled sausage, and you can eat this at Schlenkerla’s cloistered banqueting hall from a metal plate with your smoked rye bread and sauerkraut studded with bacon rind. It’s like dining directly from the Middle Ages. Agricultural, and with a flavour profile you won’t even need to remember because you’ll still be tasting the aftertrails of it for weeks after. However, it’s unlikely there’ll be any scraps on your plate left to feed the dogs- it’s delicious. Also check out ‘Bamberger Zwiebel’, local delicacy, an onion shell stuffed with meat. Yes, it doesn’t get more Germanic than this.

There are so many pubs to try it would be impossible to cover these in a few days, but hey, that kind of sounds like a challenge. Who ever complained about a wealth of pubs?

In summary…

Bamberg belies its size, because so much of its outlying areas are also still really nice. So many other cities you have to break through an outer shell of shit before you reach the stari grad, the stare miasto, the altstadt, etc. Bamberg starts off by being reasonably nice, and gets gradually nicer and more impressive from there. But it isn’t all skirt and no knickers – beyond the painted facades and hours of pleasing wandering there is a buzzing centre with an underbelly full of local life living some of it just as you could imagine hundreds of years ago, but without the witch trials, silly hats and ritual prayer (or so I imagine).

Fly in to Nuremburg and on there to Bamberg, 50 minutes on the train. You simply must pay it a visit, or maybe even make it your new home! Got to be better than Scunthorpe.

Goslar, Germany

“The name Goslar has such a gladsome ring to it and stirs so many memories of the Emperor, that I was expecting an imposing and stately city. But that’s how it goes when you glimpse the famous up-close! Instead what I found was a one-horse town, a dank, run-down dump with labyrinthine, winding streets, the pavement as shoddy as that of the Berlin Hexameter, down the middle of which runs a small stream – probably the Gose.”

Goslar certainly didn’t meet with Heinrich Heine’s approval, however his pal Hans Christian Andersen was a little more generous:

“It was as if I were standing on charmed city earth, of which I had heard so much as a child in many fairytales.”

For these and many other conflicting reasons I arrived in Goslar not entirely sure what to expect. It was a scorching and humid May day and I had just walked 18km from the top of Brocken to Bad Harzburg – the definition of a one-horse town if there ever was one.

Goslar train station was one of the more genteel you could expect, which gave away the ‘heritage’ status of Goslar quickly enough. There isn’t a designated old town and new town area like some places. Arriving means you are already in it, without any signs of an industrial zone, or vast modern shopping centre on the outskirts.

For a city of such diminutive size, Goslar has achieved and even retained rather a lot. With its own world renowned beer style Gose, one of the oldest and grandest mines in Europe, its position in central Germany meaning safe passage through the destructive world wars, and civic protection from architectural modernism. As much by accident as design, Goslar is today a fantastically well-preserved, almost entirely intact medieval town, something recognised by UNESCO (though the ‘Upper Harz Water Management System’ must go down as one of the most dullest sounding inscriptions of all time).

The other towns on my visit, Quedlinburg and Wernigerode were similarly well preserved,  chock-full of fachwerk houses, although surprisingly- and pleasantly – I found they were not repetitions of the same thing, but distinguished places with their own particular character. Quedlinburg has an early-medieval feel with unplanned meshy and higgledy-piggledy streets, at times almost absurdly detached from today’s world. I wrote about the place in vivid detail back in June, here. Wernigerode is  more late-medieval in style with flat-fronted houses, some of which were entirely wooden, facing directly onto straight roads. Goslar ended up being like neither of them.

p32 p33 p34 p35 p37

One thing Goslar can’t be accused of over-using, is colour. Pretty would be a difficult adjective to use, as the majority of its streets and houses are slate grey with cobbled streets and black and white timber framed houses. In addition to the fachwerk houses there were many buildings fully clad in slate, the tiles wrapping around loft-windows and sharp corners like dragon scales. I haven’t seen anything like it before. For the first time, rather than the fachwerk being quaint and sickly – as could be levelled at places like Quedlinburg and the Romantic Road‘s leading light Rothenburg ob der Tauber, here its role is like a civic suit of armour, a huge teutonic expression of defensiveness and defiance. Beauty seems a strange word to extend to a town like this, but I was delighted to feel the strong sense of character the place surely possessed those hundreds of years ago, minus the cholera and plague pits of course. For this reason, a wander around Goslar’s many preserved streets is really the whole point of being there.  As the weather clouded over later in the day, the sky fitting in with the stark surroundings, I realised there were others uses of the word grey than as a pejorative.

Yes, yes, but what’s there to do?

It’s worth conceding that the majority of day-trippers I saw were elderly retirees lolloping around in their pastel polo shirts and slacks, grimly peering through window fronts and eating ice cream from one of the several dozen cafés in the main square with sneering expressions that suggested nothing would ever be good enough for them. These types exist everywhere in Western Europe, but there’s something particularly horrible about the elderly German ones, who seemingly cannot queue, interrupt you constantly, have no sense of anything except themselves. Worst of all, they just seem genuinely unhappy, which can be a downer when you have come to visit somewhere on holiday. Their objective in life seems to be finding ways to spend the longest possible time achieving as little as possible. That’s retirement, I guess, but not the kind I have in mind.

The Rammelsberg Mine is the main attraction, just a 20 minute walk from Goslar. There is a lack of regular English tours, regrettably, although that fact correlates precisely to the lack of English tourists. This area of Germany is well off the English tourist trail. Nevertheless, despite a shortfall in understanding some of the tour, it was fairly obvious from the printed material and the slow crisp High German spoken by the saxon tour guide what was going on. Working down close to damp grey stone was what the majority of Goslarians (someone will have to correct me if that’s wrong – Goslarers? Goslarisch?) would have done in their working lives, and this made me appreciate quite fully why Goslar the town worked out the way it has. An insular clenched fist of a place.

In addition to the mine there are the various medieval towers to visit, the town hall and the basin shaped market square which had such a profound effect on Hans Christian Andersen but left me a tiny bit underwhelmed. It’s pleasant and the quarterly glockenspiel performances through the day certainly remind you right where you are. As often happens, a couple of buildings were in the process of being refurbished, and that undoubtedly weakened the supposed effect.

One of Goslar’s highlights is a walk along the Gose river where some colour does finally peek out with bushes and trees lining the route, and it also features some of the most – we won’t say stylish – but distinctive and odd houses in the town, with roofs that look like witches hat’s, carved figures of young girls mooning, and what appear to be runes and hieroglyphs on some. On one stretch access to the individual houses are cut off by the stream so there are 12-13 little bridges linking the houses with the town. With this being slap bang in the centre, it really gives you a sense that this is a small place, rather than a sprawling city, but a very charming feature of a city centre.

Finally I recommend going up the church tower as its central location makes the panorama of grey and red rooftops and amid the surrounding rolling hills extra special.

Food and drink?

I’m pleased to say this is one area Goslar excels at, and there are a great number of good long-standing restaurants not just trading on their reputation but maintaining it. I enjoyed two nice meals, firstly at the Wirtshaus an der Lohmule and secondly, a truly memorable meal of veal medallions and dumplings at the Wortmuhle, (which also brews its own Gose beer). This was exceptionally good and just shows, every now and again, the much derided Northern European cuisine can pull some amazing food together by sourcing fresh ingredients and getting creative with the more limited range of combinations on offer.

The two hubs of Goslar socialising and nightlife are the Butterhanne, a famous and long standing preserved…cafe, restaurant, bar, more or less anything you like. If you eat and drink they will do something suitable for whatever time of day or night. I enjoyed its food and drink my abiding memory is of a small, fairly well highlighted step up to the bar area. If you pick a seat near the entrance you can have hours of fun over and over watching elderly people trip over it before glancing back in astonishment as though it just fell out of the sky. Hub number two is Brauhaus Gose, a relatively recent reincarnation – modern but old-in-style attempt to maintain a Gose brewery. It is situated in one of the tallest fachwerk houses in the centre and keeps alive the provincial brewering tradition, albeit their own Gose was nothing to get overly excited about. Nevertheless I strongly recommend both. There are also extremely atmospheric traditional drink and eateries in the form of the Altdeutsche Stuben, Restaurant Gosequell and Weisse Schwan. Suffice to say, you won’t run short of options and it won’t fall short on quality.

Gose beer’s flavour falls somewhere between the citric low countries speciality ‘Wit’ ale and a more saline version of Bavarian hefeweizen. Cloudy, thick, lemony and with a slightly salty aftertaste, it comes uncarbonated and is therefore easy to drink large quantities. It was surprisingly mellow as all previous Gose beer I had tasted was either a lot stronger or saltier. Gose style is also extraordinarily unpopular in some quarters, as this article demonstrates. My favourite was brown Gose. The idea of a Dunkel Gose seems very peculiar as a concept, given sweet malt and sharp salt/sour flavours don’t seem comfortably bedfellows, but they made it work nice. Brauhaus Gose’s dunkel is barely any different from the normal Gose but the Butterhanne’s was really distinctive, so get a glass in when you arrive.

Late nightlife around Gose was a little scratchy but there were some nooks and crannies and I located a couple of bars with a young crowd, the better of the two being Musikkniepe Kö that stays open late without being quiet or depressing. As it says itself: ” if yo ask yourself, what`s up in Goslar, just come here.”

In summary then?

Goslar has something unlike anywhere you’re likely to go, even if you confine yourself entirely to the Harz region of Germany. The monochrome solidity and clean, Germanic crispness crammed into the valley basin makes for a unique atmosphere, and makes this place well worth at least a day trip. Spending a night in one of the fachwerk houses, viewing the slate clad dragonscale houses and wandering around the deserted cobbled streets in the late evening is a experience of pure authenticity and atmosphere, akin to wandering around the Groot Begijnhof in Leuven, where the history of a place is laid in front of you like a living museum, as if you were walking in someone else’s shoes; in my case even more dramatically due to the clear nights and still, starry skies.

 

 

 

 

Quedlinburg, Germany

Thanks to disposable income (thanks cheap foreign labour) and cheap flights (thanks  immoral airline lobby) there are few really hidden secrets these days. The world has been tipped upside down and brought out to play with like a toy box for people with irresponsible inheritances and rich daddies. But it’s not just those people. There are rumours even the uncontacted tribes of the Andaman Islands sent Donald Trump some pretty cutting satirical abuse last week. You barely have to order a pair of shoes without seeing links to blog posts like ’25 places to see before you die’ and ‘Rip up your bucket list mate –  piss poor effort- no seriously – PISS POOR’.

Quedlinburg is the sort of place that ends up on a lot of those lists, but you look at its relative distance to an international airport, and its situation in the reasonably unglamourous and certainly under-promoted Harz region of Germany, and despite the passionately told tales of a lost medieval town containing thousands of timber-frame houses dotted higgledy-piggledy underneath a classic German schloss, it didn’t strike me that many people actually got on that airline website, bought the tickets and actually bloody went. I decided to give it a go.

Where’s this place of times past? Does it have electricity? Does it have wifi? Hot water?

Yes, yes. All in good time. Quedlinburg is in central Germany – actually part of the old East, on a – spiritual at least – fachwerk road, a tourist invention but one that nevertheless  signposts some of the most preserved and classical towns in Germany. To get to Quedlinburg fly in to Hannover and get a bus there, or Fly in to Leipzig and get a bus. A couple of hours later,  hurtling through the Harz in the relative luxury of the air-conditioned autobahn-straddling private transport network, you arrive. The arrival is no unveiling, there is no sleepy town lying over the crest of a ridge. Which was disappointing, to be honest. But Quedlinburg doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t extrude or flirt its wares. It stays right where it is. Instead of a grand entrance, the old town is shielded from view, almost no matter how many turns the bus takes on its way in  you are never truly party to its charms until the bus drops you off at the station and you make your own way in on foot. And then, slowly and carefully it becomes apparent what’s on your hands (or under your feet). Ok -you’ve earnt some pictures:

 

Hang on, that could just be the main square and a couple of streets.

It could, and actually the main square and a couple of streets were pretty good all by themselves. In most places that would qualify it as a ‘nice town’ already. Take the famous Shambles in York for example. Certainly nice enough, even if it is excessively touristy. It is merely a short street and the lack of cohesion with some of its surroundings makes it seem just as much the remnants of a film set as an actual preserved area of the city. Quedlinburg town is all Shambles, if you can stop to imagine that. Granted, there aren’t as many coffee shops or places to buy extortionately priced toffees per square metre, but once it’s coming up to your knees is there really any need to keep purchasing? Quedlinburg exists. Those people who have long yearned to have stopped at The Prancing Pony in Bree should daydream no longer. Welcome to a rare occasion where the fantasy is inferior to the reality.

Yes, Quedlinburg is not going to win any awards for its club scene, or even its pub scene, which is a bit of a shame. The prized Ratskeller is shut at the moment which used to be the hub of the local drinking scene but it apparently poisoned a few too many people – you’re only supposed to poison the ones who don’t like you, I thought. What Quedlinburg does have in its favour in compensation is oodles of atmosphere. You could get yourself lost along any one of its hundreds of cobbled lanes and momentarily forget you’re a train ride away from gleaming skyscrapers, the EUs hub of commerce, drab quickly fading concrete arcades, towerblock living the centre of the European car industry or even the more earthly delights in Hamburg and Berlin. The town isn’t preened or pampered either. It isn’t Disneyland, it isn’t a film set – it’s a lived-in, trifle dusty – needs a lick of paint here and there kind of place. There are so many fachwerk houses – 1200 at the last count, there isn’t enough money to maintain them all, either from the town council or private investment. Despite an appeal dwarfing towns and cities where thousands congregate to gawp contextlessly at less than a few dozen buildings, Quedlinburg struggles to get funding to care for its neglected treasure trove of them. You might even swoop in and live there yourself for a comparative pittance. While we’ve all been busily restoring old towns, recreating fake ones and daydreaming, Quedlinburg has been sitting there patiently all this time.

…and if I don’t like fachwerk?

Read one of my other lovely articles about Croatian towns instead. You will not like this place.

How can a town that is an entire UNESCO site be neglected?

Well they’re doing their best, but UNESCO does have a lot on its plate – you may remember Palmyra being partially destroyed by some juvenile religious zealots with more explosives than brain cells.

I honestly don’t know why Quedlinburg is not better known and more frequently visited. Perhaps there is some plot designed to keep true outsiders from getting in. Maybe I will get an unpleasant phone call from the Burgermeister tomorrow morning asking me to cease and desist in my flights of fancy about the intricacy and eccentricity of the timberwork in case the hordes descend.

Going from the appeal of towns in England with a similar historical charm, I would imagine many of my friends loving this place. It is genteel in that way all medieval towns have ended up now the plague pits, witchfinders and dysentery have ceased. A better writer than me, Simon Winder eulogised about Quedlinburg for The Telegraph and it also gets a mention in his book Germania which is an excellent read for anyone interested in a potted history of Germany and a wry sense of humour.

Drink!

Yes you must be working up a thirst, and luckily as with most medium sized German towns the local brewery is the first port of call. Brauhaus Ludde is a place doing decent beer and decent food. Let’s not go too over the top. It was all tasty. They do seasonal beers and being summer, it’s wheatbeer all the way – fine by me. The staff however looked hugely pissed off at having to pour about five pints worth just to fill one pint glass with actual liquid. It can be such a temperamental style, but oh, so good.

One of the nicer things about central Europe is the appreciation that at certain times of day what a certain man wants is a buxomly lass approaching with a big smile, your pint and a tray full of grub. This certainly has that – there is none of that faint air of disgust you sometimes get in Western europe from waiting staff when your needs are more..let’s say agricultural.

There are things to do aren’t there?

Yes, aside simply wandering around, which can seriously occupy a good morning or good afternoon at a time, there is the rock-mounted Schloss and its accompanying Romanesque church, a shrine/museum to the fachwerk style – (what better place than Quedlinburg?), and a terrific boutique (there’s no less crappy term that applies here actually) selling yummy mummy wares and German craft beer. I was lucky enough to enter during the middle of a beer tasting, and two hours later, having sample 12 or 13 beers I have nothing but praise, with that afternoon being tinted in an indelible hazy glow of warmth and good company.

The accommodation in Quedlinburg can veer towards the expensive for a lone traveller, but I still found reasonable lodgings for 25 euros a night. Sometimes user reviews really are misleading – apparently even more so in Germany. The standards by which some people judge are ridiculous.. I have learnt a valuable lesson since going to Quedlinburg of making a judgement call on accommodation based one what matters to me – comfy bed, quiet nights sleep, working shower, working locks, working wifi – and not what matter to other people – dust marks, a small cobweb in the corner, loose masonry flecks, etc etc. Suck it and see. (The place, not the owner. She was easily 75.)

There’s my ralling cry – so go and visit Quedlinburg.

Just Quedlinburg?

Well, no that would be a bit weird with the Harz mountains and half a dozen other attractive towns on your doorstep. It makes sense to combine it as part of a trip along the Harz region. But, if you decide to stay here longer, fair play to you – why not. It’s a peaceful cradle of calm that ladles on the beauty every street corner, without the need of an shouty autistic tour guide or pills to compensate for any deficiencies. I am supremely confident you will discover your own secrets and not need me to prescribe the whole thing. For this is Quedlinburg. You’ll never have visited such an extraordinary place that acted as if it was the most normal settlement in the world.