Discovering the heart of Germany

By | Category: Travel destinations
Goslar market place clock

The clock in the market place of Goslar

Goslar was once an imperial court town, and visiting it is very much like stepping back in time. The majority of the facades date back to the fifteen century with the odd 11th and 12th century building encompassing a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Housed in one of these buildings, behind a medieval facade is the Museum of Modern Art. The main square cobbled, as are most of the streets, is dotted with cafes and there is lots of outside seating when the weather is fine. A fountain dates back to the 1200s. The attraction here, however, is the clock above one of the cafes which, on the hour but not every hour, has figurines of an Emperor and miners coming in and out of doors, accompanied by music from fifteen small bells.

Rammelsberg mine train

a train at the Rammelsberg mine

Near Goslar the Rammelsberg mine, which closed as a working mine in 1988, has been turned into a museum. Although my initial reaction to visiting a mine wasn’t that positive, I was glad I did, as the tour was fascinating. I could see, especially with children, that it would be easy to spend the whole day there. We were obliged to wear hard yellow hats, a necessity particularly for anyone tall as during our tour, I heard several clunks as we were walking through the narrow tunnels. Rather than going down in a lift, we took a small, very cramped train that in the past would have transported miners into the mountain. We must have travelled for about half a mile before we stopped. A space has been set up in the mine to allow visitors to see the different methods, as technology improved, of how the miners drilled the rocks for ore, particularly copper, lead and zinc. It was incredibly noisy! We were also shown the enormous wooden wheels powered by water that were used to bring up the containers full of rocks. The site has several exhibitions showing the equipment used, and explains in detail everything there is to know about mining.

Goslar's half timbered buildings

some of the half-timbered buildings in Goslar

In the mountains man-made lakes, water ditches and subterranean watercourses were created to supply the water that turned the massive wooden wheels and provided Hydropower. This was used for the ore extraction in the mines, as well as being a source of water for the area. One hundred and seven of these lakes, some dating back to the 16th century, exist today with around half of them still in operation. Located in forests of Norwegian spruce trees, there are hiking and mountain bike trails as well as it being a haven for wildlife, wild berries, and plants. In times gone-by where certain plants grew was apparently an indication of ore in the rocks below. Signs, in German, indicate various walking routes, which are easy to follow. However, for the history and an explanation of how the water system works it is possible to hire a guide via the museum’s website. Goslar together with the mine, and the water management system has UNESCO World Heritage status.

Leaving Goslar, we drove through Harz National Park stopping at one of the borders that used to separate East and West Germany. This is very much hiking country but for those who prefer a more leisurely way of travelling there is also a steam train that runs between April and November that takes you up the Brocken, the tallest mountain in the region at 1,125m.

Quedlinburg half tibered building

and more in Quedlinburg

Located in what used to be Eastern Germany, Quedlinburg  is another preserved town with UNESCO World Heritage status. Cobbled streets, half-timbered houses of different colours with no two buildings alike all blend together to create a fairytale looking town.  One thousand three hundred houses mostly dating from the 16 -18th centuries have been preserved although there is one from the 14th century as well as an even older stone house. Known as Castle Hill, there isn’t a castle but a cathedral and collegiate on the hill. The cathedral was formerly the seat of the Roman Empire rather than a church with a bishop. The church, dating from the 12th century has an even older crypt with the original painted ceiling restored. Concerts are held in the church on Saturdays during the summer.  On display, are treasures over 1.000 years old, including a gold Gospel book and a jewel-incrusted coffer. Today, the church is Protestant with services held every Sunday. Next to it, the collegiate built in the 10th century in the memory of King Heinrich, the first king of Saxony for educating  rich children, now houses the town’s museum.

cathedral in Quedlinburg

the Cathedral and Collegiate on Castle Hill, Quedlinburg

Food is not one of Germany’s stronger points. Breaded schnitzels; pork with red cabbage and spetzel, small fan shaped pasta; goulash and steaks tend to be on every menu. Germans, however, do love their beer and there are lots of small breweries making their own recipes, usually also having a restaurant. Three kilometres from Goslar in the hills with views of the town, the Steinberg Alm has been built as a Tyrolean Chalet with an outside eating area. In Quedlinburg, we ate at the Lüdde Bräu where the copper mash tubs are on show. Service in restaurants tends to be slow, contrary to what I would have thought in the country.

Christmas markets are very special in Germany. Goslar’s market this year starts on 26 November and runs until 30 December. In Quedlinburg the market, which runs throughout December, has medieval stands. On the first, second and third weekends of Advent, over 20 private courtyards are also open to visitors.

Harz's steam train that goes through the mountains

the steam train that travels on the mountain

This area of Germany is not as geared to Wi-Fi as in the UK. Hotels may provide this facility but there is likely to be a charge.

National Express has buses to and from Stansted Airport to many parts of the country. The nearest airport, one and a half hours from Goslar, is Hannover. I flew from Stansted with Germanwings who have daily flights six times a week there and back from Monday to Saturday, and also flights to Hanover every Sunday to Friday evening with a return flight the following morning.

For more information about Harz, click here.


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