Gentle hills and wide, fertile fields characterize the landscape that spreads north of the Harz Mountains. The church towers of Halberstadt tower unmistakably over the countryside. Wernigerode, the "colorful city on the Harz", is one of the most popular destinations in this region.

Reading sample from the DuMont Pictorial Atlas Harz Mountains

This article comes from the DuMont Pictorial Atlas Harz Mountains from DuMont Reiseverlag. There you will find 120 pages of numerous active tips and recommendations tested by the author for every taste: how about downhill on the Bocksberg, climbing in the Oker Valley or a discovery tour on the tracks of migratory birds?

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The northern Harz foreland benefits from the Brocken in two ways: Tourists like to choose the beautiful towns on the edge of the Harz as the starting point for their Harz journey. And the heights shield against the rain, which mainly comes from the southwest. Thus, Wernigerode records significantly less precipitation than places in comparable climatic zones, and foehn weather patterns drive up temperatures.

"Hermann Löns once called Wernigerode a "colorful town on the Harz Mountains. The abundance of half-timbered houses still catches the eye; a lot of money has gone into restoration and lush, colorful paint jobs. The town, always at the forefront of Harz tourism since its beginnings, is still one of the most popular destinations. Numerous visitors drift through the alleys, photograph the half-timbered houses, marvel at wooden saints, jugglers and craftsmen animating house facades. Around the historic town hall, the crowds are at their densest. The market stalls offer cauliflower, carrots and potatoes, also sausage, cheese and flowers.

Suddenly, the first thick drops fall, umbrellas are opened. The queue at the fish snack bar dissolves abruptly as a cloudburst descends and drives countless tourists into the nearest stores. Café Wiecker also fills up in no time. While dark clouds loom outside, nimble waiters rush from table to table inside, nodding and taking notes, carrying heavily laden trays up and down again. Some take a late breakfast, others order an early lunch or have discovered the great selection of cakes. As soon as the first ray of sunlight glistens on the wet cobblestones, the weather emergency group impatiently waves to pay and continues their visit to the city, while the regulars sit back and quietly turn to their newspaper reading again.

The beautiful Ilse

There is no shortage of sagas, fairy tales and legends in the Harz Mountains. Mountains, caves, rock pinnacles, hidden waterfalls and impenetrable forests are the best breeding ground for their emergence. Where miners penetrate deep into the bones of the earth and charcoal burners dwell alone in the forest for weeks, dwarves and white women, enchanted deer, water spirits, robbers and enchanted souls have an easy time. Other mythical stories are rooted in the history of the Harz as the heartland of the German Empire. Barbarossa and Heinrich der Vogler, for example, provided material for legends.

Tales also unwind around striking natural beauties. On the Ilsestein, for example, once stood a mighty castle, the residence of a giant with a beautiful daughter. She had lost her heart, much to her father's displeasure, to the knight who lived nearby on the Westerberg. To separate the lovers, the giant cut the rocks in two, creating the Ilse Valley. Ilse, beside herself with pain, threw herself into the floods. Her restless soul sometimes appears on the shore in the form of a White Woman, and when she likes a lad, she takes him to her crystal castle in the mountain.

"In my white arms, at my white breast, there you shall lie and dream," Heinrich Heine puts into her mouth. He rapturously glorifies the river in his "Harzreise". Of course, Heine also climbed the Ilsestein and enjoyed the view. The river rushes up from the beech forests at the foot of the rock, the Brocken can be seen in the distance, and Ilsenburg and the beginnings of the North German Plain to the south.

Also preserved from Ilsenburg Monastery is the Kalefaktorium. In this only heated room of the monastery, the monks could warm themselves. © picture alliance / DUMONT Bildarchiv | Ralf Freyer

Cultivation of emptiness

On April 8, 1945, four weeks before Germany's surrender, a U.S. bomber unit leveled more than 80 percent of Halberstadt to the ground. After the war, prefabricated buildings replaced the town houses, and what half-timbered buildings remained in the "Rothenburg of the North" fell into disrepair. "The largest inner-city parking lot in the GDR," mocked the population, into which many millions of euros were poured after reunification. Urban renewal turned one of the ugliest cities in the GDR into a laboratory for urban development.

Because like many other eastern German cities, Halberstadt is also struggling with declining population figures. To illustrate this, in the heart of the city between the cathedral and the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) there is a void - deliberately kept empty - over which the wind drifts plumes of dust. A few tourists pause in irritation, studying the information board that elevates Halberstadt's emptiness to a virtue. But they have not come from Munich, Hamburg or elsewhere because of the emptiness, and they are already continuing on their way to the famous cathedral treasure.

Face of the angels

Halberstadt's cathedral treasure is appropriately staged in an annex to the cathedral. Whispering, visitors stand in front of the two oldest tapestries in Europe, striding in the semi-darkness along the figures whose gentle eyes survey centuries. Past wonderfully worked rock crystal flasks, gospels decorated over and over with gold, ivory and precious stones, and finely chiseled liturgical utensils, one arrives at the table reliquary, a kind of sumptuously decorated treasure box, whose rock crystal window reveals a raw sliver of wood, venerated as part of the cross of Christ. The abundance of precious objects sheds light on both the vast wealth of the church and the deep piety of the people of the Middle Ages, which made possible massive cathedrals and overflowing church treasuries.

As slow as possible

One of the world's most curious musical experiences is offered by a visit to Halberstadt's Buchardi Church, performance venue of the work "Organ²/ASLSP". Since the first note was played on September 5, 2001, it will take another 639 years for the last note to fade away, because, according to composer John Cage, to play it is "as slow as possible". A steady sound of multiple notes pervades the room, creating a booming, shimmering sound depending on where you listen. There is much discussion among the audience, and the project raises questions upon questions. How long does an infinitely long piece of music last? And is it still music at all, or just crazy? Whatever ASLSP may be, it is a flagship for the city in any case. Every new sound that is added becomes a media event. However, this requires a great deal of patience: A new note will not be struck again until February 5, 2022.

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Wernigerode

The "colorful city on the Harz" with the fairy-tale castle visible from afar developed magnificently at the intersection of two trade routes since the 9th century. Especially the cloth weaving and the trade with beer provided prosperity. Today Wernigerode (33,000 inhabitants) is an important starting point for Brock tourism.

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Spectacular center of the Old Town is the town hall (orig. 1277). Remarkable are the wooden figures that decorate the half-timbering in many places. The neo-Gothic market fountain (1848) is a work of the Ilsenburg ironworks.

The oldest part of the city is the so-called Klint west of the town hall with tiny alleys and the whimsical Leaning House. Almost in every street and alley you can find special half-timbered houses. Among the most beautiful are the Oberpfarre (Oberpfarrkirchhof 6), Café Wien (Breite Straße 4), the Krummelsche Haus (Breite Straße 72) and the Krellsche Schmiede (Breite Straße 95). Kochstraße 4 is the smallest house (1774; 4.20 m high and 2.95 m wide). The Sylvestri Church (1230) was the burial place of the counts of Wernigerode and underwent reconstruction from 1833 to 1885.

As "Neuschwanstein at the Harz" pleases itself Wernigerode Castle (originally around 1110); Count Ernst zu Stolberg-Wernigerode had it converted into a baroque castle between 1671 and 1676. The last remodeling took place at the end of the 19th century with the addition of oriels and turrets. Of the 250 rooms, 50 are open to visitors as showrooms.

The park below the castle is also worth seeing. A small train brings guests up the mountain (www.schloss-wernigerode.de; April-Dec. dgl. 10.00-18.00, otherwise until 17.00). The Hasseröder brewery on the western edge of town can be visited (Auerhahnring 1, tel. 03942 93 60, www.hasseroeder.de; tgl. by appointment).

MUSEUMS

In the Klint informs the Resin Museum about the history and natural history of the region and provides insights into, among other things, the fire department (Klint 10, www.harzmuseum.de; Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). In the industrial area west of the city center, the Aviation Museum Technology interested in (Gießerweg 1, www.luftfahrtmuseum-wernigerode.de; tgl. 10.00-18.00 h).

INFORMATION

Wernigerode Tourism, Marktplatz 10, 38855 Wernigerode, Tel. 03943 553 78

Halberstadt

After Charlemagne moved a bishop's see here in 804, Halberstadt became a center of Christianization. As a Hanseatic city, it maintained lively trade contacts. Heavy destruction during the Second World War seriously changed the image of the second largest city in the Harz Mountains (40,000 inhabitants).

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Visible from afar, the towers of the cathedral, Liebfrauenkirche and Martini-Kirche crown Halberstadt. Modeled on French cathedrals, the Gothic cathedral was built in 1236-1491. Cathedral of St. Stephen and Sixtus erectedThe late Gothic rood screen (1510), the triumphal cross group carved around 1220 from the Romanesque predecessor building and a baptismal font from 1195 are impressive.

The highlight is the visit of the Cathedral treasure, one of the most important medieval church treasures in Europe; Bishop Konrad laid the foundation for the collection around 1205. 320 of the approximately 650 pieces can be viewed partly in the cathedral cloister, partly in a cuboid concrete annex.

At Carpet Room hang the oldest tapestries in Europe, the "Abraham Angel Carpet" (around 1150) and the "Christ Apostle Carpet" (around 1170). The splendor of Byzantium is reflected in pieces that probably came from the bridal treasure of the Byzantine wife of Emperor Otto II, Theophanu. Also on display is the Halberstadt Madonna from the Liebfrauenkirche, made in oak around 1230 (www.dom-schatz-halberstadt.de, Cathedral and Cathedral Treasury May-Oct Tues-Sat 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sun, Fri 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Nov-April until 4 p.m. each day).

On the west side of the cathedral square rises the Liebfrauenkirche, built 1005-1020, renovated in the 12th century and rebuilt from the ruins in 1956-1960. In the simple interior, the choir stalls with late Romanesque colored stucco reliefs (c. 1200) stand out (June-Oct. Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon to 5 p.m., Nov.-May each until 4 p.m.).

In the St. Burchardi Church (origin 12th c.) in the north sounds "As slow as possible" by John Cage (1912-1992; www.aslsp.org; April- Oct. Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov.-March Tues.-Sun. noon-4 p.m.). The two towers of different height of the Gothic church St. Martin (12th-14th c.) are considered landmarks of the city.

The secular center of Halberstadt extends around the City Hall (facade copy of the building erected in 1381). The Roland in front of the town hall dates from 1433, making it the second oldest in Germany. The inner-city life is concentrated around the wooden market and the fish market.

MUSEUMS

North of the cathedral is a magnificent Baroque building (1782), which today houses the Municipal Museum, arts and crafts and city history houses (www.museum-halberstadt.de; April-Oct. Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov.-March until 4 p.m.). Just opposite, the museum presents Heineanum over 17 000 bird specimens from (www.heineanum.de; April-Oct. Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov.-March until 4 p.m.).

North of the cathedral stands the Gleimhaus, once the home of poet and cathedral secretary Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719-1803), now a literary museum that displays more than 10,000 letters, original manuscripts, portraits, maps, etc. (www.gleimhaus.de; May-Oct. Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov.-Apr. until 4 p.m.). Civic home decor and handicrafts are offered by the Screw Museum (Bailiwick 48, www.museum-halberstadt.de; April-Oct. Tues.-Sun. 1-5 p.m., otherwise Tues.-Sun. 1-4 p.m.). Testimonies to Jewish culture are housed in the Berend Lehman Museum (Judenstrasse 25; May-Oct. Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov.-Apr. until 4 p.m.).

INFORMATION

Halberstadt Information, Holzmarkt 1, 38820 Halberstadt, Tel. 03941 55 18 15, www.halberstadt.de

Cover photo: © picture alliance / DUMONT Bildarchiv | Ralf Freyer

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