What do Chartres cathedral, the Acropolis, Venice and Quedlinburg have in common? They’re all desigated UNESCO World Heritage sites, some of the most treasured cultural property in the world. You’re probably heard of the first three, but Quedlinburg? Huh?
Quedlinburg is situated about 130 miles southwest of Berlin on the northeastern fringe of the Harz Mountains. Once a part of East Germany and undiscovered by most travelers to Deutschland, the town is an incredible time capsule — well-preserved, authentic, and thankfully, untouristed. In fact, it may be one of the most stunning towns in Germany. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone.)
Quedlinburg’s cobblestone streets date back centuries. In fact, the town was founded over 1000 years ago. Remarkably, over thirteen hundred half-timbered buildings line its medieval streets, which hug a giant sandstone mound in the center of town. An imposing 10th-century castle and the 12th-century St. Servatius Church sit atop the giant mound and stand watch over the town, as they have for centuries.
Strolling through the streets is dreamy, especially for anyone who has an interest in architecture. Many of the fachwerk (half-timbered) buildings have inscriptions and ornaments carved into their facades, from geometric and Masonic symbols, to flowers, initials, dates and quotes. The town’s excellent Fachwerk Museum is a great way to learn how these buildings were constructed, despite the fact that the labels are all in German. The imposing Markt square with its 14th-century town hall is a great place to start. It’s around the square that you’ll find most of the town’s restaurant and café offerings. Grab a map, drink some coffee, tie your shoes, and get moving.
If you go, don’t expect to find a town that’s been over-restored and turned into a touristy place devoid of locals. Unlike other German tourist Meccas, Quedlinburg is a bustling little town with a lively commercial district and an economy that isn’t reliant on tourism. It’s a little rough around the edges since its days under Communism — some buildings are still boarded up, some facades are obviously in need of repair. But it’s real. It’s authentic. And, as very few locals speak English, you’ll have to revive the high school German or use body or sign language, which usually works. Just don’t cluck too loudly when ordering your breakfast eggs.
Quedlinburg is about 3 hours by train from Berlin, and a visit there will provide an excellent contrast to the fairly modern capital. A charming, friendly and centrally located place to stay is Gästehaus Toepke. Lovely owners, great B&B.