Klötze and Salzwedel: Off the Highway and into Germany’s Heartland

The fifth and final instalment of our journey tracking down the Top 5 Attractions along the Romanesque Route in Germany’s heartland.

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Weaving through the Klötzer forest in a horse-drawn wagon, Beachwood shadows casting their imposing lines upon us, it is easy to feel as if one has stepped back in time. After days of navigating a combination of countryside wheatfields and ubber-fast roadways, a sense of relaxation had begun to set in. I took another swig of beer and let the clopping horses and creaking wagon fill the air.

Here, in a forest on the edge of Klötze, an area consisting of approximately 10,000 people spread out amongst 23 villages, there is an effervescent naturalness mixed with small town life. Hiking and bicycling, or in my case a wagon in which the horses did all the work, brought forth dense woodland that mixed recreation, scientific climate and forest research by the University of Gottingen University, and a large lumber industry that employed many of the locals.

I kept my eyes pealed for the wild boar, deer, foxes, and wolves that share the woods with recreationalists and picnicking families. For the most part, though, the forest was all ours.

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Nature is abundant in the surroundings of Klötze. Even a local brewery, Demmert-Bräu, prides itself on its natural and early approach to brewing using certified organic ingredients and sticking to older production styles. Guided by a 6th generation brewer, Demmert-Bräu pairs its classic german beers with traditional pork, sauerkraut, and cold meat platters harvested from pigs that themselves have been fed with residual grains from the brewing process.

Traditional food and beer in a classic beerhall without the commercialization that characterizes so much of the Munich scene results in a very back-to-the-roots feel. This is made all the more convenient by the brewery offering 15 beds for those who want to drink into the night.

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Brewing and religious history goes hand-in-hand in Germany and one often finds monasteries having shared the dual role of religion and beer provider. Down the road 30kms from Klötze, tucked away in Diesdorf, I met up with Eva Maria Heller for a tour of Pfarramt Diesdorf. A redbrick Romanesque monetary characterized by its quaint appearance, amongst its most interesting features is a ‘Bakery and Brew house’ dating from 1306 that is currently being restored as an up-and-coming exhibition space.

Alongside it one finds a garden that has been lovingly worked upon to give life the types of plants one would find from that time period. Whereas some people will be drawn to the effervescent roses of revered (and sainted) Hildegard von Bingen, I personally enjoyed getting to see the abundance of hops that testified to the brewing roots of the monastery. To appreciate brewing traditions requires stepping back to the roots (in this case quite literally), and for that I was thankful.

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All is not just nature and recreation in the region, however. My Romanesque Route journey wrapped up in Salzwedel, a standout for its combination of historic and contemporary elements. Baroque houses blend with modern retail stores, the 14th century bones showing new skin stretched over them.

Here one can see a multitude of things at one time, around each corner a surprise. Ancient narrow streets brought forth timber-framed houses and high-end boutiques. My stroll past the historic city wall was greeted by skateboarders doing tricks alongside an LED-lit fountain; a towering Romanesque church meshed with the dim neon glow of a trendy clothing retailor.

Even stepping within the churches themselves offered the occasional twist, as with the Monk’s Church that uses its 1200s brickwork as an exhibition space for art and musical performances. This is not simply a historic site but one with new life interacting with the community.

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Salzwedel proved to be a great place for me to wrap up a week of chasing Otto the Great and the legacy of the Holy Roman Empire through the German heartland. A truly great opportunity to experience a beautiful part of the country too often overlooked between metropolitan Berlin and the touristy beer halls of Munich. Cathedrals that blended the Romanesque and Gothic offered landmarks along the route, each with a story about a time in which the Kingdom of Germany controlled a sizeable chunk of Europe, and currently offering forth golden treasuries and imposing architecture.

Yet more and more it became clear that these historic sites were not the main attractions themselves but rather a gateway to experiencing a broader enjoyment of the area. As I thought more and more about my choices for Top 5 Attractions along the Romanesque Route, in only one case (Halberstadt) did the cathedral actually place a central role. Magdeburg offered a youthful modern city with great energy. Halberstadt’s cathedral treasury was a top attraction but just as worthy is the annual Ton am Dom festival and its pottery market. Quedlinburg (which I must admit was my favourite destination) is a beautiful timber-framed UNESCO heritage site town that truly takes you back in time. Naumburg is a treasure trove for wine lovers with its gorgeous hillside vineyards mixing with castles and monasteries.

And, the final choice in the Top 5, Salzwedel, a town that manages to offer a little bit of a lot of things. Here there is a menage of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and beyond blending with modern amenities that nonetheless manage to make use of many of its historically framed buildings. That means if you get tired of church-hopping, you can always hit up some modern shopping opportunities and then settle in for an espresso at a timber-framed café. That getting to Salzwedel meant lovely countryside roads and a chance to visit the Klötzer forest makes it all the more appealing.

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The next morning all came to an end as I awoke with the sun and made my way towards the Hanover airport. Countryside roads were my final view of the Romanesque Route, skirting past me and my faithful little Volkswagen Cross-Polo.

Whereas the famous Autobahn always attracts much of the attention when it comes to roads in Germany, one should also keep in mind the lovely meandering roads to be found in the German heartland. After all, it is not simply the destination but rather the journey in between that has the ability to captivate. Perhaps that in and of itself is a top attraction of the Romanesque Route.

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