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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Wernigerode to Quedlinburg

9th January.
We finally extracted ourselves from the stellplatz at Wernigerode after 17 nights; not the happiest long stay we have ever had, but we were certainly grateful for the safe and cheap haven it provided us with; the weather and our illness was not the fault of Wernigerode – a town and a base we would certainly re-visit. I shan't miss the aircraft museum next time!


Laundry was now a priority, and having failed to find any kind of launderette in Wernigerode, we took advice from the tourist office that there were two in the small town of Blankenburg, but despite a trip round some very narrow cobbled streets, they never materialised.

Next stop: Halberstadt, where Sue had identified (her head in the Green Guide) a fine and historic cathedral to visit. As the only touring visitors on site at Camping am See, the proprietor charged us just the exterior stellplatz rate of €10. In his broken but charming English, he handed us the key to the gate to the lake – with instructions not to lose it – and some very complex re-cycling instructions!

Minutes after we parked up, I was amazed to see a Red Kite directly over the van, its wings spread still and wide as it tried to hover in the stiff breeze. Excited that this might be something of a wild life sanctuary we visited the lake after lunch but disappointingly, didn’t glimpse the kite again; having to make do with some Coots, Great Crested Grebes and tufted Ducks, as well as a few Mallards.

More wildlife than you might think at Camping am See

GPS: 51.9099 N, 11.0847 E

10th January
Laundry finally dry and tucked away, we left Camping am See with a cheery wave to the owner and headed into town, stocked up with essentials in a rather bleak and empty Aldi (they can’t compete with Lidls or PennyMarkt can they!) and luckily found a place on a free car park just below the Domplatz.

GPS: 51.8965 N, 11.0440 E

Entry to the church is free, but add a visit to the treasury, plus the more or less essential sound guide and it costs €10 each (€ 2 off for pensioners). The treasury is all sumptuously housed and laid out, but the lighting is so dim over the paintings, tapestries and textiles it can be hard to make out the detail.

Some wonderful stained glass in Halberstadt Cathedral


The cathedral and treasury were both exceeding cold, and after closing time at 1600 we made a dive for the Stephanus café on the platz. Having just thawed out on hot chocolates and plates of plum flan we exited into a very wet snowstorm!

We moved on to a car/bus/motorhome stellplatz in Quedlinburg, about 17 km away. Fortunately the weather didn’t worsen much and after one wrong turn in the dark we found it; totally deserted except for one car – no one as mad as us to go sight seeing in this weather!

The parking meter didn’t seem to want to accept our €5 worth of coins and we gave up, but did connect to the electric supply: €1 for 8 hours. Later in the evening the wet snow stopped, the sky cleared and the temperature fell rapidly – it was time to switch on the waste tank heater!

GPS: 51.7911 N, 11.1397 E

11th January
The overnight temperature dropped to minus 2.5°C but by mid morning it had risen a bit and I managed to drain off the waste tank into the toilet cassette. We’d leave the side drain valve open from now on, whilst these temperatures continued, and empty into a bucket when stationary.

The young guy in the information office attached to the car park had no English and couldn’t explain why we couldn’t get a ticket out of the machine; he did however give us a useful sheet map of the town, the centre of which turned out to be a five minute walk down the hill.

Quedlinburg claims to have around 1300 ancient half-timbered houses; we certainly wouldn’t have disputed that as we wandered through street after narrow street of well preserved examples. Before the 1970’s there were apparently around 3000, but in the late 70’s and early 80’s substantial areas were bulldozed to make way for new housing. The new houses were built to Swedish designs, and in concrete, but dressed to match the old styles. Experts from Poland however, were brought in to restore some of the more treasured old buildings that had fallen into disrepair.

Typical old street in Quedlinburg

Some are highly decorated

In the impressive central market square (dug up for renovation of the cobbles), we found a little road train and took a 45 minute tour of the city for €6: it certainly kept us warm! Not finding any restaurants open for lunch that fitted our cheap and cheerful desires, we padded back to the van as large slow flakes began to fall.

The market square and town hall

We decided to move to another stellplatz out of town next to a deer farm. According to our Bordatlas they had a wi-fi hotspot – a rather rare beast so far this trip. The owner was a genial fellow but had no English, and on our request for “laptop internetten” he invited me into his large and warm kitchen instead of the rather chilly conservatory set up for visitors. Thanks to the vagaries of networking and our insufficient knowledge of the technicalities I was unable log on – so it was back to the USB dongle, but there was a very good and fast high-speed 3G signal. We were the only motorhome on site.
€10 including electric hookup.

GPS: 51.8043 N, 11.1680 E

12th January
We slept one of the most blissful nights we have had in the perfect tranquillity of this spot – even the rooster seemed late and laid back about what time he crowed in the morning! I had a wander around and admired the little fishing lake, complete with log cabin, decking,  BBQ and lots of quirky trimmings.

Fishing lake, BBQ, fridge and satellite - what more could you want!

Over the fence was the deer farm; a large herd chewing at the forest floor. Sharp and alert, dozens of pairs of eyes fixed on me instantly as I raised my camera. Overhead, above the trees, another red kite circled effortlessly, watching.

Dozens of pairs of eyes followed my camera

Packing up to leave, we found there was no suitable fresh water tap available because of the winter cold, and were instructed to use the basin tap in the shower room; fortunately one of our many adaptors saved us from an otherwise very laborious bunkering process.

Back into Quedlinburg, we opted this time for the stellplatz near the Schloss, which is again a bus and car park with some bays allocated for motorhomes. You get a great view of the Schloss from the park and a cobbled back lane takes you up a hill to the entrance.

There's not many stellplatz with a view like this!

There are the usual disposal facilities and a four socket electric pillar: €1 for six hours. The freshwater, however was shut off for the winter. Take a card on entry to the barrier and then insert your card and your coins into the machine accordingly as you leave. Our 3 night stay cost €9.

GPS: 51.7870 N, 11.1340 E

It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we decided to explore the town a little more and leave the castle till the next day. As the sun dropped slowly away, the temperature began to plummet and we took refuge in the Sam0cca coffee shop nearby. This is a coffee shop for serious connoisseurs: coffee beans are actually baked in store, and behind the counter are rows of labelled bean drawers like an old fashioned pharmacy. When ordering you are presented with a tick-box card with a bewildering choice of beans and brew – there are even a selection of vintages i.e. Meisterröstung 2009 or 2010. Starbucks eat your heart out!

The odd thing was – even taking into account our non-existent German and sign language – the young men serving seemed positively alarmed that we English had the brass neck to come into their coffee house and ask for a coffee! Fortunately, a German holidaymaker explained that all the employees were actually handicapped and that the coffee shop was run by an organisation supporting them; the tick-box card is a simple and effective routine enabling the young people to process and charge the order accurately. That thankfully understood; we enjoyed a superb and memorable cup of coffee and some mandarin gateau.

We returned to the van via the square in front of the Schloss; the sun was disappearing fast and the whole setting was very atmospheric. By the time we were battened down, fine snow was falling and dusting the roofs white.

The snow cometh!

13th January
We awoke to a centimetre or two of snow, just enough to get a few householders out clearing the pavement. As heavier snowflakes floated down we made a circuit of the cobbled streets surrounding the castle and then climbed the steep lane up into the central courtyard. If it weren’t for all the scaffolding and the building contractors doing their re-roofing (I’m sure they plan ahead of us!) it would have been a perfect setting!

The steps to the Schloss...

Not far now!

On the castle mount, the ladies’ convent was established in the 10th /11th century by decree of Germany’s first king, Heinrich I, who died having previously determined that there would always be an established body of women on site to pray for him and his descendants!

The courtyard and entrance to the musem

We paid our €8 each for the museum and castle interior – the only area not included for the price was the cathedral crypt: an additional €1.50. The museum, including local archaeological artefacts, was very comprehensive and well presented but not a word of the text was in English. One section is given over to the attempt of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler during the 2nd World War to convert the cathedral into a secular temple: “dedicated to the German nation”.

The castle staterooms of the principal ladies’ or Abbess’ were quite impressive; most of all the inlaid wooden floors and re-created wall hangings – they certainly have the skills for silk and woven wallpaper in Germany. In the lower rooms, some more gruesome and entertaining exhibits included a 14th century portable wooden prison cell, various “instruments”, and weapons of war. There are also four pieces of famous “knotted carpet”: a very early, thick and luxurious carpet – even by today’s standards – decorated in the style of a tapestry and once forming a much larger whole.

The cathedral interior stonework is (thanks to Himmler) stripped and bare, and the crypt – though venerated for its frescos and the tombs, was a disappointment: the area of fresco was small and very faded.

A modern tale however attaches to some of the relics in the cathedral treasury: During World War II, sixteen chests of treasure, some going back to the 11th century, were stored in an old mine nearby. In April 1945, as American troops occupied Quedlinburg, the cases were returned to the cathedral. Weeks later, two were found to have been opened and ransacked; twelve items were missing, and consequently, considered lost forever.

Forty years later, the Texan family of a deceased army lieutenant tried to sell one of the Gospel books on the international market, provoking a lengthy investigation. The lieutenant had in fact discovered the chests in their hiding place, raided them, and shipped the priceless relics back to America by military mail.

The Texan judiciary ruled that any crime he committed had expired “by statute of limitation” and the relics were the property of his family. Eventually a settlement was reached, German private initiatives and public endowments raised a sum of 3 million dollars, and all but two of the relics were returned to Quedlinburg. Make of that what you will! 

There was however a sting in the tale for the soldier's family: see the full story on the link below.


Just a few yards from the exit to the museum is the Schlosskrug am Dom restaurant; it must have one of the most romantic settings for a restaurant we have come across – provided you can handle the steep climb up the ancient cobbled lane, and you can get a window seat – you will be rewarded with a terrific view over the rooftops of this historic medieval town. As it was lunchtime we didn’t get twinkling lights, we just had to settle for snowflakes drifting down!

Schlosskrug am Dom restaurant

Within a typical old half-timbered building, the long dining room has large roof beams and views on two sides from tall windows. We grabbed the last available table and waited for the overworked and solitary waitress to take our order. We settled for consommé and one of the house specialties – pork medallions covered with ham and cheese on a bed of vegetables with Swiss Rösti. Washed down with a couple of beers each, this came to €44.40: excellent value and quality in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

GPS: 51.7862 N,11.1372 E

Sue (with her head in the Green Guide again) had now decided that she was an aficionado of Impressionist art blended with Cubism in the manner evolved by the American artist Lyonel Feininger. As the only significant collection of his works outside of New York was just down in the square below, we paid our €6 entry fee to this newly built temple of modernism. Taken as I was with a few of his woodcuts, most of the rest of his work left us cold; heathens we may be, but: “overrated, overpriced and over-here” springs to mind!


The Finkenherd and the entrance to the Feininger gallery

14th January
The temperature dropped to minus 6° during the night and there was another light snowfall. We had a look at what is known as the “new town’ and the Church of St Nickolai with its 72 metre high twin towers, it forms the distinctive profile of Quedlinburg whatever direction you approach the town.

Back at base, only an icicle was forthcoming from our wastewater tank, so out came the hair dryer – soon there was a satisfying bucketful for my efforts. A 2 kW “professional” hair dryer might seem overkill for thawing out pipes, but you have to remember that when the air temp is well below zero, even full throttle gives an outlet air temp only a little more than hand-warming! Ours cost €15 from one of the ubiquitous German discount stores, and is an essential part of our winter touring kit.

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