My apology for not posting much lately, but life’s a little complicated at present. Having given up my room to a lovely young doctor from Germany, who has already invited me to stay with her and her husband in Berlin next year, I’m currently trying out my brand new camping equipment – living in a tent is hard work, when you’re not used to it! Haven’t done this since I was 21-years-old, which is a very long time ago…
I promise my Merlin fan fiction story will continue shortly – but just to get us back into the magical mood and fairy-tale settings:
Having introduced you to the idea of pocket-sized castles, why not take a look at Schloss Wernigerode in the Harz Mountains of Germany? The nearest airport is at Leipzig, which is a great city and worth a few days of your time before you carry on your journey into the Harz Mountains.
From Leipzig take a train to Halle and change to the Wernigerode train there. Services are frequent and the whole journey takes only around 1.5 to 2 hours.
The Harz Mountain range is located roughly in the middle of Germany. At tourist hot-spot Wernigerode you’ll find not just the castle as the major attraction – the real star of the town is a genuine narrow gauge steam train that takes you up to the Brocken, the summit where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe set his witches’ celebration in Faust.
Wooden witch-dolls, plastic witches, witches on brooms and smiley witches without brooms but clutching black cats…they are everywhere. Walpurgisnacht, as the magical dance and merriment is called in German, is celebrated on the 31st October…and the witches have their party on the Brocken mountain…you see, I’m giving you just enough time to organise your trip, if you’re a real life witch or wizard.
The Wernigerode line of the steam train connects up to Eisfelder Talmühle, where another choo-choo train can be boarded to take you to stunning Quedlinburg, UNCESCO World Heritage Site and stuffed to the gills with half-timbered houses lining the cobbled streets and market place.
Wernigerode, once you’ve made your way from the little train station through the modern residential part into the town centre, isn’t lacking in half-timbered houses either. Its towered Rathaus (Town Hall) dates back to 1277, although it sprang to life as a much more fun place, a theatre. Note the 33 figurines which, rumour has it, depict worthy towns-folk of the time.
The town hall you see today bears more resemblance to 16th century, late gothic architecture, but is lovely all the same. Wherever you go, there are amazingly beautiful houses, secret little backyards, cobbled streets and more timber-framed houses.
The castle dates back to the 12th century and has not just been lovingly restored but also much expanded. You can stay in a B & B in the castle complex; if I remember it’s around EUR 45.00 – EUR 50.00 per night including breakfast.
The castle contains a museum as well as much original furniture and paintings, which are used to furnish and decorate the castle as if it were a family home. The Festsaal, or ballroom, is utterly splendid and if you’re a girl, you can just see yourself twirling around in a Vienna waltz with your whiskered beau. From the courtyard there are the most marvellous views over most of the town. Children are treated to fairy-tale readings by a roaring fire and the whole place is simply magical.
Wernigerode in Saxony-Anhalt serves as a gateway into a large part of the eastern part of the Harz Mountain range.
Right next to the station is a sizeable bus terminal from where regular buses leave for the historic towns of Blankenburg and Thale as well as for the Drei Annen Hohne and Schierke, which are both villages at the very edge of the wonderful Hochharz National Park, an area of truly outstanding natural beauty, where you can observe much interesting local wildlife.
Once or twice a week there’s a market being held in the heart of Wernigerode, where they sell the usual fried sausages and various local delicatessens as well as your weekly groceries, if you’re staying in self-catering accommodation.
For lots of great pictures of the castle, please visit their website at http://www.schloss-wernigerode.de. On the home page go to the left hand column and click on the 5th entry down “Bildergalerie”…and for even more pictures of some of the events being staged at the castle, click on the last but one entry down in the left hand column “Märchenhafte Impressionen”; when the page opens up, just click on the blue entries.
Other interesting places to visit in the town are Das Kleinste Haus, a miniscule house that somebody actually used to live in and the Harzmuseum Wernigerode, which has all sorts of interesting exhibits about the eastern Harz and the town.
There’s also the Museum for Aviation and Technology (Museum für Luftfahrt und Technik) and the windmill museum (Mühlenmuseum und Galerie im Kornboden) and, if like me you like all things glass blowing, there’s also the glass blowing workshop and factory at Glasmanufaktur Harzkristall to admire.
http://www.wernigerode.de, where you’ll find information on the town and the museum as well as accommodation details.
Information on the narrow-gauge steam trains can be found under http://hsb-wr.de. HSB stands for Harzer Schmalspur-Bahnen GmbH, the company running the little trains. The train tickets are expensive, but worth every cent. At the bus terminal the bus ticket office is located directly opposite.
So, what are you waiting for? The Harz is great in the autumn; dust off your hiking boots or hire a mountain bike, when you get there or simply sit in the Konditorei and Cafe am Markt, munch a slice of yummy cake and observe the hustle and bustle of this little market town, now that the majority of tourists have gone home…by the way, you’ll have to be relatively fit to get up to the castle, it’s a steep 15 minute climb, but sooooooo worth it!
Schloss Wernigerode is just the right type of castle to give children’s writers lots of inspiration – the type of castle an “average” knight and his family might have occupied. Not too ostentatious, not too large and not too “fortressy” – the kind of castle where a local princess might be waking up every morning, greet the day with a big yawn and throw open the window of her turret to look out for any passing princeling worth a kiss or two.
(source of photographs is Wikipedia, source of animation: heathersanimations.com)