Weimar, Goslar and Celle

Thursday 3rd May 2018, Near Goslar, Harz Mountains
We have been pretty busy in Weimar over the past couple of days. The little town has just so much to see and such a rich history. We have written elsewhere about Weimar on several occasions so I do not intend writing much about it now. I am more interested in reporting our reunion with Ian’s friend whom he has been in contact with since they were both students and met by chance in a bookshop in Weimar where Hubert was working as part of his training to become a bookseller and Ian was attending a German language course behind the Iron Curtain as part of his studies in German literature and culture. All through the years when Hubert was unable to travel outside the DDR they would meet from time to time in Berlin, in Weimar, or in Leipzig where Hubert found himself working once his training in Weimar ended. Later in life he returned to live in Weimar and Ian returned, with me, to once again visit his friend in this stunning little town which, in the 18th century was the Residenzstadt of the Dukes of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach.

Individuals from various periods in Weimar’s history include such literary giants as Johann von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Christoph Martin Wieland. In the world of philosophy were Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and Johann Gottfried von Herder who was also a theologian. Musicians included Johann Sebastian Bach and several of his sons, Franz Liszt and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Artists included Lucas Cranach and his son - also Lucas. In architecture Walter Gropius created the Bauhaus movement and the town has many stunning Art Nouveau buildings. The town has its own castle dating from the 15th century which was the seat of the dukes of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. It is set in a beautiful park through which flows the river Ilm and where Goethe had his rural retreat - a little house set overlooking the woods and fields of the park. On the edges of the town - an agreeable stroll from the centre - can be found the small castles known as the Belvedere and Tiefurt Palace, this latter a couuntry retreat for Duchess Anna Amalia, a leading Weimar figure of the age of German Enlightenment.

We spent Wednesday just wandering through the town, stopping for Kaffee und Kuchen in one of the many delightful coffee shops and queuing with the local people on the market square for a mustard smothered grilled Thuringian Bratwurst in a warm-baked white Semmel (bread roll) which we ate on long benches crowded in by a cheerful crowd drinking the local Thuringian beer. It was 1st May, Labour Day and there was a very strong police presence around the town. They had absolutely nothing to do. The crowd was happy and peaceful. The police stood around in side streets looking bored. Many of them I suspect were not even born when the Wall came down back in 1989, but perhaps old attitudes die hard!

Street market on a sunny Mayday, Goetheplatz, Weimar, Thuringia

Mayday celebrations, Postamt, Weimar, Thuringia

Art Nouveau houses, Weimar, Thuringia

Garden of the Kirms-Krakow-Haus, Weimar, Thuringia

Town Archives seen from the garden of the Kirms-Krakow-Haus, Weimar, Thuringia

Furstenhaus from Bastille, Weimar, Thuringia

Mayday crowds, Marktplatz, Weimar, Thuringia

Mayday crowds, Theaterplatz, Weimar, Thuringia

Plaque to Hans Christian Andersen, Weimar, Thuringia

Plaque to Johann Sebastian Bach, Weimar, Thuringia

What has changed though are the prices of goods. Delicious as our cakes were, they cost us at least as much as similar cakes would cost back in Devon. And now the town has risen, phoenix-like, from the coal-blackened, rotten, delapidated city of our youthful visits to be a city of lovely half-timbered buildings painted in pastel colours, with flowering plants and trees in the streets, and lovely squares with black slate onion-domed churches in cobbled squares around the town.

The park was beautiful with bright green grass, smothered in yellow dandelions. We took a walk beside the Ilm to the Romisches Haus and the Franz Liszt Haus, enjoying the shade of the woodland with its fresh green leaves unfurling, to the castle and through the town, back along the Cranach Strasse with its restored Art Nouveau houses, to where we had left Modestine. We then drove back to the campsite we have been using near Bad Berka for the night.

Park an der Ulm with Goethes Gartenhaus, Weimar, Thuringia

Romisches Haus, Park an der Ulm, Weimar, Thuringia

Romisches Haus, Park an der Ulm, Weimar, Thuringia

Franz Liszt monument, Park an der Ulm, Weimar, Thuringia

Russian Military Cemetery, Weimar, Thuringia

View towards the Schloss, Park an der Ulm, Weimar, Thuringia

Yesterday we were up and back into Weimar bright and early to continue rediscovering the sights that have remained so bright and fresh in our memories over the years. At lunchtime we made our way to the Herder Kirche to meet Hubert for lunch. It is years since we were all together and initially we felt strange noting how we have changed and aged over the years. Soon though Ian and Hubert were reminiscing as old men do when they think back over a friendship spanning nearly 60 years! I used their conversation as German practice and was delighted to discover how much I understood!

Two friends sixty years on, Weimar, Thuringia

Hubert lead us to a very nice Italian restaurant for lunch where we struggled to eat our way through the huge plate of fish with pasta and mixed roasted vegetables. Then we were guided around the the town by Hubert, eager to show us the changes that have occurred since our last visit.

The Anna Amalia library, which caught fire during one of our previous visits and which was still blazing as we’d left Weimar, has now been restored though we believe the restoration of the books is still ongoing. It is an awesome library for a town the size of Weimar and reflects the importance of the town for Germany’s cultural heritage.

Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Thuringia

Anna Amalia Library. Weimar, Thuringia

Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Thuringia

Too soon the afternoon had passed. We were due to move on this morning and Hubert needed to return to Berlin where he was expected. So who knows when, if ever, there will be an opportunity to meet up again? It seems unbelievable that their friendship has endured for so many years and that maybe this could be their last meeting ever! However, I cannot believe that and am hoping we will yet find a way to lure Hubert to Devon, at least once more!

This morning we made our way to Gotha where we stopped to explore this charming little town with its castle on a hilltop steeply overlooking the half-timbered buildings below. It is a very pleasant place, part of the Dukedom of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha from which our present Royal Family comes. Impossible for us to pass the many bakers-cum-coffee shops without ceding to the temptation to sample their first-rate coffee and excellent iced fruit tarts! Ian is not the only sinner in Germany when it comes to the pastries! I confess to being as weak-willed as he is!

Rathaus, Gotha, Thuringia

Hauptmarkt from Sclossberg, Gotha, Thuringia

Scloss Friedenstein, Gotha, Thuringia

The rest of the day though was pretty exhausting. What should have been fairly straightforward ended up with so many deviations and road closures it must have been twice the expected distance. Germany loves its Umleitungen. The word means a diversion, but there are so many it becomes confusing which one you are supposed to follow. I am convinced we followed the wrong one several times and seemed to make no progress all afternoon. Ian tried to work out short cuts from his map that then went wrong. I got cross and accused him of directing me off piste, which, I told him, made me piste-off! Happily we are still speaking this evening but we are clean out of wine, having had no opportunity to replenish our cellar. A dire situation after a day of driving through rural Germany!

Saturday 6th May, 2018, Elbe-Lubeck canal, Luneberg, Germany
When I last wrote, a couple of days ago, I was exhausted with driving across rural Germany trying to make sense of its diversions. Today has been similar.

We spent last Thursday high in the wooded Harz mountains near Goslar. It was a nicely rural setting though isolated from everything except Nature. As we left the site next morning, to follow the logging track back to the main road, we found our way blocked by a huge lorry and trailer loading up with logs stacked by the side of the woodland track. We waited with four Dutch campers speaking perfect English as the grabber, mounted on the lorry, loaded up with ten or more trunks of pine trees at a time, placing them with great precision in the trailer. The Dutch campers told us the trees had been damaged in the high winds following a period of very wet weather, thus causing a domino effect in the forest. It must have happened some time ago as we’ve not seen more than a couple of spatterings of rain since we left Normandy.

Logging lorry in the forest near Goslar, Lower Saxony

We followed the mountain road steeply down to the first little town in the valley where we stopped at Lidl to stock up on food. It’s really the first time for ages we’ve been able to do so. Germany has lots of different stores selling foodstuff apart from Lidl and Aldi. There are Netto, Penny Markt and Edeka for starters. None are in the same league quality-wise as Waitrose or indeed Sainsbury. Lidl was fine for us though. A perfect home from home.

A few miles further on and we found ourselves in Goslar. This must be one of Germany’s loveliest towns, filled with half-timbered houses, beautifully restored, with a large cobbled main square and a carillon that plays several times a day with automata representing local miners from the town’s past appearing through doors in the tower and winding their way round to exit on the other side.

Half-timbered housing, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Automata commemorating 1000 years of mining in the Rammelsberg, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Breite Strasse, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Breites Tor, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Dyers Guild House (Runic house), Gossestrasse, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Knockenhauerstrasse, Goslar, Lower Saxony

An der Abzucht, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Kaiserpfalz, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Goslar’s houses date back to the 15th century and there are hundreds of them! Those on the main streets and squares may be the most grand but turn down any side street and similar timber-framed buildings line the streets. These are often smaller - the former homes of artisans, and tradespeople. We followed a street of such houses down to the fortified gate into the city. Somewhere beside a stream we found both a water wheel running a mill and the town museum filled with maps and records of the city from its foundation. There too we found the original heraldic eagle that is the symbol of the town. A copy adorns the fountain in the main square.

Marktplatz with fountain and heraldic eagle, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Not unsurprisingly we were the only visitors on this sunny Friday. Earliest, mainly religious artifacts were on the ground floor, items about the town’s early history were on the first floor while the top floor concentrated on life in the town during the Third Reich. Talking to the person on duty Ian commented that it gave cause for thought seeing the period from the German perspective. The person agreed but expressed concern that there was a risk that history could repeat itself and there was a rumbling of intolerance stirring amongst some German people that was very worrying.

Sculptures from Stiftkirche, Museum, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Goslar Gospel Book 1240, Goslar, Lower Saxony

Fire 1728, Goslar, Lower Saxony

We once stayed with family friends of Ian’s mother when they were living in a small town to the north of Goslar. We are still friends with the youngest daughter of the family, Eva, who now lives on Lake Constance. She also works periodically as a doctor in a clinic near Goslar and we had hoped to visit her. However, we were unable to make contact until last night by which time we’d passed through her little town and were some eighty miles north. It was a pity but hopefully next time.

We spent last night on a campsite overlooking a lake and this morning drove to the nearby town of Celle. This has a popultation of around 70,000. We left Modestine parked near the fire station and strolled into the old town, along with many of the residents, for the Saturday market. We’ve passed near Celle before but never visited the town, thus missing a wonderful architectural treat. Germany used wooden-framed buildings far longer than we did in Britain and here they have excelled themselves. It is exCELLEnt - to use their own slogan! Celle has the greatest number of attached timbered houses anywhere in Europe (and therefore almost certainly, in the world!)

There are hundreds of immaculately maintained and decorated houses dating from the 16th century lining street after street after street! They look so fresh and bright with their high red-tiled roofs that it is hard to believe they are original and not a pastiche. At first I was convinced they were all a replica but they are genuine! They have though been regularly maintained and there are poems, family names and dates of construction written in gold along timber beams on the facade of the houses. Unlike Goslar, which suffered two fires within three years, Celle seems to have escaped such a dire and all too common catastrophy.

Half timbered building, Celle, Lower Saxony

Rathaus with Church Tower, Celle, Lower Saxony

It was market day and people had cycled down to buy spargel for the weekend. Everywhere people were cycling through the pedestrianised streets, weaving amidst the stalls and the customers were parking their bikes several deep on the square. On the sunny side of the streets people were on cafe terraces enjoying coffee while special machines were busy peeling the thick white asaragus sticks, The trimmings were also being taken home by the customers to be used in soup. All around Celle the plant is grown in abundance. It does seem amazing though that the entire nation can go so completely asparagus crazy every year. It’s quite pleasant and certainly we ate a really nice vegetarian dish using asparagus when we were staying with Anne recently. But what makes a nation go spargel crazy every year?

Spargel peeling machine, Celle, Lower Saxony

Twinning Plaque, Celle, Lower Saxony

Street of half-timbered properties, Celle, Lower Saxony

Ian left Celle delighted to have acquired another man-hole cover for his digital collection and we made our way northwards for many miles across the Luneburg Heath, one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country. The usual deviations slowed our progress and we were ushered off through many little villages isolated in the empty wilderness of the region. It cannot be easy living in such an empty landscape during the winter months.

Eventually we arrived at our curremt campsite. It is charmingly sited on the banks of a pretty lake through which runs the Elbe-Lubeck canal carrying barges to and from the Baltic port of Lubeck.

We have already visited Lubeck a couple of times on our travels around the Baltic. We will try to to resist a third visit. It is a wonderful city!

Having settled Modestine on her grassy pitch we took a walk along the side of the lake and continued beside the Elbe-Lubeck canal. The footpath passed several beautiful wooden houses with large flowering gardens stretching down to the lakeside where a lone barge slowly made its way out from the canal on to the lake, then at the further end, negotiated its way back into the canal once more to continue on towards the sea.

Basedow, Elbe-Lubeck Canal

Baselow, Campsite at the junction of the Lanzer See with the Elbe-Lubeck Canal

We returned to the shady garden of the Bierstube beside the campsite where we sat on the lawn sleepily overlooking the lake as we relaxed with a cold beer in the hot sunshine, watching a lone fisherman out on the lake.