Quedlinburg: Germany’s First Capital

Germany is dotted with quaint little towns most people will never have heard of and will probably never visit. These towns are the stuff fairytales are made of: narrow cobblestone streets and colourful timber-framed houses dating as far back as the 16th century.

The Harz region, a mountain range that lies about 200km from Berlin is strewn with these little towns. An unplanned drive with my visiting uncle led to our discovery of Quedlinburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Romanesque Road.

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Timber-framed houses in the historic Altstadt

The name Quedlinburg comes from a villa that belonged to a nobleman name Quitilo. His name stemmed from the Old German ‘quit’ which meant ‘to speak/converse’. Thus, Quito was somebody who could speak well and Quitilo was used to refer to the young Quito. Quitilo and his descendants lived here and the town was refered to in documents as Quitlingen or Quitlinga.

Quedlinburg is dubbed as Germany’s First Capital, having been the place where Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) was offered the German crown in 919 by Franconian nobles. Henry’s son, Otto I (Otto the Great) became king of the Holy Roman Empire. After Henry’s death, his widow, Saint Matilda founded a religious community, Quedlinburg Abbey, for women on the castle hill where daughters of the higher nobility were educated. The main task of this  foundation was to pray for the memory of King Henry and the rulers who came after him.

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Quedlinburg Castle Hill

For some time, Quedlinburg was ruled by women as abbesses without ‘taking the veil’, and they were free to marry. The last of these women was Sophia Albertina, a Swedish-Prussian princess who founded a school for poor children, established the first theatre in the city, and increased the salary of the clergy. Her rule was a popular one and gossip pointed out Quedlinburg as a place where noblewomen went to give birth to their illegitimate children in secret.

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Interior of the collegiate church
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Nazi-style eagle

During the Third Reich, the memory of Henry I became a cult as Heinrich Himmler saw himself as a reincarnation of who he believed was ‘the most German of all German rulers’.

He wanted the church and castle to be a shrine for Nazi Germany and create a new religion for the Nazi Party. The local crematorium was kept busy burning bodies of prisoners from the nearby concentration camp.

After liberation in 1945, the Nazi-style eagle was taken down and the Protestant bishop was allowed to return. The churchbells were also returned to the towers.

During the DDR era, Polish specialists were brought in to restore the timber-framed houses in Quedlinburg and today it is a center of restoration of Fachwerk (timber-framed) houses.

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‘Visiting Quedlinburg makes you realise how much of Germany’s quaint little towns you bypass.’ -Stefan

The old town of Quedlinburg as well as the church and castle complex have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. It’s a town with friendly locals, where nothing much seems to be happening outside of day to day lives. Occasionally, you’ll come by gaudy houses sticking out from its medieval neighbours that will make you wonder how they even got the building permit. Fortunately, there are very few of these around.

What more can you ask for on such a beautiful day while sitting outside in the mild summer sun, eating a German cheesecake in a quaint fairytale town you didn’t know existed until today?