NAUMBURG is a lovely town in central Germany and fairly easy to get to.
From Aberdeen, Lufthansa fly to Frankfurt from where there are direct trains to Naumburg. As you step outside their neat station, you enter a different world.
Just to the left is the starting place for the shortest tramway in Germany, 2.5 kilometres long. I say starting place because there is no station or bus shelter – you wait on the hotel terrace, which is also the pavement, and have a tea or a beer. The trams are old, two-axle, charming cars that quietly turn up and wait a while, then reverse back into the town. You buy your ticket from the driver; 4 Euros for a day card covering local bus routes, a single journey is Euros 1.60.
The tram follows a curve around the old moat outside the historic town walls. The last stop – there are plans to extend it a little further – was where we got off, to be met by a town walking tour guide dressed in medieval costume, as the beautiful 13th century Uta Ekkehard, wife of Margrave. The couple founded the cathedral of St Peter and St Paul here.
The guide graciously escorted us over the dry moat through a gap in the walls to the first house, where the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche spent most of his childhood. It is now a museum. Continuing on, the street leads to a market place where they were erecting stands and wooden cabins for the forthcoming cherry festival. A ‘Cherry Queen’ would be elected from the local maidens, as is done for the wine festival and any other festival.
All the buildings are old, colourful, seemingly random rooflines and frontages, and the whole town seems to be relaxed yet bustling. People are going about with purpose but have time to say “hello”. It is just one of those places that you instantly like. Carrying on through the shopping streets (with no empty shops) we came to another, larger, square where a fruit and vegetable market was in full swing. There were one or two old East German cars, Wartburgs, still in evidence.
Nearby is the huge church of St Wenzel (Saint Wenceslas to us). I thought that this massive church must be the Cathedral but was told that it is “only” the parish church. In the summer they hold half-hour organ concerts at noon on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays – well worth listening to as the church contains the world’s largest Bach organ. It was tested out by Johann Sebastian Bach when installed in 1743.
On coming out from this musical feast, we continued down the pedestrianised old streets to see the Cathedral, and the street opens out a little to create a triangle space with tables set out under the trees, part of Bocks Restaurant, which is one of the oldest in Naumburg and has a good reputation – well deserved. The food here is very good, the local wines excellent, the prices most reasonable, but the tea is terrible – the only thing that was not first class.
After this great meal (and maybe a little too much of the local wines) we carried on down Steinerweg (stone street) to the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. I had expected it to have a vast open interior, but it is in three distinct sections, the middle one being the size of a large house, blocking the way between the other two sections. You could spend a lot of time exploring this 13th century marvel.
There are the life-size statues of 12 founders of the Cathedral, including Uta, our modern day guide, stained glass windows, crypt, treasury, rood-screen, and so on. Even if you are not interested much in churches, the quantity and variety of the ancient things here will keep you fascinated.
To one side of the Cathedral is what looks like the cloister of a monastery – but it is not; it is just the way that the Bishop wanted it building. There are public toilets here, and like all of them in Naumburg, free, spotlessly clean and efficient. Behind the Cathedral is the large impressive Saxony-Anhalt Higher Regional Court, built during the First World War, replacing older buildings, on the hill that was where the fortress was. The “new fortress” (or “Nuwen Burg” ) is what gave the town its name.
Another church in Naumburg is worth a visit. It is not architecturally interesting, or large, but it is a Catholic church and was built in 1957, one of the very few that were allowed under the former Communist regime. There are so many interesting things to see and visit, like the Marientor, the only remaining original town gate in the walls, a great many interesting houses, the old prison, the old mint and so on, but rather than describe them all, I want to tell you about some of the other interesting places close by.
For more information on Naumburg go to www.naumburg-tourismus.de There is a lot more information on Naumburg and the whole area at www.saxony-anhalt-tourism.eu including the “Romanesque Road” tour of the special medieval sites that abound in this part of Germany.
Naumburg has events on all the year round, mostly in summer, but they are well aware of their heritage and attraction – and yet you are not overwhelmed by tourists or tatty tourist shops. It has retained its identity and small town feel. At the cathedral we came across a bus party from Belgium, but most of the tourists are Germans, who come to see this marvellous part of their own country – they know a good thing when they see it.
Just a 10-minute ride by train from Naumburg is Freyburg. It is known as Freyburg (Unstrut), which is the name of the river, to distinguish it from other Freyburgs in Germany. The little station was being rebuilt (June, 2013) into a new, minimalist style. From here you see the town spread across the hillside just opposite, under the majestic buildings of the castle, with vineyards all around. You cross the broad river on a stone bridge, and there are quite large boats giving lunch cruises from a restaurant that is perched over the edge of the river.
The town streets wind up and around, past a hall with a proud statue of a man who developed and encouraged youth sports, the charming 1225 built St Marien Church, to come to the Rotkäppchen Sektkellerei, which means the red cap sparkling wine cellar. It is a massive Victorian style factory building, very tastefully preserved and a big tourist attraction. Buses are parked here from across Europe. The tour guides are proficient in many languages, and the size of the undertaking is such that they frequently hold large events, orchestras play in the grand hall, weddings and celebrations are catered for, and at times you wonder where the wine is.
All this commercialism does not detract from the remarkable sparkling wine. On the tour, you will see the largest barrel in Germany, made in 1894 and holding 160,000 bottles worth of wine. When it comes to the tasting part of the tour, they have a surprise. A sabre is carefully taken out of a case and one of the party is shown how to sharply sweep it up the side of the bottle to remove the cork, red cap and all, in one go. Then you all taste the excellent sparkling wine. They produce millions of bottles per annum largely for consumption in Germany (as I said earlier, they know a good thing!) and also for export all over the world. There are more details of the wine and the Rotkäppchen at www.rotkaeppchen.de and of Freyburg at www.freyburg-tourismus.de
There are more fascinating places to discover, in this central and largely unspoiled part of Germany, and I will continue with Worlitzer gardens and the architecture of Dessau – Rosslau in the next travel article.