Along my travels, and having been lucky enough to live in two of these cities, I’ve come to learn which cities were almost entirely spared from the ravages of war or were only minimally destroyed. So I’ve gathered a list of cities and towns throughout Germany which were untouched and still offer that historic Medieval charm we all crave to see and feel.
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It’s near to impossible to travel through Europe and find a town or city completely intact, untouched from the ravages of the Second World War. War seeps into every aspect of life no matter how far removed from the front line. WWII saw centuries of art, valuable relics and history wiped away.
While the Third Reich was bombing Europe, Europe was retaliating and Germany received its own fair share of damage. Many of Germany’s largest cities like Dresden, Würzburg, Munich, Nuremberg and Berlin were practically reduced to a pile of rubble.
I have been lucky to call Regensburg home for 5 + years now and every day I still fall in love with its magical Medieval charm! It is one of the oldest cities in Germany that was settled by a 600-soldier Roman camp on a hill at the empire’s border in 90 AD and has been remarkably preserved and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city suffered minimal damage during WWII, with the loss of an old Romanesque church of Obermünster which I recently discovered is still laying partially in ruins and a Jewish Synagogue which is today, finally in the process of being rebuilt! It is the only example of an intact medieval city in the country.
Many say the city was sparred by the intense fog that is known to permeate every corner of the town during the winter months because of the Danube River. However, the railway station, freight yards and Messerschmidt air craft factory were all destroyed with a small portion of the historic Stone Bridge receiving damage. Today, you can stroll through the winding alleys lined with antique shops and explore the Regensburg Cathedral just as it was before the war.
Located on the border between Austria and Germany at the confluence of three rivers, the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube, Passau is a charming city straddling an island. Much of the city was destroyed during a fire in 1662 and since its reconstruction, the city has remained practically unchanged. During the Second World War, the town saw minimal damage, but the Kaiserin-Elisabeth-Brücke (Empress Elisabeth Bridge) was destroyed on the same day that Hitler had committed suicide. The city of Passau was bombed three times during the last months of the war, but the historic city center remained practically unscathed.
Spared twice from the destruction of war during the Thirty Years’ War and the Second World War, it’s a miracle that Bamberg has held on to its historic sites. Dating as far back as 902 and the largest amount of unaltered buildings (2,400) and the minimal damage that the town sustained during the war, Bamberg is a UNESCO world heritage site. From its four-spired cathedral to the Baroque Residenz and the Old Rathaus vibrantly decorated in Lüftmalerei, Bamberg is a city frozen in time. The town oozes with charm as half-timbered houses are scattered throughout the town.
Situated in a wooden gorge on the River Neckar, I also had the privileged to live in Heidelberg for a year while studying abroad. The town has exceeding charm drawing hopeless romantics to the city since 19th century Romantics had described it as a place of beauty and a “royal residence of the intellect”. During the Second World War, Heidelberg was a NSDAP stronghold and a massive amphitheater was built atop the Heiligenberg to hold rallies. During Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), Nazis burned down 2 Jewish synagogues. Besides that, the ravages of war were gentle to Heidelberg and only on March 29, 1945, when the German troops were leaving the city, they destroyed three of the arches of the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) to prevent the Allies from crossing the river. The next day the citizens willingly surrendered.
It is believed that Heidelberg managed to escape WWII practically unscathed because the US. Army wanted to use the city as a garrison after the war. Heidelberg was neither an industrial city nor a transport hub and didn’t pose any reason for its destruction. The US Army moved into the untouched Wehrmacht barracks and have stayed ever since, although they have started closing portions of the base.
First mentioned in 1078, the university town of Tübingen didn’t really bloom until a university was established here 400 years later. Like Heidelberg, a synagogue was burned down here also on Kristallnacht but the own managed to avoid destruction in part because of the actions of a local garrison doctor, Theodore Dobler who initiated a peace treaty. Like Heidelberg, the city was sparred and the Allies focused more on Stuttgart and Mannheim. The citizens willingly surrendered to French troops and after the war, Tübingen was occupied by the French army until the end of the Cold War.
Just 15km outside of Stuttgart is the half-timbered medieval town of Esslingen which saw some destruction but not as much as its neighboring city. Some 60 houses were completely destroyed, 75, heavily damaged and a plethora more only slightly damaged. It is one of the best preserved Medieval towns in Germany and has the oldest row of inhabited half-timbered houses in the country while the entire town has over 200 half-timbered houses. Esslingen has around 800 historical buildings from all centuries from the Renaissance to the modern times, more than 1,200 years of architectural history in a very small space.
Idyllically located at the foothills of the rolling Taunus is the town of Wiesbaden which has been settled since the Romans had a fort here. Prior to WWI, the town had been a popular spa town and today, the city still enjoys some of that glory. Just 40km west of Frankfurt, the city saw little to no damage. Like many other towns throughout Germany, the synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht. However, between 1940-45 there were 66 days of bombing of Wiesbaden destroying 25% of the city but it is still considered to have escaped the war in relatively good shape. The Neues Rathaus lost must of its neo-Renaissance facade during the war. On February 2, 1945 a planned air raid attack was unsuccessful due to bad weather, therefore sparring the town.
Located at the foothills of the Harz Mountains, Wernigerode is a perfectly preserved medieval half-timbered town with colorful houses one after another earning it the nickname “the colorful city in the Harz” by German writer Hermann Loens in the late 19th century. Many of the towns in this region manage to escape the war with little to no damage, however, being under Soviet occupation after the wall many buildings weren’t very well maintained. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the town began to renovated many of the hundreds of half-timbered houses that permeate this town.
Straddling the Bode River in the foothills of the Harz region is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Quedlinburg. It is one of the most romantic medieval towns in Germany with a rich history and architecture. Dating back to the 10th century, Quedlingburg was ruled by King Heinrich I who is credited with being the founder of medieval Germany. Therefore, the town is known as being the first capital of Germany and because of that special history, the Nazis used the city for Nazi propaganda. Heinrich Himmler saw himself as the reincarnation of the “most German of all German” rulers. But despite all of that, the town somehow magically escaped the horrors of WWII. After the war, the town was located within the Soviet occupied zone and again many of the houses became a little shabby but were later renovated but today it is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval towns.
Dating as far back as the 10th century, the medieval center of Goslar at the foothills of the Harz region escaped WWII with practically no damage in part because during the war, a POW camp was formed here and the town had quickly capitulated making for a smooth transition to the Americans before it became part of the British Occupied Zone. The town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 1,800 half-timbered houses, the epitome of adorable.
The neighboring town of Braunschweig though had received severe damage towards the end of the war as the Germans pulled out of Russia, destroying the largest collection of half-timbered houses in the country.
Deep in the hills of the North Eifel, is the picturesque half-timbered town of Monschau which has remained vastly unchanged over the course of the last 300 years. Located near the Belgian border at the westernmost part of Germany, Monschau is located within the Eifel National Park which is where the Battle of the Bulge took place during WWII. While many German and American soldiers lost their lives here, the historic town which dates back to the 13th century remained unscathed.
I have to say thank god many of these charming towns, and sooo many more didn’t fall victim to the ravages of war to the point that they couldn’t be saved or had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Visiting these towns are like stepping back in time long gone.
While other towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Würzburg both sustain heavy damage and were completely rebuilt to their former glory, they still hold the scars of the past, but that doesn’t make them any less charming. In fact, that even makes them that much more interesting and should be appreciated even more for the dedicated attention to detail when it came to restoring these towns to their former glory.
I once had a friend mention that he was disappointed to visit Germany only to have everything be a replicate of the original because it had been destroyed in the war, but I found his comment to show the lack of knowledge and understanding of European history. Even before WWI and WWII, many towns were constantly destroyed or burned to the ground throughout history, for example the Thirty Years’ War, and as always, was rebuilt to their former glory and then some. It’s only natural that towns should evolve over time, but it’s so nice when they manage to hold on to that special charm.
Where would I be without my trusty DK Travel Guides? Lost probably! With quick details, easy to follow suggested sightseeing routes, I can find my way through any city! I also enjoyed Rough Guide’s Travel Guide to Germany with more thorough information and history on the country, which I have recently fallen in love with!
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