In Germany, you don’t have to look very far before you find a fairy tale village! If you have to, you’re clearly doing something wrong!
The Harz Mountains of northern Germany are shrouded in mystique and legends of witches and warlocks cavorting about with the Devil himself up at the Brocken on Walpurgisnacht (April 30th) every year. In the center of it all, along the German Timber-Frame Road (Deutsche Fachwerkstraße) is the exquisitely picturesque town of Wernigerode. With a plethora of more half-timbered houses, it was a no brainer that we would hit up this quaint little town in Saxony-Anhalt.
Wernigerode is also the main pick up point for hoppin’ aboard the Harzquerbahn railway, the historic steam trains that chug-a-lugs their way through the Harz Mountains up to the Brocken.
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History of the Town
It’s unknown when or why the town was founded. Like most of the towns in this area, the town prospered because of the surrounding silver and copper mines. The first area to be settled was Klint, where a castle once stood which was later demolished. At the time of the first settlement, there was an ancient forest which needed to be “cleared”, hence the suffix – rode on the town’s name – a common theme you’ll find in the names of many towns in the area.
But how do you pronounce ‘Wernigerode’, you might ask? In German the ‘w’ is pronounced like a ‘v’ and ‘rode’ is pronounced like ‘road-a’.
After the Second World War, Wernigerode became part of the new state of Saxony-Anhalt which was under Soviet occupation and finally became part of Germany after the reunification of the country in 1990.
With one narrow street after another lined with cobblestones and perfectly preserved pre-16th century half-timbered houses, it felt like we were walking through a Disney coloring book. The town was nicknamed “the colorful city in the Harz” by German writer Hermann Loens in the late 19th century, with good reason…It’s incredibly colorful! I would go so far as to say it’s the most beautiful town in Northern Germany!
The town, along with other locations in the Harz region were used as for filming locations in George Clooney’s The Monument Men, a war film about a group of Allied men searching Europe for treasures stolen by the Nazis.
What to Do in the Town
Guided tours are possible in the town, but reservations need to be made at least 14 days in advance. Languages offered are German, English, French, Russian, and Polish. Tours last 90 minutes.
It’s also possible to do a tour of the Harz region, including Goslar, Quedlinburg, Halberstedt and Blankenburg. The tour is about 3 hours and is offered in German, English or French.
You can also ask at the tourist office for a pocket-size map and the English version of “Wernigerode: beautiful Views” brochure and do a self-guided walking tour.
Of importance and the main attraction in the town when it comes to sightseeing in Wernigerode, is the Gothic town Hall (Rathaus) which dates back to 1498. Its impressive half-timbered and orange facade dominate the main square (Markt) with its skyward reaching identical spires. The houses lining the main square were built by the more prosperous town citizens.
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Thankfully, the town received little to no damage during WWII and are beautifully intact in their original state, so you can leisurely stroll from one alley to the next and feel the history. That makes it one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany and definitely one of the top towns to visit in Northern Germany! Be sure to take a walk down Breite Straße, the long pedestrian only street, lined with shops and cafes all elaborately decorated in colorful wooden beamed homes with exquisite detail!
At the southern end of town, you’ll find Germany’s smallest house nestled between two larger half-timbered houses at the southern end of Kochstraße. The house was built in the middle of the 18th century and measures 2.95 meters wide (just over 9 1/2 feet) and only 4.20 meters (13 feet) to the gutter of the house. The last owner of the house died in 1976.
In a town like Wernigerode, the best thing to do is to put the map down and stroll through the alleys. Kochstraße is one street you could easily spend hours walking down in just a short distance, snapping Instagram worthy pictures every five feet of one cute half-timbered house after another…not gonna lie… I did! Click, click, click!
Honestly, this might just be the most romantic town in Germany to stroll hand in hand with your special someone! The alleys were empty, give or take a few locals but otherwise the picturesque alleys were our playground for a quick little photoshoot!
On Klintgasse, which was where the town was first settled and cleared, you’ll find the Schiefes Haus (the Crooked House), which has been here for over 500 years. The house wasn’t always crooked, but in 1680 it had a water mill attached to the house as it was used by a cloth-maker. Over time, it washed away some of the sediment beneath the house and it began to lean. The little river that once flowed through here is gone, but has been replaced by a little stream, lit up to show visitors where the river once flowed.
Schloß Wernigerode, perched above the town was once the castle of the Counts of Stolberg-Wernigerode and dates back to the 12th century. However, the present castle we see today was built between 1862 and 1893 by Karl Frühling incorporating parts of the medieval structure. In 1945, the Communist government confiscated the castle and today it is a museum. The interior contains room after room of beautiful medieval furnishings, tapestries and wood carvings.
Driving up to the castle is not possible, however, there is parking below the castle at the southern end of town and then you can walk/hike up 1.5km (almost a mile). There is also the possibility to hop aboard the Wernigeröder Schlossbahn (Castle train) from the Alte Kapelle (Old Chapel) at 9:20am and every 30 minutes after that. Adults: To/from: 6,00 € / Children (6-14): 3,00 €
And as mentioned before, you could seriously just spend hours walking around and admiring the most colorful half-timbered houses I’ve ever seen and the intricate carvings. Each corner is more romantic than the last, so much so that this post is going to be pictures overload! So….sorry…not sorry!
Walking down Westernstraße in the direction of where Hinterstraße and Mittlestraße intersect, there is a cute stone covered fountain. This was quite possibly the most adorable portion of town with cute doorways I couldn’t get enough of. So much so, that when the owner of the house came out, I brazenly told him he had a cute front door! For more adorable pictures, be sure to check out my Instagram feed!!
You simply CAN NOT leave Wernigerode without taking a night time stroll through the town and snapping some blue hour shots of the iconic city hall and the castle off in the distance! You’ll notice all the extreme photographers come out at night all hoping to get that money makin’ shot! Blue hour in Wernigerode is absolutely a must! Wernigerode is seriously #instaworthy!
Where to Eat
We had heard some wonderful things about eating at Das Altwernigeröder Kartoffelhaus, a typical style restaurant for the Harz region, so we decided not to look any further. With “Kartoffelhaus” in the name, you know you’re going to find a ton of delicious plates with potatoes of all kinds. I highly recommend ordering the Holsteiner Schnitzel which comes with two sunny side up eggs and bacon on the schnitzel!
The inside of the restaurant is built in a replica half-timbered style with beautiful country style decor, cozy enough for you to want to stay and have a beer, or two…or three!
For dessert, head over to Cafe Wien, on Breite Straße 4, a traditional coffee house that was built in 1583 and has been a cake shop since 1897. Of course, the two times we walked by, it was closed!
How to Get to Wernigerode
Without a doubt, one of the main reasons small towns like Wernigerode have remained relatively undiscovered and have retained their authenticity is because of the fact that towns like these aren’t always easy to get to. However, the town is situated directly on the railway line, making Wernigerode easily accessible from any direction.
Arriving by car is also hassle-free and there are parking lots in and around the town. Coming from larger cities like Hamburg and Berlin would make for an easy day trip.
Where to Stay
⭐⭐⭐ Altwernigeröder Apparthotel – We opted to stay here, located in the center of Wernigerode, just feet from the Altes Rathaus. Rooms were affordable and comfortable apartment-style rooms. Also here, you’ll find Das Altwernigeröder Kartoffelhaus!
With any booking of a hotel in the town, you’ll be entitled to a small coupon book (Gästekarte) good for surrounding activities, restaurants and shops! Be sure to pick it up from your hotel at check-in!
You can also purchase the HarzCard for 29€ which includes entry to over a hundred regional attractions for 48 hours. You can also up it to 59 € for 4 days.
A Ride on the Steam Train to the Brocken
Wernigerode is a terminus for Germany’s largest network of narrow-gauge railways interconnected throughout the Harz region. Visitors are encouraged to take the time to hop aboard these historic trains for a ride to the Brocken, a “mini-Black Forest” to the northern Germans. The Brocken is the highest point in the region, which lies at the heart of the Harz National Park, filled with captivating pagan stories of local witches gathering on Walpurgisnacht (April 30th) at Hexentanzplatz in Thale.
As legend would have it, every year, witches and warlocks descend on the Harz to fly up to the Brocken on their broomsticks and goats. They exchange tall tales of evil deeds and hang out with the devil himself who maligns God, his angles and his teachings. For centuries, the surrounding locals lived in fear of running into a witch and to protect themselves, they hung crosses and herbs on their houses. The most superstitious would crack whips to ward off any evil forces.
Other less spooky tales include witches driving out the winter and greeting the spring by dancing around a fire.
The train ride (from Wernigerode) takes about 2 hours to arrive at the Brocken. You can also catch the train from Quedlinburg. The trains have been running since 1898 except for a short period, after some destruction caused during WWII and the division of Germany. The lines were discontinued until after the reunification of Germany in 1990, therefore preserving their historic look as the Soviets didn’t have the capability nor the motivation to modernize. (For more information on the Steam Trains)
You can request seat reservations by booking online. You will email with a woman who will reserve your tickets. She will ask if you want the normal train or the special train. Not knowing there wasn’t much of a difference between either train, we opted for the special train, forking out 44 € each for a round trip ticket. However, our ticket included free entry into the Brocken Haus Museum to learn about the history of the region and how the Brocken was used by the DDR to spy on Western Germany.
Once on the train, you can walk around from one wagon to the next, taking pictures of the stream train. As the train makes its way up the mountain, you’ll get to enjoy the pleasant sound of chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo and the occasional blow of the horn! Try not to be outside when going through any tunnels as the smoke from the engine with engulf you and is terrible to breathe!
It would be a shame to visit Wernigerode or any of the other surrounding towns without taking a ride on the historic locomotives as they are some of the best preserved steam trains in Europe. After all, how often do you get to take a ride on one?
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!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!
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