Last August saw us making our first visit to Germany since our wedding. Whilst Nigel had been to Germany three times in the past, this was to be his first visit to the region where Martha grew up. Where she lived in Germany isn’t easily accessible from Northern Ireland and often involves two flights followed by a lengthy train journey. Luckily for us on this occasion, whilst we still had to take two flights from Belfast City Airport via London Gatwick, we were able to fly to her local airport in Erfurt (with a local airline called Germania). Naturally this route no longer exists as a future option!
Arrival in Stolberg
And so we arrived in the early evening into sauna like conditions, with the temperature still around 32 degrees C. We had managed to find ourselves in the middle of a heatwave – much to Martha’s delight, as she constantly tells Nigel about how much hotter it is in Germany during the summer compared to Northern Ireland! She may have mentioned this fact on a few further occasions during our stay, when the temperature soared to nearly 40 degrees C during the day. Our home for the next three nights was to be the Hotel Freiwerk in the small town of Stolberg, about 20 minutes from her hometown of Nordhausen. Stolberg is located in the Harz mountains and its name in German literally means mining mountain. The relatively small ’boutique style’ Hotel Freiwerk had been recently reopened, following what was clearly a renovation project where no expense was spared. The Hotel exuded quality throughout, from the interior furnishings to the bathroom fittings. This region is in what used to be communist East Germany before ‘The Wall’ came down. Possibly as a legacy of that, hotel prices are noticeably cheaper than is the case in what was formerly West Germany.
First Impressions of Stolberg
The following morning we were able to enjoy a delicious breakfast outside on the terrace – with beautiful views across the tree covered valley – before visiting Joseph’s Cross observation tower in the nearby Harz mountains. In the afternoon, we returned to properly explore the town of Stolberg, which is beautiful beyond words. To Nigel, it felt more like a movie set, with streets of beautifully painted half timbered Renaissance style houses, some of which dated back to the 15th century. This led to Stolberg becoming known as the “Historical City Of Europe” and tourists began to visit it at the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1946, the town became a popular spa resort for the wealthy. Looking down on the town is Stolberg Castle, parts of which date back to around 1200. The Castle is currently undergoing renovation but is still worth visiting, if only for the views over the town from its gardens. Stolberg contains a number of historic buildings and even a coffee museum, where the admission charge of €5 entitles you to a piece of cake and unlimited coffee!
Another feature of all German towns and villages ,which Nigel fully approves of is the coffee and cake culture but he then runs into the problem of deciding which cake to go for. Luckily for him however, it’s not only hotel prices which are cheaper than elsewhere – cafe prices also are. This results in at least two varieties of cake usually ending up on his plate….purely for research and quality assurance purposes you understand!
We would be lying if we said that English was widely understood in this particular part of Germany, apart from basic conversation, so you may need a little bit of assistance in some restaurants with the menu. This however, adds to the charm of the town, which is far from being somewhere overrun with tourists. So if theme parks and fast food are your thing, then perhaps Stolberg won’t be! If you want to see one of the hidden gems of Europe however, walk its streets and dine in its traditional German restaurants then do yourself a favour and make the effort to pay it a visit!
How to get to Stolberg
As we said earlier, the town of Erfurt is the closest airport but it is a small regional airport with very few flight options. The closest large city is Leipzig, from where you can rent a car and make the two hour drive. Alternatively, you can take a train most of the way and then take a taxi the last few miles perhaps. The city of Leipzig, which lies about 90 minutes south of Berlin by train, is one of our favourite cities (it has a bigger airport than Erfurt) and is well worth spending time in. Our suggestion would be to spend some time in both Leipzig and Stolberg.
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