German gem: follow your nose to Quedlinburg and leave the tourist trail behind

If you can, visit Quedlinburg on market days, which fall on every Wednesday and Saturday, and follow that rich aroma through the winding streets to the bustling market square. There you will find the stand selling a delicacy found only in Quedlinburg – harzer fichteln, pork and veal sausages flavoured with an unusual ingredient, pine needles.

"One of the locals found his grandfather's sausage recipe, which included pine needles," says Sabine Houben, a town tour guide. "He passed the recipe on to our butcher, who now sells them on every market day." 

It is no surprise that the sausages are a hit. Quedlinburgers are proud of their past, and rightly so – they certainly have a lot of it. In the 10th century, this small town was where Henry, Duke of Saxony, learnt that he had been chosen to be king of East Francia, the territories which under Henry became known as Germany. It's why Henry is considered to be the first German king.

Quedlinburg went on to flourish under a series of rulers, most notably a succession of powerful abbesses who controlled the town for more than eight centuries. 

Quedlinburg's one-time wealth is evident in the impressive collection of heritage buildings lining its streets. Few cities in Europe can match the Old Town's 80 hectares of historic streetscapes, recognised by their inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

Walking the cobblestoned streets past narrow half-timbered houses and ornate baroque mansions glowing in soft shades of pink and green, it is not immediately obvious that two things set Quedlinburg apart from Germany's many other picturesque towns. The first is that all of these buildings are original, as Quedlinburg escaped bombing during World War II. It also escaped the threat that plagued towns throughout medieval Europe – fire.

"With most buildings made of wood, fires regularly destroyed towns in the Middle Ages," Houten says. "Quedlinburg was almost unique in that it never suffered a devastating fire, thanks to its advanced system of night watchmen and firefighters."

And unlike towns such as Germany's Rothenburg ob der Taube, Quedlinburg is still well off the tourist trail thanks to its location in what was once East Germany. Thirty years after the Berlin Wall came down, much of the country's eastern portion remains under-explored by tourists. As a result, the few travellers who do make it here have plenty of room to make their own discoveries, such as the extraordinary feats of engineering that support the town. 

Quedlinburg was built on the banks of the River Bode, where the groundwater is high and the riverbed is up to 100 metres wide in places. The street called Steinbrücke – literally, stone bridge – is just that, a bridge of 23 subterranean arches, each with a seven-metre span. Not bad for a piece of 13th-century infrastructure.

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Our walking tour culminates at the town's highest point, an ancient castle and abbey flanked by gardens and a small vineyard (the respected wine-growing area of Saale-Unstrut lies nearby). The church was founded by the first King Henry and he was buried in the crypt, although his tomb is now empty

It is still worth a visit, both for its decorations – the beautifully carved capitals of the columns lining the nave include vivid depictions of hunting dogs and sinuous Celtic motifs – and for the treasures displayed in its museum, including a ninth-century gospel written in gold ink on parchment.

Keep taking the pils

ROMANTIK BREAK

Cosy country charm is on offer at the family-run Romantik Hotel am Brühl, tucked into the heart of Quedlinburg's old town. Rooms are spread across a number of historic buildings, including a refurbished barn with a Prussian vaulted ceiling, all surrounded by verdant greenery. In summer, kick back in the inviting courtyard; in winter, nab yourself a spot in front of the log fire in one of the comfortable sitting rooms, stone-walled chambers filled with couches designed for lounging. The hotel restaurant, Weinstube, offers sophisticated dining. From €130 for a double. hotelambruehl.de

SMALL WONDER

There's a big-city feel to the petite cafe known as Heilemanns FachwerQ, a stylish den tucked into a traditional half-timbered house overlooking the St Benedikti church. Take a seat inside the stripped-back interior or, if the weather is fine, opt for a seat outside. Whether you come for breakfast, a snack or even an early dinner, the bruschetta, salads and superior espresso hit the spot. A menu with plenty of vegan options and the free Wi-Fi are further proof that FachwerQ is a small place that thinks big. fachwerq-quedlinburg.de 

BESPOKE BEER

If you appreciate a tale of lost treasures regained to mull over as you savour your beer, head to the Brauhaus Lüdde brewery, where the Lüdde family served up the ales for almost 100 years. After its peak success in the 1930s, during which a fleet of small trucks delivered its brews throughout the region, business declined under East Germany's communist regime, and the 65-year-old owner shut up shop in 1967. One of his descendants recently reopened the brewery and is manufacturing a range of beers, including a delicate wheat beer and a popular pilsner, using the original family recipes. hotel-brauhaus-luedde.de

TOUR GUIDE

English-speaking local Sabine Houben conducts walking tours of Quedlinburg. shoubenqlb@outlook.com

The writer travelled courtesy of the German National Tourism Office, IMG Sachsen-Anhalt and Rail Europe.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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