Introducing Lutherstadt Wittenberg & Saxony-Anhalt
Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) is the German underdog, the economic runt of the litter. With the highest unemployment, the lowest birth rate and the biggest outward flow of people, this former GDR region often makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.
History hasn’t always been so unkind. There’s plenty of time-honoured appeal here, and the state is slowly showing signs of responding to treatment (including an injection of billions under the ‘Aufbau Ost’ federal regeneration project). More than 80 years after some of the world’s most famous architects took up residence, Dessau has refurbished its iconic Bauhaus buildings. The capital, Magdeburg, has gone in another direction, adding a wonderful Austrian folly to its enclave of early 1900s terrace houses and ancient cathedral.
Immerse yourself in nature and pagan mythology in the Harz Mountains. Though, in the era of a controversial, Prada-wearing German pope, it’s interesting to reflect on how one of his countrymen launched the Reformation, and Protestantism, in 16th-century Wittenberg.
Biotech and other businesses still haven’t filled the employment gap left when the East German districts of Magdeburg and Halle were merged to create Saxony-Anhalt in 1990, and their heavy industry was dismantled. However, with the air much sweeter these days, interest in the great outdoors has been revived – Germans now cycle enthusiastically along the Elbe River. And, on a wave of Ostalgie, sparkling wine from Saale-Unstrut has become fashionable.
It might have gone from the GDR’s powerhouse to the new Germany’s poorhouse, but Saxony-Anhalt is rich in under-appreciated treasures and its fortunes should only improve.
Something old, something new: Magdeburg is constantly characterised by the juxtaposition of those two. Home to Germany’s most ancient cathedral, the city now also boasts the newest – and last – of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s bonkers buildings.
And that’s not the only marriage of anachronisms you’ll find in Saxony-Anhalt’s capital. While 90% of the city was destroyed by WWII bombing and rebuilt in the GDR style of wide boulevards and enormous concrete Plattenbauten apartments, a small enclave of early-20th-century terraces and cobbled streets survived around Hasselbachplatz; today, entering and leaving this historic district is like being transported in a time machine.
Chosen as the state capital over Halle at the time of reunification, Magdeburg has beenthe recipient of generous federal funding over the past decade. This doesn’t completely disguise the underlying economic malaise downtown, but the plentiful bars around Hasselbachplatz and the city’s series of leafy parks are more than enough to brighten the mood.