The German City That's Worth a Step Off the Tourist Trail
PHOTO: Magdeburg cathedral. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
The 42nd version of German Travel Mart was held in Magdeburg, which is about an hour north of Leipzig by train. After reunification, this city of 230,000 was made the capital of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. Though this growing state is at the center of a major tourism promotion effort by the German National Tourist Board, Magdeburg remains off the radar for most international travelers.
Obviously, one of the main reasons for hosting the GTM in a relatively unknown destination was to showcase it to the hundreds of travel agents, tour operators and journalists in attendance. It quickly became clear to those visitors that Magdeburg is one of the pieces in a larger strategy for the German National Tourist Board.
A perfect base for day trippers
Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. A number of sites in Saxony-Anhalt are closely associated with Martin Luther. He nailed his "Ninety Five Theses" to the door of a church in Wittenberg and spent some of his formative years in the historic town of Quedlinburg. Both of these places are gearing up for the Lutheran celebrations next year, and both are within day trip distance of Magdeburg.
A reinvented city
Obviously, because of its size, Magdeburg is not in the same class of urban tourist destination as Munich, Berlin or Hamburg. However, it is more than a place to find a hotel room to come back to after day trips.
Because of heavy bombing during World War II, Magdeburg doesn’t have the same historic allure as neighboring towns, but there are a few remaining relics.
The Magdeburg Cathedral (Magdeburger Dom) was damaged but kept largely intact during the War. (Some call its survival divine intervention, though a more believable theory is that RAF bombers did not hit it because they needed at least one landmark to remain standing so that they could tell where to drop their payloads). The Dom was built and added to between the 10th and 16th centuries, and bears many of the hallmarks of classic Middle Ages religious buildings.
Embracing a modern image
The cathedral is within a few steps of one of the most notable examples of how Magdeburg is embracing a more modern image. The Green Citadel, Grune Zitadelle, is a whimsical structure built in 2005 by noted architect and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The building, which has a distinctive central courtyard, brings to mind influences as diverse as Antoni Gaudi and Walt Disney. The green roof, not visible from ground level, is evidence of Hundertwasser’s ecologically sensitive design strategy, which fits in well in park-filled Magdeburg.
A pleasant city
At its heart, Magdeburg is a university town. Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg and Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences are amongst the newest schools in the country. Both were founded after reunification, and the large student population gives the city a subtle youthful energy.
Magdeburg is also a city of parks, including Elbauenpark, which is home to the the cone-shaped Millennium Tower (Jahrtausendturm), which, at 200 feet, is one of the world’s tallest wooden towers.
All these features combine to make Magdeburg a very pleasant place to be. The city is clean, it is filled with parks and green spaces and it has a user-friendly tram system. Even the communist-era buildings have been repainted in bright, cheerful colors.
Worth stepping off the tourist trail
People who visit next summer for the Luther anniversary will find a base in Magdeburg, but they will also be tempted to forget their day trip plans for a couple of days so that they can lounge in cafes while sipping low priced beers or stroll the city’s parks and avenues.
READ MORE: Germany Reaches Record Tourism Numbers
Magdeburg is not sprawling Berlin or urbanized Frankfurt. No, it doesn’t have the same number of attractions, but you will be hard pressed to find a more pleasant place to base yourself while exploring the historic towns and experiencing the festivities planned next year in Saxony-Anhalt.
More by Josh Lew
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