The most beautiful city in Germany that you never heard of

Zur deutschen Fassung.

It always makes me sad when people visit Germany, and their only plan is to see Berlin and Munich. Or maybe that silly castle in the mountains. Which is really just one of thousands of castles in Germany, but the tourists think there is only one, so they all flock to the same site.

Like in most countries, there is so much more to see in Germany!

Hundreds of medieval towns, thousands of castles, fairy-tale landscapes, and – because Germany only became a unified country in 1871 – a much more pronounced regional variation than in some other countries.

Now, if you are not quite as old, you may have thought: “Wait a minute, I thought Germany was only unified in 1990?”

And you have a point. Although this was a re-unification of what was only separated in 1945, even those 45 years of having been apart still show in the architecture, the urban planning and the people.

The best example for this is a small city in the very far east of Germany, which you have most probably never heard of. In fact, I hardly know any Germans who have visited it. It’s called Eisenhüttenstadt, which you could translate as Ironworks City or Steel Mill City.

That doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? It makes you think of that huge industrial area in the Ruhr region.

Which is not what comes to mind when people are looking for a holiday destination.

But Eisenhüttenstadt was in East Germany, the socialist workers’ paradise, and it was a city built from scratch in the 1950s. So, the city planners could build a perfect city, with wide avenues, with lots of green spaces, with palaces for plumbers, castles for cashiers, a balcony for every bus driver, and arcades for every assembly-line worker.

In Eisenhüttenstadt, you can see what city planning can do for people when real estate is not an object of speculation, where something profitable must be squeezed from every last square inch.

Walking around this town, you can feel the spaciousness, the airiness.

Or maybe it’s emptiness. Because from a peak of 53,000 people – with plans already in place to expand the city to 80,000 people -, the population has dropped to 24,000. That’s the problem when you are a company town, as many other towns around the world have had to learn. The steel plant is still active, but it employs far fewer people than it used to.

Meanwhile, the whole town has been protected as a monument – the largest in Germany. Walking around with awe, I realized that not only does Eisenhüttenstadt conserve socialist urban planning, it is also the only city in Germany, maybe in the world, where the time pre-1990s has been conserved with almost nothing new added.

In that supermarket, for example, they still had a poster calling “for a progressive relationship between supply and demand”. Now, those were the times, when you weren’t compelled to “buy 2 for the price of 1”, although you only need one.

Maybe I was just lucky, because I visited on a beautiful, sunny day in October, when everything would look beautiful everywhere. But if you ever come to Germany in spring or autumn, you may want to visit a place where not many tourists venture. (Although Tom Hanks loves the town, and a number of movies have been filmed here, understandably.)

On my German blog, I have a longer article about Eisenhüttenstadt, with many more photos, lots of history and a very friendly lady picking me up as I was hitchhiking. But it’s too much to translate it all. And I don’t even know if anyone of you is interested in urban planning and architecture. – If you are, you may also want to check out the Bauhaus architecture in nearby Weimar and Dessau when visiting.

Links:

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Germany, Photography, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The most beautiful city in Germany that you never heard of

  1. Yorck Kessler says:

    Of course a high quality article and getting tourists to Eisenhüttenstadt is worth it. Little remark – Rothenburg as traditional German town? Not any better recommendations than the number one US tourist destination? How about Nördlingen as one of the more beautiful Fachwerk towns? Just to give one lesser known example. Thanks for your work and keep going!

    • You are right, there are many other, lesser known examples. (I haven’t even been to Nördlingen myself.)
      I just mentioned Rothenburg, because I happen to have an article about it on my blog. It’s actually just part of a hitchhiking article, and ending up in Rothenburg unexpectedly was the good end to a journey somehow gone bad.

      I only spent a few hours in Rothenburg, but I was honestly surprised by how unspoiled by tourism it looked, at least to my untrained eye. But then, that was when there were no international flights (because of Covid-19).

      Thanks for your interest in my articles and in Eisenhüttenstadt!
      But I am afraid I will have to do these summaries in English more often, because I just don’t have the time to write all my articles in two languages. :-( More and more people can’t wait anyway and use a machine translation.

  2. kiwerry says:

    Thanks for this enjoyable read Andreas. That feeling of spaciousness in the city centre was something that I found incredibly attractive about Dresden when I first came here in 1993. I moved here in 1994 and since then that spaciousness has been eaten up because old property and street boundaries were, in many places, used to justify putting buildings up where, between 45 and 90, there were open spaces. The Kreuzkirche, for example, used to look out on a square; now it is hemmed in by a hotel, about whose appearance opinions may very well differ. Even the Frauenkirche has been hemmed in by a lot of pseudo-old buildings.

    • I didn’t even know this about Dresden!

      One of the big regrets of my life is not moving to the East after finishing high school in 1995.
      It would have been so interesting to live through that time of transition.

      In Eisenhüttenstadt, the opposite of the development in Dresden is happening. Because of the shrinking population, buildings are torn down.
      But in an organized manner, working back from the outskirts. That means the newest buildings are demolished first, which also happen to be the ugliest ones (the pre-fab blocks from the 1980s), and the population is concentrated in the center.
      It still feels anything but crowded, though, as I hope the photos can convey. Honestly, there is so little traffic there, you can tie your shoelaces in the middle of the road.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So nice to see photos of a town without one after another fast-food outlet and chain store. It’s a relief to the eyes.

    • They still have one of the old GDR restaurants, called “The Activist”.
      But I just had a currywurst at the memorial for the Soviet soldiers:

  4. I’ve heard good things about East German towns, including the further eastern ones benefited (?) from receiving less attention from the RAF and USAAF during WW2. I wish I could afford to come join you for a weekend or two – or three – or 52…… (Any ideas for cheap trans-Atlantic fare? Shoot, I’d work a tramp steamer! :D )

    • Interestingly enough, in the long run, it was not the bombings in World War II that caused the decisive damage to German cities.

      Some cities were almost completely destroyed, but rebuilt in the original manner (e.g. Rothenburg or Nuremberg).

      The cities that are ugly are the ones where local city planners made use of the bombings and built a “modern” city in the 1950s. Architects and urban planners were almost delighted about the bomb damage, because they could do away with all those medieval things like crooked, narrow streets or walls and gates around a city. As it was the 1950s, they rebuilt the cities for cars, not for people.

      An example from Hildesheim:

    • And as to cheap trans-Atlantic fares, there are repositioning cruises, when a company leased a cruise ship to another cruise company.
      This usually happens westward in October/November, when cruises in the Mediterranean stop (it’s quite a rough sea in winter) and they move the vessels to the Caribbean. And then in March/April/May, they move them back to Europe.

      This is how I crossed the Atlantic twice, once from Gran Canaria to Brazil, which cost only 150 euros, and then returning from Colombia to Lisbon one and a half years later, which already cost 550 euros.

      But as far as I can see, the prices have gone up, because more people have been finding out about the repositioning cruises. (On my first one to Brazil, the ship was only half full. It was a very pleasant experience.)

  5. Denzil says:

    It appears to be totally deserted Andreas. Maybe everyone was inside watching Germany play Costa Rica. Or avoiding you and your camera?

    • At times, I felt like I was walking through a film set – but after the shooting had been wrapped up and everyone gone home.

      It was really strange, because I was there on two days, and they were both sunny and warm/mild. The kind of day in late October where you would definitely want to venture outside, because you know it will be misery from now on.

      And the few people who saw me take photos and notes did indeed look at me with suspicion. People from the East can still spot someone from the West from a mile away. And then they are worried that he will close down the steel mill and lay everyone off.

  6. I kept looking at the buildings and thinking “they are only four levels”. I thought Soviet Era apartments were 5 or 9 levels high.
    I love that they’ve left it pre 1990. That may seem like forever ago to some, but I’m old 😂😂
    It was a very beautiful day to wander around a mostly empty town. Thank you for sharing the photos.

    I never want to go to the “tourist” places. Maybe growing up in a tourist city made me dislike them🤷🏼‍♀️

    • I guess you have the typical “Krushchovkas” in mind, made of pre-fabricated concrete slabs.
      Like the ones I inhabited in Lithuania or in Romania:
      https://andreasmoser.blog/2013/03/03/savanoriu-prospektas-winter-evening/
      https://andreasmoser.blog/2015/02/08/targu-mures-tonight/

      In Eisenhüttenstadt, these were built in the outer rings of the city, when the population grew and more living space was needed quickly.
      But the center is in what is called “Socialist neo-classicism”, which you can also see in Moscow, in Kyiv or in Berlin:

      These were real palaces for the workers, meant as a showcase project, but in the case of Eisenhüttenstadt also to lure workers and their families to a new town in the middle of nowhere.
      We have to consider that in the 1950s, there was a real shortage of workers.
      – Many men had died in the war or had been wounded.
      – Others were still prisoners of war (the last POWs only returned home to Germany in 1955).
      – Immigration only slowly picked up in the late 1950s and much more in the 1960s, and then mainly to West Germany.
      – Before the Wall was built in 1961, there was a continuous outflow of people from East to West Germany (which was the reason why the Wall was built.)
      For all these reasons, East Germany also had a much higher share of women in the workforce, including in jobs which were regarded as male-only jobs in the West, like truck drivers, engineers, steel workers, and so on.
      Women in the East were much mire emancipated than in the West, and I think you can still tell that when talking to women from that generation. (On this issue, re-unification in 1990 was a real regression for many women, because by that time, West Germany was a rather conservative society, where women would mostly not work at all, or only in certain “female” jobs, like shop/office assistants, teachers or nurses. In a way, it’s no surprise that the only female chancellor so far came from East Germany, where she had been working as a scientist.)

  7. Pingback: The most beautiful city in Germany that you never heard of – THE FLENSBURG FILES

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