Article Index

Time Travel into Pre-War Germany

Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Americans have made a beeline to the A-list destinations of former East German cities like Leipzig, Dresden and, of course, Berlin. Tourism dollars, private investment and government support are transforming them into showpieces, for their history as well as their modern glitz and glamour. However, thanks to Allied bombing, an East German focus on functionality rather than restoration, and a recent proliferation of striking modern architecture, these cities show few authentic signs of pre-World War II Germany.

Meanwhile, many smaller cities, towns and villages of the former East Germany offer travelers a unique view into pre-War Germany and the effects of the Communist years that followed. Since bombing raids and East German frugality left most buildings outside the urban areas untouched, it's like a time warp back to the 1930s and earlier.

Much of the landscape has been untouched as well, thanks ironically to Nazi and Communist paranoia and elitism. Some areas, especially along the Baltic, were accessible only to senior political and military officials and their guests. For security reasons, a single road was often the sole entry point, a path carved through dense forest to small seaside villas. Today, these forests untouched for a half-century or more are protected national parks. Although more trails have been added for hikers, bicyclists and horseback-riders, explorers can go for hours with minimal human contact. Eventually, the deep forests burst open to sea and sky. The more adventurous can make their way down steep paths to pristine and empty beaches.

In Quedlinburg, a sprawling medieval city northwest of Leipzig, more than 2,000 structures have been declared historic monuments by UNESCO. During the 45 years of Communist rule, 24 of these buildings were restored. In the 11 years since reunification, more than 500 additional buildings have been restored, using techniques perfected during a half-century of restoration in the West. A walk down the cobbled streets, however, reveals structures that are barely standing.