"Some German cities have been transformed into theme parks," said one Quedlinburger, making an oblique reference to Rothenburg. "We never want our city to become a tourist attraction. People live and work here. We want tourism to be part of our fabric, not our reason for being."
Furthermore, he said, "Were not ashamed that so many of our buildings are run down. It allows visitors to see the impact of neglect and to watch buildings in various stages of restoration."
In the medieval Hanseatic City of Wismar, just north of Schwerin, restoration was not a priority during frugal East German times. Work has only recently begun on the 14th-century St.-Georgen-Kirche, and a 245-foot tower is all that remains of the 15th-century Marienkirche.
"The Russians didn't tend to make churches a big priority," sighed one local resident.
Similarly, most castle tours include only their finished, polished chambers. But guides here are just as likely to spend time showing sections under or awaiting restoration.
Many buildings lie beyond hope of repair. In Basedow, a village northwest of Berlin, massive classically-styled castle stables lie in ruins. No fences or signs block entry. Walls and ceilings have fallen away and created a maze of beams and plaster. Pigeons fly freely through gaps in the walls. The structures former glory is immediately evident in fading frescoes and intricate, yet chipped tilework. It's a frequent dilemma: too hopeless to restore, too tragic to tear down. So, in the meantime, it's a monument both to former glory and the perils of neglect. It also provides perspective; the stables are probably no worse than hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings that were rebuilt in West Germany almost immediately after the war. Tourists often take these buildings for granted. A walk through the stable brings immediate reflection on the massive efforts that brought those buildings in the West back to life.
Restoration is a slow but considered process, one often complicated by conflicting claims of ownership. During Nazi times and the subsequent Communist rule, the government seized most property. After reunification, multiple parties often clashed over ownership, and cases still linger in court. In other cases, especially with more dilapidated buildings, no one has stepped forward to assume ownership. In Quedlinburg, a once glorious home has tried to escape further neglect with a sign proclaiming: "Lady Seeks New Lover."