Visiting Bad Blankenburg

Introduction



Bad Blankenburg is a small spa town located in Germany. It's located in the eastern state of Thuringia, which was part of East Germany before 1990. The town is known worldwide for its healing spring water and spa treatments. The town was founded by the Romans in 10 AD, who built baths here. It became the center of the salt industry in 1257 and the first German health resort in 1738 when sulfur springs were discovered, followed by mud baths in 1821.


Sulfur springs still exist today (as do other types of springs) at which people can bathe themselves or be treated using mineral waters from deep aquifers heated by geothermal energy sources. The lovely scenic town's population was approximately 7,000 as of 2005. The town has always been known World-wide for its healing spring water and spa treatments, and they were promoted heavily during the time of the GDR's existence (1949-1990). Party officials would often take trips to Bad Blankenburg for rest and relaxation, staying at luxury hotels that were built around the town's famous springs. Today there are plans to convert one such hotel into apartments — but many buildings remain empty as they await new owners. The following section will show you how this once elite vacation destination has changed over time—and what it looks like now!


Bad Blankenburg is called Bad Blankenburg to differentiate it from other towns named "Bad" (bath). The prefix Bad refers to the hot springs and spas that were developed here, while the suffix -burg means castle or fortification; therefore, Bad just means spa town, but not necessarily a city with thermal baths like many people would expect when they hear this word!


East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic, lasted from 1949 to 1990. The GDR was a communist state, ruled by the Socialist Unity Party (SED).


East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic, lasted from 1949 to 1990. The GDR was a communist state, ruled by the Socialist Unity Party (SED). It was located in eastern Germany and bordered Poland on its western side. During this time period, it had close ties with Soviet Union and other Eastern-Bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia and Hungary. My Mother's family arrived in the area in the late 1940's, and my mother escaped East Germany in 1953, later to return to visit family and supposedly help provide information for the Stasi, but in reality she was helped by the CIA to give disinformation to the Stasi while pretending to help them. We also had to be quiet about the defense contracting companies Mom was working with as a civilian in America. The fact is we were not unique. There was no travel from the West to Communist countries without pestering occurring by both governments involved, and it was a simple fact of travel during that time. As a child I remember three hour trips through the border leaving by train. We were admonished to have no East German currency not even a single postage stamp as well as no food not even snacks. I was told never to leave the train because the pretty rose and other bushes outside were home to land mines. Leaving always took more time than entry. I thought their form of Communist government was regulated to a frightening degree. I noticed the lack of consumer goods. The shelves were often empty. My family must have been very skilled indeed, for they ate well. Before global warming, there were many wonderful mushrooms and berries to be had in the forests for free, and a pleasant afternoon walk would bring enough to help put together an evening meal with panache. There were also a number of restaurants. The food was wonderful, particularly the wild boar with potato dumplings and gravy. Other specialties was trout which had to be caught fresh in the river, rabbit in pepper, and bratwurst. There were also many preparations for potatoes and cabbages. There was no room for vegetarianism, veganism, or preferences against pork. Food was scarce and a privilege, and one would not refuse or waste the food: everyone appreciated what they got. Care was always taken in Germany with the freshness and quality of the ingredients. Freshness was stressed, lots of seasonings were not. The main herbs used are parsley and dill and the humble mustard seed and its' preparations. It takes some getting used to, but freshness and quality tastes good in and of itself. Spicy food was originally created as a manner to hide the taste of rotten meat and to avoid sickness from the germs in the rotten meat. As freshness was key to the cuisine, a spicy cuisine was never desirable.


During GDR times, East Germans were not allowed to leave their country without permission from the government; they were also cut off from Western media and culture because of strict border policies that kept them isolated from neighboring countries like West Germany and Austria. If you wanted to travel outside of East Germany into another country during this time period—even if only for a weekend trip—you needed special permission from officials within your community before going anywhere else outside of East Germany's borders! My mother left for Paris at the age of fourteen, but the rest of the family remained behind, and they stayed in East Germany until the end of Communism, when they emerged happily into freedom. Never trust a government that needs to trap their own people within its borders to prevent escape.


During the time of the GDR's existence, Bad Blankenburg was regarded as an elite holiday resort for members of the SED party elite.


During the time of the GDR's existence, Bad Blankenburg was regarded as an elite holiday resort for members of the SED party elite. The town had a tradition of hosting such guests since the end of World War II, when it served as a rest home for war-weary soldiers. After 1949 and the founding of East Germany, Bad Blankenburg's status as a vacation destination grew to include members of other Communist countries, including those from nations outside Eastern Europe who were not allied with Moscow during this period. My Aunt Elfrieda was a teacher, and my Uncle Lothar was a well known and well loved school principal in Bad Blankenburg. We were lucky enough to visit during Communist times. He was known for making his own wines and keeping bees for honey. He was also known as a true Renaissance man in his time, strong in intellect as well as outdoor activities and sports and able to keep out of trouble presented by politics.


This status was reflected in its architecture. Fancy villas for top politicians were built in the park surrounding the town's spa.


Many of the buildings are old, having been built in the early 19th century by wealthy merchants who wanted their families to have a nice place to live while they worked in town. They were often used as apartments or offices during communist times as well. After German reunification, many of these buildings fell into disrepair because people didn't think they could be renovated properly with all their historic details still intact.


We stayed at the Landsportschule Bad Blankenburg, a DDR age sports haven once for elite communist athletes and now for tourists and school sports trips. The staff acts as if communism never ended, and they are suspicious of Americans. We did not allow any of that to deter us. We did not get our mail that we had dispatched to us from America. It turns out that in order to mail packages to Germany, they must come with a customs declaration form attached in the proper manner stating the contents and offering import taxes for any consumer goods. I had a new pair of sunglasses sent to me with other mail. My bank had sent us some checks, but those were also returned to America. As they had no commercial value, the reasons are unclear at the moment.


Here, there are some buildings are dilapidated and crumbling, streets are deserted and closed off to traffic. There are fewer people on the street as many move to the cities. Those who stay fall in love with the beauty of the nature and architecture, the fresh air, and the pure waters and foods.


The most famous resident was Günter Mittag (1927-2010), who served as vice president under Egon Krenz for five years after being promoted from deputy secretary general at age 46 (he was just 24 when he joined).


There is a very good supermarket, Rewe, that is open every day but Sunday until 22 hours (10 O'clock for Yanks and Brits in the audience) and a number of good drug stores and services. Visitors should note that aside from a few places to eat and the train station, there is almost nothing open on Sunday. A short drive or bus ride away is a spotless indoor water park complex enough to entertain not only the young but the young at heart as well. the Landsportschule also offers nice sauna and spa facilities, but if you are foreign and understand German, you need to have a thick skin to withstand the constant gossip and verbal abuse of hotel staff that dislike foreigners. Most of the visitors to this hotel are the same small selection of German sports teams and schools, and that is why they are quite xenophobic for a hotel.


One of the main things to do is to walk or mountain bike through the many mountain trails. They are clearly marked, and one should bring a map, because there will be many places with no cell coverage, and choosing the correct routes is vital to not getting lost. Make sure to plan for a distance, as we came across Germans on one of the twenty kilometer paths who neglected to bring water with them, and we gave them a bottle. Proper hiking boots and bug repellent are a must as well as plenty of refreshments. The clean forest and mountain air is wonderful. In the heat of the Summer, it is cooler the higher you go. The views are often breathtaking. It is very important to use good judgement with steep hills, cliffs, loose rocks, electric fences, and grazing bulls who may be territorial. Also, try to get back before dark so you do not stumble into a family of wild boar on a hunt. They can be very defensive, especially if they have their young with them. The fresh mountain air in the valley of Bad Blankenburg is noticeable in the morning. Being there is great for your health. The sulfur springs of Antonius Quelle are available in the park for anyone who wants to haul the water to heat up or use cold as a spa bath. The waters are said to have a great effect on people with broken bones, arthritis, and the aches and pains of growing older and young athletes. There is also a lovely outdoor pool near the Lansportschule. There are nice areas to get some sun, and those who do not mind very cold water can venture in the clean but unheated pool, which is often 45-50 degrees F.



An invention that that Bad Blankenburg is known for is the invention of Kindergarten. Friedrich Froebel was a teacher who invented the concept at Bad Blankenburg in 1837. The combination of play, songs, lessons, and activities and products like Froebel Blocks came together into a method to get children to understand the World in preparation for their entry into school and society. The Frobel methodology spread Worldwide before 1900 as other educators saw the value in his work. More information about the history of Froebel and Kindergarten including the Froebel Museum can be found here: https://www.froebelweb.org.


Aside from these attractions, no trip to Bad Blankenburg is complete without a trip to the Greifenstein Castle. You have to go eat at the pub there, see the reconstructed ruins, and go up on the ramparts to see the Falcons gliding and hovering in the air currents. The view from there is incredible. The road from Town to the Castle is worth the walk. It includes many steep parts and stairs. The route to the Castle as with many such castles was purposely steep and difficult to provide a humbling experience to visitors. They had a lot of opportunity on the difficult trip to make sure they had the right frame of mind and were on their best behavior.


Eateries that are good in the area include Magdeborger Hof and the Zur Bimmelbahn. During festivals like the May Festival and the Lavender Festival in June, there will also be street vendors with Bratwurst and beer. Much food there is homemade, and it is a good idea to attend at least one BBQ while in Bad Blankenburg. The Lavender Festival is quite an amazing party, and it even feels like a city event, the planning is quite thorough and the people are enthusiastic.


Old Legends of Bad Blankenburg


The Legend of the Devil’s Staircase


Once, a stranger wandered through the Schwarzatal, coming to Bad Blankenburg, then known as Blankenburg. The stranger found and freed a beautiful fisherman’s girl. He wanted to marry her. The girl eventually realized that this stranger was none other than the Devil. Horrified to be engaged to the Devil, she climbed up the steep mountain, but the Devil ripped stones off the hill and built a huge staircase. The Devil ran up this staircase to chase after his fleeing bride. On the seventh step, he caught up with her, but before he could grab her, he was struck by lightening in a sudden and violent storm. The girl was able to save herself and get away after that. One thinks of this and can see the origins of thought of locals being safe and outsiders being considered dangerous. Myth always relates to the psyche of the People on some level.


The Boys and the Solid Gold Cherry Pits


Once upon a time in the Middle Ages, a small group of Blankenburg boys sat on a cherry tree that had grown up between the walls of the Greifenstein. They ate the juicy cherries, and they enjoyed their wonderful flavor. While they were eating, however, a voice called out to them: "Do not despise the best!" The boys thought the voice was that of a joker, mockingly imitating the call and throwing their seeds at each other in youthful exuberance. But when one of them took off his shoes in the evening, several solid gold cherry pits fell out. Now all the boys hurriedly went up to the ruins again; but the gold cherry pits scattered around had disappeared, and not a single cherry was still hanging on the tree.


The Green Woman


On a Saturday long, long ago, a farmer’s wife from Kleingölitz was raking dry glass and leaves cleaning the courtyard of Greifenstein Castle. She heard bells ringing down in the City that would normally be heard only on Sunday. The bell tones made her reflect on God and Religion, and she put away her rake, folded her hands, and said a quiet prayer. While she was praying, a woman dressed in all green started waving to her. The farmer’s wife felt comfortable and not worried at all by this woman, and she followed her all the way to an iron gate. The woman in green opened the iron gate with a key from her keychain. Then she opened the next door with another key. They went through probably twenty more doors and gates. The last gate lead to a large hall full of gold. The woman in green stopped here and told the farmer’s wife, "Take as much as you want; but do not touch the money within a year, and keep silent about it like a grave against everyone. In this way I am redeemed and no longer have to walk unhappily!" The farmer’s wife filled her apron with as much gold as she could carry, and she took it all home. At home, she locked the money in a cupboard for a whole year, telling nobody as she was instructed. She was tempted to tell others about this find including her partner Gevatterin, but she stayed firm about keeping quiet about the treasure. Because she did as she was told, she eventually became very rich. The lady dressed in green was never seen again.

The Blankenburg Donkey Eaters


One of the Counts of Greifenstein went on a crusade to the holy land. He returned from Palesteine with a donkey. The donkey was supposedly a direct descendant of the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on.


The donkey was sent as a gift to the nearby village of Schwarza. The residents of Schwarza praised the donkey as a miracle animal. The residents started to fight over the donkey. The Blankenburgers did not want to miss any of the fuss, and in the confusion they kidnapped the donkey from Schwarza.


The donkey was found dead the next day in the Blankenburg stable. It did not do well with all of the excitement. The hungry residents of Blankenburg divided and ate the remains of the donkey, and then became known as the “donkey eaters”. To this day, there is a donkey festival and donkey nights arranged by Blankenburg’s Town Hall.

The next day, the poor donkey lay dead in the Blankenburg stable. Presumably, he didn't get the excitement. So it was divided and eaten among the Blankenburgers, who from then on were called "donkey eaters".

Just a few years ago, the train that ran from Rudolstadt (Schwarza) to Bad Blankenburg was called the "Blankenburg Donkey". In and around bad Blankenburg's town hall, the donkey festival and donkey nights take place throughout the year.


Conclusion


Bad Blankenburg is a great place to visit if you want to explore history and see how things were like during this era. However, I would recommend going in summer as it gets very cold in winter!




Martin Emerson Low