In the former East German state of Saxony lies the town of Bautzen, a medieval town that is famous across Germany for its architecture and its mustard (yes, mustard). The city centre of Bautzen sits up on a hill overlooking the more modern areas of the town as well as the river Spree (the same river that runs through Berlin).
Bautzen is also of cultural importance to the local Sorb people, a minority that has lived in this area since the 6th century. The Sorbs speak a language that is related to Polish and Czech, their near neighbours, and many signs in this area are in both German and Upper Sorbian.
Bautzen can be traced back definitely to the 3rd century AD; there is evidence that people have inhabited the region since the Stone Age. Being on the border, Bautzen has been in German, Polish, Hungarian and Czech hands multiple times and also saw action during the Thirty Years’ War and the Napoleonic War. It was its own kingdom and duchy and the Kingdom of Saxony eventually incorporated it. During its time Bautzen was one of the two major routes that ran from Warsaw to Dresden, meaning that it received travellers between those two cities.
Bautzen’s city centre is very compact and very well preserved. It sits atop a hill, where it overlooks the rest of the city. There are interesting buildings of note, including the Witch’s House (German: Hexenhaus), the oldest preserved residential building (built in 1604) and the Reichenturm, one of the steepest leaning and still passable towers north of the Alps. The city centre is still partially walled. This is especially true at the peak of the hill, the edge of which has been eroded over time by the Spree to form a cliff.
Ortenburg Castle sits upon this cliff and forms a large courtyard/open-air theatre with the Burgwasserturm (literally “castle water tower”), the Sorbian Museum and the Rietschelgiebel.
The Ortenburg (Upper Sobrian: Hród, meaning castle) has been around since the 15th century but there have been fortifications since the 13th century. In addition to the Burgwasserturm, the Matthias tower built by a Hungarian king in the Gothic style served as an entrance to the courtyard. Dedicated to St George, it was the site of a chapel that burned down during the Thirty Years’ War.
The Sorbian museum occupies the Salzhaus (literally “Salt House”) next to the Ortenburg in Bautzen; it is dedicated to the culture and history of the Sorbs. Built in 1782 as a salt magazine, it served as the Royal Saxon Appeals Court for the local district. It became the museum in 1976 after the old museum was destroyed in 1945. Ironically it was the seat of the Gestapo during the German Democratic Republic period (East Germany). The Gestapo often worked against the Sorbian people.
Old Water Tower
The Old Water Tower (German: Alter Wasserturm) is a relatively recent addition to the town. The Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on the population of Bautzen. It quadrupled it (10,000 to 40,000 inhabitants). The Alte Wasserkunst (the Old Water Works) that had supplied the town with water and power was not sufficient. In 1877 the town built the Old Water Tower in the centre of the historical city centre to compensate for this lack of water.
Cathedral of St Peter in Bautzen
The cathedral in Bautzen sits in the heart of the old city. It was built between 1456 and 1463, although churches had existed on this site since 1000 AD. Approximately 85 years later (1530) both Catholics and Lutherans were using this cathedral to worship. This started a period known as the Simultaneum Era, which continues to this day. This makes the cathedral one of the oldest and largest interdenominational churches in Germany. The Lutheran and Catholic altars are located on separate sides of the sanctuary. This lets both sides conduct their worship independently.
The Leaning Tower of Bautzen
Known as the “Reichenturm” (the “Tower of the Rich” in German), it stood as a lookout tower near a gate in the city wall to look over the “Lane of the Rich” in the middle of the city. Surveyors first observed that the Reichenturm was starting to lean in 1747. It was originally built around 1492 but a fire caused damage in 1709. It destroyed two-thirds of the town and damaged the tower, eventually causing the leaning effect. This went on until 1953 when fortification work was finally done to stop it from leaning even further. This means that you can go up the tower and have views of the city, such as this one:
Verdict on Bautzen?
A visit to Bautzen for the old architecture alone is worth it. Less than an hour from Dresden, it is easy to get to using public transport (primarily by bus) or your own vehicle. It also sits in a beautiful area and is far from neither Saxon Switzerland nor Bohemian Switzerland. If you are looking for a recommendation, go no further! I highly recommend visiting Bautzen for a weekend. Make sure to try some local food, which has similarities to both traditional German and Czech foods. The most popular is the “Sorbian Wedding Meal”, a three-course meal with soup (“Sorbian Wedding Soup”), some sort of meat and dessert. Several of the restaurants in the city also have Sorbian singing/music and dancing to go along with the evening meal.
Here are some more photos from around Bautzen:
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