Schnackenburg, the smallest town in Lower Saxony, is located in the district of Lüchow-Dannenberg in the beautiful Wendland region. About 300 inhabitants live here.
Schnackenburg is located on the Elbe, exactly where the Aland flows into it. From the other bank of the Elbe, i.e. from the federal state of Brandenburg, you can reach the small town by ferry. This leaves from Lütkenwisch.
The town was first mentioned in a document in 1218. At the mouth of the Aland into the Elbe, the Schnackenburg must have stood at that time, inhabited by a lower noble family. The town was granted town rights as early as 1373. One of the main sources of income was the payment of the Elbe duty, which ships had to pay here. It was not until the Elbe customs were abolished in the 19th century that the customs station lost its function.
For many years the town belonged to the Mark Brandenburg. Only when Margrave Jobst lost a border war against the Prince of Lüneburg and the town was captured by the Lüneburgers did it fall to Braunschweig-Lüneburg. Up to the present day, there have been several restructurings and changes of jurisdiction, and since 1972 Schnackenburg has belonged to the joint municipality of Gartow in Lower Saxony.
Why come to Schnackenburg?
Schnackenburg is the smallest municipality in Lower Saxony to have a town charter. In other words, it is the smallest town in Lower Saxony. During the division of Germany, this was the first West German measuring point for the depth of the Elbe. At that time, this point was on the border between the FRG and the GDR. The customs station and the port of refuge for inland shipping were located here. To this day, the water level of the Elbe is read here and noted by hand, but the more important water levels are recorded in Wittenberge and Dömitz.
Schnackenburg is worth a visit because German-German history can still be felt here today. In a small museum you can learn a lot about this time and if you are lucky, one of the few living contemporary witnesses will be there and can tell you about this time and his work there.
Schnackenburg between two German states
Until reunification, the city was surrounded on three sides by the inner-German wall.
Ships travelling on the Elbe in transit and exchange traffic had to pass through a control point here. For example, anyone with too much cargo on board could unload part of the load in the port of refuge and then pass through customs unhindered. Ships also found shelter there in bad weather and icy conditions. The water police and customs were stationed in Schnackenburg. Today, only pleasure boats are moored in the harbour. When the inner-German border was opened, the border crossing on the Elbe was abolished and the customs station became irrelevant.
The former border in the countryside ran a few metres from Schnackenburg. Today, the Green Belt runs here. Nature has reclaimed this area and is now home to numerous animals and plants.
Visit to the smallest town in Lower Saxony
After crossing the Elbe, you follow the path through the mighty flood gate and stand in the middle of the town centre on the old market square.
Today, cycling tourists and visitors to the town will no longer find any shops, bakers, cafés or restaurants. Economically, the opening of the border was a loss for Schnackenburg. Border traffic fell away and the regular income from boatmen, border guards and visitors was lost. Only in the old school is there still a simple hotel (dinner only on reservation), which is mainly used as a stopover by cyclists travelling on the left bank of the Elbe cycle path.
You can take a city tour not only on your own, but also with a city guide. The guide not only tells funny anecdotes from the city’s history, but also gives an impressive account of life in the city at the time of the inner-German border.
During the tour you will pass beautiful half-timbered houses and finally reach the church.
St Nicolai Church
Around the year 1200, the church in Schnackenburg was probably built of brick in the Romanesque style. It survived at least 4 town fires undamaged, probably due to its massive construction. The church is dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and merchants.
A plaque above the tower entrance indicates that the tower dome was renewed in 1750. In 1777, the so-called brewery entrance was added to the south of the nave, and at the end of the 18th century, “modern” church windows were installed.
The church as a whole is kept very simple. The colours white, blue and gold dominate. On the simple but beautiful altar there is a white and gold cross.
I found the baptismal angel, which has been hanging in the Schnackenburg church since 1727, particularly beautiful. Until then I had only known baptismal stones or basins, but I had never seen an angel before. It hangs like a figurehead in the church and holds a wooden shell. In it is a brass bowl for the baptismal water. When a baptism takes place, the angel is lowered down.
Grenzlandmuseum (Borderland Museum)
Schnackenburg’s main attraction is the Grenzlandmuseum in the Old Fishermen’s House. It’s worth spending some time there, the exhibition is great.
On three floors, you can visit a permanent exhibition dealing with the 45-year history of the former inner-German border on site. In addition to uniforms, equipment, weapons and vehicles, documents, photos and maps impressively show life on the Elbe at that time.
I was particularly impressed by the eyewitness accounts and the very detailed description of the border construction. As a (West) Berliner, I grew up between the walls, but the structure of the border area was different from the structure in the country. In addition to the narrow border strip (500 metres wide), there was also a 5-kilometre-wide exclusion zone that could only be inhabited to a limited extent.
This exclusion zone is located in the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt as seen from Schnackenburg. Here, three kilometres from the town, is the Stresow Memorial and Meeting Place, which is part of the museum and can be visited free of charge. There you can see a full-size representation of the GDR’s border fortifications of the time: the border, signal and barrier fences, an observation bunker, a column path, light lines, a speaking column with a border reporting network and a motor vehicle barrier trench. For me, even more impressive than the illustrations in the museum.
Am Markt 3
Tuesday-Sunday: 10-16 h
daily: 10-17 h
Discounts are available.
Schnackenburg harbour tower
A visit to the harbour tower on the outskirts of Schnackenburg is not to be missed. The observation tower is 14 metres high and offers an excellent view over the region.
The view across the harbour to Schnackenburg shows the mouth of the Aland into the Elbe. You can look across the Aland-Elbe border and still sense the restricted area and thus the former course of the border in the landscape.
If you take the time, you can do some wonderful bird watching from the tower.
I visited Schnackenburg on the “Grenzlandtour” press trip of the Prignitz Tourism Association and wrote this article independently of the visit.