We take the regional train to a town where time seems to stand still, where medieval architecture and modern culture interweave seamlessly. Stendal, a jewel of the Altmark region, invites you to take a journey through its winding alleyways.
Here, every stone and every half-timbered house seems to tell of centuries of history and Hanseatic heritage. There is so much to discover on a stroll through the old town that a day trip is almost not enough.
We start our stroll through the old town at Stendal train station. From there, it is easy to walk through the old town. We found the distances to be quite pleasant.
Sightseeing in Stendal
Our route through the city is easy to follow on the map.
The Powder Tower is located in the historic center of Stendal and is easy to reach. It is one of the remains of the medieval fortifications that once surrounded the town. If you walk around the tower today, you will discover the remains of the town wall.
The tower from 1450 has a characteristic round shape and was an important part of the city’s defenses. Such towers were erected at strategic points on the city walls to ward off potential attackers.
Around 1722, the garrison used the tower to store powder and ammunition. Around 1838, brewers and innkeepers stored their beer in the base of the tower.
Tangermünder Tor (Tangermünde Gate)
Not far from the Powder Tower, the Tangermünde Gate stands in the middle of a small traffic island. The gate was one of the four large gates that once let visitors into the town through the medieval town fortifications. This monumental structure, which dates back to the early 13th century, is an example of the Romanesque architectural style that is often found in the small town.
The Tangermünde Gate consists of a robust fieldstone substructure that houses an impressive barrel vault. This massive substructure not only served as a foundation, but also as a crucial defensive component against potential intruders into the town.
Resting on it is a brick structure that illustrates the later developments in the city’s architecture. This late Gothic brick structure is crowned by a crenellated platform, which was used both for defensive purposes and as a lookout point. I find the numerous decorative shapes on the gate, such as corner turrets and battlements, impressive. These bear witness to the former wealth of the Hanseatic city.
We follow the road and pass the former St. Catherine’s Monastery. If you fancy a visit to a museum, you can visit the Altmärkisches Museum here.
Winckelmann Square in Stendal
We strolled through the pedestrian zone and reached Winckelmann Platz with the Winckelmann monument.
Who was Winckelmann?
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) was a German archaeologist and art theorist who is considered the founder of modern archaeology and art history. He is known for his work on the art of antiquity and had a great influence on European art, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. Winckelmann was born in Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt. He studied theology and medicine before turning to art history.
His work “Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums” (1764) is considered to be the first comprehensive and systematic book on the art of antiquity. It was groundbreaking in its detailed examination of ancient art and influenced generations of artists, writers and scholars.
His life ended tragically. He was murdered in a hotel in Trieste, which caused a great stir at the time.
The fact that the archaeologist is repeatedly referred to here in his birthplace was something we noticed more often during our visit. The monument erected on Winckelmannplatz dates back to 1859.
Jakobikirche (Jacobi Church)
Jacobi Church is probably the oldest church in the original old village of Steinedal. The Gothic hall church was built from fieldstone and brick. Visitors to the church will be amazed by the interior and the beautiful stained glass windows. This dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The pulpit made of painted sandstone is impressive. It depicts Jacob the Elder, the patron saint of pilgrims.
The church is the destination of the St. James Pilgrimage Trail, which leads through Saxony-Anhalt.
Uenglinger Tor (Uenglingen gate tower)
One of the last gate towers of Stendal’s medieval town fortifications stands in the north-west of the old town. The Uenglingen gate tower was built around 1450/60 and was probably designed by one of the most important builders of the 15th century in northern Germany, Steffen Boxhude.
A square late Gothic brick building rises up from an existing predecessor building. The former passageway area is ogival. Four oriel-like corner towers border a round tower section. There is a crenellated platform at the top, which we visited. The tower is unique from the outside. We discover rich decorative ornamentation everywhere.
A staircase leads up to the entrance of the tower. Here, in a small anteroom that used to be the guard’s room, you can buy tickets and talk a little about the history of the tower before entering through a small door and starting the ascent.
A staircase takes you on a tour around the round tower. Between the walls, you have a pretty good view of the surrounding city, but it’s not really beautiful. There is actually always a projection of wall in view.
We enter the round section of the tower through a door. The stairs lead us to an exit hatch on the platform high above the city. From here, the view really is what we had hoped for. We enjoy the view over the old town of Stendal and its numerous church towers. From up there, we also spotted the Trojan Horse, which was to be our next stop on our tour.
Winckelmann Museum in Stendal
As the name suggests, the Winckelmann Museum is dedicated to the life and work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann. It is located on the exact spot where his birthplace once stood.
Anyone expecting a “boring” tour through history when visiting this museum will be disappointed. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a museum that offers such an impressive visit, especially for children, that will certainly stay in your memory.
The museum has been open again since 2018 after a long renovation phase and presents itself in a modern and interactive way.
First of all, visitors learn a lot about Winckelmann’s life. In addition to his childhood, school days in Berlin and studies in Halle, his professional career is also covered. For example, Winckelmann worked as a principal in a school and as a librarian at Nöthnitz Castle. His years in Rome, his passion for art and his murder are also discussed.
The rest of the exhibition focuses on the archaeologist’s most important works. For example, he wrote about the excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I am particularly impressed by the collection of gems and gem imprints. After experiencing how much work goes into creating these works of art in Edelsteinland, I see them with completely different eyes.
Afterwards, we visited the “children’s area” of the museum. Here, children can actively engage with history. Topics such as
What did the Greeks and Romans wear?
How did they go shopping?
What happened in Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted?
And to make sure there is plenty of exercise, there are opportunities to climb and crawl or get active in the large garden area.
In the garden, for example, there is a replica of the Trojan Horse. It is a reminder of Winckelmann’s fondness for the poet Homer and of course you can also go inside the giant wooden animal.
From up there, for example, you can see the maze. While I was looking for my destination in the maze, Patrick was able to guide me out of the horse’s belly. Very good, it would certainly have taken me ages to find my way back.
The Petrikirche church is located in the immediate vicinity of the museum. Winckelmann was baptized in this church on 12.12.1717.
The exterior of the church is rather plain and was built in the brick Gothic style. The hall church has a tower.
Unfortunately, the church was closed and so we couldn’t take a look inside the nave.
Market square with town hall and Roland statue
When we reach the market square, the first thing I notice is the town hall. It stands directly on the market square and looks back on a long history. The main parts of the building were erected in the 15th century, while changes and restorations took place in the following centuries. This historic building, together with St. Mary’s Church, forms an impressive architectural ensemble.
Historical documents mention the town hall as early as 1188 as “Domus mercatorum” and in 1243, Margraves Johann I and Otto III transferred it to the town. The town hall’s court arbor was recorded in the records of 1345.
There were many renovations, especially in the second half of the 19th century, with the years 1885-1887 and 1898-1900 being particularly noteworthy, when eight new windows were added to the courtyard side. The interior of the town hall was restored between 1933 and 1940.
The town hall, built mainly of brick, stretches along the east side of the market square and consists of various building sections that were added over time. Some parts of the building are plastered and it has a close connection to the neighboring St. Mary’s Church.
A remarkable feature of the town hall is the courthouse arbour – a brick building that was originally designed as an open hall. It dates back to the 14th century. The upper floor was restored in 1904.
The Gewandhaus and council wing now houses the Ratskeller. The northern wing was built before 1450. The southern wing was added later.
Another interesting part of the town hall is the corps wing. It was built around 1480 and later renovated in the Renaissance style. This wing houses the oldest rooms of the town hall, which date back to the 13th century.
Roland statue of Stendal
The Roland statue of Stendal, which was positioned on the market square in front of the town hall in 1525, symbolizes the identity of the town of Stendal. With a total height of 7.80 meters, including the 1.80 meter high octagonal pedestal, this sandstone figure represents the legendary military leader Roland.
Roland is depicted as a knight with a moustache. He wears detailed plate armor consisting of various parts, such as a long coat of mail and bracers and greaves. His iron sword, which he holds in his right hand, originally had a gilded hilt and pommel. The city’s coat of arms, showing a Brandenburg eagle, can be seen on the shield in his left hand.
A rectangular, decorated column at the back of the Roland provides additional stability. There are various depictions on the front of this pillar: A monkey looking into a mirror can be seen at the bottom. Directly above it is a bearded figure, possibly representing the sculptor himself, as could be deduced from the working clothes.
The back of the support column also features interesting artwork. A kneeling man with a bell cap is visible at the bottom. Above this man is a relief showing a figure with a bagpipe and the Stendal town coat of arms. Local residents often identify this figure as Till Eulenspiegel.
Eulenspiegel in Stendal
The 51st story of “An entertaining reading of Till Eulenspiegel” is about a prank played by Eulenspiegel in Stendal. He pretends to be a journeyman wool weaver and enters the service of a cloth maker in Weberstraße in Stendal. However, instead of doing the usual work of a wool weaver properly, Eulenspiegel takes all the clothier’s instructions literally and carries them out in his unique, mischievous way. This leads to numerous misunderstandings and chaos. A special element of this story is that the clothier wanted to prevent Eulenspiegel from celebrating “Blue Monday”, which Eulenspiegel does not take well and uses as the basis for his pranks.
St. Mary’s Town and Council Church in Stendal
St. Mary’s Town and Council Church in Stendal is an impressive example of late Gothic architecture. As a landmark of Stendal, it not only stands for religion, but also for the historical and cultural identity of the town.
The history of St. Mary’s Church is closely linked to Stendal’s development as an important Hanseatic town in the Middle Ages. While exact dates about the start of construction are not known, it is known that the church was built in the High Middle Ages, a time when Stendal grew in importance and wealth. The church not only served as a place of worship, but also as a representative symbol of the town’s power and prosperity.
Architecturally, St. Mary’s Church is an impressive example of North German Brick Gothic architecture. The church is a late Gothic three-aisled hall church with an ambulatory choir and two towers. The towers are an impressive 82 meters high and still bear witness to the pride and wealth of the Hanseatic city.
We went into the church and I was impressed. The carved Marian altar from 1471 is richly decorated with figures. I really like the choir stalls and was very impressed by the baptismal font.
The Gothic baptismal font was made in Lübeck in 1474. Eight large female figures, including Mary, adorn the font and eight smaller male saints are positioned between the female figures. The supporting figures also represent the four evangelists. A Latin inscription translated into German reads “In the year of the Lord 1474, go and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen” is also engraved on it. There are still traces of original and later added color paintings.
Astronomical clock in St. Mary’s Town and Council Church
However, the real highlight is somewhat hidden under the organ loft. Here we discover a fully functional astronomical clock from the 16th century.
It has an impressive dial measuring nine square meters, which depicts a 24-hour day. Its eye-catching hand completes a round in two hours. The clock also shows the positions of the sun and moon. A star disk with a recess represents the lunar cycle, while the date is visible in the inner number ring. With a weight of 100 kilograms and a 3.25 meter long pendulum, it is impressively large. Its operation requires winding every five days. The drive system is based on a 65-kilogram weight and a pulley. The astronomical clock in Stendal reminds me of the astronomical clocks we have already seen in Prague, Rostock and Münster.
St. Nicholas Cathedral
At the end of our tour through the old town of Stendal, we reached St. Nicholas Cathedral. It was just possible to enter the church building, so we decided to pay a visit.
Margrave Otto II of the Ascanian dynasty and his brother Henry of Gardelegen laid the foundation stone for a collegiate monastery in Stendal in 1188. With twelve secular canons, including the collegiate provost and the dean, the monastery was directly subordinate to the Pope and became an important spiritual center.
Work on the current building began in 1423 and was completed by the middle of the 15th century. The impressive architectural features such as the towers and the stepped gable of the transept are striking.
Interestingly, parts of an old church were probably integrated into the construction of the current church in order to preserve it for as long as possible.
The Reformation brought changes: the church regulations were revised in 1540 and the collegiate foundation was dissolved in 1551. St. Nicholas became a parish church and the seat of the superintendent.
The destruction during the Second World War led to considerable damage, but reconstruction began as early as 1946. The process was successfully completed in 2013.
I was particularly impressed by the 22 medieval stained glass windows. Beautiful pictures glow in the sunlight and I actually want to sit down and look at them one by one in peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, time was pressing, our train was due to leave the station soon. For me, it’s clear that a day trip to Stendal is worthwhile! We want to come back and visit the Gertrauden Hospital, the State Fire Brigade Museum and the town lake, for example