Helmstedt Things to Do

  • Double chapel and convent buildings
    Double chapel and convent buildings
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  • Former Chapel of St Georg
    Former Chapel of St Georg
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  • Türkentor
    Türkentor
    by Kathrin_E

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    Türkentor – Gate of the Turks

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 25, 2010

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    T��rkentor

    The gate belonged to the abbey complex of St Ludgeri. The original was destroyed in 1944. A reconstruction has been put up in the 1980s.

    The gate is a triumphal arch. It praises Austria’s victory against the Turks in 1716.

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    Hausmannsturm Gate and Chapel of St Georg

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 25, 2010

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    Hausmannsturm and chapel
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    Only one of the once four town gates is preserved, the Neumärker Tor in the west. The gate tower is also known as Hausmannsturm. Neumärker Straße, the street that leads through it, is Helmstedt’s main shopping street (but don’t expect too much, this is a small town).

    The chapel next to the gate tower belonged to the hospital of St Georg , a medieval foundation outside the town wall. It was built after 1322. The hospital is gone. The chapel has long been applied to worldly use and nowadays hosts a jewellery shop.

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    Monastery of St Ludgeri: The Double Chapel

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 25, 2010

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    Double chapel and convent buildings
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    The small separate building in the courtyard contains two chapels. The lower chapel is dedicated to St Peter and Paul, the upper chapel to St John Baptist. Legends tell that the lower chapel is of Carolingian origin and served as missionary chapel in the 9th century Christianizatiof the region. However, the present building was only begun in the 11th century. When the three convent wings were rebuilt, the chapel also underwent some alterations to connect it to the convent buildings and give it a baroque outer appearance. The bell-shaped spire was added in those times.

    The upper chapel of St John Baptist was redesigned and received a new stucco decoration which is dated 1710. An inscription under the picture of the chapel refers to this renovation (photo 3). The painted antependium depicts Bishop St Liudger, the patron saint of the abbey church.

    The lower chapel of St Peter and Paul is still (or again) plain and Romanesque. The altar has a 17th century stone retable with crucifix and apostles. It is damaged, the crucified Jesus has lost his arms. The sign on the prayer bench in front of the altar says, “Lord you have no arms any more – use mine.”

    The chapels are open in the daytime.

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    Monastery of St Ludgeri: Crypt of St Felicitas

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 25, 2010

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    Crypt of St Felicitas
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    The 11th century crypt underneath the church is accessible from the courtyard of the convent underneath the northern transept. St Felicitas was the original patron saint of the abbey. The main church was later dedicated to St Ludgeri but the chapel in the crypt remained with St Felicitas.

    If the door is locked, ring the bell at the parsonage office and ask them to let you in. (I was lucky, the secretary saw me and came out to open the door for me).

    In the corridor two pieces of the medieval church floor are on display. These were found during excavations. The floor is made of plaster and shows engraved figures, inscriptions and ornaments with black and red outlines.

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    Monastery of St Ludgeri

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 25, 2010

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    Monastery of St Ludgeri
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    The monastery complex is one of Helmstedt’s greatest architectural treasures after the Juleum. It was founded in the 9th century and always connected with the abbey of Werden in Essen, both were ruled by the same abbot. The abbey of St Ludgeri was an imperial abbey, thus not subject to the Duke of Braunschweig and not affected by the introduction of the reformation. In the 18th century the convent and economy buildings were rebuilt in baroque splendour while the Romanesque church remained. The monastery stayed in operation until 1802/03 when it was closed down in the secularization. The abbey church became the catholic parish church of Helmstedt.

    The economy buildings are only partly preserved. In the 1980 a main street was built right through the premises and some buildings demolished. The small pigeon tower is now standing in the middle of the road.

    The interior of the church still shows a Romanesque structure but has been modernized in post-war 20th century. The church and the courtyard of the convent are open in the daytime. Don’t miss walking round the church through a small passage into the courtyard to see the crypt and the double chapel (see separate tips).

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    Former Beguine House

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 22, 2010

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    Parsonage, former house of the Beguine community
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    The most beautiful half-timbered house in the surroundings of St Stephani Church now serves as parsonage. It was built in 1580 for the Beguines, a Christian community of women which existed in Helmstedt already in the 14th century.

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    Church of St Stephani

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 22, 2010

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    Church of St Stephani
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    St Stephani is the main parish church of old Helmstedt. It is located on the highest hilltop within the old town. The hill was turned into a platform and stabilized by a wall on the steep eastern side. The surrounding churchyard used to be the cemetery. One baroque burial chapel, dated 1683, is still standing on the edge.

    The origins of the church date back to the 12th century. The low but imposing massive westwork is the oldest part. It has never been higher than it is now and can hardly be called a steeple.

    Nave and choir were rebuilt and enlarged in the 13th/14th century in gothic style. Altar, pulpit, galleries and all other pieces of ‘furniture’ are post-reformation and tell of protestant theology. For the experts, there are some interesting paintings with decided Lutheran iconography. 19th century historism added the side galleries and the stained glass windows.
    The brass baptismal font in the western part of the nave, founded in 1590, is one of the most precious works of art in this church.

    The church is open in the daytime. Access from the southern side where the parking lot is.

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    Holzberg Square

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 22, 2010

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    Holzberg
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    When walking into the old town from the train station, the large trinagular square (huh?) named Holzberg is probably the first you reach. It is used as a parking lot and full of cars. Watch your steps, as it is paved with cobblestone, only the sidewalks are a bit smoother. Anyway, don't miss looking at the houses around the square. There are some pretty half-timbered houses with elaborate woodcarved decorations, built in the 16th/17th century.

    The square is located on a gently descending slope. If you want to visit the Juleum/university, the tower shows among the houses at the lower end, just walk in that direction.

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    Professors’ Houses

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 20, 2010

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    House of professors Conring and von der Hardt
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    After the opening of the university Helmstedt experienced a boom. Professors and students and other staff involved with the university moved into town. They needed housing. A lot of pretty houses, some half-timbered and some in stone, were built in the streets around the university. You will find signs on many facades that tell who used to live when in that particular house. The university is gone and the famous professors are gone but their impressive houses remained.

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    Market Square and Town Hall

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 20, 2010

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    Town hall in market square

    The town’s market square is rather unspectacular. Like Holzberg it is triangular, not square. The most interesting institution for visitors here is probably the tourist information.

    The southwestern corner is occupied by the town hall. A much older, probably medieval building was substituted by a new one in 1904-1906. The imposing historistic façade shows a mix of renaissance and late gothic style.

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    Zonengrenzmuseum – Museum of the Border

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 20, 2010

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    Zonengrenzmuseum

    Helmstedt is located in closest vicinity to the Iron Curtain, the infamous border that divided the two Germanies in Cold War times. The border is gone, the museum recalls this important aspect of German history. Highly recommended to those who have not experienced those times.

    I mention the museum here although I have not visited it. I decided not to visit because I grew up 30 kms from the German-German border and have seen the original often enough: the fences, the watch towers, the dogs running. Countless school trips and weekend excursions took us to the viewpoints along the border. East Germans had no chance to approach the border, the areas behind were closed off kilometres away and could only be entered with a special permit. On the Western side, though, we were able to proceed to the very border line. Crossing it was not recommended, though – the consequence of violating DDR territory would have been either being arrested or shot immediately. But there were viewpoints and presentations about the fortifications and how they worked.

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    Promenade on the Ramparts

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 20, 2010

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    Rampart promenade in the southwest
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    Already in the middle ages Helmstedt had a strong fortification with ramparts, moat and wall, eight towers and four gates. Parts of the wall are preserved in the southwest and northeast of the old town. On the northern and eastern side the moat is still filled with water. The line of the ramparts surrounds the entire old town, it has been turned into a pedestrian and bike trail. In about half an hour you can walk the entire round.

    My photos were taken in mid March when all trees were bare; in the warmer seasons it will be more romantic but you will have less views of the town.

    Along the southern and western side the former ramparts became upscale residential streets around 1900. Villas and smaller houses in the styles of historism were built along them, you will also spot a few art nouveau buildings.

    In the north and west the ramparts are higher. The topography shows the structure of the fortifications. Trees and dense shrubbery cover the slopes. Old oak trees accompany the trail. The former moat zones are parks and meadows. This part of the rampart trail can be deserted and I would not walk here alone at night.

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    Hoflager – the “Court Camp”

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 20, 2010

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    Hoflager
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    The most beautiful half-timbered house around market square has historical significance. Duke Julius used it as his “court camp”, i.e. temporary residence during his visits to the town. The so-called “Rohrsche Haus” was built in 1567 and decorated with elaborate woodcarvings. The figures depict the seven free arts and religious topics; note, for example, Adam and Eve in photo 2.

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    Kreisheimatmuseum - Historical Museum

    by Kathrin_E Written Mar 20, 2010

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    University exhibition
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    The little museum in the basement of the main university building, aka Juleum Novum, presents a permanent exhibition about the history of town and university and the coal mines in the vicinity. Quite interesting to learn a bit about the place and its significance – if you have sufficient German language skills, as there are no translations. The exhibition is rather small.

    Opening hours: Tues – Fri 10-12 and 15-17, Sat – Sun 15-17.
    Entry is free.

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    Juleum Novum - Renaissance University Buildings

    by Kathrin_E Updated Mar 20, 2010

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    Juleum Novum
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    The beautiful palace-like building in the middle of the old town reminds us of Helmstedt's glorious past as a centre of science, theology and philosphy. Helmstedt was one of the early universities in Northern Germany. In 1568 Duke Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel introduced the reformation in his territory. In order to train preachers in Lutheran protestantism, the duchy needed a university of its own. In 1575 Julius obtained the Emperor's permission to open a university in Helmstedt. One year later the first lectures started.

    The former town manor of a nearby monastery was confiscated and renovated for this purpose. Court architect Paul Francke then designed the newe main building which was erected in 1592-1597. It was named "Juleum" after the founder. Later on the university was renamed "Julia Carolina" by Duke Karl.

    The glory of Alma Mater Julia Carolina lasted until the times of Napoleon. In 1807 Helmstedt and the Duchy became part of the Kingdom of Westphalia, which was ruled by Napoleon's brother Jérôme. The kingdom had all in all five universities, only three of them were to continue. Helmstedt and Rinteln were the losers. In 1810 Helmstedt University was closed for good. All efforts to reopen it were unsuccessful.

    The old "campus" consists of the main building, Francke's Juleum Novum, and a three-winged building complex around a rectangular courtyard. The two side wings of the latter derive from the monastery manor and include much older parts. The southern wing at the far end was added around 1900. This U-shaped building now hosts the Volkshochschule of the district and private offices. The main building contains the aula on the ground floor with its rich renaissance stucco. The first floor is still the seat of the university library (unfortunately closed). The basement is used by by the historical museum (see separate tip). The upper floors and the tower can umly be visited with the occasional guided tours.

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