Magdeburg: State Capital of Saxony-Anhalt and the ‘City of Otto’

From an historic Cathedral to a Green Citadel and a Millennium Tower, this city is thriving

Magdeburg Cathedral ©

By Don Heimburger
Photos courtesy of the author, German National Tourist Office and Magdeburg Marketing

The Elbe River cuts through the heart of Magdeburg, offering this historic German city an idyllic landscape and picture-perfect views through a camera. But the city has seen its share of severe destruction over the centuries, such as in the Thirty Years War and World War II.

Today, this city of 240,000 in central Germany has rebounded nicely and combines its important and long history with new architecture, innovative cultural events and green spaces to make it an appealing attraction for tourists.

Aerial view of Magdeburg on the Elbe River
Magdeburg Cathedral shines at night.

The town’s huge cathedral is a “must-see” and is the largest church building in this part of Germany. Surprisingly, the Magdeburg Cathedral can be traced back as early as 937, when Emperor Otto the First founded a monastery dedicated to St. Maurice. In 955, the church building was extended before becoming the cathedral of the established bishopric of Magdeburg in 968. Otto the First had a number of high quality pieces of antique art shipped to Magdeburg from northern Italy to the cathedral. These included columns made of purple-red porphyry, marble and granite, many of which still provide finishing touches to the architecture of the cathedral today.

Magdeburg Cathedral architecture

When Emperor Otto died in 973, his remains were brought to Magdeburg Cathedral, where he was buried in a stone sarcophagus. In 1207, the Ottonian cathedral was damaged in a city fire. Archbishop Albrecht II then began construction on a new Gothic cathedral, which was consecrated in 1362. The cathedral’s 341-foot-high west towers were completed in 1520.

Today, visitors to Magdeburg Cathedral can see the rich interior stone work which displays impressive architecture. The building is also full of unique and internationally renowned original exhibits representing nearly all periods of art history, including spolia from the building’s Ottonian predecessor, the original tomb of Emperor Otto I and his first wife Edith.

Magdeburg Cathedral ©

In addition, there are Romanesque bronze grave markers, early Gothic sandstone sculptures including the famous figures of the “Clever and Stupid Virgins,” the carvings on the choir stalls of the canons dating back to the 14th century, and Renaissance paintings, as well as 20th century art such as the famous war memorial designed by Ernst Barlach. The cathedral, which became protestant in 1567, is now the seat of a Protestant bishopric and home to members of a congregation in the city center.

Monastery of Our Lady

Said to be the “pearl of the Romanesque Road,” the Monastery of our Lady in Magdeburg is considered the oldest surviving building in the city.

The unique well-house, magnificent barrel-vaults and sublime monastery church with its slender towers comprise an architectural marvel which is the centerpiece of all Romanesque buildings in Saxony-Anhalt. The structure holds both the Magdeburg Art Museum and the Georg Philipp Telemann concert hall. Archbishop Gero of Magdeburg ordered the erection of the building in 1017-18. However, nothing remained of the original construction, and it was Archbishop Werner (1063-1078) who arranged for the reconstruction which was finally completed in the 12th century by the Premonstratensian order.

The rotunda with its pointing cones, resembling a monk’s tonsure, is a remarkable architectural feature of the eastern wing. Together with its 32 arcades, the rotunda forms an ensemble considered one of the most amazing and interesting structures in European monastery architecture. After 1220, the monastery church was vaulted in early Gothic style. Also deserving a special mention is a collection of sculptures ranging from medieval to contemporary in the museum of the monastery. The surrounding area includes a sculpture park created in 1989.

St. John’s Church is Magdeburg’s oldest parish church, first mentioned in 941. The western section of the church, which features a late Romanesque design, and the Gothic hall church, have both been preserved. A monument of Martin Luther and the crypt of the Otto von Guericke family can be found in front of and inside the church.

The history of the church was marked by many changes: St. John’s fell victim to many city fires and was destroyed when General Tilly’s army invaded Magdeburg in 1631. However, the citizens never tired of rebuilding the church. St. John’s Church left its mark on history when an important and far-reaching event took place: on June 26, 1524, Martin Luther held a famous sermon on right and wrong justice in the greatly overcrowded church, whereupon all parishes of the city center converted to Protestantism, as laid down in the annals of Magdeburg.

Today St. John’s is open to the public and has become a popular venue for a wide variety of events.

Hundertwasser’s Green Citadel ©

One of Magdeburg’s most eye-catching attractions for visitors is also one of the last architectural masterpieces designed by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Green Citadel of Magdeburg is located among a mixture of Baroque facades and examples of modern design and provides the Breiter Weg with a landmark structure and a burst of colorful culture.

This architectural retail/apartment building has been the subject of much discussion since it was constructed in 2005. It was the last building Hundertwasser designed before his death. The artist said the building was an “oasis for humanity and nature within a sea of rational houses” at the heart of the “concrete desert” of Magdeburg.

(left to right) Science demonstration at Millennium Tower; Millennium Tower

To explore the green of Magdeburg, visitors also want to investigate Elbauenpark. The park, which covers an area of 222 acres and was awarded the title of Germany’s second most attractive park in 2005, is home to many attractions that visitors can explore.

Since being created, the unique park has gained its place as one of Magdeburg’s most important landmarks. It is home to the Millennium Tower (the world’s tallest wooden construction of its kind), Lake Stage, Butterfly House and a number of playgrounds, sports areas, pieces of art, themed gardens and other attractions.

The park is home to a wide range of activities and facilities for sports fans, including golf, skating, rock climbing, hiking, biking, a high-rope park and even a toboggan run.

The Town Hall of Magdeburg dates to the 12th and 13th century, with the oldest remains in the vaults which form part of today’s Ratskeller restaurant. Pelt dressers, tanners and dealers in hides and skins met here in the long hall to trade and stock their goods. After the turmoil of the 30 Years War, a two-story sandstone town hall building was erected in Dutch Renaissance style including Italian Renaissance architecture, and in the 19th century it underwent a number of changes and extensions.

In January 1945, the Town Hall was completely destroyed during an air raid, but reconstruction work on it began in 1965, and it was rebuilt and restored according to its original blueprints. The hall features bronze doors designed by Heinrich Apel and carved with historical figures and stories from the city’s past as well as features an impressive bell carillon with four octaves. The carillon is played on market days and also for concerts.

(left to right) Colorful street of buildings on Otto-Richter-Strasse; Magdeburg Town Hall with Statue of Otto I (912 – 973), Magdeburg, Germany. Otto I, or Otto the Great, was the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, reigning as German king from 936 until his death in 973.; Tram system in Magdeburg

Today Magdeburg features numerous museums, art galleries, theaters and performing venues including the AMO, a multifunctional complex for shows, concerts and conferences. There is also the Stadthalle Magdeburg, the city’s civic hall. The hall was constructed in the style of the Neues Bauen modern architecture movement in 1927 for use as a showplace on the occasion of the German Theatre Exhibition. It has hosted a wide range of events such as classical concerts, theater performances, musicals, revues, ballets, galas, sports shows and rock and pop concerts.

Magdeburg features miles of bike pathsthis one is near the Elbe River.

Magdeburg Zoo is located at the heart of Vogelgesang Park, a natural and garden landscape that covers 47 acres. The zoo features 835 animals representing 176 different species. The man-made savannah landscape in the zoo covers an area of 215,000 square feet; the Savannah Viewing Point enables visitors to enjoy a panoramic view over the Africa area and the Water Bird Pond.

Magdeburg was the site of the 2016 German Travel Mart, attended by 1,500 participants from all over the world. Editor/Publisher Don Heimburger was on hand and filed this report about the green city of Magdeburg.

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