Bautzen, Germany: A Visit Home.❤️

Located in far East Germany, Bautzen has done a remarkable job of transforming itself back into a picturesque, charming, and welcoming city. With a population of approximately 38,000, it’s the 8th largest city in the eastern German state of Saxony. It’s located on the River Spree, within the hilly Upper Lusatian Gefilde, with “Gefilde” translating to “fields” or “country”. Bautzen was the hometown of my grandfather and his family, who were all – quite literally – run out by the Nazis. He, along with numerous members of my immediate and extended family, returned to visit Bautzen over the years after WWII, almost like a pilgrimage of sorts. Now, it was my brother’s and my turn to make the honored trip.

Unfortunately, Bautzen found itself on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain after WWII ended, so you won’t find nearly as many English speakers here as many other parts of Europe, but with the help of a translator app anything is possible 😄. Located on the very eastern side of Germany, it’s far closer to the border of Czech Republic (12.5 miles/20 km) and Poland (31 miles/50 km), than it is to Germany’s largest city, Berlin (146 miles/235 km). On our train ride to Prague, we encountered far more Germans than that of any other country, including the Czech Republic.

I found the people of Bautzen to be very welcoming, warm, and friendly. Be forewarned – it’s not a city heavy on tourism, or catering to foreigners, like many other German cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, or Munich, which are much bigger tourist hotspots. While the larger cities are nice, if you want to experience the “real” Germany, it’s best to explore the smaller, less visited cities – just like Bautzen! And regardless of Bautzen being smaller and less visited, there is still plenty to see and do.

The Leaning Tower of Bautzen.

As mentioned, Bautzen is very picturesque, with a city center that resembles a colorful medieval town. It’s a wonderful little city to stroll through, where you’ll pass grand old buildings while walking down cobblestone streets. You can visit The Leaning Tower of Bautzen (aka The Reichenturm), which is one of the abruptest leaning, yet still usable towers in the Alps. Located in the Buttermarkt, it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm. It was built during the 1490s, but after several devastating fires and sieges, the foundation was rocked and the tower was first observed leaning in 1747. It wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that they finally fastened the foundation to keep it from leaning until it fell. It is now permanently deviated by almost 5 feet (1.44 meters).

Part of the Buttermarkt.

Then take a stroll up the hill to Ortenburg Castle, a 10th-century castle built by Henry I upon the site of a 7th-century fort, and later rebuilt by Matthias Corvin, King of Hungary in the 15th-century. From the castle, you can get a magnificent view of Bautzen from above (please see photo at the end).

Ortenburg Castle.
Ortenburg Castle.
The Old Waterworks Tower directly in the middle.

There’s also the Old Waterworks Tower, which is a 154-foot (47 meters) architectural monument and museum. Located at Wendischer Kirchhof 2, it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm. Originally built in 1558, it was used to hold and supply water to the town from the River Spree, eventually being rebuilt larger in 1606 to meet the growing population demands. It was officially shut down in 1965 and transformed into a museum. You can also visit St. Peter’s Cathedral, a 13th-century Catholic/Evangelical Lutheran Baroque and Gothic style church located in the heart of Old Town.

Another view of the Old Waterworks Tower (far right), seen near Ortenburg Castle.
The Hexenhaus or “Witches House”.

While still in the heart of Old Town, go check out the Hexenhaus, or “Witches House”, which is the oldest preserved residential building still standing in all of Bautzen (built in 1604). Originally built as a fisherman’s hut, it survived the great fire of 1634, and has withstood all other fires, sieges, and acts of war. Some of the original wooden shingles from the 15th-century still remain on the roof today. It got its name from the lore that it was protected by a gypsy, explaining why it’s been able to survive for so long. A slight reconstruction was done in 1959.

Bautzen is also home to six museums, including the Museum Bautzen (dedicated to the history and culture of the city of Bautzen – our family was prominently featured in an exhibition while we were there), the Sorbian Museum (dedicated to the Sorbs, a West Slavic ethno-cultural minority from the Lusatia region), and the Mustard Museum (you guessed it, a museum dedicated to mustard and Bautzen’s role in the globalization of its consumption).

Part of the exhibit featuring our family at the Museum Bautzen. This photo portrays our great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother, our great grandfather, and our great aunts and uncle.
A photo from the Museum Bautzen. The 3 men with the white banner near the front are (from left to right) our great grandfather (wearing a hat and black coat), great uncle (wearing a hat and holding one side of the banner), and their nephew (hatless man holding the other side of the banner). They were being marched through the streets of Bautzen by Nazi sympathizers on November 10th, 1938 – during the infamous Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

Overall, if you ever take a trip to Germany – or Czech Republic or Poland – I highly suggest scheduling in a visit to beautiful and historic Bautzen. It’s only approximately 30 minutes from the Polish border, 2 hours from Prague, 2 hours from Wrocław in Poland, 2.5 hours from Berlin, and 4.5 from Munich. It’s a very doable day or overnight trip and can be accessed quickly by car or train. It’s a city that’s done a remarkable job at revitalizing itself, transforming back to the charming, friendly, and welcoming city that existed pre-WWII. Please don’t pass up the opportunity to see the wonderful, colorful, and lovely German city of Bautzen!

With the Manns, a wonderful German family whose history with our family goes back decades, long predating WWII. We spent the entire day with them as they showed us all the wonderful spots in Bautzen, especially those pertaining to our family. We cherish them dearly!
Taken from atop the hill at Ortenburg Castle.

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