Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) is a state of Germany. Located in the central part of Germany it is one of the states that used to belong to the former country of East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR). It is bordered by the states of Brandenburg to the north and east, Saxony to the south-east, Thuringia to the south and Lower Saxony to the west.
Major cities are:
- Magdeburg (State Capital)
- Halle, largest city
The state of Saxony-Anhalt is quite young as a territory, but deeply rooted in history. It is merged from some former Prussian territories around Magdeburg in the northern and western parts, the former duchy of Anhalt in the central part, and old Saxon territories, which came to Prussia as a result of the Vienna Congress in 1815, around Halle and Wittenberg in the eastern and southern parts. Therefore Saxony-Anhalt lacks a centralized structure (the capital Magdeburg not being the largest city) and many important sites are scattered around the state.
Showing some of the most fertile soils in Germany, the find of the Nebra Sky Disk, an astronomical masterpiece of the Bronze Age, shows that the area was well inhabited already in early times by a sophisticated culture. Later, during medieval times this area was a core area of the growing Holy Roman Empire with many witnesses of that time like the Romanesque cathedrals in Magdeburg, Naumburg, Merseburg and Halberstadt, the city of Quedlinburg, the castle of Querfurt and numerous monasteries. From Wittenberg the Protestant reformation spread around the world after Martin Luther published his 95 theses at the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche. The ruling family of the duchy of Anhalt, formerly an independent territory within Germany, did its share of networking to European monarchies. Roots of the Dutch kings are at Oranienbaum, a princess from Zerbst married to the Russian court and became Russian tsarina as Catharine the Great. Later the city of Dessau and its surroundings emerged as a major hotspot of European enlightenment under prince Leopold III. Friedrich Franz, who created the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden realm. The area around Mansfeld has several hundred years of continuous history of mining on copper and other metals. Industrial inventions include the metal airplane by Hugo Junkers and the colour film at the Agfa-works in Wolfen.
Nowadays Saxony-Anhalt shows a massive decline in population as a result of the economic changes in East Germany since unification, leaving suburbs in many cities derelict. Handling shrinking cities is a challenge in urban planning in its own right and there are some examples shown by the international building exhibit 2010. Generally, the state massively undersells its historic and touristic potential, which gives room to many discoveries of hidden treasures.
Language of communication is, not surprisingly, German. Though not as strong as in Saxony or in Bavaria, regional dialects do occur. Roughly along a line from Harz–Wittenberg and along the Elbe, there is a change of dialects, with central German dialects to the south and north-eastern German dialects to the north ("ich–ick(e)–line").
As learning English was not compulsory in the former GDR, do not expect people who went to school before 1990 to speak or understand English, whereas younger people should at least understand some basics. Russian may be understood by the elderly, as this was taught in East Germany. Russian among French Spanish and other languages are also commonly taught as second foreign languages (after English) in high-schools though results vary dramatically. Your best bet after German would still be English in almost all instances and locals will usually try halting English once they notice you are not a German native speaker. Insist on German (politely but firmly) if you wish and they will usually oblige.
There is only one minor airport within the state, Magdeburg-Cochstedt (IATA: CSO), which does not offer scheduled flights since Ryanair withdrew in 2013. The Leipzig-Halle Airport (IATA: LEJ), just across the border in Saxony, offers connections to most other German and some European destinations. LEJ has a direct train connection to Halle with interchanges to nearly all areas of the state from there.
Also within reasonable distance (approx. 2 hours) are the airports of Hanover (IATA: HAJ) and the Berlin airports Tegel (IATA: TXL) and Schönefeld (IATA: SXF), eventually to be replaced by the new Berlin Airport IATA: BER in the future. Of those airports, Tegel has the widest choice of international destinations.
Centrally located within Germany, Saxony-Anhalt has a variety of train connections. There are the east-to-west-corridors: the high-speed-line Berlin–Wolfsburg–Hanover, used by ICE-trains, some of them calling at Stendal, the trunk line Berlin–Potsdam–Magdeburg–Braunschweig–Kassel/Hanover, used by all kinds of trains and the Halle–Kassel/Göttingen line (regional trains only).
North-south there is the main line Berlin–Wittenberg–(Leipzig)–Naumburg–Nuremberg/Frankfurt, served by ICE and IC-trains, some also calling at Bitterfeld and Halle and the Leipzig–Halle–Magdeburg–Wittenberge–line, which connects at Wittenberge to the sea ports (Hamburg, Rostock).
With the completion of the new high-speed mainline from Berlin to Munich (travel time from terminus to terminus 4 hours) Leipzig/Halle will become a major domestic hub and interchange for trains in all directions.
Though transit country to and from Berlin, so far (2014) only few long distance buses serve Saxony-Anhalt. There are some buses calling at Magdeburg en route from Ruhr Area - Hanover to Berlin, at Halle (Berlin - Munich or Dresden - Kassel). Meinfernbus is serving some smaller places with services Berlin - Halle - Merseburg - Weissenfels - Zeitz (-Gera) and Berlin - Magdeburg - Bernburg - Aschersleben -Wernigerode (-Goslar/Göttingen). Most bus services run once a day only, some even fewer. For more information on the very volatile market see domestic bus travel in Germany
Likewise, Saxony-Anhalt is well connected to the German Autobahn-grid. Nearly every traveller to Berlin passes through Saxony-Anhalt. Main Motorway east-west is the A 2 (Berlin–Hanover and beyond), which serves the north. Further south is B 6n, dual-carriageway from Bernburg to Goslar and beyond, extension from Bernburg to Köthen being under construction and the A 38 Halle–Göttingen. In the north-south-direction there is the A 9 (Berlin–Munich), which cuts the eastern and southern parts of Saxony-Anhalt (Dessau, Wittenberg, Halle, Naumburg). The A 14 (Dresden–Magdeburg) runs through central parts of Saxony-Anhalt and the A 71 (Sangerhausen–(Erfurt)–Schweinfurt), once completed, will connect to Thuringia and northern Bavaria, the last 20 km between Sangerhausen and Erfurt still missing.
Of course, there are plenty of minor roads connecting to any direction.
There are no scheduled boat transfers to Saxony-Anhalt. However, some river cruises use the Elbe when cruising Hamburg–Dresden or Potsdam–Prague, usually stopping at Magdeburg, Dessau and Wittenberg.
There is a dense grid of (mostly) well maintained roads, which serve every spot of the state. Next to the motorways (see get in) are trunk roads ("Bundesstrassen", named B xxx). Standard for trunk roads is single carriageway, though there are also some dual carriageway like the newly built B 6n, Bernburg–Ilsenburg and beyond to Goslar, which has motorway-standard. Other trunk roads like B 81 from the A 2 near Magdeburg towards the Harz, the B 100 from the A 9 near Bitterfeld to Halle and continuing eastwards as B 80 and southwards as B 91 are dual carriageway, but not grade separated and not necessarily bypassing villages. Newly built trunk roads are bypassing at least smaller places.
Some minor roads may still have cobblestone surface or even dirt shoulders. Also there still can be surfaces of slag pavers. Be careful, the can become very slippery, when wet.
There are not many bridges crossing the Elbe river (only at Wittenberg, Dessau, Schönebeck, Magdeburg and Tangermünde) and the Saale downriver from Halle, but ferries roughly every 20 km of river length. Ferries may not operate during high water levels, some shut down in winter and they do not have 24/7 service. Usual operating times are from 6 am to 8 pm weekdays, with shorter times (or even no service) on weekends and holidays. Some ferries are on diesel, others are reaction ferries with a cable firmly attached in the river bed and using the current of the river for movement. The reaction ferries, making no noise but the water bubbling underneath them, are a sight by their own right. However, plan carefully, as there might be a long detour waiting, if they are out of operation.
There are train services throughout the state to most places of interest. Regional trains operate on an hourly (sometimes two-hourly) basis from approx 5 am to approx 10 pm, sometimes midnight. There are special tariffs for journeys under 50 km on regional trains ("Hopper ticket") for 4,50 € flat fare single and 7,50 € return. Also there is the Länder-Ticket Sachsen-Anhalt at 22 € for one person plus 4 € for any additional person up to five. It is valid on any regional and local train plus buses and tramways, which run under an integrated transport authority (like Magdeburg and Halle regions). Saxony-Anhalt-ticket is also valid in Thuringia and Saxony and vice-versa, Saxony-ticket or Thuringia-ticket in Saxony-Anhalt.
Some long-distance cycling tracks run through Saxonxy-Anhalt like the R 1 or the track along the rivers Elbe, Mulde and Saale. Carrying a bike is free on all local trains and most of the other public transport within Saxony-Anhalt (though not in neighbouring states, so watch out on trains, which cross).
UNESCO World heritage sites are:
- the medieval city of Quedlinburg. More than one thousand half-timbered houses.
- the Luther sites at Wittenberg and Eisleben. Luther was born and died in Eisleben, where his birthplace and death house stand. At the university town of Wittenberg Luther spent most of his time and nailed the 95 theses at the door of the castle church.
- the Bauhaus sites at Dessau (and Weimar). Dessau has THE Bauhaus building, the masters’ houses and several more Bauhaus buildings.
- the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm. Created in the second half of the 18th century, it consists of several landscaped parks.
Other sights include:
- medieval cathredrals at Magdeburg, Halberstadt, Quedlinburg, Merseburg, Naumburg, well preserved castles at Falkenstein, Querfurt.
- Europe-Rosarium at Sangerhausen, world’s largest collection of roses.
- The Harz mountains with the highest mountain of northern Germany, the 1141-meter-Brocken, the Bode canyon and the Rappbode-reservoir with the highest dam in Germany.
- the Elbe floodplains, Unesco-biospere-reserve.
- the northernmost vine-growing areas in Germany around Naumburg and the Süsser See near Halle.
- industrial history like the mine Röhrigschacht near Sangerhausen (mine allowing access down 200 m), the film museum at Wolfen, birth place of the colour film, or the city of iron, Ferropolis near Gräfenhainichen.
- cycle along the Elbe.
- cruise the Romanesque Road, a holiday route, which connects more than 80 places of romanesque origin (churches, monasteries, castles), including world class buildings like the Magdeburg or Naumburg cathedrals, but also hardly known village churches.
- ride the narrow-gauge steam trains from Wernigerode up the Brocken or in the Selketal.
- attend one of the numerous music festivals of classical (Händel-Festival in Halle in June, Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Festival in Köthen, Kurt-Weill-Festival in Dessau in February) or modern music (Melt-Festival in Ferropolis in July)
At the banks of the Saale and Unstrut near Naumburg and Freyburg there are some of the northernmost wine-producing areas in Germany. As for the continental climate with rainfall under and sunshine above the German average and a tendency to poor soils on carbonate rocks, wines tend to become quite intense in taste and alcohol-rich. Mostly white vines are growing. Outside that area Saxony-Anhalt is mostly beer drinking territory with a large brewery near Wernigerode and some smaller ones scattered around.
There is plenty of accommodation across the whole range from hostels to top-class hotels. There might be some busier times regionally, but in general there are enough hotel beds to meet the demand. Reservations are only necessary, if you want a specific hotel on a specific date.Price level is moderate, from around 30 Euro pppn in standard accommodations to 80/100 Euro pppn in top-class hotels.
As special hotels there are to mention a hotel on top of the Brocken (highest mountain), a hostel in the original Bauhaus-building in Dessau, All across the region you will find hotels in former manor houses or castles like Meisdorf House, Schloss Altenhausen, Schloss Storkau or Wasserburg Westerburg.
Saxony Anhalt is more or less Centrally located and thus hops across the state line take you almost anywhere in Germany
- Thuringia , here your Sachsen-Anhalt-Ticket is valid as well for all regional trains
- Saxony historically both Länder share a lot of common heritage, and big chunks of Sachsen Anhalt were once part of Saxony, before the kings and electors lost one too many wars (they had a propensity for almost always choosing the wrong side). Halle-Leipzig in particular serve as one big metropolis with two cores in some ways, even sharing an airport in Schkeuditz.