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Two hours in Bernburg | TIME ONLINE

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© Monja Gentschow for DIE ZEIT

The trains creep in suspiciously quietly, as if nobody should be woken up here. Do not be fooled: of course Bernburg has long been awake and yes, even showered. Other small town train stations in Saxony-Anhalt satchels boarded up and abandoned, but here the station has been thoroughly renovated. In the morning, the kebab skewer rotates dutifully in the bistro. Welcome to the old residence city!

Come down to the Saale, into the open, into the green and later up to the castle. If you are not surprised about the bear figure staring angrily into a fountain in front of the station, instead follow the smoke from the chimneys to the soda factory. Soda is one of the four more or less white powders that are obtained in the region. Before you imagine the adventures of a Central German Pablo Escobar: the other three are salt, sugar and cement. The factories not only brought work and a little wealth to the Saale. During GDR times, the river foamed, the air smelled like cat crap, and the allegedly dust-free cement factory was said to be more of a cement-free dust factory. Today the air tastes of air, and if you are a little brave, you can swim in the gray-green river on warm days, preferably in Gröna in the south of the city.

Leave the soda factory behind and cross Annenstrasse into the city park. Hold on to the bank until you are standing on the cleared Saalplatz in front of the new Indian-Italian restaurant. Indian-Italian, that sums up the situation quite well. Bernburg is the charming juxtaposition of factories and baroque villas, polished pavement and moldy vacancies, of old size in a shrinking city.

The market bridge leads you from the mountain to the valley town. On the left you can see the petrol-green lock and the huge mill that was completed in the early 1990s. Enjoy the upholstery and bookbinding that survived on the market square. Have a beer under the vine leaves in the "Old Market" or taste the Bernburger onion lump, a lamb broth with meat and dumplings. Better drink a beer.

Turn left behind the market into Krumbholzstrasse, and you may have an inkling of what the band Isolation Berlin means when it sings: "In Bernburg, weltschmerz falls cold from the sky." Head straight for the banks of the Saale. In Rosenhag Park, on the left behind the bushes, you can finally imagine the castle on the sandstone rock on the other bank.

For the postcard view from the Reimann restaurant, we have to go a few hundred meters upstream, past nursing homes, flamingos and pigs behind the zoo fence. After the winter break at Reimanns, try a Bernburger brine egg for 80 cents under weeping willows. Don't be put off by the greenish color. Add a raspberry spray and marvel at the castle with the ducks. If there was a dashing city marketing, who knows, maybe Bernburg would have long since become Heidelberg of the East or Budapest of the West for the sheer romance of the river castle. Let the ferryman translate with a tooth gap and earring. His ferry is called Unit.

Up, up the steep slope on the other bank. Stop briefly at the bear kennel on the castle wall. How, no one there? In 1860 a lieutenant from the nearby Rittergut Bullenstedt brought the brown bear cub Lazi with him from a vacation in Russia, from then on bears lived here. The kennel has been overgrown since the last generation, Benji and Bonny, died of old age. There should be two koalas from Sydney. But that was just an April Fool's joke from the local press.

Step into the palace courtyard of the Anhalt princes and see: a permanent construction site with buildings from all eras – glowing Renaissance oriel windows, half-timbered houses, rough concrete, some things crumble great, others are freshly painted, and in the music school next door maybe someone lady violin Lady Gaga , Save yourself the ascent to the Eulenspiegel tower, instead make a dangle to the world's most beautiful school sports hall in Schloßgartenstrasse, the former orangery that commemorates the Dresden Zwinger.

Via Friedensallee, Karlstrasse and Auguststrasse you will find your way back to the train station, past the small world clock, built by 60 companies in 60 days in the 1970s. As your train sneaks out of the city, the sentence that stood on the wall in Reimanns may come to mind: Fat, thin, tall, small, all sanse, this is nice.

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