It was an easy drive out of the city on the Berlin ring road and south towards Leipzig. The motorways moved quickly and we reached our planned stop-over (which wasn’t very welcoming) at lunchtime. Despite the nice picture in our Camperstop book, the aire was on a noisy main road and had a series of boy racers revving engines and wheel spinning.
After a brew and bite to eat, we decided to keep going to Dessau – the next possible stopover in our guidebook, heading south towards Nuremberg.
On arrival, the industrial town was cold and bleak and the free camping offered by the isolated and run-down private airport was uninviting. We reversed Bertha into a marked bay, looked at each other, then without saying a word, got out the map to see where the next stop was on our route south. Sometimes, it just goes like this on a trip day.
We continued on until finding Naumburg. This lovely town still has many of its original medieval merchant buildings and was an important trading post for centuries. Its impressive hotel ‘The Three Swans’ welcomed Napoleon, German Emperors and Goethe amongst its guests.
A walking tour was tempting but the cold was so biting we opted instead to warm up with the locals in an old ratskeller. The bar was simply two pumps selling dark or light ‘bier vom fass’ for as little as €1.30 a glass. The heavily smoking clientèle, all men and most of them elderly, were crouched over gambling games of dominoes or cards and passing coins furtively under the tables.
We enjoyed the scenes and left just as a passionate argument broke out at one table and once back in Bertha realised that the memory of the bar would stay with us for some time as our clothes now reeked of smoke. It would take the biting easterly wind a couple of days to fully air us out!
In the morning we did an hours’ walking around the town clutching coffee from the bustling market square in icy hands and reading up on the histories of the elegant and colourful buildings surrounding us. Many of the painted renaissance houses had oriel windows with wooden carvings of mythical people and animals dating back to the 1500s.
A ride on the Naumburger Strassenbahn was tempting – but the icy air put us off circling the town on a former East Germany tram. The small single tram car operates every 30 minutes from the station to the centre of town – passing the depot where further examples of these trams can be seen. It was riding empty all morning and we felt rather bad for the driver.
A visit inside the Romanesque cathedral of St Peter and St Paul was too expensive for the daily budget so we didn’t get to see the beautifully mysterious statue of Uta. It was one of the Dom’s dozen benefactors and one of the cathedral’s treasures which include many realistic and expressive sculptures of the Passion by the anonymous 13th century Master of Naumburg.
In the gift shop I flicked through a beautiful book about the Dom and its Patrons. My very polite schoolgirl German didn’t get me very far and I was frustrated not to be able to understand more about the history of Uta.
It was here that I pledged I would take up German classes and told Simon that I want to speak conversational German by the time I reach the age of 50. With a smile, he said “…and then we will return and buy that book for you”.