The Lusatian (German: Lausitzer) town of Senftenberg probably gets its name from a combination of 'sanft' (gently / smoothly / rolling / undulating ) and 'berg' (hill). The hills in the vicinity are indeed very gently rolling, and so perfect for cycling around and over, as we did one Friday on the first day of August (Lughnasadh!).
We had returned to the Lusatian Lake District (Lausitzer Seenland) after partially exploring it on bike the week before. We wanted to get to know Senftenberg more, so we began the day there.
First off, we started at the recently rebuilt and renovated market square (Markt). This large trapezoidal area has been the site of a market since the founding of Senftenberg in the 13th Century. A weekly market is still held here, though obviously not on Fridays (For your information, I think they are held on Tuesday's on Saturdays).
There is an impressive Saxony post-milestone (Kursächsische Postmeilensäule) standing on the marketplace, which tells you that this town was once in the possession of the Electorate of Saxony. A look in the guide-book tells us that Senftenberg was sold to Duke Frederick II (Friedrich der Sanftmütige - the meek / gentle), Elector of Saxony, in 1437. So began almost 400 years when it was owned by Saxony (Sachsen). It was given to Prussia by the 1815 Congress of Vienna (which was trying to restore Europe to peace after the Napoleonic Wars). A post milestone originally stood here from 1731 until 1847, when it was removed by the new Prussian owners. What you see today is not that milestone; apparently you can view the remains of the original in the local museum. The one standing today is a copy made in the year 2000. Still, it looks pretty good, and after spending so much time in Germany you start not caring what is authentic and what is a reproduction.
The most impressive building on the market square is the Adler-Apotheke (we'll pass over the Rathaus, completed in 1998, even though it won an award for architecture from Land Brandenburg). There has been an Apotheke (pharmacy) here since at least 1680, but this magnificent facade dates back to 1902 and the time of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Die wilhelminische Zeit). The five-story building is decorated with realistic looking eagles, skulls, and an apothecary's cup and snake.
The oldest surviving building on the market square stands on the North side, and looks a bit uncared for. Above the arched doorway (with seats for coachmen to wait under shelter) is a plaque dated 1675 and Psalm 33:22 "Deine Güte, Herr, sei über uns, wie wir auf Dich hoffen." ("Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in thee.").
Someone thought that cartoon cut-outs were needed to cheer it up a bit. I think it needs a bit more. Exterior plaster rendering for a start.
A small alley-way next to the oldest house leads very shortly to die Peter-und-Paul-Kirche (Church of Sts Peter and Paul).
The church was probably first built in the second half of the 13th Century, when Senftenberg was established by Eastward-mgfrating Germans. The church was badly damaged and gutted by fire during the fighting of 20th and 21st of April, 1945, when the Red Army took the town, pretty much without a fight. The church was rebuilt between 1951 to 1958, but it wasn't until 1986 before the tower got a roof.
Behind the church is Senftenberg's Wendish church (Wendische Kirche).
'Wend' is the name the Germans historically called various Slavic people who lived within the Holy Roman Empire. These Slavic people had expanded West into the area between the rivers Elbe and Oder between about 500AD to 1000AD. Unfortunately they were then over-run by German people expanding East (die Ostsiedlung) for the first half of the second millennium, pushing the borders of the Holy Roman Empire before them. The Sorbs were one such Wendish people who have managed to keep their language and identity in Lusatian Germany. This despite Hitler's efforts to 'Germanify' them or exterminate them.
Anyway, there has been a Wendish (or more accurately, Sorbian) church on this site since 1682. The provisionally last service conducted in Sorbian was performed in 1881. However, on 15th August 2010, Sorbian was used in a service again after 129 years.
On the Eastern side of the Wendish church is a cool bit of sgraffito by Senftenberg artist Günter Wendt. It was created in 1934, and is poignantly added to by a splattering of gunshot holes from the Second World War.
Senftenberg grew up around Schloss Senftenberg, which was built to defend the settlement of German migrants into the Slavic wild-lands. Here's what it looks like today, now the home of the Kreismuseum, where if you remember the remains of the post-milestone from the Markplatz ended up.
The castle's first occupants, recorded in 1290, were Johann and Konrad of Senftenberg (Johnny and Connie to their friends. Maybe). The settlement was part of March Brandenburg for a short while, until it came under the control of the Kingdom of Bohemia (as did a lot of the Holy Roman Empire at the time) in 1368. Then from the beginning of the 15th century, Schloss Senftenberg became the raiding base for a couple of robber barons, von Penzig and von Gorenz.
A noble called Hans von Polenz was appointed Bailiff of Lower Lusatia, and he smashed the robbers and took over Senftenberg. Later, Hans negotiated a peace treaty with the Hussite armies terrorizing the Eastern fringes of the Holy Roman Empire, and saved Senftenberg from plundering and looting. He was quite a guy. After his death, his relative (and guardian of his son), Nickel von Polenz sold the town, castle, and Lower Lusatia to the Elector of Saxony, in 1437. He was quite a schmuck. But a rich one.
The new administration from Saxony expanded the old castle to make it more defensive, and employed an Italian military architect Graf Rochus zu Lynar to give it a modern, Italian, Renaissance design. Graf Rochus zu Lynar later went on to design the Citadel at Spandau as well as have a hand in other large-scale fortress-building projects. The noble Lynar family settled in the region, and made their principle residence at Schloss Lübbenau in the nearby Spreewald. Which is why there is a bust of a very Italian looking Graf Rochus zu Lynar in front of the gates at the entrance to Schloss Lübbenau - something I've wondered about why its there. The Lynar line is still going, and they returned to Schloss Lübbenau in 1992 (they had had their land seized by th Soviet and fled East Germany after the War).
In the seventeenth century (during which the Thirty Years War devastated much of Central Europe) diamond-shaped earth and stone fortifications with bastions were erected around the Schloss. These have been restored, and you enter the castle enclosure through a renovated postern tunnel. At the time of the new fortifications, an artificial pond was built surrounding the castle. The pond is no longer there, and has been filled in and turned into the Schlosspark. The so-called Kommandantenhaus (commanding officer's house) stands beside the castle. It is now a restaurant.
In 1764 the military use of Schloss Senftenberg came to an end. The castle has since been used for various government purposes, including at one time the town courts and prison. Now it is the county museum.
The land surrounding the fortress was turned into the peaceful Schlosspark from 1912 under the tenure of Bürgermeister (Mayor) Kieback. And a lovely job his town-planners and landscape gardeners did. An idyll of trees, ornamental lakes, perfumed flowers, and abundant wildlife.
Just the place you might want to have your wedding photos taken in fact!
Unexpectedly there is a memorial to Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, erected in 1911 by the Turnverein (gymnastic movement) 'Germania'. Jahn is a controversial figure; a nationalist liberal aiming for a united Germany with a democratic constitutional monarchy headed by the Prussian Hohenzollerns. All brought about by gymnasts fit in mind and body through exercise at the parallel bars, and meeting together in gym clubs structured like secret organizations. Sort of like the Italian Carbonari, but in leotards. Despite his philosophy being integrated into Nazi ideology (he was an anti-semite for a instance) he seems to have been exonerated in recent years and is held up as Turnvater Jahn (father of gymastics).
Just to round things off, there is a small Tierpark (zoo) here too. Currently there is a 'Welt der Spinnen' (World of Spiders) special exhibition, though after my brush with a biting spider earlier this year, I wasn't keen.
At the time the Schlosspark was being created and nationalists were vaulting over pommel horses, Senftenberg had grown from a market town for farmers and artisans to a major centre of industrial output. The reason for this development was the discovery of lignite (Braunkohl or brown coal) in the area around 1860. The town grew rapidly alongside coal-extraction, with a Bahnhof being built in 1869 to connect Senftenberg with the nacent Prussian rail network and take the lignite away to feed furnaces and steam-trains in Berlin. A vast influx of foreign workers displaced the native Sorbs and changed the cultural landscape of Senftenberg.
In 1898 the Verein der Niederlausitzer Braunkohlewerke (the Association of Lower Lusatia Lignite Plants) was founded by thirteen brown-coal mining companies.As business boomed, more space was needed for the association, and in May 1924 the newly built neo-baroque stucco Kreishaus (roundhouse) was opened. It stands on Dubinaweg on the banks of the Schwarze Elster and is now the district Landratsamt, but back in the twenties it was the HQ for brown-coal mining in the area, with a lignite museum, pre-schooling in the profession of mining, and the offices of the newspaper for anyone to do with mining, Der Niederlausitzer Braunkohlebergmann.
After the war, the building was expropriated by the Soviet administration and became 'property of the people', to be used from 1952 by local government. The 'roundhouse' is now newly renovated, and as a wedding-registry is conveniently (for wedding photographers) just across from the Schlosspark and picturesque beside the river:
The Verein der Niederlausitzer Braunkohlewerke came under collective state-ownership, but of course lignite mining continued in the region around Senftenberg. Even more so: the newly-founded steel-works built at places like Eisenhüttenstadt under Stalinist five-year plans for economic development were greedy for fuel. In the following decades the Lusatian region became an environmentalist's nightmare of numerous giant strip-mines devastating the landscape, and Senftenberg became the centre of DDR fuel-production.
Lignite-mining still goes on in the region, but Senftenberg no longer lies next to one of them. Instead it stands beside the large and lovely Senftenberger See (Lake Senftenberg), a popular destination for holiday-makers, day-trippers, and water-sport enthusiasts. Where did the strip-mine go? It became Lake Senftenberg!
The lake was created between November 1967 and November 1972 by diverting the Schwarze Elster river to completely flood the strip-mine Tagebau Niemtsch.
The lake now has an area of 13 square kilometres (by comparison, Lake Windermere is a bit larger at 14.73 km squared) and of its 18 km of coastline, 7 km are classified as beach.
Last year (23 rd April 2013) the city marina was opened with over a hundred boat moorings.
As usual, you've got to wonder, where is everyone though?
Ah well, there were some delish ice-creams on offer at the marina, and we got our yummy calories down before cycling off around the other artificial lakes in the area.
Senftenberg is a lovely, interesting town, and amazing what changes it has seen. We will return!