Inland navigation has always been crucial to the city of Minden, in the very northeast of North Rhine Westphalia. In Medieval times Minden needed the Weser River for fishing and trade, and became a member of the international Hanseatic League of merchant cities.
In the 1910s century the second largest aqueduct in Europe was built in Minden, channelling the Mittelland Canal across the Weser. This was succeeded by a new aqueduct in 1993 in an epic construction project.
Earlier, in Prussian times Minden was a garrison town, and after Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig in 1813 a titanic fortress was erected to encircle all of the city and prevent another occupation. Up the slope, Minden’s Medieval core is an unexpected treat, and you also have to book a boat tour to appreciate the ingenuity of Minden’s aqueducts and lock systems.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Minden:
1. Minden Cathedral
The city’s show-stopping cathedral was founded by Charlemagne in the year 800 and had to be restored after bombing on March 28 1945. When it comes to architecture, the building is in two parts: The “Westwork”, is Romanesque and from the mid-12th century.
It has a Saxon-style “bar”, in which the two flanking towers are joined together to create a single mass.
The nave and the choir came later in the 13th and 14th centuries.
And while the church itself had to be rebuilt, much of its art was unharmed, and there’s a lot to get through: The tracery windows on the south side of the nave, the “bishop portal” on the north side of the transept, the Gothic winged Matthias altar, the Baroque Holy Spirit altar, the Romanesque Apostle frieze on the south transept wall and the Romanesque bronze cross are all valuable.
2. Minden Aqueduct
Mindern has the second largest aqueduct in Europe, conducting the east-west Mittelland Canal across the Weser.
The original 370-metre aqueduct dates to 1914 and is a listed monument that needed rebuilding after the war because it was demolished by the retreating Wehrmacht in 1945. By the 80s that first structure had become too small for modern shipping, so a new steel-built aqueduct 50 metres to the north was begun in 1993 and opened five years later.
You’ll notice that the pillars for the new bridge line up perfectly with the old ones 50 metres up the river, and this is to do with how the river is dispersed when the water level is high.
3. Schachtschleuse Minden (Shaft Lock)
One of the challenges facing the engineers of the first Midden Aqueduct was how to lift river traffic on the Weser to the canal.
The answer was an epic lock 85 metres long by 10 metres wide, elevating vessels 13 metres to join the aqueduct.
You can see this lock from a distance for its pair of Medieval-style sandstone towers.
In 2017 this hundred-year-old lock was supplemented by new Weserschleuse, which is 139 metres long and 12.5 metres wide, and so able to accommodate the largest river-going vessels.
4. Obere Altstadt
Although Minden was badly damaged in the Second World War, large fragments of the old town were unaffected.
This is the highest point in the city, and has a few small cobblestone streets edged by timber-framed and stone-built houses.
One of the prettiest scenes is the Museumszeile, a row of houses hosting the Minden Museum, which we’ll talk about later.
Also not to be missed is the Alte Münze (Old Mint), the oldest stone house in Westphalia, dating to around 1260, with Gothic tracery above its portal an a stepped gable.
There are also four churches packed into the old town, at the top of the Martinitreppe, a historic staircase leading to the upper old town terrace.
On Papenmarkt you’ll find the Hansehaus, a fine gabled merchant house constructed for Minden’s mayor in 1549.
5. St. Martini
At the very centre of the upper old town is the church of St Martin, a collegiate monastery church set up in the 11th century.
That religious institution was dissolved in 1810 and since then St. Martini has been a protestant parish church.
St. Martini is on the edge of the upper old town terrace, projecting it above the rest of the city.
The church is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic, and was left with a squat-looking tower after the old one was struck by lightning and burned down in 1773. During work on the choir and transept in 2014 remnants of the church’s old weather vane were rediscovered and the restored ornament was placed back on the roof in 2015.
On the left bank of the Weser is Minden’s fishing quarter and the place where most of the city’s shipping activity took place up to 1910. To make Minden less vulnerable to floods, a long and wide embankment was built by the water, known as the Schlagde.
Nowadays this is a car park, but still defending the 16th and 17th-century cottages behind it are the walls of the 19th-century fortress still armed with cannons.
Those timber-framed fishing cottages are part of a settlement that dates back to 12th century, as the fishermen chose to settle outside the original old town walls.
They were granted special privileges by the city, and had the right to fish along a 50 kilometres of the Weser, from Stolzenau to the north to Rinteln in the south.
7. Schiffmühle Minden
Just south of the Glacis Bridge is a reconstructed “ship mill” that opened in 1998. The mill floats on the surface of the river using a design from the 18th century, when floating mills were a fixture on the Weser.
April to October you can visit any day except Monday to discover the challenges of building a floating mill, and how the Weser’s power was harnessed to make flour for bread.
There’s also a beer garden on the bank nearby if you’d like to spend a while longer at this idyllic scene.
8. Preußen-Museum Minden (Prussia Museum)
The barracks of Minden Fortress, dating to the start of the 19th century, house a museum about the history of Prussia.
When this post was written in 2017 the attraction was closed for renovation, but is scheduled to reopen in 2018. Prussia was a state with ever-changing borders, and with a convoluted but engrossing background, so you can start to make sense of it all here.
Before the temporary closure there were galleries stuffed with porcelain, uniforms, medals, textiles, art and everyday utensils, painting a picture of four centuries of military, political and domestic life.
9. Mindener Museum
You have 1,200 years of local history to catch up on, so you could call in at Minden’s town museum in the upper old town to get started.
The museum is in a row of six Weser Renaissance houses, each with triangular gables and timber frames.
There’s information about each house and its various merchant owners, from the time the city was a member of the Hanseatic League.
You’ll also come by Bronze Age ceramics, weapons and liturgical artefacts from the Medieval Bishopric of Minden and cannons from the old fortress.
One curiosity from the 20th century is a billion Mark note from hyperinflation in the 20s, as well as antique ice-skates dating to 1900.
A German national monument sits a few minutes south of Minden, far above the Weser River outside the town of Porta Westfalica.
Dedicated to Kaiser Wilhelm I who passed away in 1888, the monument is from the 1890s when Westphalia was still a province of Prussia.
The prominent architect Bruno Schmitz designed the platform and canopy, while the statue of Wilhelm I it contains was the work of Kaspar von Zumbusch, who produced similar monuments across Germany in the period.
There’s nothing accidental about the monument’s location just where the Weser River leaves the Central Uplands and winds onto the North German Plain.
The panorama east over the forest-cloaked Weser Hills is one to remember.
11. Altes Rathaus
Minden has the earliest example of a Gothic town hall in Westphalia.
This building, like many in Minden, was claimed by the Second World War, but its most beautiful feature, the vaults and arcades on the ground floor were salvaged.
There was big debate about whether the Altes Rathaus should be restored after the war, but it went ahead in the 1950s, using material from other demolished buildings like a nearby memorial tower for Otto von Bismarck.
The restored town hall has a slightly different design to what came before, with tall mullioned windows and a crow-stepped gable.
But the Medieval arcade is unchanged, with two-pointed arches, a tracery circle and rib vaults.
12. Potts Park
In Minden’s Dützen district is a child-oriented amusement park below the ridge of the Wiehen Hills.
The park opened in 1969 on what used to be an iron ore mine, and one of the distinguishing things about its rides is that most require participation and are powered by the people (usually kids) riding them.
So that might by the Swinsgalopp (a race on mechanical pigs powered by arms), or wobbly bikes, which require lots of dexterity and a good sense of balance.
There’s also a giant apartment where everything is twice the usual size so parents can see things from the perspective of a toddler, and a suspended railway like the famous one in Wuppertal, also powered by its passengers.
For more conventional fun you can ride a small range of kid-friendly roller coasters, including the suspended Turbo-Drachen (Turbo Dragon) installed in 2009.
13. Fort C
Around the main train station on the right bank of the Weser are exciting traces of Minden’s 19th-century defences.
These were constructed a few decades after the fortress on the left bank of the river to help defend the new Cologne-Minden railway terminal and service buildings dating to the 1840s.
The most complete of these is Fort C, which is on the south side of the station and is the most intact fortification of its era in former Prussia.
The structure is parkland run by the Mindener Bürgerbataillon (roughly, Minden Militia), and has a pentagonal moat, with a mushroom-shaped redoubt at the centre.
This section opens for tours on special days and the Fort C is used for the Mindener Freischießen, a shooting festival first mentioned in 1682 and held every two years.
14. Boat Tours
The true way to see the Minden Aqueduct is to experience it firsthand on a boat trip.
Close to the Schachtschleuse lock you can catch a boat in summer for a selection of tours.
The most frequent of these is an hour-long whirlwind voyage of the two canal bridges, the locks and all the accompanying infrastructure.
You’ll ride across both the old and new canal, enter Minden’s old fishing district and see the pump house and Schiffmühle (ship mill), all soundtracked by a running commentary in German.
Since 2017 the boats have used the new Weserschleuse lock while the Schachtschleuse is being renewed.
15. Local Food
There are a couple of local signatures to taste in Minden.
The most common will be pumpernickel, which of course has spread all over the world but has its roots in Westphalia.
This dense, mildly sweet bread is made from rye flour and rye berries and is best with cheese and cold cuts.
One dish that will warm the cold winter nights is Grünkohl, a stew named for its principle ingredient, kale.
This is combined with bacon and sausage, cooked slow with mustard granules and served with ham and roasted or boiled potatoes.