A 20-minute drive south of Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Lower Saxony, Salzgitter is an industrial city with a reputation for its steel production. A new city, Salzgitter was only founded in the 20th century when its steelworks and VW manufacturing plant drew thousands of workers. Before then, this was a patchwork of former noble estates, and those fine old houses and palaces are still in place.
Some like Schloss Sadler and its municipal museum can be entered, while others like Ringelheim and Flachstöckheim are private properties but are embedded in old parks that are open to the public.
Around the countryside you can track down the ruins of a castle built by Henry the Lion and a Medieval church with 15th-century frescoes, while in Salzgitter-Bad is the ancient salt spring that puts the Salz (salt) in Salzgitter.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Salzgitter:
1. Museum Schloss Salder
The village of Salder is inside Salzgitter’s boundaries and has a splendid Weser-Renaissance palace completed in 1608 for the landowning lords of Saldern.
Salzgitter’s municipal museum has been here for over 55 years, and has free admission.
The museum is multi-faceted, tackling Salzgitter’s ore mining, but also has a collection of art and children’s toys from 1800 to 2000. An exhibit you have to see is the huge fossil of a Ichthyosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Period, 115 million years ago, discovered in an ore mine in 1941. Outside in the grounds there’s an “Ice Age Garden”, shining a light on the lives of the Neanderthals whose remains have been found around Salzgitter.
2. Turm der Arbeit
In Salzgitter’s pedestrian zone is what may be the city’s main landmark.
The Turm der Arbeit, unveiled in 1995, is a sculpted monument by the artist Jürgen Weber and bears witness to Salzgitter’s complicated past.
During the Nazi period Salzgitter had six concentration camps and the Reichswerke Hermann Göring iron mines.
But the city also played a role in Germany’s post-war economic miracle, so its relationship with work and labour is complex.
The bronze and marble monument is 13.73 metres high and weighs 36.5 tons, with reliefs telling the story of Salzgitters concentration camps, wartime evacuation of the city and fight to stop its iron works closing down.
At the very top is the statue of a foundry worker.
3. Bismarckturm in Salzgitter
After Otto von Bismarck passed away, Germany’s first chancellor was commemorated by hundreds of towers around Germany.
In an industrial city newly endowed with ironworks, Salzgitter’s own tower is has a 12-metre metal scaffold, and dates to 1900. The iron structure rests on a five-metre stone pedestal, and has 57 steps guiding you up to an observation platform where you can contemplate the landscape around the 275.3-metre Hamberg hill.
The tower is one of only three Bismarck towers in Germany to have an iron structure.
Beside the tower is a cafe and restaurant and you can take the chance to explore the hill on walking paths, leading to the ruins of the 12th-century castle, Burg Lichtenberg, which we’ll talk about next.
4. Burgruine Lichtenburg
At Hamberg’s highest point, about 200 meters from the Bismarck Tower are the vestiges of a 12th-century castle constructed by one of the most powerful rulers of the day, Henry the Lion.
The fortress allowed Henry to secure his powerbase against his neighbours in Imperial Goslar and the episcopal city of Hildesheim, but also control the lucrative trade routes in the area.
The castle stood firm in its original form until the 16th century when it was obliterated by cannons in the Schmalkaldic War.
Now, the foundations of the walls, gates and outbuildings around the site are all original, while the central keep and its wooden scaffolding is a reconstruction from the 1890s.
Looking around the site you’ll come across a faithful replica of a trebuchet, which has been here since 2005.
5. Rosengarten und Gradierpavillon
Beside Salzgitter-Bad’s marketplace and town hall are saltwater springs that give the city its name.
The salt well has a depth of 243 metres and Salzgitter’s brine waters were first mentioned in 1125. A rose garden was plotted around the well in the 1970s, and preserved on the lawn is the historic pump once used to convey the saltwater from its depths.
In 2009 the Gradierpavillon was erected as a new facility for salt production, piping water to the surface and capturing the salt in blackthorn bundles, which are positioned on a rack above a basin.
6. Kniestedter Gutshaus
Right on the Rosengarten is the oldest half-timbered building in the city, dating to 1533. The Kniestedter Gutshaus wasn’t always at this location, and was actually moved here in pieces to make way for a road in the 1970s.
The house formed the first piece of what is known as the Traditionsinsel (Traditional Island), around the Rosengarten, a small collection of historic timber-framed houses.
The Kniestedter Gutshaus was originally the home of the noble von Kniestedt family, and when it became too small for their needs in the 1600s accommodated the family’s staff.
Now it’s a community building, with a ceremonial room on the ground floor and a music school upstairs.
7. Schloss und Park Ringelheim
Near Salzgitter’s southern limits is a former Benedictine abbey, which was in use for almost 900 years up to its secularisation in 1803. After that the monastic building, which had been updated in the Baroque style in the 1700s, became a manor house and then a lung sanatorium in the post-war years.
The privately owned property is empty at the moment and awaiting a new purpose, but you can visit the monastery church and the cultivated English park that was laid out in the grounds in the 1800s.
In the church look for the 18th-century high altar, side altars and pulpit, while the 31-register Baroque organ is regarded as one of the best examples in Lower Saxony.
The park is 110 hectares and comprises the monks’ network of former fish ponds, crossed by a fine sandstone bridge.
8. Burg Gebhardshagen
One of the oldest castles in the Braunschweiger Land (Brunswick) is in the village of the same name next to the Heertersee lake.
The earliest mention of this moated castle is from 1186, and it was a military stronghold and noble residence for the Lords of Hagen, all the way up to the end of the Thirty Years’ War in the middle of the 17th century.
From that time on the castle had lost its strategic importance and became a farming estate.
When mining took off in Salzgitter in the 19th century this fine house was occupied by a succession of industrialists.
Nowadays there are concerts and annual events like the Schützenfest (traditional shooting competition) in the courtyards, while castle’s vaulted cellars can be hired for functions.
9. Kniestedter Kirche
At Salzgitter-Bad you can call in at the former church for the village of Kniestedt, which has now become an exhibition centre.
The first documentary evidence of the building is from 1455, although it may be considerably older.
Services stopped in the 1970s, and in 1985 the church was converted into a performance centre, without changing its historic character.
Just inside the entrance there’s a tomb effigy for Arndt von Kniestedt, who died in 1611. Arndt is depicted in armour, and on each corner of the panel are the crests of the various branches of the von Kniestedt family.
If you’re at a loose end in the evening you could see if there’s a concert or comedy show here that takes your fancy.
10. St.-Marien-Kirche, Engerode
The oldest surviving church in Salzgitter’s is in the hilly Engerode district.
The St.-Marien-Kirche is an extension of a Romanesque pilgrimage chapel founded by the knight Thietmar von Engerode in 1236. This was built next to his residence, the tower of which became the nave of the church that followed in the 1400s.
And since then, very little has changed: The 15th-century frescoes painted on the Gothic vaults are still vibrant, and portray chapters from the life of Christ.
You can easily make out the images of his baptism, transformation of water to wine (Marriage at Cana), capture, crucifixion and entombment.
11. Gut Flachstöckheim
In the Middle Ages Flachstöckheim, now also in Salzgitter’s boundaries, was the seat of one of the Braunschweig region’s richest families, the von Schwicheldts.
In the 15th century that one family owned the entire village, while their imposing, half-timbered manor house was built in the first decades of the 18th century, and then expanded up to the beginning of the 19th century.
Prince Henry of Prussia lodged at the estate during the Seven Years’ War, and had French prisoners of war design a Baroque garden, later reworked in the English style.
There’s an outdoor stage here today for kids’ theatre performances in summer.
You can’t go inside the ensemble of buildings, but the residence, Kavalierhaus (for high-ranking court staff) and water mill are all worth seeing from the outside, and lie in parkland with high, centuries-old trees.
The Salzgitter area has a few large bodies of water, most of which are holdovers from the industrial period and are now nature reserves.
In the case of Heertersee for example, were excavated to drain pit water from ore mines.
Salzgittersee is also man-made, but was purposely dredged as a recreation area in the 1960s.
The lake is 75 hectares in size, with a maximum depth of 17 metres and water that is constantly checked by the health department.
When the sun is out in summer, people flock to the shores where there’s more than a kilometre of sandy beaches on the east and west banks.
The recreation centre on the lake’s island has all the gear for watersports and there’s a big pirate-themed playground for little ones by the water.
13. Friedhof Jammertal
The Turm der Arbeit recalls a darker period from Salzgitter’s past, and if you can follow it up with a visit to the Jammertal Cemetery in the Lebenstedt district.
Some 3,000 people died in Salzgitter at forced labour camps like Arbeitserziehungslager Hallendorf.
People could be sent to the camps without trial for offences like listening to foreign radio stations, criticising National Socialism or simply not observing the rules at the Reichswerke Hermann Göring steel mills.
The victims were international, and there are memorials for Jewish, French, Polish and Soviet dead.
Five memorial stones have engraved metal sheets on binders listing their names.
14. Skulpturenweg Salzgitter-Bad
Between 1999 and 2008 a sculpture route sprouted on the south side of Salzigitter-Bad.
There are nine works in all, by high-profile artists like Ulrich Rückriem, Hiromi Akiyama, as well as Gerd Winner, who curated the project . Four of the sculptures can be seen at Mahner Berg golf course, while there are two in the Greifpark and two by the thermal salt springs.
All of the sculptures are made of steel in recognition of Salzgitter’s steel plants, and so are in dialogue with the city’s history and landscape.
A brief walk from the ruins of Castle Lichtenburg there’s an unremarkable-looking plinth with a plaque.
At first glance the Gauß-Stein doesn’t seem all that important, but if you’re an amateur mathematician or historian you may be interested to learn that the stone was placed here by the 19th-century polymath Carl Friedrich Gauss.
The stone is a triangulation point established in 1820 to help survey the entire kingdom of Hanover on behalf of King George IV. In 1820 there were 2,000 of these triangulation points, though only a few are still marked with monuments.