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The original settlement was established around an 11th century castle, and was first documented as a rural town in 1196. It occupies a site beside a ford at the confluence of the rivers Milde and Lausebach.
Because of its strategically advantageous position at the intersection of several trading routes, it soon developed into a commercial centre whose importance was recognised both near and far. Long-distance traders from the Magdeburg area who were travelling to Lüneburg and the sea ports were able to find a safe haven here, rest their horses, reload their goods, repair their carts and also barter and stock up on other commodities. The local people prospered from the commerce and from the services they were able to provide.
Most of the trade was in grain and other agricultural products, including the Gardelegen hops, which was famous for its high quality in northern Germany. Hanseatic trade of the oldest beer brand of the world, “Garley” beer, only started around 1484 when the brewers added yeast to preserve it for shipping. After uproars related to the taxation of beer in 1488 Johann Cicero Elector of Brandenburg asked the Altmark towns to withdraw from the Hanseatic league and other city networks.
Gardelegen and the Hanseatic League
Although little documentation has survived, it appears that Gardelegen was a member of the Hanseatic League from 1358 until about 1488. The first document that indicates a membership is an invitation to the Hanseatic Day in Lübeck on 24 June 1358, which was addressed to several Altmark towns including Gardelegen. The town flourished in the late Middle Ages to an extent unparalleled for centuries to come in the wake of the Thirty Years’ War. Many stone artefacts have survived which can trace their origins back to the late mediaeval heyday of trade, artisanship and the Hanseatic League:
Gardelegen: heritage that can be still experienced today
Hops and beer, which for centuries symbolised the prosperity of the town and its people, are still important symbols of the town today. For instance, three hop tendrils ornament the town’s coat of arms. However, for some years they have been the only reminders of the brewing tradition in Gardelegen. In 2019 beer enthusiasts Jens and Lars Vogel revived the tradition and produced a beer based on a medieval Hanseatic recipe. The Garley beer is currently brewed and bottled in Tangermünde but in the near future the brothers hope to re-start the production in Gardelegen.
The town walls – the park which encircles the Old Town, with its greater than 100-year-old avenue of lime trees, the remains of historic fortifications, a moat, the ruins of former watchtowers and the three town gates, is particularly popular with the inhabitants of Gardelegen and its visitors alike. In recent years, considerable efforts have been invested in restoring and reconstructing the park and its historic monuments. In 2004, the walls were included in the State conservation project known as ‘Garden Dreams – Historic Parks in Saxony-Anhalt’.
But also evidences of more recent history are lovingly preserved, such as the memory of the probably most famous citizens of Gardelegen, the comedian Otto Reutter (1870-1931). In Hanseatic times, the triangular market square lay at the intersection of two major trading routes. Since 2002, a stone ‘Roland’ statue - a symbol of medieval judicial rights - reminds on the original statue which collapsed in 1727.
Places of interests in the surrounding area
Gardelegen is located on the northern periphery of the Colbitz-Letzling Heath, once the royal imperial hunting ground of the Hohenzollerns. The magnificent hunting lodge in nearby Letzlingen dates from this period. The landscape in which the town is set offers many opportunities for outdoor excursions, for instance to the densely wooded area around Lindenthal or the open heath landscape on the Kellerberge hills near Kloster-Neuendorf.
In nearby Kloster-Neuendorf is the former Cistercian nunnery with its Gothic brick church and valuable medieval stained glass.
Gut Zichtau, a manor house dating back to the 14th century, has been restored by Hasso von Blücher and turned into a charming event location, which attracts well-known artists and arts and literature lovers alike. The property is also home to the foundation “Future Altmark”.
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