Discovering happiness in Weissensee

Gardens and beer – the perfect combination

“Two beers and a murder!” I exclaim as we pass a sign that says ‘Weissensee’. “What?” Clara, who is driving our car, brakes sharply. “Well, you know, Weissensee!” I blurt out excitedly.

Clara doesn’t understand my enthusiasm and just shakes her head. “Let’s stop off here. This is the town from the crime novel I’ve just been reading. There was a body in the Chinese garden, two bodies, actually.” “Two bodies,” she replies dryly, “in a Chinese garden. Here in Thuringia.” She utters a “hmpf” to indicate her scepticism.

“Come on,” I plead, “just to stretch our legs a bit. And then we could have a look at the garden at the same time.” Clara likes gardens. As expected, she relents. I’m actually thinking more of the town’s traditional beer that played a part in the plot of my novel. But I’ll get to that later, once we’ve seen the garden.

We emerge from the car into the August sun that is beating down on Weissensee’s old quarter. In front of us lies a long market square, with pretty houses, a town hall (with its own brewery!) and not a soul to be seen. But then it is midday, and the middle of the week. “There’s the town hall!” I point out. “It’s pretty old.” Clara rolls her eyes. “That’s what my novel said,” I add apologetically.

I won’t mention the beer just yet. I’ve read that they found Germany’s oldest beer purity law here – the ‘statuta thaberna’, a 1434 decree regulating how taverns should be run.

“I don’t see any garden,” she says, raising her eyebrows slightly. “It’s got to be close by. In the book it’s just a short walk from the market square, down a little alley.” I set off confidently in what I hope is the right direction. Clara is right behind me, I can hear the tap, tap, tap of her shoes on the cobblestones. I’m starting to have doubts.

Eingangstor zum Chinesischen Garten, Weißensee

©Paul Hentschel, TTG

But there it is. A gate that seems to belong to another world, with Chinese characters above the entrance. “See!” I say triumphantly. But I don’t need to state my case any further, Clara’s interest has been piqued. She pushes up her sunglasses, whips out her smartphone, reads and mutters: “Garden of eternal happiness, … unique garden landscape of water, stones and buildings, … largest Chinese landscape garden in Germany.” She looks up, having made her decision. “Okay then. We’re going in.”

Detail der Brücke im Chinesischen Garten mit typisch chinesischem Gebäude im Hintergrund, Weißensee.

©R. Nicolai, Stadt Weißensee

And now the Far East magic begins to cast its spell. Exotic trees, Chinese stone lions, red lacquered wood, curved bridges and shady pavilions. In the distance we can make out a pond, with an island pagoda in the middle. That seems destined to be the spot for our break later on, in the shade, by the water, surrounded by Chinese horticultural harmony. “Two bodies in just three days,” I mutter, thinking back to my crime novel. But Clara doesn’t hear me. She has become immersed in the garden and smiles a relaxed smile. “Nice,” she says, succinctly. That’s high praise indeed, coming from her. My chances of getting a beer in before we leave have just improved considerably.

Blick auf Teich mit einer Pagodeninsel im Chinesischen Garten, Weißensee

©Hartwig Mähler 

Cover picture: ©M. Krummrich