Thank the Heavens the Thuringian town of Krayenberggemeinde is much easier on the eyes and soul, than it is to roll off the tongue. What’s funny is, none of the villages share the name of the town — but it’s the location of a most fascinating story. Sad — but fascinating, nonetheless.
Now on with the story…
In 1945, with the approach of the advancing Allies, a few key American soldiers came across some forced laborers along a road. They were told a hoard of Nazi loot was being kept in an underground salt mine in the village of Merkers. General George Patton confirmed the tons of gold (taken from many concentration camp victims including gold teeth, rings, and watches confiscated by the SS), silver, and priceless works of art.
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There was so much metal kept in the mine, that six decades after the war ended — there was 5.5 metric tons still left. In the late 1990s, the countries that still had claim on the gold, relinquished their share of the hoard, in order to help pay reparations to survivors of the Holocaust.
OK, that’s the condensed version of the story — but the longer one is told in the United States National Archives.
As for the rest of Krayenberggemeinde, the stories that can be told date back to centuries before World War II. On top of the Krayenberg are the ruins of the medieval Krayenburg Castle. Built in the middle of the 12th century (isn’t that like 900 years ago?), the grey stone castle was eventually destroyed during another conflict, the Thirty Years’ War.
Also from the Middle Ages is the town’s Evangelical Church. Despite its more modern onion dome, the church is a Romanesque design from the mid-12th century.
More than a century later, some aristocrat had the ambition to build Schloss Feldeck. If you look at the 13th century lowland castle from the southwest, you don’t really get the scale of how big the castle really is. I think the best view to see the sheer size of it is from the east.
Scattered throughout the rest of Krayenberggemeinde’s thirty-one square kilometers are half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th centuries, along with pretty farmhouses from around the same time.
If you’d rather have something a bit more modern, then come see the Erlebnisbergwerk — the reason Merkers is found on the European Route of Industrial Heritage.
Stolen Nazi loot and a scenic route? The wonders of Krayenberggemeinde never cease. It was on one of the hiking trails along the Frauenseer Forest that I pondered how to turn that into a murder mystery that’ll sell a million copies.
You can think of your own story as you’re hiking along the quiet paths on the Rhön or in the nature reserve region — no stealing my idea, OK? ;-)