Yesterday was Pentecost Monday, which is a public holiday in Germany. And since the weather was sunny, but not overly warm, it was also the perfect day for an outing.
While looking at the map, wondering where to go, my eyes stumbled across the twon of Visbek near Vechta, which is famous for the so-called Visbek Bride and Bridegroom megalithic tombs. Now I used to teach at Vechta University, plus we drove past Visbek all the time, back when my Dad worked in the Netherlands. However, I’d never seen the megalithic tombs. Time to remedy that.
Now the so-called Wildeshauser Geest, a sandy area formed by sand deposited by drift moraines during the ice ages, has been inhabited at least since the Neolithic by the so-called Funnelbeaker culture. Megalithic tombs and gravemounds are common – the closest is maybe three kilometres from where I live – and fascinating archeological finds still turn up regularly, such as the Gessel gold hoard, which was unearthed during pipeline laying work in 2012 approx. 10 kilometres from where I live. There is even a Route of Megalithic Culture, which links the various megalithic sites in North West Germany.
In spite of all this really awesome history surrounding us, there wasn’t much interest in the megalithic sites of our area, when I was a kid, probably because the Nazis had been a little too interested in them, even though megalithic tombs aren’t all that suitable to be exploited for some Germanic blood and soil mythology, since they are much older than the Germanic tribes the Nazis were so interested in, dating back to between 3500 and 2800 BC. Nonetheless, the megalithic sites surrounding us were largely ignored. There were no school trips to the more famous sites like the Visbek Bride and Bridegroom and many smaller sites weren’t even marked. In the 1980s, it was still common to stumble across what was obviously a megalithic tomb or a bronze age gravemound in the woods without any sign or other markings. I remember how back in the 1990s, a friend and I drove out to the Warwer Sand forest, famous for its sand dunes, and noticed a sign marking the way to brozen age gravemounds. We’d both grown up in the area and had both been at the Warwer Sand lots of times, yet we’d never seen the sign before. And we both looked at each other and said, “Since when are there bronze age gravemounds in the Warwer Sand?” Of course, the gravemounds had always been there, but until the 1990s no one had paid any attention to them.
The Visbek Bride and Bridegroom, however, have never been ignored, probably because they are simply too big to miss. The first measures to protect the sites date back to the 18th century. They’ve been tourist attractions since the 19th century. The restaurant close to the Bride, which caters to daytrippers and – due to the proximity to a popular route to the Netherlands – truckers, has been around since the 1920s. Though the Bridegroom was nearly destroyed as late as the 1960s, when the nearby highway A1 was supposed to pass directly through the stones – highways being deemed more important than neolithic gravesites. Thankfully, there were protests and the current route of the highway A1 passes the Bridegroom by.
If you believe in Ley lines (not that I do, but the concept is cool), there is one that passes through the Visbek Bride and Bridegroom as well as some other megalithic monuments and old churches in the area. Highway A1 runs parallel to this Ley line. But then, there has probably been some kind of path here for more than five thousand years.
Regarding the odd names of the stones, according to a local legend, a young woman from Ahlhorn was in love with a poor shepherd, but her father forced her to marry a rich farmer from Visbek instead. On the day of the wedding, the bridal possession moved from Ahlhorn to Visbek, while the groom set off from Visbek to meet his bride. Once the houses of Visbek came into view, the bride prayed and begged God to turn her into stone, for she’d rather be turned into stone than marry a man she did not love. Her prayer was answered and the entire bridal procession as well as the bridegroom’s procession were promptly turned into stone. It’s certainly a romantic story, even though it’s quite impossible to see Visbek from the location of either the Bride or the Groom and would have been just as impossible in times of old. Coincidentally, neither the Bride nor the Groom are actually located on the territory of the municipality of Visbek. The Bride is in Ahlhorn and the Groom is in Großenkneten, but in spite of geographic realities, the Visbek name stuck. Weddings are occasionally conducted at the stones these days – and no one gets petrified either.
Coincidentally, there are quite a few legends surrounding the megalithic tombs found throughout North Germany. For example, megalithic tombs are called “Hünengrab” (giant’s tomb) in German, because people believed well into the 17th or 18th century that giants were burried underneath these enormous stones.
But enough of history and legend. Let’s have some photos:
You can find out more about the Visbek Bridegroom and the Pagan Sacrificial Altar on this site, which also has plenty of photos and diagrams of the tombs.
After visiting the Visbek Bride and Bridegroom, we drove to the nearby town of Cloppenburg, home to an open air museum of old farmhouses and a Catholic pilgrimage shrine among other things. We didn’t go to see either the museum or the shrine, even though both are well worth visiting. All we wanted was to have lunch. Alas, pretty much every restaurant in Cloppenburg was closed (including McDonald’s) and the only thing open were ice cream parlours. So we finally gave up and had an ice cream sundae instead.
Still, here are some photos of Cloppenburg: