Rock Formation Externsteine (Germany)

by Lee Santiva July. 16, 2021 405 views
Sunrise at the Externsteine - perfect reflection in the Wiembecke pond

Sunrise at the Externsteine - perfect reflection in the Wiembecke pond

Travelblog

Only a few kilometers from the lavender fields "Petit Provence" of my previous blog, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinburg in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, you'll find the legendary and impressive rock formation called Externsteine.

For international readers of this blog unfamiliar with German geography:

the Externsteine are located in the middle of a forest, in the middle of nowhere, somewhat north and west of the middle of Germany.

Pre-dawn at the Externsteine

Pre-dawn at the Externsteine

I got up at 4 am, drove 30 minutes from where we were staying, hiked the short trail and arrived at the Externsteine just before dawn, around 5:15 am. I had read that at sunrise they are particularly photogenic and its true.

At that hour it was still dark and I heard men howling at the moon somewhere in the woods surrounding me. Since I was alone on the trail, I suddenly worried about my personal safety in a non-Corona, old-fashioned „dark alley of Chicago“ way for the first time in years and hurried towards the clearing.

Later on the same day, once I was back home safely, my husband told me that people had been murdered at the Externsteine, and I wondered why did he let me go there alone at that hour?

Early sunrise reflection - first rays of the sun.

Early sunrise reflection - first rays of the sun.

Impressive geological and rock formations fascinate people all over the world. Yet, the Externsteine seem to fascinate a very special type of tourist: esotericists, gothics, gypsies and followers of cults who make a pilgrimage here around the Summer Solstice because of its reputation as a "pagan sacred site". Perhaps the men I heard howling at the moon were part of some cult? More likely: they were just very drunk.

Geological Origin of Externsteine

The Externsteine consist of a special sandstone, called Osningsandstein and emerged during the early Cretaceous era about 100 million years ago during the time when a large shallow sea covered large parts of northern Europe.

Most of the overall rock formation is hidden in the forest for several hundred meters and only a small portion is exposed. About 70 million years ago, some of the horizontal layers shifted into an almost vertical position creating 13 column-like pillars which are 37,5 meters tall at the highest point. Thousands of years of erosion washed the soil from these columns and then weathered the surface.

Externsteine - 13 columns or pillars

Externsteine - 13 columns or pillars

Brief History of Human Usage of Externsteine

The Externsteine have been used, lived in, modified and decorated by humans over the past 1000 years. Since the past 100 years, the Externsteine have been a popular tourist attraction, with up to 1 million visitors annually in recent years.

Relief of Christ crucifixion  carved in Externsteine sometime after 1150 AD

Relief of Christ crucifixion carved in Externsteine sometime after 1150 AD

It remains controversial whether the site was used by Celts or Teuton tribes (Germanen) for rituals. There is no evidence from archelogical studies to support this stubborn theory. On the other hand, its fairly clear that Christians started using the Externsteine as a place of worship sometime between the 8th and 10th century and by early Middle Ages had established a hermitage at the site which later became a chapel.

The Reformation in 1538 ended all Christian activity at the site and the lands were then used by the ruling class. In the 17th century the Count of Lippe used the area for hunting. The reflecting pool called Wiembecke was created for decorative purposes in the 19th century by damming up a nearby creek.

Viewing platforms on the Externsteine - Rocks II and III

Viewing platforms on the Externsteine - Rocks II and III

In 1926 the Externsteine were given national monument status and a nature preserve approximately 27 acres in size was established. During the period of Nazi rule, the Externsteine became a focus of nationalistic propaganda and in 1933, the "Externsteine Foundation" was established. After the war ended, starting around 1950's, the Externsteine opened to tourists again.

Catching up to the present: In 2006 the Externsteine were declared a national geological biotop and in 2010 local authorities prohibited camping and alcohol consumption. Since 2020 there are ever-changing Corona-related restrictions for visitors.

Close up of the Stairway to heaven

Close up of the Stairway to heaven

The stone stairway between the pillars leads to the first viewing platform. Futher up a wooden bridge connects the rocks II and III at the top. On top of rock III there is the highest viewing platform.

Close up of the bridge connecting rocks II and III

Close up of the bridge connecting rocks II and III

In the image above, I see a face in the pillar on the right side. Do you? Strong jaw and an open mouth - the bridge going right through the eyes...

Reverse side of the Externsteine

Reverse side of the Externsteine

From the reverse angle "behind" the Externsteine you get a feeling for their fragility and the delicate balance, particularly the rock perched on the 3rd pillar from the left.

Feeling of early fall in July

Feeling of early fall in July

The excursion to the Externsteine was the first time I used my new K&F Concept tripod and I love it!

K&F Concept tripod (taken with my iphone)

K&F Concept tripod (taken with my iphone)

I didn't go inside the Externsteine nor the Visitor's Center because I didn't want to wait another 3 hours until the park officially opened up at 10AM. Instead I headed back in time to join the family for breakfast.

Practical tips for visiting as a photographer:

The Externsteine "park" is easy to get to once you are in the region. There's 24/7 access to the parking lot (€4/day). You will need a ticket to get onto (i.e. go up the stairs) or into the Grottos inside the Externsteine. You can buy the ticket or get something to eat/drink at the Visitor's Center when it's open.

In the summer there are guided tours also at night in addition to all day.

It's an easy 10 minute walk on a broad gravel path from the parking lot to the Externsteine and it's a short 20-30 minute walk on narrow forest paths around the pond and around the formations (full circle path).

I imagine they would appear more mystical in the fall when there's morning fog and .... you wouldn't have to get up so early to capture them .... :-)

Sources:

The detailed and historical information in this blog was paraphased or copied directly from these sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externsteine
  2. https://www.externsteine-info.de/ in German

Join the conversation
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There are 30 comments , add yours!
Clare 2 months ago

Beautiful photos of this special place. It was worth your getting up before dawn! 1 and 10 are my favorites, but I was interested to see the changing light shown in all, the early carvings in 5 and the scale of the whole thing in the shots with the bridges and stairs. 2 works as an abstract painting, with the different masses and textures sharing the image.

2 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Clare 2 months ago

Thanks Clare! Your detailed feedback is very helpful to me!!

2 months ago Edited
David Nurse 2 months, 1 week ago

Fascinating and very beautiful.  Great images.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to David Nurse 2 months, 1 week ago

Thanks David!

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
J D 2 months, 1 week ago

Great photos and particularly love #6!

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to J D 2 months, 1 week ago

Thank you! #6 gives the best perspective of how tall they are. The right pillar has facial features, I think

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Jay Boggess 2 months, 1 week ago

Wow! Fantastic images and fascinating commentary on this amazing natural wonder!
Glad you were not gobbled up by the “wolf people”!!!
👍😃👍

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Jay Boggess 2 months, 1 week ago

Me too 😜 glad you enjoyed it

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Brian Scott 2 months, 1 week ago

Love your story and shots, thank you for sharing. My new K&F has a minor issue, the plate does not secure to my camera tightly, they want me to send a video of it but, I love the tripod. 👋👍

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Brian Scott 2 months, 1 week ago

Thanks Brian, I spent hours on the text to achieve the right balance of personal experience and historical facts.
I had some issues getting the plate to fit into its holder.
I had had the same problem of securely fastening it to the camera with my previous tripod, perhaps its a typical point of failure for tripods?

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Chuck Staruch 2 months, 1 week ago

Quite the adventure and great photographs.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Chuck Staruch 2 months, 1 week ago

Glad you liked it! Thanks for letting me know

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Björn Roose 2 months, 1 week ago

Weird that one has to pay for the parking now. Been there two times over the last five years and parked for free both of the times. Well, never mind, I'm waiting for your photos of Hermann the Cherusker now smile

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Björn Roose 2 months, 1 week ago

Nice to hear from you Björn!
I think with all the lockdowns they need to bring in more money somehow and the easiest is by charging for parking.
 
I remember seeing a blogpost of yours about the Externsteine several years ago.
Next time I‘d like to go inside. I still haven‘t made it to Herrmann yet

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Björn Roose Replied to Lee Santiva 2 months, 1 week ago

You should, but pick good weather, it'll be more impressive smile Haven't been inside the Externsteine either. The days we visited it was closed for some reason. Knowing me it was outside the tourist season (which may have been the reason for the free parking too, coming to think of it).

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Greg Blaney 2 months, 1 week ago

Beautiful photos, Lee. I love #1 - the lighting is perfect and reflection is exquisite on the calm water. The benefits of getting up before the birds (and just about all people)!

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Greg Blaney 2 months, 1 week ago

Thanks Greg!
With this series I felt like I finally hit a home run after fouling out these past months.
I appreciate the feedback

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Gethin Thomas 2 months, 1 week ago

Posts like this are why I love Photo Blog. Thank you for sharing these.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Gethin Thomas 2 months, 1 week ago

What a fulfilling comment for me to hear! It totally motivates me to continue. Hopefully it‘ll be easier to travel in the near future

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Gethin Thomas 2 months, 1 week ago

"the Externsteine are located in the middle of a forest, in the middle of nowhere, somewhat north and west of the middle of Germany." So the middle of the middle of the middle....smile

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Gethin Thomas 2 months, 1 week ago

I was hoping someone would smile at that description thanks for giving me the feedback 🙂 I struggled to try to place them in any context someone outside of Europe could understand

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
John Durham 2 months, 1 week ago

Wonderful series - #1 is a stunning exposure

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to John Durham 2 months, 1 week ago

Thanks John - patience pays off. There was at least an hour in-between #1 and #3. #1 came later when I was packing up to go and I realized I had to go back and shoot it again.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Tsao T-F 2 months, 1 week ago

Beautiful series. Beautiful German. Thanks for sharing the story.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Tsao T-F 2 months, 1 week ago

I‘m glad you enjoyed it and took the time to comment

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Tsao T-F Replied to Lee Santiva 2 months, 1 week ago

smile

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Rachele Schneekloth 2 months, 1 week ago

Amazing place, thank you for sharing! Also I'm glad you were safe! smile

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Rachele Schneekloth 2 months, 1 week ago

Thank you! 
It‘s actually a safe place to visit  however you never know with „weirdos“ and when you‘re a woman traveling alone.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Berckmans Peter 2 months, 1 week ago

Very good photos and information. Have seen this place on tv, in a program over the nazi's. #10 is my fav.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Berckmans Peter 2 months, 1 week ago

Thank you Peter! #10 was the first location I scouted and the last photo I took, interesting that its your fav.

2 months, 1 week ago Edited
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