The Steeple in the Edersee – Waldeck, Germany - Atlas Obscura
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Waldeck, Germany

The Steeple in the Edersee

A century-long search for a church that was never there. 

About 75 miles north of Frankfurt, Germany is a reservoir called the Edersee. During normal weather, the manmade lake covers over four and a half square miles, but these last few seasons have been anything but normal. It’s been so dry, the banks have receded to reveal parts of villages that had long been lost to watery memory.

During the driest months, crowds have come to the Edersee to poke around the old village streets and foundations that have reemerged, and to try to find the remains of a small church—a church that was never there in the first place.

In 1914, the tiny village of Nieder-Werbe became a little bit famous. Although it is a mile or so north of the reservoir, part of the village was flooded to make way for two overflow basins. In addition to the few farms and homes that were lost, there was a small wood frame and stucco church in the water’s path. Several newspaper articles about the Edersee included a picture of this little church, with its steeple left behind and peeking out of the water.

When people came to see the new reservoir they wanted to see the little “church in the lake” too, but it had been misidentified as being in the Edersee rather than in the overflow basin to the north, leaving most people on a wild goose chase. A lucky few managed to find it over in Nieder-Werbe, and so the story of the steeple continued to grow. Today, more than a century later, people still search for it in the reservoir.

To celebrate the anniversary of the Edersee, and to finally set the record straight, the village of Nieder-Werbe decided they’d give the people what they wanted. Although the timbers and stucco of the original church didn’t last long underwater, they still knew where it had been. They went to work building a replica and placed it in the basin, thereby recreating a curious image from over a century ago.

Now, when visitors to the Edersee ask “where’s the church? where’s the steeple?”, there’s a good answer for them. It’s right where it always was. Just not here.

Know Before You Go

The village of Nieder-Werbe is part of the larger town of Waldeck in central German. It is about a mile north of the Edersee reservoir, and there are two control basins there. The steeple is in the one to the east called the Reiherbach Vorbecken, visible from the Uferstraße along the banks of the basin. There are a couple of plaques that tell the story of the flood and the little church.