likeable, hospitable - more than 1000 years old - is the home town of Catherine the Great, with a changeable history, a lot of historical monuments and almost completely maintained medieval town fortifications.
Zerbst is geographically located in the heart of Saxony-Anhalt in the vicinity of the world cultural heritage place Dessau-Wörlitz Gardens and the Bauhaus, only a few kilometres away from the river Elbe with the international cycle track R2 and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Central Elbe.
You can get to know the more than 1000-year history of the town during a tour perhaps with a town guide as well as during your visit of the collection of Catherine the Great, who is reminiscent of the daughter of the house of princes of Anhalt-Zerbst.
It is also recommendable to visit the former Franciscan Monastery, the Francisceum. It accommodates a grammar school, the museum of the town Zerbst and a historical library with valuable manuscripts and printed works from former times.
Highlights in the course of the year are the annual cultural special days in February/March and the special days of Fasch, which you can enjoy every second year in April. With the Fasch society the town Zerbst cultivates the musical legacy of the baroque composer J.F. Fasch, a contemporary of Bach, Händel and Telemann, who worked as outstanding instrumental composer and church musician at court in the royal seat Zerbst.
In addition to this, the people in Zerbst like to have pleasant celebrations. For centuries Zerbst and its surrounding areas have been well-known as excellent vegetable land, particularly for the cultivation of asparagus. Each year at the beginning of May a big asparagus celebration takes place as well as the Bollenmarkt at the Thanksgiving weekend, followed by the trade specialist exhibition Anhalt-Zerbst. The former horse market, also called August Market, has become the home and shooting club's festival, which is popular in the wide surroundings of Zerbst with the horse market lottery as well as show-jumping and tour events.
Zerbst - a town in the midst of green areas
The first German-language plant catalogue with drawings was published around 1800 by J.C. Corthum, a trade horticulturist from Zerbst. He cultivated far more than 500 different plants during his 50-year activity. Among these a lot of special specimens, which can be admired in the extensive green spaces of Zerbst. They embrace the town centre like a belt, beginning at the urban promenades until the castle garden and not least of all the Rephunsche Garten with the restaurant at the park built in 1894/95.
The Rephunsche Garten
As early as in the 17th century there was a big garden at this place, which changed his
owner several times. In the year 1733 the prosperous Royal British Commissioner Johann Georg Köhler acquired the estate and had the garden restructured into a park. After his death in 1750 the park was given to his heir, the family von Rephun, as common property.
The son of an heir, Head Forester Ernst Wilhelm Gottlob von Rephun, purchased the beautiful estate in 1781, on which there was an old residential building, an orangery, the horticulturist's house with a kitchen garden and a skittle alley, and leased this to an horticulturist named Halbentz.
The family of Mr von Rephun was of bourgeois origin, only the father was elevated to the peerage. The family coat of arms, which can be seen in the staircase of the house that was newly build in 1894/95, shows a partridge. Thus, also the name of Rephuns Garten becomes clear, which people frequently ask for.
The testament or last will of Mr von Rephun
The princely young nobleman and head forester of Anhalt-Zerbst Ernst Wilhelm Gottlob von Rephun has become prosperous and did not have either a wife or a child when his life came to an end. Apart from his parental home on the Schlossfreiheit and the Rephuns Garten estate of a size of 20 acres he possessed cash assets of approximately 60,000 thaler.
Blood-related heirs would have been his nephews and nieces, because he had four brothers and sisters, from whom, however, he completely became estranged. The old master wanted to give his relatives, who were not very affectionate in his opinion, as little as possible. Therefore he had a testament drawn up with 58 pages in large format and wrote in this:
"All my brothers and sisters have married partly once or twice. I cannot and do not want to pass on my property to them. However, they will not demand to inherit my estate, because my small property which I leave would be divided in too many parts, would be of little importance and would be inaccessible for the intention, to which I have dedicated it. I did not want to increase the great number of beggars by means of a marriage; for more than thirty years I have rather made a big effort to establish a foundation for the best of my family, because unfortunately it has become normal to carelessly spend the property of noble ancestors, who have earned this partly with a great deal of hard work and annoyance, partly at the risk of their life, especially through gambling and games of cards. Imprudent people of this kind, who do not have any common sense, should be brought into a working institute all their life to give other people a warning example in order to have a useful occupation and to learn earning their own living instead of only contributing to reduce their children and offspring to beggary."
However, his resentment he had against his relatives only affected those, who lived with him. Therefore he directed his charity towards future generations. They should live in happiness and abundance. For this reason, he decided that the left property should be accumulated for 150 years plus interests, beginning at 60,000 thaler until approximately 3.2 million thaler (according to his calculation). The inheriting commissioner, who was to benefit from the enormous property after 150 years, would not have been an "aristocratic beggar", although he was to transfer 75,000 thaler to the town Zerbst in three annual instalments for the construction of a corn warehouse to overcome economically difficult times. The town Zerbst was determined as reversionary heir for the case that after 150 years there was no entitled heir any more. The foundation was to be used in three equal parts for the construction of an old people's home for 200 occupants, for the establishment of a noble convent and a public hospital and for the third part for the organization of an orphanage and a widow care institute.
After the old master had determined his last will, he went day by day with an easy conscience, dressed in his green tails with golden buttons, carrying his walking stick with golden buttons in his hand, with his plait which he wore with great delight, from his house on the Schlossfreiheit to the God's acre at the Heidetor. He did not look to the right or to the left and did not talk to anybody. On the God's acre he had himself built a grave from the tomb of his maternal grandfather. He had this modified again and again as if he thought as long as his grave has not been finished, he would not have to die. On 9 January, 1816, the grave has not been completed yet, the head forester von Rephun died. However, the coffin was brought into the tomb and the tomb was closed. The uninformed visitor could search for the monument of the big benefactor of the town Zerbst for a long time, he would not find it, because the name von Rephun is not engraved. Instead of this the name of the grandfather can be read there, the Royal British Commissioner Johann Georg Köhler.
When the bereaved got to know the last will of the queer bird, their love towards the odd uncle probably did not increase. However, nothing could be done. They went away almost empty-handed.
All the plans of Mr von Rephun failed. The family von Rephun has become extinct. The foundation was destroyed as a consequence of two world wars, inflation and monetary reform.
Only the restaurant at the Rephuns Garten, a redbrick building with a lot of stucco elements, was built from financial means of the foundation in the year 1894/95 instead of the old house. In 1935 the magnificent building was renovated and plastered, also from means of the foundation.
If the old master knew this, he certainly would be in agreement with the result, because the way he wanted to have his estate to be used, could not be realized. In 1961 things have changed completely, the development of which he could not imagine.