Germany: A confluence of Modernity & Medieval
Germany has many different faces. From the beaches of the North Sea and the Baltic to the high, craggy Alps, or the softer contours of the Swabian Jura; from the Black Forest to the rugged Eifel plateau; from the valleys formed by the famous Blue Danube or the powerful, mythic Rhine: this is a country of contrasts. Each period of history has left its mark: impressive Romanesque churches embellish the Rhine River Valley. East of the Elbe River, the Gothic style is marked by the use of red brick; in southern Germany, masters of Baroque created an architectural style unmatched in its lavish decorative fantasy; the famous Bauhaus school strongly influenced 20th-century design.
Germany is an exciting place, where the very old and the very new find common ground. In the lively cities, the national attachment to cultural heritage is immediately obvious in the preservation of old city centers, and the attentive integration of modern architecture. The preservation of nature is also a concern, and visitors reap the benefits of concerted efforts to protect and enrich green spaces. Berlin, a model of modern city planning, is perhaps the most fascinating city in Europe today – where east meets west, everything seems possible!
Berlin and Brandenburg
Sassy, confident and irreverent, Berlin is a sly seductress who tempts you with her explosive creativity, vibrant cultural landscape and a keen sense of history. Keenly aware of its unique past, the country’s capital has shed its dour Cold War demeanor and grown into a confident and modern city with flourishing art, music and fashion scenes. Take the exciting pulse of the city as you explore landmarks old and new – from the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie to the Holocaust Memorial and Potsdamer Platz. Whether you stand in awe of ancient treasures on Museum Island, explore the park and building at Charlottenburg Palace or sample the famed Berlin nightlife, you’ll make memories to last a lifetime.
For a break from urbanity, hop on a train to Brandenburg, a timelessly beautiful rural area shaped by water and accented by the dreamy palaces and parks of Potsdam.
The Baltic Coast and Inland
Germany’s Baltic Coast once reveled in the wealth of its Hanseatic League towns. The impressive red-brick buildings of Lübeck, Wismar, Stralsund, and Greifswald still hark back to those medieval glory days. Fringing the coast is a landscape of often startling beauty: a pastiche of bays, islands, and cliffs accented by beach-fringed seaside resorts whose dazzling white spa architecture has drawn royalty and the rich for over a century.
The town of Neubrandenburg has a surprise in store with its imposing medieval ramparts, miraculously spared by the Second World War. With countless lakes and a wide range of activities, Mecklenburg lake district is of particular appeal to nature-lovers. Moving north towards the coast is Wismar, which provides an excellent introduction to the Baltic Coast with its trove of red-brick buildings. The town’s historic center is classed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Germany’s northwest stretches from the wind-battered beaches of the Frisian Islands to the historic towns of Münster, Goslar and Celle and the fairytale cities of Bremen and Hamelin. Take a day in the slow lane roaming around the Harz Mountains, or opt for an urban jolt in maritime Hamburg, which will charm you with cutting-edge couture, culture, and cuisine.
Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg is also one of its most beautiful, laced by rivers and canals, characterized by great architecture and endowed with a spirit of openness. Wherever you go, it’s imbued with maritime flair, from its vast container port, which can be toured by boat, to its riverside promenades that invite strolling. Must-sees include the canal-laced Speicherstadt with its elegant red-brick warehouses, and the Hafen City, which is the largest urban construction project in Europe.
This region wraps culturally vibrant suburbs and laid-back countryside into one attractive package. Get a dose of world-class art and architecture in Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Frankfurt. Then make a date with the Romans in Trier and with Charlemagne in Aachen. Whatever you do, do not miss a trip down the Rhine or Moselle rivers to explore a remarkably beautiful mosaic of vine-clad slopes, dreamy half-timbered villages, and medieval hilltop fortresses.
“Why is it so lovely on the Rhine?” asks a popular German song. You’ll quickly find the answer in Cologne. With its famous Gothic cathedral, lively beer halls, lovely river promenades, world-class museums, and superb shopping centers, this is a city that’s easy to love. If possible, visit in February during Carnival, a raucous celebration, when locals don fancy dress and demonstrate their legendary joie de vivre at parties and street parades.
Nowhere does Germany feel more radiantly Old World than in the Black Forest, a rustic landscape of “Hansel-and-Gretel” woods, undulating hills, gushing waterfalls and snow-dusted mountaintops. Along with nearby Lake Constance, it has long been a favorite holiday playground.
The easy-going atmosphere of the old university town of Freiburg is infectious, and its paved alleyways beg to be explored. The town is the southern gateway to the Schwarzwald, a region steeped in legend and endowed with a wide variety of scenery. Add to that its picturesque villages, a passion for cuckoo clocks and the possibilities of hiking in summer and skiing in winter. And it is easy to see why this mountainous region is one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations.
Passing through towns such as the elegant spa resort of Baden-Baden, which attracts a wealthy clientele all year round, and Karlsruhe, the route takes you up to Bruchsal whose sumptuous 18th-century palace houses a museum devoted to mechanical musical instruments. In Ulm, you can stroll between the canals and Danube, and admire the town’s extraordinary cathedral. The Upper Swabian Plateau is dotted with Baroque churches famous for their dazzling decoration and architecture.
Munich and Southern Bavaria
Few cities in Germany exude the contagious energy that you’ll find bubbling away in the streets and legendary beer halls of Munich. Beer, lederhosen, and Oktoberfest – the Bavarian capital certainly conjures plenty of cliches. But what about BMW, high-tech, and world-class music and fashion? Revel in Munich’s contradictions as you stroll around the vast English Garden, pick up gourmet treats at the Viktualienmarkt and hoist a mug of foamy beer at an atmosphere-charged beer hall. For culture, report to the amazing Pinakothek museums or tour the royal splendor of the Residenz.
Outside of the city, natural and artificial beauty is all around. Crane your neck while marveling at the sky-etching Alps, explore higgledy-piggledy villages where ancient traditions still thrive or visit Ludwig Il’s fantasy castles. This is truly a land of superlatives ready to deliver a lifetime of memories.
Nuremberg is one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Germany. Further south, Eichstätt is distinguished by a harmonious mix of Rococo and contemporary architecture. Romantische Straße (Romantic Road), Germany’s most popular holiday route, links some fantastic medieval cities, including Dinkelsbühland Rothenburg ob der Tauber, before reaching its northern terminus in Würzburg. Here the grandeur of the powerful prince-bishops of the Schönborn family is reflected in the splendid Residenz Palace. Next up is Bamberg with its pretty-as-a-penny historic quarter (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and imposing hilltop cathedral.
Central Germany’s appeal is largely in the region’s contributions to literature, music, the arts, philosophy, and religion. Here you can walk in the footsteps of Luther and Bach, Goethe and Gropius, Herder and Nietzsche, all of whom lived and worked in such towns as Weimar, Erfurt, Dessau-Rosslau, Magdeburg, and Wittenberg. Handel was born here, Liszt lived and taught here, and the region spawned architecture’s Bauhaus movement. Germany’s oldest Gothic cathedral still stands here, holding the remains of the first Holy Roman Emperor.
Naumburg stands among hills cloaked in vineyards and forests. The town is particularly renowned for its cathedral, which is an exceptional blend of Romanesque and Gothic style elements. Offering a pleasant distraction from the “cultural pilgrimage”, the Thuringian Forest and, further north, the Harz mountains take you right to the very heart of nature. Steeped in legend, the latter offers a limitless menu of year-round outdoor pursuits.
Since reunification, the German East has shaken off its Cold War-era brooding and blossomed into a dynamic, prolific and forward-looking region. Endowed with a stunning city skyline, Dresden draws cultural types with its architectural landmarks and exquisite art collections. The mighty Elbe courses right through town, linking it with the fairytale landscape of Saxon Switzerland and the porcelain hub of Meissen. Youthful and progressive
Leipzig has shaped German history since the Middle Ages, most recently as the city that sparked the “peaceful revolution” of 1989, precipitating the fall of the East German regime. Leipzig is a city of artistic interest that can be proud of its exceptional musical heritage. Bach, Wagner, and Mendelssohn all lived here at one time, and the city remains very much in the foreground of the German music scene.