Cultural and historical attractions
When one thinks of Germany, beer, lederhosen and alpine hats quickly come to mind, but these stereotypes mainly refer to Bavarian culture and do not represent Germany as a whole. Germany is a large and diverse country, with 16 culturally unique states that have only formed a political union since 1871. Even within the states there is often great cultural diversity. The Bavarian government, for example, likes to speak of the three “tribes” living in the country: the “Old Bavarians”, the Franconians and the Swabians. The first two are particularly fond of being lumped together with the English and the Scots.
If you’re always looking for clichés, the Romantic Road is a famous scenic route that passes romantic castles and picturesque villages. With its fairytale appearance, Neuschwanstein Castle could be considered the most emblematic of German castles. The fortified town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has a beautiful medieval centre that seems to have remained intact over time. Similar typical German towns can also be found in other parts of the country, such as Augsburg, Bamberg, Celle, Heidelberg, Lübeck and Quedlinburg. Your postcard tour of Germany is complemented by a visit to the breweries in Munich and a view of the Alps in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In Ulm, you can visit the highest church spire in the world – Ulm Minster. You can also visit the charming medieval town of Schwäbisch Hall, which is rarely visited. For fans of the Grimm fairy tales, which include many famous tales such as Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and The Pied Piper, the German Tourist Board has recommended a Fairy Tale Route that takes you to the places where the Brothers Grimm lived, as well as to the towns depicted in the Grimm fairy tales.
Germany is a modern industrial nation, and the economic miracle is best represented by the industrial culture of the Ruhr region. Another economic power is Hamburg, with the second largest port on the continent. Frankfurt is the financial centre of Germany and all of Europe, as it is the seat of the European Central Bank. Its silhouette is similar to that on the other side of the Atlantic. The fashion city of Düsseldorf, the media industry in Cologne and the automobile groups in Stuttgart each represent a flourishing sector of the German economic miracle.
A very different experience can be found in Berlin, a city that exists nowhere else in the world. Although it has an odd mix of sterilised apartment buildings, postmodern glass and steel structures and some historical remnants, it has a relaxed atmosphere and a culture of internationalism. Its chequered history has produced an enormous wealth of historic landmarks, including the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, the Bundestag, Checkpoint Charlie, the TV Tower, the Holocaust Memorial and the Red City Hall. But if you want to feel like a real Berliner, don’t miss the district of Prenzlauer Berg. Kreuzberg (once famous for its punks, now largely gentrified) and delicious Wedding are also not far away.
The dark memories of the Nazi era have also left their mark on Germany. Although the subject is sensitive and “joking” about it is a bad idea if you don’t know your hosts well, Germany has made great efforts to preserve monuments of the time as reminders, and extensive educational exhibitions at places like former concentration camps, former Nazi party conference grounds in Nuremberg or the former headquarters of Nazi ministries and offices in Berlin are worth a visit, even if it is creepy and depressing.
Due to its size and location in Central Europe, Germany offers a great variety of different landscapes. In the north, Germany has an extensive coastline along the North Sea and Baltic Sea, in a vast area called the North German Plain. The landscape is very flat and the climate is harsh, with strong winds and mild, cold temperatures. Due to the south-easterly winds that push the water into the German Bight, tidal fluctuations are exceptionally high, creating the Wadden Sea. Large parts of the seabed are exposed twice a day, so you can walk from one of the many islands to another. The East Frisian Islands off the coast are very picturesque, even if they are mainly visited by the Germans themselves. The most popular seaside resorts with white sand on the Baltic Sea are Rügen and Usedom.
The middle half of Germany is a patchwork of low mountain ranges, hilly rural areas where fields and forests mix with the big cities. Many of these mountains are tourist destinations, such as the Bavarian Forest, the Black Forest, the Harz Mountains, the Ore Mountains, northern Hesse and Saxon Switzerland. The Rhine Valley, with its very mild and pleasant climate and fertile soils, is the most important wine and fruit-growing region in the country.
In the far south, on the border with Austria, Germany includes part of the Alps, the highest elevation in Central Europe, rising to 4,000 m above sea level, with the highest peak in Germany being the Zugspitze at 2,962 m. Although only a small part of the Alps are in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and unique Bavarian culture. On the south-western border with Switzerland and Austria lies Lake Constance, Germany’s largest freshwater lake.
- Bertha Benz Memorial Route – follows the world’s first long-distance car journey
- Romantic Road – Germany’s most famous panoramic road, which begins in Würzburg and ends in Füssen
- Rheinsteig and Rheinburgenweg – Hike the high-altitude trail through some of Germany’s most beautiful landscapes and enjoy spectacular views of the castles above the Rhine between Wiesbaden and Bonn or Bingen and Bonn-Mehlem.
- Elbe Cycle Route: a cycle route along the Elbe River that passes through Dresden and Magdeburg before reaching Hamburg. Due to the proximity of a river, there are few steep climbs, making this route ideal for beginners.