Germany is a country that could be considered existing on cultural and historic overload. It is a country that gave the world some of its greatest classical music computers, such as Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. Germany also gave the world some great writers, such as Goethe and Schiller.
This Central European country also gave the world some great brats or sausages, and even greater beers that are celebrated annually with the famous Oktoberfest. World-class skiing and Christmas markets tempt winter visitors.
The country was devastated by two world wars, but picked itself up and started all over again. Known around the world for its precision engineering and high-tech products, is it one of the world’s main economic powers today.
Wherever travelers go in Germany, they will find history, beginning with towns that started out as Roman outposts. Medieval squares and ancient churches beckon visitors, as do snowy mountains, gorgeous blue lakes and, of course, the Black Forest.
Germany has numerous cities of interest to visitors; here some of the most famous travel destinations. They provide countless photo ops. Visitors will be well advised to bring lots of memory cards.
Its location on the Baltic coast made Stralsund into a major trading center in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is famous for the Brick Gothic architecture, a style the city helped promote in the 17th and 18th centuries. Travelers can see these buildings, including the Rathaus, or town hall, at the Old Market Place. Visitors rave about one of Europe’s top museums, the Ozeaneum, a fantastic aquarium devoted to sea life in the North and Baltic seas.
Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg, is a thousand-year-old city best known for Schwerin Palace that sits on an island in Lake Schwerin. The picturesque palace is now home to the state parliament. The State Art Museum has an outstanding collection of works by 16th century Dutch painters as well as works by German artists from medieval times to today. The city is surrounded by seven lakes that have turned it into a scenic wonderland.
Located on the Baltic Sea coast, Wismar was established in the 13th Century during a period of Germanic colonization of Slavic lands. It was part of the Hanseatic League, a trade network of about 200 ports and inland towns. In the 17th century Wismar came under Swedish rule, a status which it kept until 1803. Today, Wismar’s old town contains traces of history going back to the middle ages, including several outstanding brick gothic churches and old houses.
Lübeck accumulated considerable wealth as the capital of the Hanseatic League from the 11th to the 17th century. Many merchants made a fortune on shipping salt to other Baltic port cities in exchange for valuable goods needed in Germany. Many impressive warehouses are located at the old harbor and are transformed into museums, shops, restaurants or pubs today. Its medieval skyline, mainly composed of seven Gothic-style church towers, is still intact as is the famous Holstentor, one of two city gates that are still standing.
Hamburg, on the Jutland Peninsula, has the second biggest port in Europe. Once part of the Holy Roman Empire, it was a kingdom in its own right. One of the richest cities in Europe, Hamburg is known for its many festivals and street fairs, including Hafengeburtstag that honors the port’s founding. A biker’s service at Saint Michael’s Church draws thousands of bikers; Christmas markets are another big draw. Hungry visitors may want to try its traditional dish of green beans, bacon and pears.
Leipzig is located in Saxony at the confluence of three rivers. Leipzig was once one of Europe’s educational and cultural centers. Bach and Mendelssohn were two famous composers who worked at churches here, St. Thomas Church and St. Nicholas Church. The town center is filled with Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Martin Luther once debated at Pleissenburg, a castle that has been replaced by the city hall. The city was heavily involved in breaking up the communist bloc in the 1980s.
Located on the Elbe River, Dresden is the capital of Saxony, and once home to the kings and electors of Saxony. It was once known as Florence on the Elbe because of its rococo and baroque city center, which was destroyed during World War II. After many years however, the city has restored much of its former glory. The Old Town contains a number of historic sites like the stunning Frauenkirche cathedral. Visitors also rave about the landscaping and bell clock at Zwinger, once a royal property.
Berlin, the capital of Germany, was divided after World War II, to be reunited in 1990. Located on the River Spree in northeastern Germany, the city is a vast, unified city diverse in ethnic groups and abundant in sightseeing attractions, museums, culture and nightlife. The Reichstag, where Parliament meets, offers impressive art and architecture. Greek mythology fans will want to visit the Pergamon Museum, home to the Altar of Zeus.
Potsdam was the capital of Brandeburg and later Prussia, until it was replaced by nearby Berlin. It was still used as a residence for the kings of Prussia when they wanted to get away from the big-city trouble in Berlin. Today a large network of interconnected lakes and palaces are the main attraction in this city. Most notably is the Sanssouci Palace (French for “without a care”This palace once served as the summer home of Frederick the Great. The original portion is a one-story rococo style palace perched above a vineyard.
Weimar, a town of 65,000 in Thuringia; it was where Germany’s first democratic constitution was signed following World War II. Weimar also was home to a number of classical composers like Liszt and classicism writers like Goethe and Schiller, all of whose homes are museums. The Markt is great for buying picnic fixings. Weimar boasts beautiful parks and gardens, and old churches that are worth a visit. The Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek is a research library considered the city’s top attraction.
Cologne, also known as Koln, dates back to the first century as a Roman outpost. Today, it is Germany’s fourth largest city. Located on both sides of the Rhine River, Cologne is a leading culture center in the Rhineland area. Top sights include the Cologne Cathedral, where construction took 600 years to complete; a dozen Romanesque churches, including St. Gereon that started as a chapel in a Roman graveyard; and the University of Cologne, one of Europe’s oldest universities.
Düsseldorf, the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, is a cosmopolitan city, popular for hosting trade shows. Düsseldorf is known for its rich art, home to composers Robert Schumann and Mendelssohn, and Altbier, a crisp beer made with lots of hops. Its Altstadt is sometimes referred to as the ‘longest bar in the world’. Düsseldorfer Radschläger (the boy who does cartwheels) is a popular image that can be found on many souvenirs and fountains in the city.
A popular student hangout since the University of Marburg was founded in 1527, public life in this town still centers around the university today. Marburg is famous for the castle Marburger Schloss and for its medieval Gothic churches like St. Elizabeth’s that are considered some of Germany’s best. It’s a green city with one of Germany’s first pedestrian zones. Visitors won’t want to miss the metal rooster that flaps his wings from atop the town hall.
Germany’s most international city is also Europe’s largest financial center. For centuries, German kings and emperors were elected here, first crowned at Aachen and later in Frankfurt. Top attractions are the Frankfurt Book Fair, which began in 1478; St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, where Bartholomew the Apostle is buried and where Holy Roman Empire kings were elected; St. Paul’s Church, important because Parliament’s first democratic elections were held here in 1848, and the Archaeological Garden that was uncovered by World War II bombs.
The old city of Heidelberg is located in scenic southwest Germany. Considered one of Germany’s most romantic cities, it is home to the famous Heidelberg University, founded in 1386. The picturesque city suffered little damage during World War II, with its baroque town center remaining intact. The city did not escape Kristallnacht, however. Heidelberg Castle dominates the old town on the Neckar River. Philosopher’s Walk is a good place to look across the Neckar to see the old town and the castle.
Travelers looking for pampering will want to head to chic Baden-Baden, a spa town at the edge of the Black Forest. It’s a popular destination for those who want to relax in a thermal hot springs, while visitors with more energy can play golf and tennis, go horseback riding through the forest, and ski in the winter. Others may want to ride the funicular to the top of MerkurBergbahn for stunning views of the city.
Tübingen is a small university town, located near the city of Stuttgart. The Second World War left the city largely unscathed, mainly because of the peace initiative of a local doctor. The old town, which lies along the Neckar river looks much as it would have in the 1600s with its crooked, cobblestone streets. More modern science faculties and student residences perch on the large hills that surround the center of town.
Situated on the edge of the Black Forest close to France and Switzerland, Freiburg is a laid-back, beautiful university city. Picturesquely located on the river Dreisam, in between green mountainsides, it enjoys one of the sunniest and warmest climates among German cities. Freiburg was founded in 1120 and has been a city of importance ever since, which is reflected in the rich medieval and renaissance architectural heritage of its Altstadt.
Founded in the 10th century, Würzburg served as the home of powerful prince-bishops for many centuries. It is renowned for the Würzburger Residence, regarded as one of the finest palaces in Europe and a high point of Baroque art, The city is also home to one of the oldest churches in Germany, built in the 8th century on top of a former pagan shrine. One of its most famous structures, Festung Marienberg, is a fortress, which now surrounds the church. It is a beautiful, historic, and lively city that is often overlooked by foreign visitors.
The capital of Bavaria’s name is derived from Benedictine monks who once ran a monastery here; a monk is depicted on the city’s coat of arms. Munich is filled with museums, including the BMW auto museum. A top attraction is Asam’s Church, built by two 18th century brothers who vowed to build a church if they avoided a shipwreck. Munich is world-famous for its annual Oktoberfest, much of which takes place at the Theresienwiese. Marienplatz, the medieval town square, is also a great place to visit.
When people think of Nuremberg, they usually think of gingerbread, toys, Christmas, the Reich Party Rally Grounds or the Nuremberg Trials. But the old town of Nuremberg in the shadow of the towering imperial castle is more than that. The city boasts Gothic churches, splendid patricians’ houses and romantic corners and spots. An atmosphere of lively co-existence between medieval and modern, between the past and the present, prevails in Nuremberg.
A Roman settlement completed under Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Regensburg was the first capital of Bavaria and one of Germany’s oldest cities. Today it is a thriving city with two universities and several landmarks dating back to the Middle Ages including the Cathedral of St. Peter, the Old City Hall and the Stone Bridge. Because of its narrow alleys Regensburg is often called the northernmost city of Italy.
23. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is famous for its medieval old town. The city sits on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River in Bavaria’s Franconia region. It is part of the Romantic Road that runs through southern Germany. The old town is filled with Renaissance buildings centered around the town hall. It can feel a bit overcrowded sometimes, but its sheer beauty makes up for that and more than justifies its popularity. The Criminal Museum is especially popular because it displays punishment devices used during medieval times.
Tucked away in Bavaria, the historic town of Bamberg once served as an official residence for a Holy Roman emperor. Bamberg is famous for its well-preserved medieval buildings, including Bamberg Cathedral where Emperor Henry II and Pope Clement II are buried. Another key building is the Old Town Hall built in the middle of Regnitz River. The city is famous for Rauchbier, a smoked beer, and has nine breweries.