Football hipsters, Haribo, weird taxidermy and 12 other reasons to love Germany
Hamburg is truly coming into its own as a great place to visit. Germany’s second-largest city is the perfect blend of strength and beauty, criss-crossed by hundreds of canals, with parks and lakes dotted here and there, contrasting with the in-your-face nightlife of the dockside areas and the notorious Reeperbahn.
Its harbourside venues are home to an eclectic mix of live music and entertainment; after all, it was here that the Beatles did their apprenticeship before ascending to superstardom, and that scene remains today.
In fact, the Indra Club, the place where the boys first played, is still alive and kicking today.
A stone’s throw from the Reeperbahn is the Millerntor Stadion where hipster favourites FC St. Pauli play football, and if that all gets a bit too much for you, why not explore the world on a smaller scale (albeit a vast amount of smaller scale) at the Miniatur Wunderland – 1,300 square metres of model world, so wonderfully detailed that even the gravest of cynics will be amazed.
Few cities have been through the wringer like Germany’s capital, yet few today have the youth, energy and sheer excitement of Berlin. From huge nightclubs to shabby indie bars, from the severe elegance of the boulevards to the relaxed greenery of Tiergarten, there’s enough to make you want to pack up and move here immediately.
To me, it’s an odd sort of place; wonderful, but slightly disconnected. It feels weirdly centreless, and that’s not necessarily a criticism, just a feeling.
There’s nowhere you can stand – save perhaps for next to the Brandenburg gate – and say “right, now I’m in Berlin”, and maybe that’s a good thing. It doesn’t have one personality, but many. Time to go and uncover them all.
One and a half million people call the Bavarian capital home, and a wealthy and handsome home it is too. You’d think the main business in Munich was business, and you’d be pretty much right.
High-tech industries staffed by good-looking people in rimless glasses and BMWs (naturally) are the order of the day, but, on the weird flip-side to this, they’re more than happy to indulge in a bit of Bavarian stereotyping as well. You’re never too far away from a Lederhosen-clad oompah band or a giant stein of beer either.
Munich’s centre is compact, pleasantly walkable, and feels smaller than you’d imagine a big city to. In fact, it’s known to other Germans as “Millionendorf”, or the village of a million people. But it’s a village of high art, culture, an Olympic sporting heritage and some truly world-class museums.
And people love it. It has a relatively large foreign population that’s increasing all the time, giving it a very outward look, and is attracting more tourists than ever – especially, of course, during Oktoberfest.
Our advice is to not get bogged down in that, but come during the Spring, perhaps, to savour the city in a more laid-back way. You’ll be all the more satisfied for it.
Straddling the Rhine, Cologne has a lot to be proud of. Its mighty cathedral is one of the country’s finest landmarks, and its university one of the most venerable in Europe. It still has remains of its Roman heritage, and its citizens are well-regarded as liberal and full of life.
Postwar rebuilding (it suffered terribly at the hands of British bombers) has restored many of its historic buildings, but has also led to rather an interesting mish-mash of styles here and there.
The Cologne Carnival is one of the largest in Europe. The season starts officially on November 11th, but it really gets going on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, the start of the “Tolle Tage”, or crazy days. Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in costumes and on floats as gallons of beer is drunk and the entire city goes a bit mad.
On top of this, for those of a more relaxed nature, the city is also known as the “secret golf capital of Germany”, with many world-class options for those who play. Whether it’s the capital or the golf that’s secret, is yet to be discovered.
“Nuremberg shines throughout Germany like a sun among the moon and stars” in the words of Martin Luther, and not without reason. A beautiful city, energetic and artistic in equal measure, jam-packed with wonderful architecture, it also managed to become something of a centre for industry during the German industrial revolution.
For art-lovers, it’s a prime destination. Albrecht Dürer was born and lived here, and his house is now, inevitably, a museum to his life and work. There are more museums and exhibition spaces located throughout the city, catering for everything from Classical to the most cutting-edge at the simply-named Neues Museum.
Alternatively, you could just see where your legs take you. The city itself is something of a masterpiece.
To the north-east of Hamburg, this fine Hanseatic city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, mainly due to its extensive collection of Gothic buildings made of brick, a relatively unusual combination.
In fact, in the 14th century, Charles IV named Lübeck one of the five “Glories of the Empire”, a title shared with the more renowned delights of Venice, Rome, Florence and Pisa, so we’re in exalted company.
Once you’re in the Old Town, there are over a thousand fabulous historical buildings to explore, and there always seems to be something else just around the next corner. Merchant’s houses, churches and relaxing riverfront strolls are all to be had, as well as something for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Lübeck is Germany’s capital of marzipan, due to a (possibly apocryphal) story that tells of a time when the city was under siege, and the only foods left in storage were almonds and sugar, which were used to make marzipan loaves to feed the town.
Either way, it’s what continues to make Lübeck famous in Germany to this day.
Time to declare an interest: I bloody love Dresden. I love that it’s not quite as hip as Leipzig, its Eastern rival. I love that its two halves are so distinct. I love that, if you were a band, you could probably do an entire tour without leaving the city.
The Altstadt is, as the girl who worked in the hostel I stayed in pointed out, “very nice, but it’s where you take your granny”. I’d say that’s slightly unfair.
Sure, it’s full of tour groups, and there’s the odd horse-drawn carriage (always the sign of a city that knows it can attract people with more money than sense), but, considering the destruction wrought on it during World War II, the restoration effort has been staggeringly good.
The Neustadt, north of the river, is where the action happens. The area flanked by Königsbrücker Straße and Prießnitzstraße is a street art filled haven to creativity.
Every other business seems to be either a bar, a music venue, a record shop or something combining all three. Add to this the unexpected quirk of the Kunsthofpassage, and you’ve got a city that’s pretty unique.
Oh, and go to the National Hygiene Museum. It’s more fun than it sounds, trust me.
Germany’s most picturesque town? Well, it’s a tough prize to win as there are many, many gorgeous places all over the country, but Monschau, on the border of Germany and Belgium is surely in with a shout.
It’s got every cliche you’d expect from a Medieval town – narrow, romantic lanes; ancient city walls; beautiful, timbered houses, and a partly-ruined, 13th century castle.
It’s also a decent spot for lovers of the outdoors. The Hellenthal National Park is 20km from the town, and is home to deer, lynx and other wild cats, mouflon, and other exotic forest species.
Rafting, canoeing and kayaking are all available to have a go at on the Rur river, and when you’re done with all that, treat yourself to an educational beverage at the Felsenkeller Brauhaus and Museum, where you’ll learn all about the local beer, go deep into the black slate cellars, and top it all off with a glass of their very own beer
A fine reward for discovering this charming place, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Nestled at the edge of the Black Forest, Freiburg is a hidden gem. A city of around 220,000 people, it’s statistically the sunniest and warmest city in the country, and all this comes together to make it a perfect wine-making city; indeed, there are vineyards flanking it on the hillsides.
One of the curiosities are the city’s Bächle, open, freshwater channels that were originally dug to supply the town with water from the nearby Dreisam river. Even in Medieval times, they were a source not only of water, but of pride to the town, and polluting them with waste or sewage could lead to harsh penalties.
owadays, they provide a cooling element to the city, as well as a pleasant, gurgly backing track as you sit in the shade of a wooden-beamed townhouse with a beer. Plus, legend says that if you fall into one of the Bächle, you’ll end up marrying a resident of Freiburg, so let’s hope you like it there!
Not the first place you’d think of if you fancied a German city-break, but this mildly-maligned city, part of the north-western region known as “das Kohlenpott”, is undergoing something of a renaissance right now. It’s always been something of a mecca for electronic music fans, being home to Kraftwerk and D.A.F., as well as punk band Die Toten Hosen and krautrock legends NEU!
Düsseldorf has a fierce regional rivalry with Cologne in almost every aspect of life, from fashion to football, from carnival traditions to preferred beer brand (don’t order Alt in Cologne or Kölsch in Düsseldorf for fear of being mocked at least and actively scorned at worst).
It’s home to the largest Japanese community in Germany, and this means that around Immermannstraße you’ll find a fine selection of Japanese cafes and restaurants.
Also, despite the fact that it’s still a relatively industrial place, there is a good selection of museums, galleries and parks, and the Rhine is never really out of reach from anywhere.
Wolpertingers are animals that live in the forests of Bavaria. They’re mischievous hybrids of other animals, extremely shy and difficult to spot. They may look like winged rabbits or horned rats, and, of course, they don’t really exist.
Or do they?
Well, in a way, they do. Such a part are they of Bavarian folklore, you’ll sometimes see weird taxidermy of these hybrid animals in museums – or even in some bars as decoration – throughout the region. In fact, Munich’s Hunting and Fishing Museum has a permanent display on the creatures.
Propeller Island Hotel
Can’t work out where to stay in Berlin? Feel like sleeping in an art installation? Of course you do. Located in the Wilmersdorf borough of the city, this is a thirty room complex in which each room is more of a work of art than a living space.
When being given your room, you’re issued with a manual telling you how to look after the space you’ve been given, and there’s no radio or TV; the only entertainment – aside from your bizarre environment – is a sound system playing specially designed soundscapes for each living space.
Check ahead, however, because now and again the hotel will close for new spaces and concepts to be added or altered.
If you like literal heavy metal, this is the place for you. Ferropolis is an open-air museum near Dessau, north of Leipzig, which displays huge industrial machines. Gigantic, rusting equipment towers over this spit of land in an area historically known for strip-mining.
There’s a museum for learning about the equipment on display and mockups of the control rooms for the mines as they would have been.
On top of all this, it’s also a popular location for a couple of annual music festivals, including – you guessed it – a metal festival.
Colditz Escape Museum
One of the most evocative names in military history, the thousand-year-old castle of Colditz has been used for many things, from a royal hunting lodge to a psychiatric hospital. However, it’s probably as a POW camp in World War II that most people know it.
Providing guided tours in English, French and German, you’ll get to know about some of the most daring and ingenious ways that prisoners here tried to get out of a castle thought by German high command to be escape-proof.
Because of this status, it was used to house those POWs who had repeatedly escaped from other camps and therefore, ironically, had one of the highest numbers of breakouts anywhere. And that’s what’s on display here: if you fill a castle with some of the most cunning minds from the combined allied military, you’ll be amazed what tactics they come up with!
Haribo Gummy Factory
It’s exactly what it says it is. If you need a reason to go to Bonn, this is it. You can’t actually go into the Haribo factory itself, but the factory store features an exhibition on the company and, naturally, you can buy basically all the Haribo you can carry for discounted prices. Sweet, sweet gummy.