Regional characteristics, indeed, are a strong feature of German life, and there are many hangovers from the days when the country was a political patchwork, even though some historical provinces have vanished from the map and others have merged. Hamburg and Bremen, for example, retain their age-old status as free cities. The imperial capital, Berlin, also stands apart, like an island in the midst of the erstwhile GDR where the liberalism of the West was pushed to its extreme, sometimes decadent, always exciting. In polar opposition to it, and as a corrective to the normal view of the Germans as an essentially serious race, is the Rhineland, where the great river’s majestic sweep has spawned a particularly rich fund of legends and folklore, and where the locals are imbued with a Mediterranean-type sense of fun. The five new Länder which have supplanted the GDR, and in particular the small towns and rural areas, are in many ways the ones which best encapsulate the feel and appearance of Germany as it was before the war and the onset of foreign influences which were an inevitable consequence of defeat.
Where & When to go to Germany
There’s enough variety within all but the smallest Läander to fill several weeks of travel, and you may prefer to confine your trip to just one or two regions. Among the scenic highlights are the Bavarian Alps, the Bodensee, the Black Forest, the valleys of the Rhine and Mosel, the Baltic island of Rügen, the Harz, and Saxon Switzerland. However, you may prefer one of the many less spectacular areas of natural beauty, which can be found in every province – these are the places the Germans themselves love the most, and where they spend their holidays and weekends. Several of the cities have the air of capitals, though Bann has lost the role it “temporarily” carried for fifty years. Nearby Cologne, on the other hand, is one of the most characterful cities in the country, and the richest in historical monuments. Bavaria’s capital, Munich, is another obvious star and boasts of having the best the country has to offer – whether in museums, beer, fashion or sport. Nürnberg reflects on its bygone years of glory, while Frankfurt looks on itself as the “real” capital of the country, and Stuttgart and Düsseldorf compete for the title of champion of German postwar success. In the east, Dresden is making a comeback as one of the world’s great cultural centers, while Leipzig is returning to its role as one of the continent’s main trading centers, while as all these cities have suffered to a considerable extent from bomb damage and ugly postwar redevelopment, the smaller places in many respects offer a more satisfying experience. Chief among these is the university city of Heidelberg, star and guiding light of the Romantic movement. Tier, Bamberg, Regensburg, Rothenburg, and Marburg in the west, and Potsdam, Meissen, and Quedlinburg in the east are some of the many towns which deserve to be regarded among the most outstanding in Europe.
The best times to go are between Britain or New England. Summers are usually warm, but not overpoweringly so: good weather may come at an unexpected time, while it’s not uncommon to have several abrupt changes in temperature within a single day. Rain occurs fairly regularly throughout the year. Unless you’re intending to go skiing, winter travel can’t really be recommended, other than for seeing the cities stripped of tourist hordes. Otherwise, there’s a chance of snow at any time from November onwards. In the really popular areas, the claustrophobic effect of masses of organized tour groups is a factor to be taken into account between mid-June and mid-September: best avoid such places altogether then, and head for the many less spoiled alternatives. All things considered, however, the ideal times for visiting Germany are late spring and early autumn.
Best Attractions in Germany
The grandest stretch of the Rhine, both for scenery and monuments, is that between Bingen and Koblenz. Pleasure steamers, which run daily from April to October, offer the best means of taking in the breathtaking waterway.
Trier, Germany’s oldest city, was once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and residence of Emperor Constantine. It preserves the most impressive assemblage of Roman monuments anywhere north of the Alps.
The resort of Berchtesgaden offers easy access to some of Germany’s most stirring Alpine landscapes: ferries ply the Konigsee, a cable car goes up the Jenner, and buses run to the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s mountainside “Eagle’s Nest”.
One of Germany’s great gastronomic and wine-producing centers, Würzburg also has some spectacular monuments, notably the Residenz of the Prince-Bishops, whose splendor far surpasses most of Europe’s royal palaces.
Home of the curious Rauchbier (smoky beer), Bamberg is a magnificently well-preserved little city set on seven hills. Its wealth of art treasures includes the enigmatic equestrian statue the Bamberg Rider, which you’ll find inside in the cathedral.
The favorite residence of the Prussian kings, Potsdam is a triumph of man over nature, the marshy landscape of the River Havel and its lakes transformed into a planned townscape with palaces, parks, and gardens.
Destinations in Southern Germany
Southern Germany is known as being the country’s most economically strong region and also one of the most beautiful places and most picturesque attractions. Visitors who decide to come here will find the Alps, the black forest, and many beautiful rivers like Rhone, Rhine, and Danube. Southern Germany also homes fairy tale castles, beautiful mountains and impressive wineries that grow grapes for some of the most important and finest vintages. Here are some of the most important sites that you must visit in Southern Germany:
This incredible place can be found at the foot of the Alps and attracts several tourists every year. The small village of Füssen is also placed nearby the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, which are known as being the main attractions of southern Germany. This town is also home to the Hohes Schloss, which is known as the “high castle.” This impressive building features an incredible clock tower, among its great attractions. However, there are also many trails and beautiful lakes that are placed nearby the town and that tourists could venture in. Füssen is the perfect place for relaxation and visiting incredible places.
Heidelberg is definitely one of the most visited places in Germany. This incredible place home attractions like the Heidelberg Castle, the medieval Old Bridge, the Knight St. George House and the Church of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, this town has suffered some damages during World War II, but it seems that the baroque town center remained intact. Heidelberg is also home to the oldest university in the country.
This hybrid town has an interesting history behind it. It is known that Garmisch-Partenkirchen was united by decree in 1936 by Adolf Hitler, so Germany could host the Winter Olympics. Nowadays, this beautiful town is one of the most famous ski resorts in the country. Winter sports like snowboarding and skiing are practiced here and during the summer the trails are filled with mountain bikers and hikers.
Southern Germany is not only famous in its country, but also in Europe. This beautiful destination is visited by a huge number of visitors, each year. What is your favorite attraction in Southern Germany?
German food is, as a rule, both good value and of high quality. However, it does help if you share the national penchant for solid, fatty food accompanied by compensating healthy fresh vegetables and salad. The pig is the staple element of the German menu – it’s prepared in umpteen different ways, and just about every part of it is eaten. It also forms the main ingredient for sausages, which are not only the most popular snack but are regarded as a serious culinary fare – in Bavaria, there are even specialized Wurstküchen (sausage kitchens) which have gained Michelin ratings.
The vast majority of German hotels and guesthouses and all youth hostels include breakfast in the price of their accommodation. Although some places go in for the spartan French affair of rolls, jam and coffee, the normal German breakfast lies midway.
Snacks and fast food
Just as the English have their morning and afternoon tea, so the Germans have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cakes). Though the elegant type of café serving a choice of espresso, cappuccino, and mocha to the accompaniment of cream.
Meals and restaurants
All restaurants display their menus and prices by the door, as well as their Ruhetag, the day they are closed. Hot meals are usually served throughout the day, but certainly where it says durchgehend warme Küche .
Vegetarians will find Germany less than ideal – most menus are almost exclusively for carnivores, and even an innocent-sounding item like tomato soup might have small chunks of bacon floating around in it.
The division between eating and drinking establishments in Germany is less demarcated than in the English-speaking world. Despite their inevitable connotations with beer and wine, the Brauhäuser and Weinstuben inevitably double as restaurants: the former usually offers a full range of gutbürgerliche Küche , whereas the latter tend to have shortish menus of rather lighter fare. There are also some purely drinking dens, generally known as Kneipen. Apart from beer and wine, there’s nothing very distinctive about German beverages, save for Apfelwein, a variant of cider. The most popular spirits are the fiery Korn and after-dinner liqueurs, which are mostly fruit-based. Both hot and soft drinks are broadly the same as in Britain.
For serious beer drinkers, Germany is the ultimate paradise. Wherever you go, you can be sure of getting a product made locally, often brewed in a distinctive style. The country has well over 1200 breweries, with over half the total in Bavaria
Many people’s knowledge of German wine starts and ends with Liebfraumilch , the medium-sweet easy-drinking wine. Sadly, its success has obscured the quality of other German wines, especially those made from the Riesling grape.
Germany probably has more annual festivals than any other European country, with almost every village having its own summer fair, as well as a rich mixture of Christian and pagan festivals that have merged over the ages to fill the whole calendar.
These tend to flourish most in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and the Rhineland. In the former GDR, there are far fewer festivals – Communism is by no means entirely to blame for this, the roots lying in the puritanism which has long characterized the area. Since the Wende , a fair number of festivals have been initiated or reinstated.
The most famous German festival is undoubtedly the Oktoberfest in Munich, but Carnival and the Christmas fairs are other annual highlights and take place all over the country. There’s also a wealth of music festivals, ranging from opera seasons to open-air jazz and rock concerts. A general overview of events is listed below.
January is a quiet month, though there are various events associated with the Carnival season , particularly the proclamation of the “Carnival King”.
February – March Events
The climax of the season comes in February or March , seven weeks before the date nominated for Easter. The Rhenish Karneval tends to have rather more gusto than its Bavarian counterpart, known as Fasching . Cologne has the most spectacular celebrations, followed by those of Mainz and Düsseldorf; in each case, the Rosenmontag parade is the highpoint. Baden-Württemberg’s Fastnet is a distinctive, very pagan, carnival tradition, best experienced in Rottweil. Another old pagan rite is the Schäfertanz held in Rothenburg in March and repeated on several subsequent occasions throughout the year. During Holy Week, and particularly on Easter Day (variable date in March/April), colorful church services are held throughout the country, particularly in rural Catholic areas. Another important April festival is the witches’ sabbath of Walpurgisnacht , celebrated throughout the Harz region on the 30th of the month.
German Festivals in May
May marks the start of many of the summer festivals . Costume plays such as the Rattenfängerspiele in Hameln begin regular weekend performances, while there are classical concerts in historic buildings, notably the Schlosstheater in Schwetzingen. Every ten years (next in 2010), the famous Passionspiele in Oberammergau begins its run. On a lighter note, there’s the Stabenfest in Nördlingen. Whitsun (variable date in May/June) sees distinctive religious festivals in many towns. On the same weekend, there are two celebrated reconstructions of historic events – the Meistertrunk drama in Rothenburg and the Kuchen- und Brunnenfest in Schwäbisch Hall. Shortly afterward, Corpus Christi is celebrated in Catholic areas and is best experienced in Cologne or Bamberg.
June German Festivals
June sees important classical music festivals , with the Bach-Woche during the second weekend of the month in Lüneburg, the Händel-Festspiele in Göttingen and Halle, the Schumann-Woche in Zwickau and the Europäische Wochen in Passau, while there’s a big festival of all kinds of music held under canvas in Freiburg. Throughout northern Germany, the shooting season is marked by Schützenfeste , the largest being Hannover’s. Bad Wimpfen’s Talmarkt , which begins at the end of the month, is a fair that can trace its history back a thousand years.
Germany Festivals in July
July is a particularly busy festival month, with summer fairs and both wine and beer festivals opening up every week; pick of the latter is that in Kulmbach. Dinkelsbühl’s Kinderzeche and Ulm’s Schwörmontag are the most famous folklore events at this time. The Bayreuth Opernfest , exclusively devoted to Wagner, begins its month-long run during late July, but note that all tickets are put on sale a year in advance and immediately snapped up. A more wide-ranging Opernfest takes place in Munich around the same time.
August Germany Events
August is the main month for colorful displays of fireworks and illuminations, such as the Schlossfest in Heidelberg and Der Rhein in Flammen in Koblenz. There is a host of Weinfeste during the month in the Rhine-Mosel area, notably those in Rüdesheim and Mainz, while Straubing’s Gäubodenfest is one of the country’s largest beer festivals. Other important events at this time are the Plärrer city fair in Augsburg, the Mainfest in Frankfurt and the Zissel folk festival in Kassel.
German Events in September – November
Paradoxically, Munich’s renowned Oktoberfest actually takes place mostly in September – it usually starts on the second last Saturday, but can be the third last. This month sees many of the most bacchanalian festivals, such as Heilbronn’s Weindorf and Bad Cannstatt’s Volksfest . October sees things quietening down, though there’s still the odd Weinfest in the Rhineland, along with the Freimarkt folk festival in Bremen, while in the Alpine region there are a number of religious festivals with an equestrian component; the Colomansfest in Schwangau is the most famous of these. In November , there’s the month-long Hamburger Dom fair in Hamburg, while the Martinsfest on the 10th/11th of the month is celebrated in northern Baden and the Rhineland, most notably in Düsseldorf.
December Events in Germany
Finally, December is the month of the Christmas market (variably known as Christkindelsmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt ), which features stalls selling handmade goods of all kinds, from toys and leatherware to sweets and biscuits. Practically every town in the country has one; the most enjoyable are those, such as the ones at Nürnberg and Augsburg, which are most faithful to tradition.
History of Germany
Germany has always been the problem child of Europe. For over a millennium it was no more than a loose confederation of separate states and territories, whose number at times topped the thousand mark. When unification belatedly came about in 1871, it was achieved almost exclusively by military might; as a direct result of this, the new nation was consumed by a thirst for power and expansion abroad. Defeat in World War I only led to a desire for revenge, the consequence of which was the Third Reich, a regime bent on mass genocide and a European, indeed world, domination. It took another tragic global war to crush this system and its people. When the victors quarreled over how to prevent Germany from ever again becoming dominant, they divided it into two hostile states; the parts held by the Western powers were developed into the Federal Republic of Germany, while the eastern zone occupied by the Soviets became the German Democratic Republic. The contest between the two was an unequal one – the GDR, never able to break free from being a client state of the Soviet Union and forced to adopt a Communist system at odds with the national character, had fallen so far behind its rival in living standards that in 1961 the authorities constructed electrified barbed-wire frontier, with the Berlin Wall as its lynchpin, to halt emigration – the first time in the history of the world that a fortification system had been erected by a regime against its own people. Thereafter, the society settled down, but the GDR was a grey, cheerless place whose much-trumpeted economic success was a mirage, and bought at the price of terrible pollution problems.
On the other hand, the Federal Republic – which was seen as the natural successor to the old Reich, if only on account of its size – had not only picked itself up by the boot-straps but developed into what many outsiders regarded as a model modern society. A nation with little in the way of a liberal tradition, and even less of a democratic one, quickly developed a degree of political maturity that put other countries to shame. In atonement for past sins, the new state committed itself to provide a haven for foreign refugees and dissidents. It also became a multiracial and multicultural society – even if the reason for this was less one of penance than the self-interested need to acquire extra cheap labor to fuel the economic boom. A delicate balance was struck between the old and the new. Historic town centers were immaculately restored, while the corporate skyscrapers and well-stocked department stores represented a commitment to a modern consumer society. Vast sums of money were lavished on preserving the best of the country’s cultural legacy, yet equally generous budgets were allocated to encouraging all kinds of contemporary expression in the arts.
Officially, the Federal Republic was always a “provisional” state, biding its time before national reunification occurred. Yet there was a realization that nobody outside Germany was really much in favor of this. “I love Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them”, scoffed the French novelist François Mauriac, articulating the unspoken gut reactions of the powers on both sides of the Iron Curtain. German division may have been cruel, but at least it had provided a lasting solution to the German “problem”. Such thinking was rendered obsolete by the unstoppable momentum of events in the wake of the Wende, the peaceful revolution that toppled the Communist regime in the GDR in 1989, leading to the full union of the two Germanys less than a year later. Yet initial euphoria has been quickly replaced by concern about the myriad problems facing the new nation as it attempts to integrate the bankrupt social and economic system of the GDR into the successful framework of the Federal Republic. While Germany may officially be one again, it will certainly continue to look and feel like two separate countries until the end of the century – and probably well beyond. Moreover, international pressure had ensured that, far from being a re-creation of the old Reich, it can be no more than the nineteenth-century concept of a Kleines Deutschland (“Little Germany”), excluding not only Austria but also the “lost” Eastern Territories, which are now part of Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Russian Federation.
In total contrast to Germany’s intrinsic fascination as the country which has played such a determining role in the history of the twentieth century is its otherwise predominantly romantic image. This is the land of fairy-tale castles, of thick dark forests, of the legends collected by the Brothers Grimm, of perfectly preserved timber-framed medieval towns, and of jovial locals swilling from huge foaming mugs of beer. As always, there is some truth in these stereotypes, though most of them stem from the southern part of the country, particularly Bavaria , which, as a predominantly rural and Catholic area, stands apart from the urbanized Protestant north which engineered the unity of the nation last century and thereafter dominated its affairs.