Experience Germany - Fodor's Germany - Fodor's

Fodor's Germany - Fodor's (2016)

Experience Germany

Germany Today

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Germany is a country in transition that is constantly looking for new ways to redefine itself. About the size of Montana but home to Western Europe’s largest population, Germany has once again taken a leading economic and political role from its position in the heart in Europe, where it often bridges the divide between East and West. The land of “Dichter und Denker” (“poets and thinkers”) is also one of the world’s leading export countries, specializing in mechanical equipment, vehicles, chemicals, and household goods. Germany is both deeply conservative, valuing tradition, hard work, precision, and fiscal responsibility, and one of the world’s most liberal countries, with a generous social welfare state, a strongly held commitment to environmentalism, and a postwar determination to combat xenophobia. Reunited after 45 years of division, Germany maintains an open dialogue about the darkest aspects of its history while simultaneously thinking toward the future.


In the 1950s and 1960s, West Germany invited migrants to come work on projects to rebuild after the Second World War and fuel the postwar economic boom. “Guest workers” from Italy, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, and above all Turkey provided cheap labor. The Germans assumed these guest workers would only stay temporarily, so they provided little in the way of cultural integration policies. But many of these migrants were manual workers from the countryside with little formal education, and often they did not want to return to their economically depressed home countries. Instead, they brought wives and family members to join them and settled in Germany, often forming parallel societies cut off from mainstream German life. Today, Berlin is home to the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey itself, and even claims to be the birthplace of the döner kebab, the ubiquitous fast-food dish. However, Germany has fumbled somewhat when it comes to successful integration. Germany is historically a land of emigrants, not immigrants, but its demographics are undergoing a radical shift: the country recently became the second-most-popular migration destination after the United States, and one in three children in Germany today is foreign-born or has a parent who is foreign-born. In recent years, anti-immigrant sentiment has given rise to far-right nationalist parties, but their demonstrations are usually wildly outnumbered by much larger counterprotests.


Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, was the world’s largest exporter until 2009, when China overtook it. The worldwide recession hit Germany squarely, though thanks to a strong social network, the unemployed and underemployed did not suffer on the level we are used to in the United States. In Germany, losing your job does not mean you lose your health insurance, and the unemployed receive financial help from the state to meet housing payments and other basic expenses. More recently, Germany has been a bastion of economic strength during the eurozone crisis, maintaining a solid economy while countries like Greece, Spain, and Portugal have entered into economic tailspins. By far the most important economy in the European Union, Germany, with its traditional, don’t-spend-more-than-you-earn culture, has a strong voice in setting the EU’s economic agenda. It took center stage following the euro crisis in its negotiations with Greece over further bailout packages. Germany was seen as taking a hard line against Athens for not repaying its loans, and many noted Berlin’s approach was perhaps best understood by the fact that the German word for debt, Schuld, is the same word for guilt.


Germany has a well-deserved reputation as a land of engineers. The global leader in numerous high-tech fields, German companies are hugely successful on the world’s export markets, thanks to lots of innovation, sophisticated technology, and quality manufacturing. German cars, machinery, and electrical and electronic equipment are all big sellers. But recent years have seen a series of bloopers. Three major building projects in Germany—the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg; Stuttgart 21, a new train station in Stuttgart; and the new airport in Berlin—have run way over budget and dragged on for years. Of the three, the airport is the most egregious: originally planned to open in 2010, Berlin Brandenburg Airport has suffered delays due to poor construction planning, management, and execution (in 2012, the airport canceled its grand opening only days before flights were scheduled to begin). No one knows when it will open, and numerous politicians have expressed concern that failures like these will tarnish Germany’s reputation as a country of can-do engineers.


The Germans are not big fans of Facebook. With good reason: following recent experiences of life in a police state under both the Nazi regime and the East German state, they don’t like the idea of anyone collecting personal information about them. Germany has some of the most extensive data privacy laws in the world, with everything from credit card numbers to medical histories strictly protected.


By American standards, German politics are distinctly left-leaning. One thing that’s important to know is that the Germans don’t have a two-party system; rather, they have several important parties, and these must form alliances after elections to pass initiatives. Thus, there’s an emphasis on cooperation and deal-making, sometimes (but not always) making for odd bedfellows. A “Red-Green” (or “stoplight”) coalition between the Green Party and the socialist SPD held power from 1998 to 2002; since then, there has been a steady move to the center-right in Germany, with recent reforms curtailing some social welfare benefits and ecological reforms. In 2005, Germany elected the first female chancellor, center-right Christian Democratic party member Angela Merkel. A politician from the former East Germany who speaks Russian, Merkel has enjoyed much popularity.


In the early 2000s, Germany began moving away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, a policy known as Energiewende—literally, “energy transition.” The transformation is a role model for many environmentalists, and thanks to aggressive government legislation over the past few decades, Germany is a leader in green energy technology. In 2014, 26% of the electricity produced nationwide came from renewable sources.

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What’s Where

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Munich. Beautiful Munich boasts wonderful opera, theater, museums, and churches—and the city’s chic residents dress their best to visit them. This city also has lovely outdoor spaces, from parks, beer gardens, and cafés, to the famous Oktoberfest grounds.

The Bavarian Alps. Majestic peaks, lush green pastures, and frescoed houses brightened by flowers make for one of Germany’s most photogenic regions. Quaint villages like Mittenwald, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau, and Berchtesgaden have preserved their charming historic architecture. Nature is the prime attraction here, with the country’s finest hiking and skiing.

The Romantic Road. The Romantische Strasse is more than 355 km (220 miles) of soaring castles, medieval villages, fachwerk (half-timber) houses, and imposing churches, all set against a pastoral backdrop. Winding its way from Würzburg to Füssen, it features such top destinations as Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber and Schloss Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s fantastical castle.

Franconia and the German Danube. Thanks to the centuries-old success of craftsmanship and trade, Franconia is a proud, independent-minded region in northern Bavaria. Franconia is home to historic Nürnberg, the well-preserved medieval jewel-box town of Bamberg, and Bayreuth, where Wagner lived and composed.

The Bodensee. The sunniest region in the country, the Bodensee (Lake Constance) itself is the highlight. The region is surrounded by beautiful mountains, and the dense natural surroundings offer an enchanting contrast to the picture-perfect towns and manicured gardens.

The Black Forest. Synonymous with cuckoo clocks and primeval woodland that is great for hiking, the Black Forest includes the historic university town of Freiburg—one of the most colorful and hip student cities in Germany—and proud and elegant Baden-Baden, with its long tradition of spas and casinos.

Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley. This medieval town is quintessential Germany, full of cobblestone alleys, half-timber houses, vineyards, castles, wine pubs, and Germany’s oldest university.

Frankfurt. Nicknamed “Mainhattan” because it is the only German city with appreciable skyscrapers, Frankfurt is Germany’s financial center and transportation hub.

The Pfalz and Rhine Terrace. Wine reigns supreme here. Bacchanalian festivals pepper the calendar between May and October, and wineries welcome drop-ins for tastings year-round. Three great cathedrals are found in Worms, Speyer, and Mainz.

The Rhineland. The region along the mighty Rhine River is one of the most dynamic in Europe. Fascinating cities such as Köln (Cologne), steeped in Roman and medieval history, offer stunning Gothic architecture, such as the Kölner Dom. Visit during Karneval for boisterous celebrations.

The Fairy-Tale Road. The Märchenstrasse, stretching 600 km (370 miles) between Hanau and Bremen, is the Brothers Grimm country. They nourished their dark and magical imaginations as children in Steinau an der Strasse, a beautiful medieval town in this region of misty woodlands and ancient castles.

Hamburg. Hamburg, with its long tradition as a powerful and wealthy Hanseatic port city, is quintessentially elegant. World-class museums of modern art; the wild red-light district along the Reeperbahn; and HafenCity, an environmentally and architecturally avant-garde quarter currently under construction, make Hamburg well worth a visit.

Schleswig-Holstein and the Baltic Coast. Off the beaten path, this region is scattered with medieval towns, fishing villages, unspoiled beaches, and summer resorts like Sylt, where Germany’s jet set go to get away.

Berlin. No trip to Germany is complete without a visit to its capital, Europe’s hippest urban destination. Cheap rents drew artists from all over the world to this gritty, creative, and broke city. Cutting-edge art exhibits, stage dramas, musicals, and bands compete for your attention with two cities’ worth of world-class museums, three opera houses, eight state theaters, and two zoos.

Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. The southeast is a secret treasure trove of German high culture. Friendly, vibrant cities like Dresden, Leipzig, Weimar, and Eisenach are linked to Schiller, Goethe, Bach, Luther, and the like.

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Quintessential Germany

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With more theaters, concert halls, and opera houses per capita than any other country in the world, high culture is an important part of German life. Before the formation of the German state, regional courts competed to see who had the best artists, actors, musicians, and stages, resulting in the development of a network of strong cultural centers that exists to this day. For Germans, high culture is not just for the elite. They consider it so important to provide communities with rich cultural life that they use their tax money to do it. As a result, tickets to these publicly funded operas, classical music concerts, ballets, and plays are quite inexpensive, with tickets readily available in the €10 to €40 range. Drop in on a performance or concert—it’s one of the best travel bargains around.


The German Kneipekultur, or pub culture, is an important and long-standing tradition. Stammgäste, or regulars, stop by their local pub as often as every evening to drink beer and catch up. In summer, Kneipe life moves outdoors to beer gardens. Some, such as the famous Chinese Pavilion in Munich’s English Garden, are institutions, and can seat hundreds of guests. Others are more casual, consisting of a café’s graveled back garden under soaring chestnut trees. Most beer gardens offer some sort of food: self-serve areas might sell pasta or lamb in addition to grilled sausages and pretzels. Although beer gardens are found all over Germany, the smoky beer-hall experience—with dirndls and oompah bands—is traditionally Bavarian. You’ll discover how different various combinations of the three key ingredients—malt, hops, and water—can taste.


Germany has one of the world’s most environmentally conscious societies. Conserving resources, whether electricity or food, is second nature in a country where postwar deprivation has not yet faded from public memory. Recycling is practically a national sport, with separate garbage bins for regular trash, clear glass, green glass, plastics and cans, and organic garbage. Keep your eyes out for the giant brown, green, and yellow pods on the streets—these are used for neighborhood recycling. Many people ride their bikes to work (even in high heels or business suits) much of the year, and there are well-defined bike lanes in most cities. Drivers know to keep an eye out for cyclists, and as a visitor you’ll need to be careful not to walk in the bike lanes. Great public transportation is also part of this environmental commitment.


The tradition of afternoon coffee and cake, usually enjoyed around 3 pm, is a serious matter. If you can, finagle an invitation to someone’s house to get the real experience, which might involve a simple homemade Quarkkuchen (cheesecake), or a spread of creamy cakes topped with apples, rhubarb, strawberries, or cherries and whipped cream. Otherwise, find an old-fashioned Konditorei, or pastry shop. Germans bake more than a thousand different kinds of cakes, with even more regional variations. Among the most famous is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake), a chocolate layer cake soaked in Kirsch schnapps, with cherries, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings. Another favorite is the Bienenstich (bee sting), a layered sponge cake filled with cream and topped with a layer of crunchy honey-caramelized almonds.

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Top Attractions in Germany

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Berlin was the capital of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich before being divided after World War II. The famed Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), built in the late 1700s, became a symbol of both the country’s division and reunification. The nearby Reichstag (parliament building) was rebuilt with a special glass dome that offers sweeping views of the city and looks directly into the parliament chambers below in a nod to government transparency. In former East Berlin, the soaring TV tower at Alexanderplatz is a reminder of the GDR’s political power.


The blue waters of Bodensee (Lake Constance) lap the shores of Switzerland and Austria, framed by a stunning view of the Alps. The beach offers space for sunbathers and lakeside paths are available for cyclists. On the island of Mainau you can stroll through peaceful gardens on the grounds of a baroque palace.


Thousands of miles of hiking and cycling trails guide you through pine and fir trees in these woodlands. The area’s many thermal baths provide an opportunity to treat yourself after a long day outdoors.


Dresden’s Church of Our Lady is a masterpiece of baroque architecture. Completed in 1743, the magnificent church was destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in February 1945. The church was finally rebuilt in its original style 60 years later, using much of the rubble.


Heidelberg’s immense ruined fortress is a prime example of Renaissance and Gothic styles. It inspired 19th-century writers, especially the poet Goethe, who admired its decay amidst the beauty of the Neckar Valley.


This breathtaking cathedral in Köln (Cologne) is the first sight that greets you when you step out of the train station. The Gothic marvel took more than 600 years to build and was the tallest structure in the world when it was finished in 1880.


For 15 days spanning the end of September and early October, Munich hosts the world’s largest beer festival with tents from traditional German breweries.


Walt Disney modeled the castle in Sleeping Beauty and later the Disneyland castle itself on Neuschwanstein. “Mad” King Ludwig II’s creation is best admired from the heights of the Marienbrücke, an iron bridge over the deep Pöllat Gorge.


When the wall fell in 1989, Berliners couldn’t wait to get rid of it. The longest stretch left standing is the East Side Gallery. In 1990, the city invited artists to paint one side of the nearly mile-long wall in a tribute to peace, resulting in famous works such as the socialistic fraternal kiss. The Berlin Wall Memorial, located along another remaining segment, has a museum and open-air exhibition dedicated to the years of division. At the best-known border crossing, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum highlights ways people tried to escape the GDR.


Weimar was once home to German luminaries such as Goethe and Schiller, whose homes are now museums. The Bauhaus movement, which gave rise to much of modern architecture and design, was also born here—as you’ll learn on a visit to the Bauhaus Museum Weimar.

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Best Things to Do in Germany

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As soon as the sun comes out and temperatures allow, Germans set up tables and chairs under the open skies and offer a “Prost!” to their friends or colleagues. Bavaria is the home of the Biergarten, but you can sample local variations of beer and bratwurst at outdoor tables almost anywhere in the country. If it’s a beautiful day and you don’t see a beer garden nearby, take your own drink to the park: Germany has no open-container laws.


Germany’s landscape is ideal for hiking, from leisurely strolls through flat fields to steep climbs up tough terrain. The country has tens of thousands of miles of walking trails, many with views of castles, vineyards, or waterfalls. Pack a bag lunch, strap on your hiking boots, and join the crowd—it’s a great way to get a feel for the real Germany.


If you visit between April and June, you’re in for a treat: it’s white asparagus season. Germans go crazy for the stuff, which is thicker and larger than green asparagus. Enjoy it with a slice of ham and potatoes with butter or hollandaise sauce.


Every major German city has world-class art museums, but it doesn’t stop there. From the antique treasures in Berlin’s legendary Pergamon Museum, to fascinating objects in the fields of science and technology at Munich’s Deutsches Museum, Germany has impressive and informative exhibitions around the country. Open-air museums offer collections of buildings from previous epochs that visitors can walk through to get a sense of daily life in the past.


Whether you’re discovering Munich, Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, or one of Germany’s smaller cities, seeing the place from the seat of a bike is the way to do it. Take a guided tour or rent a bike and set off on your own. As you wind your way through Munich’s English Garden or along Hamburg’s harbor, you’ll find that you see much more than you would from a tour bus.


Breakfast in Germany can be a major affair, especially on the weekend. Show up hungry to indulge in a spread including several types of bread rolls, salami and dry sausage, hard cheeses, butter, honey, jam, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, liver pâté, cold cuts, hard-boiled eggs, and coffee.


Germany takes its bread seriously. It’s a historically important part of the German diet, and the tradition of Brotkultur, or bread culture, continues today. Each region has its own delicious variation, so wherever you visit check out a local artisanal Bäckerei and sample the various pastries and rolls.


With more than 300 Kurorte (health spas) and Heilbäder (spas with healing waters), Germany has a spa tradition dating back to the time of the Kaisers. Visit one by the sea, near mineral-rich mud sources, near salt deposits, or natural springs, and you’ll be treated to salt baths, mud baths, saunas, thermal hot springs, and mineral-rich air, depending on the specialties of the region.


No trip to Germany is complete without a boat tour of the Rhine. Board in Rudesheim and follow the river to Bingen, or do it in reverse. Along the way, you’ll see countless castles rising up from the banks along the river. Keep a lookout for the rock of the Loreley, the beautiful river maiden of legend who lured sailors to their deaths with her song.


Germany is internationally renowned for its beer, but it’s also an oenologist’s dream. Go to a wine tasting to try high-quality Riesling and Pinot Noir on the sloping hills of the Mosel Valley and find new favorites to fill your cellar.


Just about every city, town, and village has an outdoor Christmas market (and larger cities have more than one—in Berlin, for example, there are as many as 60 small markets each year). The most famous are the markets in Dresden and Nürnberg, both of which have long traditions. Christmas markets open the last week of November and run through Christmas. Bundle up and shop for handmade gifts like the famous wooden figures carved in the Erzgebirge region as you sip traditional, hot-spiced Glühwein to stay warm.


Germany is the spiritual home of precision auto engineering, and Germans love their cars. You can rent a Porsche, Mercedes, or BMW for a day to see what it’s like to drive on a German highway—some stretches of the autobahn have no speed limit. Take your rental to the Nürburgring, a world-famous racetrack built in the 1920s. There, you can get a day pass to drive your car around the track. Visit the on-site auto museum afterward. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz have fantastic museums, too.


Germany is dotted with tranquil lakes, and when the weather is warm, locals strip down and jump right in. Don’t worry if you don’t have your suit: it’s perfectly acceptable to swim in the nude. If swimming’s not your thing, rent a paddleboat and cruise past the sunbathers.


Throughout the summer, many German cities set up huge screens in parks and other public places. Spread out a blanket and enjoy snacks and beer in the open air at a Freiluftkino. You can catch a movie in English or German with subtitles—just check the day’s program.


As you might expect of the recent world champions, Germans are nuts for soccer. Even if you aren’t a fan, going to a live match is an exciting experience. There’s a palpable energy and it’s easy to follow the action. You can catch a game just about anywhere, anytime except for June, July, and over the Christmas break.


In winter, children and adults alike head for the nearest slope, sleds in hand. If you don’t have a sled, just stand back and enjoy the spectacle. The children’s old-fashioned wooden sleds are truly charming.

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If You Like

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The Germans have a long-standing love affair with Mother Nature. The woods, as well as the mountains, rivers, and oceans, surface repeatedly in the works of renowned German poets and thinkers. The idea that nature is key to the mysteries of the soul can be seen in works as varied as those by naturalist Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich and the 20th-century philosopher Martin Heidegger. Today, Germany has designated large tracts of land as national recreation areas, and cities boast extensive urban parks and gardens.

The Bavarian Alps, where the Winter Olympics town Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers cable cars to ascend Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, is one of the country’s best spots for skiing in winter and hiking in summer.

Lakes such as Chiemsee and Bodensee dot the area between the Alps and Munich and many hikers and bikers enjoy circling them. Boat rentals are possible, but you’ll often need a German-recognized license. In summer, walk a trail around the pure waters of Lake Königssee, pausing to hear your voice echo off the surrounding rock faces.

On the island of Rügen, the turn-of-the-20th-century resort town Binz stands before the gentle (and cold) waters of the Baltic Sea. Even on windy days you can warm up on the beach in a sheltered beach chair for two. Among the Baltic Coast’s most dramatic features are Rügen’s white chalk cliffs in Jasmund National Park, where you can hike, bike, or sign up for nature seminars and tours.


The trail of walled towns and half-timber houses known as the Romantic Road is a route long marketed by German tourism, and therefore the road more traveled. The towns are lovely, but if you’d prefer fewer tour groups spilling into your photographs, venture into the Harz Mountains in the center of Germany.

Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber is known for its impressively preserved medieval center, giving visitors the feeling they’ve stepped back in time. Some 400 km farther north, Quedlinburg has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. With 1,600 half-timber houses, it has more of these historic, typically northern German buildings than any other town in the country.

A mighty fortress south of the Harz Mountains is the Wartburg, in the ancient, half-timber town of Eisenach. Frederick the Wise protected Martin Luther from papal proscription within these stout walls in the 16th century.

Options for exploring closer to Munich include Regensburg and Nürnberg. The former is a beautiful medieval city, relatively unknown even to Germans, and has a soaring French Gothic cathedral that can hold 6,000 people. Nürnberg dates to 1050, and is among the most historic cities in the country. Both emperors and artists convened here, including the Renaissance genius Albrecht Dürer. If you’re in Hessen, the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, you can follow the Fairy-Tale Road. Stop off for a day of natural saltwater swimming in the idyllic medieval town of Bad Sooden-Allendorf.


With as many as 600 galleries, world-class private collections, and ateliers in every Hinterhof (back courtyard), Berlin is one of Europe’s contemporary art capitals. Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island), a UNESCO World Heritage site, is its crowning jewel. The small island hosts a complex of five state museums, including the Altes Museum, with a permanent collection of classical antiquities; the Alte Nationalgalerie, with 18th- to early-20th-century paintings and sculptures from the likes of Cézanne, Rodin, Degas, and Germany’s own Max Liebermann; the Bode-Museum, containing German and Italian sculptures, Byzantine art, and coins; and the Pergamonmuseum, whose highlight is the world-famous Ishtar Gate, an entrance to the ancient city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq.

Leipzig is a rising star in the European art world. The Museum der Bildenden Künste (Museum of Fine Arts) is the city’s leading gallery, followed closely by the Grassimuseum complex. The Spinnerei (a former cotton mill) has become Leipzig’s prime location for contemporary art, and houses more than 80 artists and galleries, especially those of the New Leipzig School.

Fans of old-master painters must haunt the halls of the Zwinger in Dresden, where most works were collected in the first half of the 18th century, and the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, which has one of the world’s largest collections of Rubens.


Watching over nearly any town with a name ending in “-burg” is a medieval fortress or Renaissance palace. These have often been converted into museums, restaurants, or hotels.

The Wartburg in Eisenach is considered “the mother of all castles” and towers over the foothills of the Thuringian Forest. Abundant vineyards surround Schloss Neuenburg, which dominates the landscape around the sleepy village of Freyburg (Unstrut). The castle ruins overlooking the Rhine River are the result of constant fighting with the French, but even the remains were picturesque enough to inspire 19th-century Romantics. Burg Rheinstein is rich with Gobelin tapestries, stained glass, and frescoes.

Schloss Heidelberg mesmerizes with its Gothic turrets, Renaissance walls, and abandoned gardens. Other fortresses lord over the Burgenstrasse (Castle Road) in the neighboring Neckar Valley. You can stay the night (or just enjoy an excellent meal) at Burg Hornberg, or at any of a number of other castle-hotels in the area.

The medieval Burg Eltz in the Mosel Valley looms imposingly, and its high turrets make it look like something straight out of a Grimm fairy tale. The castle has been perfectly preserved and owned by the same family for almost a thousand years.

Louis XIV’s Versailles inspired Germany’s greatest castle-builder, King Ludwig II, to construct the opulent Schloss Herrenchiemsee. One of Ludwig’s palaces in turn inspired a latter-day visionary—his Schloss Neuschwanstein is the model for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Schloss Linderhof, also in the Bavarian Alps, was Ludwig’s favorite retreat.

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Traditional German Food

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Traditional German cuisine fell out of fashion several decades ago, and was replaced by Italian and Mediterranean food, Asian food, and Middle Eastern food. But there’s a growing movement to go back to those roots, and even high-class German chefs are rediscovering old classics, from sauerkraut to Sauerbraten (traditional German pot roast). Traditional fruits and vegetables, from parsnips and pumpkins to black salsify, sunchoke, cabbage, yellow carrots, and little-known strawberry and apple varietals, are all making a comeback. That said, “German food” is a bit of a misnomer, as traditional cooking varies greatly from region to region. Look for the “typical” dish, wherever you are, to get the best sense of German cooking.

Generally speaking, regions in the south, like Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, have held onto their culinary traditions more than states in the north. But with a little effort, you can find good German food just about anywhere you go.


In Bavaria, a traditional farmer’s Zweites Frühstück (second breakfast) found at any beer hall consists of fat white sausages, called Weisswurst, made of veal and eaten with sweet mustard, pretzels, and, yes, a big glass of Helles or Weissbier (light or wheat beer). Other Bavarian specialties include Leberkäse (literally, “liver cheese”), a meat loaf of pork and beef that can be eaten sliced on bread, and tastes a lot better than it sounds. Knödelgerichte, or noodle dishes, are also popular.


Swabia (the area surrounding Stuttgart) is generally thought to have some of the best traditional food in Germany, having held onto its culinary heritage better than other areas. Schwäbische Wurstsalat (Swabian sausage salad), a salad of sliced sausage dressed with onions, vinegar, and oil, is a typical dish, as is Käsespätzle (Swabian pasta with cheese), a noodlelike dish made from flour, egg, and water topped with cheese. Linsen mit Spätzle (lentils and spätzle) could be considered the Swabian national dish: it consists of egg noodles topped with lentils and, often, a sausage.


Perhaps the most beloved of all Bratwürste (sausages) in a country that loves sausages is the small, thin sausage from the city of Nürnberg. Grilled over a beech-wood fire, it is served 6 or 12 at a time with horseradish and sauerkraut or potato salad. Fresh marjoram and ground caraway seeds give the pork-based sausage its distinctive flavor.


Apfelwein (hard apple cider) is a specialty in and around Frankfurt. Look for an Apfelweinkneipe (cider bar), where you can spend a pleasant evening sipping this tasty alcoholic drink. Order Handkäse, traditional Hessian curdled milk cheese, to go with it. If you order Handkäse mit Musik (Handkäse with music), you’ll get it with onions. Another winner is Frankfurter Rippchen, spare ribs served with sauerkraut.


In Köln (Cologne), influenced by nearby Belgium and Holland, there’s a traditional taste for horse meat, which they use in their local version of the pot roast, Rheinische Sauerbraten. Or try the Kölsche Kaviar—blood sausage with onions. Wash these dishes down with the local beer, Kölsch.


States near the north coast, like Bremen, Hamburg, Westphalia, and Schleswig-Holstein, all have cuisines that are oriented toward the sea. Cod, crab, herring, and flatfish are all common traditional foods. Labskaus, a traditional fisherman’s dish of choice, is made from corned beef, however. The salty meal comes with accompaniments such as fried egg, herring, pickle, and red beets. For your fix of vegetables, potatoes, cabbage, and rutabagas are all served stewed or pickled. Rote Grütze, a traditional dessert, is a berry pudding often served with whipped cream.


Berlin is known for its Eisbein (pork knuckle), Kasseler (smoked pork chop), Bockwurst (large sausage), and Boulette (a kind of hamburger made of beef and pork), but its most famous dish is Currywurst, a Berlin-born snack that consists of sausage cut in pieces and covered in ketchup and curry powder, often served with a side of fries. Brandenburg’s idyllic Spreewald is famous for its pickled gherkins.


In former GDR states like Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia, the Soviet influence can be felt in the popularity of traditionally Russian dishes like Soljanka (meat soup). Rotkäppchen sparkling wines come from Saxony-Anhalt, Germany’s northernmost wine-making region (named for the company’s bottles with red tops, Rotkäppchen is also the German name for Little Red Riding Hood). Another local treat is Baumkuchen, or tree cake, which is formed by adding layer upon layer of batter on a spit and rotating it over a heat source. When you cut into the cake, it looks like the rings of a tree—hence the name.


It would be hard to visit Germany without trying this Turkish sandwich, whether for lunch, dinner, or a snack after a night out on the town. Made from some combination of lamb, chicken, pork, or beef roasted on a spit then sliced into pita pockets with lettuce, chopped tomato, yogurt, and spicy sauce, the döner kebab is the indisputable king of snack food. An inexpensive alternative to German fare, they’re available on almost any city corner.


Germans are very much attuned to seasonal fruits and vegetables. Traditional German produce like white asparagus, strawberries, plums, cherries, blueberries, and apples are for sale in supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and from sidewalk sellers. When in season, these are delicious items to add to your diet and a healthy way to keep your blood sugar up as you set off to explore Germany.

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About German Beers

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Beer, or “liquid bread” as it was described by medieval monks who wanted to avoid God’s anger, is not just a vital element of German cuisine, but of German culture. The stats say Germans are second only to the Czechs when it comes to per capita beer consumption, though they have been losing their thirst recently—from a peak of 146 liters (about 39 gallons) per head in 1980, each German now only manages 107 liters (roughly 28 gallons) every year. And yet the range of beers has never been wider.


There are over 1,300 breweries in Germany, offering more than 5,000 types of beer. Thanks to Germany’s ancient “Beer Purity Law,” or Reinheitsgebot, which allowed only three ingredients (water, malt, and hops), they are all very high quality. The water used in German beer also has to meet certain standards—a recent discussion about introducing fracking in certain parts of Germany was roundly criticized by the German Beer Association because the water in the area would become too dirty to use for making beer.


Pils: One effect of the Beer Purity Law was that Germany became dominated by one kind of beer: Pils. Invented in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in 1842, and aided by Bavarian refrigeration techniques, Pils was the first beer to be chilled and stored, thus allowing bottom fermentation, better clarity, and a longer shelf life. Today, the majority of German beers are brewed in the Pils, or Pilsner, style. German Pils tends to have a drier, more bitter taste than what you might be used to, but a trip to Germany is hardly complete without the grand tour along these lines: Augustiner in Bavaria, Bitburger in the Rhineland, Flensburger in the north.

Helles: Hell is German for “light,” but when it comes to beer, that refers to the color rather than the alcohol content. Helles is a crisp and clear Bavarian pale lager with between 4.5% and 6% alcohol. It was developed in the mid-19th century by a German brewer named Gabriel Sedlmayr, who adopted and adapted some British techniques to create the new beer for his famous Spaten Brewery in Bavaria. Another brewer, Josef Groll, used the same methods to produce one of the first German Pils, Pilsner Urquell. Spaten is still one the best brands for a good Helles, as are Löwenbräu, Weihenstephaner, and Hacker-Pschorr—all classic Bavarian beers.

Dunkelbier: At the other end of the beer rainbow from Helles is dark beer, or Dunkelbier. The dark, reddish color is a consequence of the darker malt that is used in the brewing. Despite suspicions aroused by the stronger, maltier taste, Dunkelbier actually contains no more alcohol than Helles. Dunkelbier was common in rural Bavaria in the early 19th century. All the major Bavarian breweries produce a Dunkelbier to complement their Helles.

Bock: Dunkelbier should not be confused with Bock, which also has a dark color and a malty taste but is a little stronger. It was first created in the Middle Ages in the northern German town of Einbeck, before it was later adopted by the Bavarian breweries, which had come to regard themselves as the natural home of German beer. In fact, the name Bock comes from the Bavarian interpretation of the word “Einbeck.” Bock often has a sweeter flavor, and is traditionally drunk on public holidays. There are also subcategories, like Eisbock and Doppelbock, which have been refined to make an even stronger beverage.

Kölsch: If you’re looking for lighter refreshment, then Kölsch is ideal. The traditional beer of Cologne, Kölsch is a mild, carbonated beer that goes down easily. It is usually served in a small, straight glass, called a Stange, which is much easier to wrangle than the immense Bavarian Mass (liter) glasses. If you’re part of a big party, you’re likely to get Kölsch served in a Kranz, or wreath—a circular wooden rack that holds up to 18 Stangen. Kölsch is very specific to Cologne and its immediate environs, so there’s little point in asking for it anywhere else. Consequently, the major Kölsch brands are all relatively small; they include Reissdorf, Gaffel, and Früh.

Hefeweizen: Also known as Weissbier or Weizenbier, Hefeweizen is essentially wheat beer, and it was originally brewed in southern Bavaria. It has a very distinctive taste and cloudy color. It’s much stronger than standard Pils or Helles, with an alcohol content of more than 8%. On the other hand, that content is slightly compensated for by the fact that wheat beer can be very filling. For a twist, try the clear variety called Kristallweizen, which tastes crisper, and is often served with half a slice of lemon. Hefeweizen is available throughout Germany, and the major Bavarian breweries all brew it as part of their range.


Bavaria: Helles, Dunkelbier, Hefeweizen.

The six most famous brands are also the only ones allowed to be sold at Oktoberfest: Löwenbräu, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten-Franziskanerbräu, and Hofbräu. Tegernseer Hell is also very good.

Rhineland: Kölsch, Pils.

Apart from Kölsch, which is impossible to avoid, look out for Krombacher and Bitburger.

Eastern Germany: Pils.

Radeberger and Hasseröder are two of the few beers in the region to have survived the fall of communism in former East Germany.

Berlin: Pils.

The most famous brands are Berliner Kindl, Schultheiss, and Berliner Pilsner, which are all worth trying.

Hamburg: Pils.

Astra—with its anchor-heart logo—is a cult Pils that is very much identified with Germany’s biggest port city.

Northern Germany: Pils, Bock.

The best brands include Flensburger, Jever, and, of course, Beck’s, which comes from the northern city of Bremen.

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About German Wines

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Germany produces some of the finest white wines in the world. Although more and more quality red wine is being produced, the majority of German wines are white due to the northern continental climate. Nearly all wine production in Germany takes place by the River Rhine in the southwest. As a result, a single trip to this lovely and relatively compact wine region can give you a good overview of German wines.


A Brief History

The Romans first introduced viticulture to the southernmost area of what is present-day Germany about 2,000 years ago. By the time of Charlemagne, wine making centered on monasteries. A 19th-century grape blight necessitated a complete reconstitution of German grape stock, grafted with pest-resistant American vines, and formed the basis for today’s German wines. With cold winters, a relatively northern climate, and less sun than other wine regions, the Germans have developed a reputation for technical and innovative panache. The result has traditionally been top-quality sweet Rieslings, though Germany has been making excellent dry and off-dry white wines and Rieslings in the past 30 years.

Today’s Wine Scene

For years, German wines were known by their lowest common denominator, the cheap, sweet wine that was exported en masse to the United States, England, and other markets. However, more recently there has been a push to introduce the world to the best of German wines. Exports to the United States, Germany’s largest export market, have grown steadily, followed by England, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia. Eighty-three percent of its exports are white wines. The export of Liebfraumilch, the sugary, low-quality stuff that gave German wine a bad name, has been steadily declining, and now 66% of exports are so-called Qualitätswein, or quality wines. Only 15% of exports are destined to be wine-in-a-box. This is a more accurate representation of German wine as it exists in Germany.



Müller-Thurgau: Created in the 1880s, this grape is a cross between a Riesling and a Madeleine Royale. Ripening early, it’s prone to rot and, as the grape used in most Liebfraumilch, has a less than golden reputation.

Riesling: The most widely planted (and widely famous) of German grapes, the Riesling ripens late. A hardy grape, it’s ideal for late-harvest wines. High levels of acidity help wines age well. When young, grapes have a crisp, floral character.

Silvaner: This grape is dying out in most places, with the exception of Franconia, where it is traditionally grown. With low acidity and neutral fruit, it can be crossed with other grapes to produce sweet wines like Kerner, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Bacchus, and others.


Dornfelder: A relatively young varietal. Dornfelder produces wines with a deep color, which distinguishes them from other German reds, which tend to be pale, light, and off-dry.

Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir): This grape is responsible for Germany’s full-bodied, fruity wines, and is grown in more southerly vineyards.


German wine is a complex topic, even though the wine region is relatively small. Wines are ranked according to the ripeness of the grapes when picked, and instead of harvesting a vineyard all at once, German vineyards are harvested up to five times. The finest wines result from the latest harvests of the season, due to increased sugar content. Under the category of “table wine” fall Deutscher Tafelwein (German table wine) and Landwein (like the French Vin de Pays). Quality wines are ranked according to when they are harvested. Kabinett wines are delicate, light, and fruity. Spätlese (“late-harvest” wine) has more-concentrated flavors, sweetness, and body. Auslese wines are made from extra-ripe grapes, and are even richer, even sweeter, and even riper. Beerenauslese are rare and expensive, made from grapes whose flavor and acid has been enhanced by noble rot. Eiswein (“ice” wine) is made of grapes that have been left on the vine to freeze and may be harvested as late as January. They produce a sugary syrup that creates an intense, fruity wine. Finally, Trockenbeerenauslese (“dry ice” wine) is made in tiny amounts using grapes that have frozen and shriveled into raisins. These can rank amongst the world’s most expensive wines. Other terms to keep in mind include Trocken (dry) and Halbtrocken (half-dry, or “off-dry”).


Mosel: The Mosel’s steep, mineral-rich hillsides produce excellent Rieslings. With flowery rather than fruity top-quality wines, the Mosel is a must-stop for any wine lover. The terraced hillsides rising up along the banks of the River Mosel are as pleasing to the eye as the light-bodied Rieslings are to the palate.

Nahe: Agreeable and uncomplicated: this describes the wines made from Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner grapes of the Nahe region. The earth here is rich not just in grapes, but also in semiprecious stones and minerals, and you might just detect a hint of pineapple in your wine’s bouquet.

Rheinhessen: The largest wine-making region of Germany, Rheinhessen’s once grand reputation was tarnished in the mid-20th century, when large, substandard vineyards were cultivated and low-quality wine produced. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of the very good stuff to be found, still. Stick to the red sandy slopes over the river for the most full-bodied of Germany’s Rieslings.

Rheingau: The dark, slatey soil of the Rheingau is particularly suited to the German Riesling, which is the major wine produced in this lovely hill country along the River Rhine. Spicy wines come from the hillsides, while the valley yields wines with body, richness, and concentration.

Pfalz: The second-largest wine region in Germany, the Pfalz stretches north from the French border. Mild winters and warm summers make for some of Germany’s best Pinot Noirs and most opulent Rieslings. Wine is served here in a special dimpled glass called the Dubbeglas.

Baden: Farther to the south, Baden’s warmer climate helps produce ripe, full-bodied wines that may not be well known but certainly taste delicious. The best ones, both red and white, come from Kaiserstuhl-Tuniberg, between Freiburg and the Rhine. But be forewarned: the best things in life do tend to cost a little extra.

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German Itineraries

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Germany for First Timers, 10-day Itinerary | Germany’s Northern Port Cities and Beach Towns, 8-day Itinerary | Castles in Wine Country, 8-day Itinerary

Each of Germany’s 16 states offers something different: tantalizing gastronomic adventures, medieval churches standing side by side with glassy high-rises, and local traditions kept alive despite being one of the most advanced economies in the world. Enjoy the lush countryside as you travel by train or car.


See the best Germany has to offer: stunning landscapes, charming medieval towns, and cosmopolitan cities. Make the most of your trip by taking the train between stops. You’ll enjoy views of rolling green countryside, towering wind turbines, and fairy-tale villages as you zip across the country. You’ll also skip the hassle of finding parking and paying for high-cost gasoline.

Fly in: Munich Airport (MUC), Munich

Fly out: Tegel Airport (TXL), Berlin


Fly into Munich, where you’ll spend the first three nights. Get your bearings in Bavaria’s capital city by standing in the center of the Marienplatz and watching the charming, twirling figures of the Glockenspiel in the tower of the Rathaus (town hall). Visit one of many world-class museums to see masterpieces in art, science, and technology, then wander through the sprawling Englischer Garten (English Garden). Throughout the city, you can sit elbow to elbow with genial Bavarians at long tables in sunny beer gardens, savoring a liter of cold Hefeweizen and a salty pretzel.


From Munich it’s an easy day trip to Germany’s fairy-tale castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, in Schwangau. Though the 19th-century castle’s fantastic silhouette has made it famous, this creation is more opera set than piece of history—the interior was never completed. A tour reveals why the king of Bavaria who built it earned the nickname “Mad” King Ludwig. Tickets come with a specific admission time and should be booked in advance by phone or online. You must pick them up from the ticket center in Hohenschwangau at least an hour before the tour starts—and before making your way up to the castle. Tours last about half an hour. Across the narrow wooded valley from Schloss Neuschwanstein is the ancient castle of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty, Schloss Hohenschwangau, also open for tours. Return to Munich city center in the evening and treat yourself to a hearty meal of Schweinshaxe (roasted pork knuckle) and potatoes.

Logistics: Train from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof to Füssen, then 15-minute bus ride to Hohenschwangau. From there it’s a 30-minute walk to the castle; 4 hours and 30 minutes round-trip.


Get an early start to arrive by late morning in Freiburg, one of Germany’s most beautiful historic towns. Damaged during WWII, it has been rebuilt to preserve its delightful medieval character. Residents love to boast that Freiburg is the country’s sunniest city. Its cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, built over three centuries. Explore on foot, or by bike, and look out for the Bächle, or little brooks, that run for kilometers through this bustling university town. Check in at the Colombi, the town’s most luxurious hotel, for a stay with views of the old city.

Logistics: Train from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof to Freiburg im Breisgau; 4 hours.


Freiburg puts you at the perfect point from which to explore the spruce-covered, low-lying mountains of the Black Forest. For a romp around the great outdoors, set out for Titisee, a placid glacial lake, passing deep gorges along the way. If your idea of relaxation includes getting off your feet, head toward the northern Black Forest. You can treat yourself to a spa day in tony Baden-Baden, relaxing in curative waters. In the evening return to Freiburg and rest up before the next day’s train ride to the north.

Logistics: Train from Freiburg im Breisgau to Titisee or Baden-Baden; 1 hour and 20 minutes round-trip.


Hamburg is one of Germany’s wealthiest cities and the country’s largest port. If you’re in Hamburg on Sunday, wake up early to visit the open-air Fischmarkt (fish market) and see vendors set up their fresh wares while locals dance to live music as the sun comes up. Then, take a cruise through the city’s canals with views of the Speicherstadt historic warehouse district, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Exploring the harbor you’ll see the enormous ocean liners that stop in Hamburg before crossing the Atlantic. The city offers exclusive shopping along the Junfernstieg, a lakeside promenade. Spend the night at the Adina Apartment Hotel Hamburg Michel and enjoy the amenities of your own apartment space.

Logistics: Train from Freiburg im Breisgau to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof; 5 hours and 45 minutes.


Start the day at two of the city’s most iconic symbols, the Reichstag and the nearby Brandenburg Gate (note that if you want to visit the Reichstag dome you need to register in advance). Head south to experience the moving silence in the maze of the Holocaust memorial, the Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas. Stop by Potsdamer Platz, which embodies the city’s renaissance: once a no-go zone between East and West Berlin, the square now teems with glittering towers of optimism. A bit farther south is the Topographie des Terrors, an exhibition telling the story of the Nazi takeover in harrowing detail, built where the Gestapo headquarters used to be. Head back to Potsdamer Platz, where you can hop on the double-decker public Bus 200, which travels down the grand, tree-lined boulevard Unter der Linden to the colossal Berliner Dom cathedral. You can then devote the entire afternoon to the stupendous collections of the Museumsinsel. The beautifully restored Neues Museum and the majestic Pergamon are standouts—the Pergamon Altar is closed for restoration until 2019 but the rest of the museum, including the stunning Ishtar Gate, remains open—as is the excellently curated Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum).

Spend the second day exploring the young side of Berlin, in Kreuzberg. This is a good time to rent a bicycle. Browse vintage clothing stores and indie boutiques and have lunch at Markthalle IX, home to a bevy of excellent local food stalls, then head south to Tempelhofer Park, the historic airfield-turned-park. Exit the park to Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood that has emerged as an epicenter of cool. For lunch, there are many Middle Eastern eateries as well as the popular Italian restaurant Lavanderia Vecchia. Continue east and cross the Spree over the redbrick Oberbaum Bridge, which served as a border crossing between East and West Berlin. On the other side of the river is Friedrichshain and the famous East Side Gallery, where international artists covered remnants of the Berlin Wall with colorful murals.

Logistics: Train from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to Berlin Hauptbahnhof; 1 hour and 40 minutes.


If you can tear yourself away from Berlin, take a day trip out to Potsdam and tour the opulent palaces and manicured gardens of Sanssouci Park. Schloss Sanssouci, a palace constructed to resemble Versailles, was used as a summer getaway for Frederick the Great and is a must-see. Return to Berlin in the evening to explore more of its distinct neighborhoods, like Turkish Kreuzberg or hip Prenzlauer Berg. The next day, fly home from Berlin.

Logistics: Train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof; 1 hour and 20 minutes round-trip.


The North Sea and Baltic Sea lap the north coast of Germany, feeding a sprawling network of waterways that placed the country at the heart of historically important trade routes. Take in brickwork warehouses in old port cities, soak up the sun on sandy white beaches, float in Brandenburg’s serene lakes, and cruise down the Rhine as you vacation like a local.

Fly in: Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN), Köln

Fly out: Tegel Airport (TXL), Berlin


Fly into Köln and spend your first day in the heart of the Rhineland enjoying the city. Marvel at the Kölner Dom (cathedral), a UNESCO World Heritage site and Gothic masterpiece. Take a boat cruise down the River Rhine past the picturesque Altstadt (Old Town), then celebrate your first night in Germany by sipping a Kölsch beer at one of the city’s sleek bars before getting some well-earned sleep.


Hamburg is home to more canals than Venice, and is dotted with cafés and bars overlooking the accompanying locks and bridges. Start in front of the Rathaus (city hall), a lavish structure built with the city’s riches from its history as one of the most important trading ports in Europe. Stop to eat the traditional seafarer’s favorite, Labskaus, a dish made of minced meat and served with a fried egg on top. Then head to the Speicherstadt, a UNESCO Heritage site, to see traditional redbrick warehouses, and make a stop at Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s biggest model railway—it’s a must-see, even if you’re not a train enthusiast. Spend two nights in the trendy neighborhood of Sternschanze.

Logistics: Train from Köln to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof; 4 hours.


Hop on an intercity train the next morning for a quick ride to Lübeck. Explore on foot through medieval alleyways in this 12th-century city founded by King Henry the Lion. Check out Holstentor, the western gate of the old city center, before making your way into the Altstadt, which boasts more 13th- to 15th-century buildings than the rest of Germany’s major northern cities combined. Dine on large servings of seafood specialties from oak tables at Schiffergesellschaft, an old mariners’ club. Stay the night in Lübeck.

Logistics: Train from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to Lübeck; 35 minutes.


Head east toward the city of Rostock, the former East German state’s biggest ship-building center and your base for finding the perfect stretch of sandy white beach on the Baltic Sea. From there it’s 9 miles north to the resort town of Warnemünde, a popular destination for German tourists. If you’re there on the weekend, stop by the Skybar at night to watch ship lights under the stars. Stay in a 19th-century mansion in Rostock’s Old Town, the Pental Hotel.

Logistics: Train from Lübeck to Rostock Hauptbahnhof; 1 hour and 50 minutes.


Spend your last days in Germany’s capital, Berlin, a city with a fascinating history, particularly its recent division and shifting neighborhood dynamics after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Berlin is notorious for its late-night culture. You can even get some touring in in the evening: Sir Norman Foster’s glass dome on the Reichstag (parliament building), the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum don’t close until 10 pm or later. Grab a beer and sit by the side of the Spree river, which winds through the middle of the city, before venturing out to the best nightlife in hip neighborhoods like Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Escape from the urban center the next morning to relax at one of the many lakes surrounding the city, such as Wannsee. Bring a picnic, rent a paddleboat, and swim in the cool, rejuvenating waters. Fly home the next day.

Logistics: Train from Rostock Hauptbahnhof to Berlin Hauptbahnhof; 2 hours and 40 minutes.


While frothy beers come to mind when you think of Germany, the country also produces a range of outstanding wines. It’s best known for Riesling, but take a drive through the winding countryside past ancient fortresses and you’ll get a taste of what German vineyards have to offer along with some of its history.

Fly in: Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN), Köln

Fly out: Munich Airport (MUC), Munich


Pick up a rental car in Köln and start your tour in Koblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Once you have arrived in the historic downtown area, head straight for the charming little Hotel Zum weissen Schwanen, a half-timber inn and mill since 1693. Explore the city on the west bank of the Rhine River and then visit Europe’s biggest fortress, the impressive Festung Ehrenbreitstein on the opposite riverbank.

Logistics: 90 km (60 miles); 1 hour and 10 minutes by car.


Get up early and spend the day driving along the most spectacular and historic section of “Vater Rhein.” Stay on the left riverbank and you’ll pass many mysterious landmarks on the way, including the Loreley rock, a 430-foot slate cliff named after the beautiful siren who lured sailors to their deaths with her song. Stay the night at St. Goar or St. Goarshausen, both lovely river villages.

Logistics: 35 km (22 miles); 40 minutes by car.


The former Cistercian monastery Kloster Eberbach in Eltville is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cloisters. Parts of the film The Name of the Rose, based on Umberto Eco’s novel and starring Sean Connery, were filmed here. Spend the night at the historic wine estate Schloss Reinhartshausen and sample the fantastic wines of the region.

Logistics: 70 km (45 miles), 1 hour to Eltville, 15 minutes more to monastery by car.


On Day 4, leave early so you can spend a full day in Heidelberg. No other city symbolizes the German spirit and history better than this meticulously restored, historic town. Don’t miss the impressive Schloss Heidelberg, one of Europe’s greatest Gothic-Renaissance fortresses. Then head for the Romantik Hotel zum Ritter St. Georg, a charming 16th-century inn with a great traditional German restaurant.

Logistics: 110 km (70 miles); 1 hour and 15 minutes by car.


Head to the quaint little villages in the Neckar Valley just east of Heidelberg for superb food and wine. The predominant grapes here are Riesling (white) and Spätburgunder (red). Try to sample wines from small, private wineries—they tend to have higher-quality vintages. Sightseeing is equally stunning, with a string of castles and ruins along the famous Burgenstrasse (Castle Road). Since you have two days for this area, take your time and head to Eberbach and its romantic Schloss Zwingenberg, tucked away in the deep forest a 15-minute drive outside the village. In the afternoon, continue on to Burg Hornberg at Neckarzimmern, the home to the legendary German knight Götz von Berlichingen. Stay the night here, in the former castle stables.

The next morning, continue on another 20 minutes to Bad Wimpfen, the most charming valley town at the confluence of the Neckar and Jagst rivers. Spend half a day in the historic city center and tour the Staufer Pfalz (royal palace). Soaring high above the city, the palace was built in 1182, and was a popular retreat for the emperor Barbarossa.

Logistics: 60 km (40 miles); car via the B-37 to Eberbach; 1 hour to Neckarzimmern; 15 km (10 miles), 20 minutes to Bad Wimpfen.


Devote your last day to the German Wine Route, which winds its way through some of the most pleasant landscapes in Germany: the gentle slopes and vineyards of the Pfalz. The starting point for the route is Bad Dürkheim, a spa town and proud home of the world’s largest wine cask, which holds 1.7 million liters (450,000 gallons). You can enjoy wine with lunch in the many Weinstuben here or wait until you reach Neustadt farther south, which is Germany’s largest wine-making community. Thirty of the vintages grown here can be sampled (and purchased) at the downtown Haus des Weines. If time permits, try to visit Burg Trifels in the afternoon. Near Annweiler, the castle is a magnificent Hohenzollern residence, perched dramatically on three sandstone cliffs, and makes for a great photo op. Take it easy in the evening to prepare for the next day’s drive to Munich and flight home.

Logistics: Car via A61 and A6 to Neustadt; 75 km (50 miles), 1 hour to Bad Dürkheim, then 20 km (12 miles), 20 minutes to Neustadt, then 40 km (25 miles), 40 minutes to Burg Trifels; from there it’s a 4-hour drive to Munich.

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Discovering Your German Ancestors

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More than 51 million Americans claim German ancestry, and many of these Americans have a strong desire to trace their long-lost roots. The first significant waves of immigration from Germany came after the failed democratic revolutions of 1848, a time period coupled with potato blight in parts of Germany. The numbers of German immigrants did not let up until the early 20th century. Of course, Jewish Germans fleeing fascism also left much of what had been their cultural heritage (as well as material possessions) behind. If you’ve ever been curious about wandering through your family’s ancestral village, standing in the church where your great-grandmother was baptized, or meeting the cousins who share your last name, it’s easier than ever to make it happen.


The more you can learn about your ancestors before you go, the more fruitful your search will be. The first place to seek information is directly from members of your family. Even relatives who don’t know any family history may have documents stored away that can help with your sleuthing—old letters, wills, diaries, photo albums, birth and death certificates, and Bibles or other religious books can be great sources of information. The first crucial facts you’ll need are the name of your ancestor; his or her date of birth, marriage, or death; town or city of origin in Germany; date of emigration; ship on which he or she emigrated; and where in America he or she settled.

If family resources aren’t leading you anywhere, try turning to the Mormon Church. The Mormon Church has made it its mission to collect mountains of genealogical information, much of which it makes available free of charge at www.familysearch.org. The National Archives (www.nara.gov) keeps census records, and anyone can, for a fee, get information from the censuses of 1940 and earlier.

The spelling of your family name may not be consistent through time. Over the course of history varying rates of literacy in Germany meant that the spelling of names evolved through the centuries. And on arrival in the States, many names were changed again to make them more familiar to American ears.

Once you’ve established some basic facts about your ancestor, it’s possible to start searching through German resources. Because Germany as we know it today didn’t unify until 1871, records are scattered. Lists of German ship passengers—many of which are now available online—are a good next step since they often included a person’s “last residence.” So if you can target your ancestor’s hometown, you’ll open the door to a potential trove of records. Many parish registers go back to the 15th century and document births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials.

Check out the links at the German National Tourist Office’s websites, germanoriginality.com, www.germany.travel, and if you’re tracking down living cousins, try the German phone book at DasTelefonbuch.de.


Once you arrive, you can use the computerized facilities of Bremerhaven’s German Emigration Center (www.dah-bremerhaven.de) or enlist the help of an assistant to search the passenger lists of the HAPAG shipping line, at Hamburg’s Family Research Center (www.BallinStadt.de).

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World War II Sites

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After Adolf Hitler rose to power, he led the country into war in 1939 and perpetrated the darkest crimes against humanity. Nazi Germany systematically murdered 6 million Jews and millions of others deemed undesirable, including Roma and Sinti people, the disabled, and homosexuals. You can visit sites around the country that document and provide perspective on the extent of the horror.

Topography of Terror. This documentation center in Berlin takes a deep look at the political circumstances that led to the rise of the Nazi Party and the terror tactics they used. It stands on the former site of the headquarters for state security groups such as the Gestapo and the SS.

Obersalzburg. Upon his election, Hitler set about turning Obersalzburg into the southern headquarters for the Nazi party and a retreat for its elite. Located in the Bavarian Alps, the compound included luxurious homes for party officials. Today you can walk through the extensive bunker system while learning about the Nazis’ takeover of the area.

Kehlsteinhaus. Not far from Obersalzburg you’ll find the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s private home. Designed as a 50th birthday gift for Hitler by the Nazi party, the house is also known as Adlerhorst (Eagle’s Nest). It’s perched on a cliff, seemingly at the top of the world. The house’s precarious location probably saved it from British bombing raids.

Bebelplatz. The Nazis organized mass burnings of books they considered offensive, including one in May 1933 at Bebelplatz in Berlin. Today a glass panel in the square looks down onto an underground room filled with empty shelves. A plaque also memorializes the event with the haunting words of the German poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote over one hundred years earlier that those who burn books will eventually burn people.

Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Masters of propaganda, the Nazis staged colossal rallies intended to impress the German people. Hitler considered Nürnberg so quintessentially German he developed an enormous complex here to host massive parades, military exercises, and major assemblies of the Nazi party. The Congress Hall, meant to outshine Rome’s Colosseum, is the largest remaining building from the Nazi era. It houses a Documentation Center that explores the Nazis’ tyranny.

Nürnberg Trials Memorial. War crimes trials took place here between November 1945 and October 1946. In this courthouse Nazi officials stood before an international military tribunal to answer for their crimes. The Allied victors chose Nürnberg on purpose—it’s the place Germany’s first anti-Semitic laws passed, decreeing the boycott of Jewish businesses.

KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau. This is the memorial and site of the former notorious death camp. Hitler created Dachau soon after taking power, and it became the model for all other camps. Tens of thousands of prisoners died here. Today you’ll see a few remaining cell blocks and the crematorium, along with shrines and memorials to the dead.

Bergen-Belsen. This is the concentration camp where Anne Frank perished along with more than 52,000 others. A meadow is all that remains of the camp, but it is still a chilling place to visit. The documentation center exhibits photos of the prisoners and interviews with survivors.

Other concentration camps include Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Dora-Mittelbau.