Germany is more than just Berlin and Munich
I get that students think about beaches, sun worshiping and heavy drinking during the summer vacation. Yes, when you are on a whirlwind tour of all Europe there is a point to just hit the highlights, but why are there no Germany centered tours? It is fairly easy to see tours spending a few week in Greece or Italy or even England; but not Germany. Most that I read that even hit Germany do just Munich and Berlin with Prague in the middle.
Germany is a rich and varied land. It wasn’t even one country until 1871 and the regional differences are great. They have difference feels, festivals and beers. It may not be as warm and beach-ridden as the south, this is still a wonderful place to travel. I can’t even do the country justice in a blog post, but I will try to hit the highlights as I see them photo-tour style.
Even I have not touched all of Germany. Here are just places that I have been, some links to Wikipedia for the more obscure places and where I don’t have photos of my own.
Ok, I will get the big two out of the way first. Yes, Berlin is the capital. Yes, it is a really awesome historical place. Don’t get me wrong, I do really enjoy going and wandering in Berlin. I may even do a full Berlin post at some point. It is just that, for a lot of people, it is the only few of the country. There is plenty to do in Berlin, but it is not the whole of the country.
I get the feeling that the image that most Americans at least have of Germany is Munich. Beer halls and lederhosen with all the Bavarian trappings. Bavaria tends to be a lot like Texas, in that they think themselves Bavarian first then maybe German. Bavaria has a very distinct regional culture. And just seeing Munich does not give you an idea of the rest of the country, just like a few nights in Houston is not enough to judge the whole of the US.
Keeping with the biggest cities let’s start in the north. My first taste of Germany was Hamburg. It is big and modern port town, that is really cool to walk around in. It used to be part of the Hanseatic league and retains the merchant flair. The early morning Fischmarkt is a sight to see, and if you are into the seedier bits the Reeperbahn is nearby. The city is centered around two lakes and has a lot of open green area. Outside of the heavily built up center are places like Blankenese that retain their old world riverside feel. I have not been back to Hamburg in the days of digital cameras, so I have no pictures to share; but it holds a special place in my heart as my gateway to this country.
The Rhein cuts through a large portion of western Germany. There are a large number of cities on this river and forms a backbone of the economy. The stretch of river between Koblenz and Bingen is a great place to take a cruise. It is about 3 hours one direction and offers many views of castles and cute towns as well as the Lorelei Cliffs. There is a well known song of these cliffs about a siren who sings sailors to their deaths on rocks.
Further south is the city of Worms. This city was where Martin Luther was tried for his beliefs and in ancient times the place associated with the Nibelungenlied, which later sourced a Wagner play.
Cologne, Trier and Bonn
Cologne is one of the biggest cities in Germany and has one of the most massive cathedrals. It is so big that I have yet to manage a single shot of the entire gothic gargoyle encrusted thing. Cologne is a big modern city in my opinion, but it has it’s own German flair. There is a famous bitter bier called Kölsch that comes from here. It is the center of media productions in Germany and has a bit of that flair as well. There are a number of places within easy reach of the city and a chocolate museum in town.
Bonn is an odd animal. It feels smaller to me than it actually is. It is a historical richly cultural city in it’s own right; but most well known for being the capital city during the time when Germany was split. It does not have the air of officialness that I expected. Bonn was a pleasant welcoming place, but due to its previous capital-ness has a lot of culture to offer as well. Castle Drachenfells is a ruined castle way up on a hill near the small town of Königswinter an easy train ride away.
Down the river Moselle on the Luxembourg border is the town of Trier. Trier is one of the oldest places in Germany and was built by the Romans. The hulking Black Gate still dominates and is an impressive roman ruin so far from Rome. I have only ever been on day trips to Trier, but the Moselle river offers a lot of nearby castles and wine.
Charlemagne and Aachen
In english we call the man by his french name Charlemagne, but the Germans name him Karl der Grosse (Carl the Great). He was crowned in Aachen on Christmas Day. His remains are in the Cathedral here. Aachen like a lot of places in Germany has this rich ancient history, but still a modern identity and presence.
Heidelberg is often actually well known by Americans due to the military presence here. There is a fantastic castle, the oldest German University and a region full of hiking to entice travelers.
Bavaria Outside of Munich
Bavaria has other places to offer than Munich. Nurnberg was selected as the center of the National Socialist party in the 30’s because they considered it the most iconic of German towns.There is a castle and cathedral to see. It is the site of one of the most famous Christmas Markets in the country. The local Nurnberger sausages are small enough you get 3-4 of these spicy little guys on a roll.
Bamberg, as a friend reminds me, has one of the highest number of breweries per person as well as its Townhall built in the middle of the river.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a charming touristy place off the main train lines in the west of Bavaria. It retains it’s middle ages architecture and is a part of the so called romantic road.
Back to my adopted home in the south west of Germany, the Black Forest. Look for another post specifically about this area soon, as well as the extra photos in the gallery. Freiburg is the gateway to the high forest with it’s alpine lakes and skiing. This was the region of the Brother’s Grimm, so the fairy tales come to life walking around the forest.
I hope this has given you an urge to get out and see more than just Berlin and Munich. The country is so varied that even at this highlight level I feel like I have done some regions a disservice, and some areas left out completely because I haven’t been there. Although I enjoy time out of the country, there is so much to see here as well in such a compact place. Here is a gallery of even more pictures.
If there are tour companies that do Germany centered tours, please post a comment about them. Any favorite German places that I have missed?
February 23, 2013 @ 8:57 pm
I know you wrote this like forever ago, but I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that somebody has been arguing that case. You are absolutely right, Germany is MUCH MORE than Bavaria and Berlin, and I am very tired of being asked about Lederhosen and Oktoberfest when I’m abroad, because that is as different and strange for me as it is to any non-German. Instead I love my Labskaus and the tides in the North Sea. So thank you for this post!!
February 24, 2013 @ 8:27 pm
I am glad you read it. I really like Germany and how regionally different it is. There are a few posts on my other travel site in Frankfurt if you are interested. http://ctrl-alt-travel.com/europe/germany/applewine-tavern-lunch-in-frankfurt/ for example.
The north is a place I know so little about. I spent some time many years ago in Hamburg, but since then mostly in Baden. What is Labskaus? Where are you from?
February 25, 2013 @ 2:26 am
I am from Hamburg. Labskaus is a traditional dish there based on mashed poatoes, beetroot and corned beef with pickles and herring in it. Strange, but good. Freaky looking. Not as easy to sell as Schnitzel or Spätzle I’m sure… The North is absolutely worth going to. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is my favorite Bundesland – have you been?
November 5, 2011 @ 7:15 pm
Yes, Trier… We have been there only one night, but what a photos… night photos. I have published them in my travel blog 🙂
November 7, 2011 @ 7:08 pm
I like Trier, but haven’t been in so many years.
November 16, 2010 @ 4:57 am
Just by chance I found your blog, when I googled expat in Freiburg. I plan to be one as well in another year. Being married to a Freiburger I saw this day coming and as much as I am excited, I am also terrified to leave my hometown of NYC! My love for Freiburg is deep so I hope I won’t be too terribly homesick. Thank you for this blog, I find it very comforting to hear your excitement.
November 17, 2010 @ 7:02 pm
Ooo cool. Welcome. Freiburg is pretty cool. And there are a number of english speakers here if you want in on that scene. Go into town on a sunny Saturday and the center is at least as packed as a normal block of NYC. Though it only extends a block in either direction. I like NYC for the european flair of it, but Freiburg is still way smaller.
I hope you enjoy it when you get here. Certainly keep in touch as the time gets closer.
August 23, 2010 @ 5:53 am
I kind of think the Germans are good about visiting their own country and the edge bits get people from the neighboring countries. Just the rest of the world has yet to discover this place. Thanks for the comment.
August 22, 2010 @ 2:37 pm
I have been to some of these places and others were new so thanks! Germany SHOULD have more people visiting. After being in places like Koblenz or towns like Fulda and Tecklenburg, you realize just how much potential there is for tourism that no one is taking advantage of at the moment.
August 22, 2010 @ 12:36 pm
Indeed. I was talking to a tour guide on one of the group tours asking him about why he thought there weren’t more tours here. We kind of guessed that people with limited time just pick warm or drinking(hence Berlin/Munich). And that the romanticism PR of Germany is low compared to Italy or France.
Yeah, even I noticed while writing this how little I have been to other places here. There are whole sections that I haven’t seen enough to even write about. My list is getting longer too.
August 22, 2010 @ 12:32 pm
I know Deutsche Welle, but what is Hin und Weg? It sounds interesting from the name.
August 22, 2010 @ 12:30 pm
Thanks. Yes you do need to see more Germany. Come, visit, travel.
August 22, 2010 @ 12:29 pm
Hmm.. yes Bavaria is part of southern germany. The other parts are Baden, where I live, and Schwabenland (these two make up the state of Baden-Würtemburg, but are different culturally. Each has a distinct feel to it, as does each area within the region. To generalize though, I find the southern german pace to be slower and more relaxed, but remember this is still germany it is not latin-style relaxed. Linguistically the dialects are softer and slur more than the harder edge further north. More fish is along the coast than down next to the mountains. I really haven’t traveled much in the north though.
August 22, 2010 @ 12:09 pm
Wow an impressive breadth of countries on a motorbike. Glad you enjoy coming here, although Germany has its share of rude and unpleasant people as well. Despite which it is an oft overlooked place to be.
August 22, 2010 @ 3:45 am
I’m so glad to see this post and that you mentioned Aachen and Bamberg, both really wonderful towns. It totally frustrates me that Americans only see Germany as “Bavaria.” One only has to read up on German history a bit to realize that this country is a fascinating and endless treasure trove. My list of German places to go keeps getting longer and longer. 🙂
August 21, 2010 @ 11:53 pm
I loved Germany. We lived in the UK and did quite a few short trips as well as a couple of longer ones. On the weekend trips we would do the bigger cities, but on the longer trips we would head for all the little villages and towns. There is so much history and culture. We now live on the other side of the world but still have a tendency to watch Deutche Welle – Hin und Weg. Every time we watch an episode we add more places that we want to see.
August 21, 2010 @ 10:58 pm
Ok I definitely need to see more of Germany since I’ve only spent a few days going through Munich, Rothenburg and Heidelberg….and it was about 14 years ago. Great pictures!!
August 21, 2010 @ 9:22 pm
loved the article.. what are your thoughts on the differences between northern and southern Germany (bavaria?)
August 20, 2010 @ 10:55 pm
I travelled the whole of Europe, from Norway to Greece, from Scotland to Rumania, on my motorbike, and indeed: Germany is a very beautiful country. Better stil: the people are friendly, polite and welcoming. In fact, after my travels I decided that the Germans are my favorite people.