By Jennifer Mullen
If you are planning a trip to Germany, no doubt you can imagine yourself sitting on a warm evening in one of Munich’s 60 beer gardens, sipping a giant frothy beer with a friendly local named Klaus, who, of course, will be slapping his leder-hosen clad thigh, in the spirit of “Gemuetlichkeit” (or hospitality as it is known in English). However, as much as the Bavarian stereo type does appeal to many tourists, particularly around the time of the World famous Oktoberfest celebrations, there is far more to Germany than oompah bands and cuckoo clocks.
Imagine you had access to your own German tour guide: someone who had intricate knowledge of this infinitely varied country, rich in castles, splendid architecture and vibrant cities, with their own very distinct culture and vibe. How would you begin to narrow down the essential sights on the established tourist trail, along with the less obvious hidden gems? The following suggestions are, in our opinion, a good place to start. So, in the spirit of German efficiency, grab a pen and paper to rank your preferences accordingly.
Any city guide will tell you that a trip to Germany will excite any amateur historian. If you are fascinated by the Roman period, a trip to Germany’s oldest city Trier should not be missed, with its UNESCO world heritage sites, such as amphitheatres, bridges and baths. At the Imperial baths, you can even descend into the subterranean labyrinth and imagine the Romans being vigorously scrubbed with pumice stones, as they conducted business, gambled and relaxed. Another town founded by the Romans, Regensburg, offers tourists the chance to experience its long history, simply by wandering through intricate streets and medieval squares, There is even a torture chamber at the old Town hall!
No trip to Germany would be complete without a trip to the capital. Berlin is a city of many contrasting faces, such as the Teutonic grandeur of the Reichstag (Parliament), the legacy of the intellectuals, artists and innovators of the Weimar Republic and the reputation for decadence in the 1920’s (now one of Europe’s most vibrant night life scenes). Not to be missed is the Mauermuseum or Museum on Checkpoint Charlie, which is a fascinating insight into a city divided by the Cold War, and a walk along the former Berlin Wall.
3) Romance and Castles
If you wish to channel your inner Cinderella, then Germany will make the fairy tale come alive for you. It is estimated that Germany's cities house over 25,000 castles, ranging from ruins right up to the magnificent jewel in the crown, Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, which has an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year. If following the Pied Piper of tourism doesn’t appeal to you, how about spending a night in Sababurg Castle, which is said to have inspired Sleeping Beauty. There are also the ruins of the magnificent castle at Heidelburg, whose wine cellar has the largest barrel in the world, holding 55,345 gallons of wine!
4) Surf’s Up
Fancy watching some surfing? How about having your own taste of Maui right in the heart of Munich? River surfing has been a sport which has taken place on a manmade river in Munich’s English Garden for the last 30 years and the Eisbach at 500km from the nearest coast is said to be the world’s largest urban surf spot. The wave is between 0.9 and 1.1 metres high and 12 metres wide and it is estimated that up to 100 surfers a day brave the chilly waters, which never go above 15 degrees Celsius. And, just to complete the Maui feeling, it even has its own cocktail bar!
5) Soccer Action
It can be safely said that Germans are soccer crazy and even more so since securing their 4th World Cup victory in 2014. If you can get the opportunity to watch a football game in Germany, the stadium atmosphere is electric. Holding the crown as the most successful soccer team in German history is Bayern Munchen. Having won a record 24 national titles and 17 national cups, it is estimated that the club has over 187,000 members and 3,202 fan clubs, which makes it the club with the largest number of organised supporters in Germany.
6) The Need for Speed
The German Autobahn is the fastest freeway in the world and is also known as the “last refuge for high-speed drivers”. Experiencing a top speed ride on the Autobahn is a must for those whose idea of a great holiday is adrenaline fuelled. Of course, not every stretch of motorway is unlimited and there are strict rules around busy urban areas. Germans have a popular saying: “Freie Fahrt fuer freie Buerger” (Unrestricted driving for unrestricted citizens). If this concerns you, it is interesting that there are statistically less accidents on the German Autobahn than in many other Western countries. This could be down to the high quality of German roads, or perhaps the fact that drivers follow intensive training and largely follow the rules!
7) Just plain quirky
If you are the sort of traveller who ditches the guide book and craves the weird and wonderful experiences, some of these festivals may appeal. Right up in the North of Germany a town called Brunsbuettel hosts the annual “Wattoluempiade” or Mud Olympics . Taking place on muddy tidal flats common to the north German coast, events include handball, football, volleyball and mud sledding. Alternately, what could also be more fun than pulling a 16 tonne bus? If the answer to this is “nichts” (or nothing), then hop on board at the annual Wolfenbuettel bus pulling championships. Organisers claim that this sport, since its establishment in 2005 has also become popular in Austria, Switzerland and even China!
No trip to Germany would be complete without talking about the German national obsession of beer drinking. In 2013 German breweries sold 94.6m hectolitres of beer, with Germans consuming on average107.2 litres per head per year (although the Czech Republic continues to reign as beer drinking champion of Europe, at an impressive 145 litres per head!). Germany’s oldest brewery is the Weihensteplan. Other famous breweries around Germany can be found in Leipzig and in Frankfurt, where it is said that German writer Goethe found much of his inspiration. The Veltins football arena even has a 5 km long underground beer-line, supplying them with roughly 52,000 litres of beer on match days.
9) Eagle eye view
The German eagle is an old national symbol for the kings and emperors of Germany; indulge in this royal way by getting an eagle’s eye view, in this case by cable car. The city of Cologne, famous for its Gothic and Romanesque spires is best seen from the air in the famous Seilbahn which at only 6.50 Euros will not leave you feeling short changed. At 2962 metres above sea level, Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, also has a rather impressive cable car. It also boasts Germany’s highest church and plenty of deckchairs for soaking up the sun in both summer and winter.
10) A simple sausage
Germany is famous for its sausages and what could be better than simply grabbing this traditional snack from a Wurstimbiss (street sausage stand), accompanied by a grand dollop of mustard and settling down to watch the world go by. Germans are very proud of this national dish and sausages embody centuries of national, regional and local history. The most famous sausage is the Bratwurst, which in some places is sliced and sprinkled liberally with curry sauce, making a “Currywurst”. There is even a museum in Berlin dedicated to the humble Currywurst. If you want a veritable sausage safari there are also Blutwurst (blood sausage), Frankfurter Bockwurst, Bregenwurst, Knackwurst, Teewurst and Leberwurst! So sit comfortably and don’t forget to wish your companion a “Guten Apetit” or ”Mahlzeit”!
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