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July 2001

Out of State

The wide world of Germany beyond Bavaria's borders

Popular Mediterranean destinations may guarantee more hours of sun, but, when it comes to sheer diversity, there can’t be many countries in the world that offer a wider range of urban and rural attractions—and in such concentration—than Germany. Whether you’re planning a “grand tour” or simply seeking a change of scenery, this guide aims at putting you on the road to discovering more of the country this summer.
Where better to begin than in a town that, back in the days of Victor Hugo, was known as “Europe’s summer capital.” While a dynastic split during the Middle Ages may provide the most plausible explanation for the town’s unusual name, locals will tell you that because their town is so special it simply had to be named twice—Baden-Baden. Nestling between forest and frontier (France is a mere 15 km down the road), Baden-Baden is home to the largest casino in Europe and eleven thermal springs from which water gushes forth at 68ºC. A main spa attraction is the modern Caracalla Baths with hot/cold indoor and outdoor pools, open until 10:00 pm. Sip the salubrious mineral water in the nearby Trinkhalle before heading 5 km out of town to the ruins of Hohenbaden Palace to take in panoramic views of the surrounding Batterfelsen nature reserve and beyond to the Black Forest.
If you find a rustic, rather than ritzy, setting more appealing for taking the waters, visit Bad Teinach, some 35 km southeast of Baden-Baden. This Black Forest hideaway is home of the famous Hirschquelle (deer source), so named because a deer is alleged to have discovered the healing powers of the local springs in medieval times.
With over 7,000 km of marked trails, the Black Forest offers some of the best hiking in Germany. Three long-distant routes, all starting in Pforzheim, run north to south; the 280-km Westweg to Basel; the 230- km Mittelweg to Waldhut-Tiengen; and the 240-km Ostweg to Schaffhausen. Though the 1,493-m-high Feldberg summit is one of the most popular starting points for shorter tours, small towns like Todtmoos or Bonndorf serve as useful bases for those wanting to explore the less trodden trails.
Finally, if you’re traveling by car, one option is to ride the so-called Uhrenstrasse (Clock Street). Starting in the south, at Villingen-Schweningen, the route passes through towns connected with the clock-making industry. The Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum), as well as other nearby sites, are a must for cuckoo clock collectors.
Either a car, train or boat will carry you along the next route. The River Rhine, as it winds its way from Koblenz to Cologne, boasts some of the most breathtaking views in Germany. There is hardly a castle or cliff along the river that is not associated with a legend—for example, the Loreley maiden, who so enchanted ship captains with her singing that their vessels became caught in the currents, tearing to smithereens on the rocks. Although the maiden doesn’t pose any problems for the crew of the Cologne-Düsseldorf line, which runs most of the tourist boats these days, ticket vendors will still sell you every Pfennig’s worth of the story.
You can climb aboard these boats virtually all the way up the Rhine, but the most scenic stretches of the river are between Koblenz and Rüdesheim (taking in the famous Loreley Rock) or Bad Hönningen and Bonn, which affords views of Linz am Rhein (with its beautiful little half-timber houses—worth a short stop), Rolandsbogen (President Clinton dined alongside this grand arch 105 m above the river two years ago) and the small town of Königswinter. Nestled at the foot of the Drachenfels (dragon cliff)—there’s even a dragon museum and reptile zoo halfway up the 321-m hill—this Rhineland jewel boasts the oldest cog railway in Germany and its very own vineyards (the most northern in Germany). Like Linz am Rhein, Königswinter certainly has all the trappings of a picture postcard. Hopelessly overrun by tourists in summer though, it is perhaps best admired from the boat.
While lacking the flair of Rhineland towns to the south, Bonn is a friendly, relaxed city and one that will grow on you if you spend more than a day or so there. The former capital lives and breathes Beethoven, staging an annual International Beethoven Festival (this year September 21–October 9). Visit the Beethovenhaus at Bonngasse 20, where the composer was born, in 1770. Bonn is also home to a number of interesting museums. For a comprehensive overview of German history since 1945, head for Haus der Geschichte on the Museumsmeile. Close to the former parliament buildings, this mile of museums is now the new tourist magnet in the university city. Just a stone’s throw away is the Villenviertel (villa district), where you can catch a glimpse through the trees of some of the former ambassadors’ homes.
For the best panoramic views of Bonn (on a clear day you can see the spires of Cologne Cathedral) head up the 29-story “Langer Eugen.” This unsightly tower block, which used to house government ministries, now offers a stunning backdrop for Sunday brunch in its panoramic restaurant. Considerably more attractive is Poppelsdorf Palace in Bonn’s fashionable residential district, with its colorful Botanical Gardens. Bonn also makes a good base from which to take trips into the beautiful surrounding countryside—either east of the Rhine into the Siebengebirge (seven mountains) or to the west into the Ahr valley with its numerous vineyards, castle ruins and steep, craggy hillsides. The 25-km-long wild and romantic stretch of the valley known as the Rotweinparadies (red wine paradise) is easily explored by train, starting at Remagen on the Rhine, home of the bridge (remains only) in the famous Hollywood film, Bridge at Remagen. Alternatively, you may wish to walk the 35-km Rotweinwanderweg, which snakes its way through the vineyards between Sinzig and Altenahr.
A short ride north lies Bonn’s big brother—the Roman city of Cologne, or Köln. Almost completely destroyed in World War II, the city was quickly rebuilt and many of its old churches and monuments meticulously restored. The absolute highlight is Cologne’s formidable Gothic cathedral’s, which miraculously survived heavy bombing, remaining almost intact. For a fitness fix, scale the 509 steps of the cathedral tower to the dizzy height of 144 m. As well as home to some 100 art galleries, Cologne is graced with a Chocolate Museum. Here you’ll learn everything about the history of chocolate making (free samples included in admission price). If you’re in town mid-August, don’t miss the Musikfest am Ring (August 17 and 18). With international acts scheduled to perform on over 12 open-air stages, the city’s bracing itself for over two million visitors.
From northwest Germany it’s on to Hamburg. After Berlin the second-largest city in Germany, the Hansa city has something for everyone. Though perhaps most famous for its Reeperbahn, the greatest sight is undoubtedly the harbor—or “gate to the world,” as the Hamburgers call it. Board a ferry from the Landungsbrücke at St. Pauli and take a trip around one of the busiest harbors in the world—this one makes up as much as 10 percent of the whole surface area of the city. Alternatively, a 50-minute cruise on Aussenalster lake gives visitors a glimpse of the more luxurious side of Hamburg, with its lush gardens and exclusive villas.
Early-risers on Sunday should make tracks to the St. Pauli Fischmarkt—these days much more than just a fish market. Start in the Fischauktionshalle, famous not only for its auctions but also live jazz sessions. In September, for the first time ever, Hamburg’s HafenNacht (Harbor Night) provides an evening of music and culture—in the most unusual places, according to press material. At about DM 13 a day, the Hamburg Card allows unlimited travel by public transport and free/discounted admission to most attractions and cruises.
Hamburg is an ideal starting point for touring Schleswig-Holstein, a region that stretches as far north as the Danish border. Schleswig-Holstein is straddled by not only one but two seas—the North Sea to the west and the Baltic (Ostsee) to the east. The two coastlines are like night and day.
The North Sea coastline, known as North Frisia, is characterized by 300 km of man-made dikes, fronting almost endless marshlands. Only several meters above sea level—much even below it—the Wattenmeer (mudflats) is a haven for coastal wildlife. To experience the true “outback” of this national park, take a boat from Dagebüll or Norderhafen to one of the southern North Frisian Islands—known as Halligen—such as Hooge or Pellworm. Paths and boardwalks afford access to some of the country’s most remote and unspoiled outposts. Back on the mainland, a stroll through the pretty port of Friedrichstadt—known as “Little Amsterdam” thanks to its gabled houses and romantic canals—followed by a bracing walk along the 12-km-long sand beach at Sankt-Peter-Ording, the largest of the North Sea resorts in Schleswig-Holstein, round off the highlights of this northwestern corner of Germany. By contrast, the undulating hills and mile after mile of steep coast dotted with wide, sandy beaches typify the 200-km east coast. Try out any of the most popular resorts like Timmendorfer Strand, Grömitz or Haffkrug for a great day by the sea. Be warned, though: Some of the more modern resorts, such as Damp 2000, Heiligenhafen or Sierksdorf, with their monstrous, high-rise hotels, are worlds apart from the sleepy North Frisian Islands and not suited to everyone’s tastes.
In terms of tourism, the bleak, wind-swept capital of Schleswig-Holstein is primarily a gateway to Scandinavia. Kiel’s saving grace, however, is the Kieler Woche—the largest sailing event in the world, held every June. The city is also center stage for the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (July 7–September 2), with concerts held in churches, castles and even barns!
To discover where some of the best marzipan in the world is manufactured, take a trip to medieval Lübeck, where the almond-flavored confectionery has been made since the 16th century. Marzipan is sold throughout the city, its wrappers bearing a picture of the famous Holstentor. Lübeck’s unmistakable hallmark, this fortified gate dominates the entrance to the old town center, which is surrounded by water. The Baltic city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, putting it in the same league as Versailles, the Galapagos Islands and the Egyptian pyramids. Simply duck your head, bend your shoulders and advance along the narrow nooks and alleyways of a city that is called the “Queen of the Hanseatic League.”
Another highlight of Schleswig-Holstein is Plön, dominated by a late Renaissance castle and center of the so-called Holsteinische Schweiz (Swiss Holstein), between Kiel and Lübeck. This landscape might not boast hills as high as those in Switzerland, but Bungsberg, all of 164 m, is the highest natural summit of Germany’s most northern state. The television tower affords views over rippling lakes, beech woods and hills as far as the eye can see.
If lakes, forests and bracing dips in the Baltic are your bag, then West Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) is the best address in North Germany. Whether you take the car or train to the far northeastern tip of the land, you’re bound to pass through Schwerin, which, after Rostock, is the second-largest town in the former East German state. A highlight of Schwerin is the former residence of the Mecklenburg dukes, which stands majestically on an island that is linked to the mainland by a bridge. This and the numerous towers and half-timber houses of the old town lend Schwerin an almost fairy-tale atmosphere, but the enjoyment doesn’t stop there: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has far more to offer and further treasures lie just down the road, in the Seenplatte—a lowland plain of lakes, of which there are said to be over two thousand.
The largest of all Mecklenburg’s lakes is Müritz, best explored by boat, which can be boarded in Waren. Several-hour excursions can also be taken down one of the adjacent canals. If you travel these far enough, as they criss-cross between the lakes to form the Müritz-Elbe Waterway, you’ll end up back in Hamburg—100 km away. Waren is also an excellent base for touring the surrounding Müritz national park—a paradise for walking, fishing and swimming. The other main nature reserves here are the Nossentiner/Schwinzer Heide (heathland) and the Feldberg lake district. Incidentally, don’t be surprised to find many of the smaller lakes (particularly where there are no kiosks or cafés) absolutely deserted, save for the occasional nudist—even in the middle of summer. A far cry from hunting for a free patch by any of the lakes near Munich!
For some of the most beautiful countryside along the whole of the country’s Baltic coast, the island of Rügen is the place to go. The largest of Germany’s islands and connected to the mainland by a causeway, much of Rügen and its surrounding waters are either parks or nature reserves. You’ll also find some of the country’s finest beaches here, between Binz and Thiessow. The former is the largest and most attractive resort on the island, its pretty white-washed villas having undergone a major face lift since the mid-1990s. For a wonderful panoramic view of Rügen, climb the Jagdschloss (hunting lodge) at Granitz, south of Binz.
One fascinating curiousity here is the “Giant of Prora.” Built by the GDR’s Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which intended it as a holiday center, this 4.5-km-long concrete colossus on prime beaches was never actually completed. These days it houses a youth hostel together with a museum documenting the building and the use of the complex in GDR times, but the rest still lies bare, its future uncertain.
Finally, a good 12-km hike from the cliffs of Königsstuhl—the island’s highest point—to Sassnitz affords some spectacular views. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern certainly is a unique natural wonder and well worth traveling from far and wide to visit. Perhaps this is what inspired German author Fritz Reuter to remark: “This must be where paradise once was.”
If you have time to spare in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, visit its capital, Rostock. A major Baltic port and shipbuilding center, Rostock has come a long way since reunification, over ten years ago, with much of its center now made into an attractive pedestrian precinct. Nearby is the popular beach resort and fishing harbor of Warnemünde. Stroll along the Alter Strom promenade—the best place for sampling fresh local smoked fish.
No trip to the east of Germany would be complete without including Berlin. Germany’s reinstated capital has more to offer visitors than almost any other city in Europe and, with the pace at which changes are taking place, there could be no more exciting time to visit. To get an overview of the city, hop onto a double-decker bus. The number 100 bus passes 18 major sites on its way from Bahnhof Zoo—the central station named after its famous neighbor—to the up-and-coming Prenzlauer Berg district via Alexander Platz, center of the former East German capital. Alternatively, a cruise along the River Spree will take you past many of these sights as well as picturesque villages, parks and castles as the boat slowly puts down the outer-city waterways.
Further details on all these tours can be obtained from the central Tourist Information Office in the Europa Center next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Finally, if you plan to visit Berlin in July, visit the controversial Körperwelten (Body Worlds) exhibition at the Ostbahnhof and make allowances for traffic barriers everywhere on July 21, when millions of techno freaks flock to take part in the annual “Love Parade.”
For a change of scenery slightly closer to Munich, take the Romantische Strasse from Würzburg to Dinkelsbühl. Surrounded by forests and vineyards, the university city of Würzburg is dominated by the Marienberg fortress, which affords panoramic views across the River Main. Another city landmark, the Residenz, is one of the most splendid Baroque palaces in Germany and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. To sample the local food and drink, visit the Burgerspital at Theaterstrasse 19. Originally a medieval hospice, now a home for senior citizens, its restaurant offers a wide selection of Franconian wines (including its own vintage) and beers and serves excellent house specialties—a delicious place to retire!
From a town that Goethe counted among Germany’s most beautiful, travel to one has become very much the victim of its own popularity—Rothenburg ob der Tauber. With its cobbled lanes, winding alleys and picture-book houses, this is, for many people, the epitome of a medieval German town. Bear that in mind if you plan to stay over without booking accommodation in advance. Incidentally, wherever you plan to stay, don’t forget about the extensive network of youth hostels across the country, which are generally clean and well run (note, however, that Bavarian Jugendherbergen don’t accept single travelers over 26). Walk along the town’s walls, taking in 12 towers and beautiful views over the Tauber valley.
If Rothenburg delights you, Dinkelsbühl to the south will not fail to please either. Another walled town—this one has almost 30—of cobbled streets and crooked gables, Dinkelsbühl is a veritable open-air museum. By no means journey’s end, the Romantische Strasse continues as far as Füssen on the Austrian border, close to King Ludwig II’s enchanting Neuschwanstein Palace.
Castles, churches, museums, thermal baths, beaches, islands, forests, vineyards, lakes and rivers: these are the highlights of a country steeped in culture, history and scenic beauty—all waiting to be explored this summer. <<<

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