Recovered from World War II and the subsequent partitions, Germany is one of the largest countries and the economic and cultural capital of Europe. With its wide variety of landscapes and rich heritage seen through the castles, the country comes as a delight to the discerning travellers of today.
If the travel bug has already bitten you and you are someone who can pack your bags to wake up in a new place, to a new sunrise and to a different colour of the sky and fancy a European holiday then look no further than Germany. France may have its buildings and the rivers and the media hype around the romance and the love for fashion. Britain, Switzerland and Italy shine on as preferred destinations of many looking to go on a shopping spree in London or taste the wines in Italy or scale the Alps in Switzerland. Germany offers you all that and much more. In short: It’s maximum Europe.
Frankfurt, the gateway
What better a place to start the journey than the centre of Europe, Frankfurt am Main. This small city with a mere population of 750,000 is the economic capital of Europe with the headquarters of the European Central Bank. The best comparison would be Mumbai sans the millions of people. The old city with its cathedral and the medieval Roemer may be familiar to a football aficionado who saw the world cup winning German Mannschaften wave. With a little bit of planning and luck you can catch a game of football in the Waldstadion or the ‘Commerzbank Arena’ as it is popularly known today.
The Rhine Main area that surrounds this fast paced city is worth discovering. Mainz which is easily reachable by the local trains from Frankfurt is not just the hometown of Gutenberg who found the printing press but offers a colourful carnival in the month of February or exquisite wines like Riesling to excite your senses.
A train journey by the Intercity- Express (ICE) of just over an hour takes you to Cologne which started off a Roman garrison. The Cologne Cathedral with its spires touching 157 metres was for many centuries the highest building in Germany, if not Europe and has been a ‘work in progress’ since 1248 A.D. This town with its young population is popular among media houses and entrepreneurs alike.
You may have heard the word pub crawling from London downtown. Well for the culturally thirsty, time you tried castle crawling as Germany offers a visitor a rich variety of castles from various periods. Many of these like Heidelberg are an all-time favourite among tourists offering not just great vistas pleasing to the eye but also the wine accompanied with gourmet delights.
Sip on a glass of Riesling from Ruedesheim as you cruise on the Rhine passing by legendary rock formations like the ‘Loreley’ while the above is a something one should save for the spring and summer, visiting the towns of Rothenburg ob der Tauber or Neuschwanstein Castle can be an experience for the winter. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a town right out of the Middle Ages with a castle housing a torture chamber among other things transports you to another space and time with stark reminiscences of the gory past the city had to go through. Visiting Augsburg which started off as a Roman settlement in early times and is today famous for its gothic buildings and the Fuggerei, the first recorded settlement for the poor. The famous Fugger and Welser merchants were responsible for its development in the 15th and 16th centuries as a key European baking and commercial centre.
The elaborate Neuschwanstein Castle, today a very popular tourist attraction, is built atop a rock ledge over the Poellat Gorge in the Bavarian Alps by order of Bavaria’s King Louis II., called “Mad Ludwig”. Left unfinished at Louis’s death in 1886, this lavish stronghold is an eccentric romantic reconstruction of a medieval castle, complete with walled courtyard, indoor garden, spires, towers and an artificial cave. Its two-story throne room is modelled after a Byzantine basilica, stars decorate its blue vaulted ceiling, which is supported by red porphyry columns. As Louis was a patron of Richard Wagner, the wall paintings throughout the castle depict Wagnerian themes as the life of Parsifal. You will immediately notice that the castles shown in Disney’s movies and fascinated you as a child turn into reality.
For somebody who isn’t happy with just biting into a lip smacking ‘Black Forest Cake’ the region of the Black Forest offers the more active visitor trekking tours through quaint villages and rolling landscapes and the possibility to end the stay atop a hilltop sipping the wine of the region and tasting the aromatic cheese that the region has to offer.
The old city of Munich
Munich, capital and largest city of the state Bavaria, is the third largest city in Germany with a population of 1.4 m. Its location along the River Isar, 50 km north of the edge of the Alps, is unique. Derived from ‘home of the monks’, Munich traces its origin to the eighth century Benedictine monastery at Tegernsee.
Munich has a lot more to offer that doesn’t in fact take place in October. You can either enjoy this human carnival or the largest single gathering of people in the world at this festival that revolves around beer and food or choose to visit the city that offers from old town, baroque and rococo churches to a great collection of art. Munich has a long history as a centre of arts, music, especially the opera. There are some outstanding museums and art galleries as Glypthothek, the Staatsgallerie, Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek.
Berlin, the capital
For the young and trendsetters, a visit to Germany will be incomplete without having been to Berlin. With its large, multicultural population, Berlin is like a sea full of colourful fishes. It has, for instance, the largest population of people of Turkish origin outside Istanbul. You could spend days trying to discover the numerous scenes of Berlin, be it the music scene, the fashion or the architecture. Try and catch a glimpse of the Berlin wall that divided this wonderful city for more than 25 years. Berlin is city with a different spirit, a different pace and a different way of life. You can choose to fine dine in the restaurants that the present capital of unified Germany has to offer or crawl through the small bars in the area of Prenzlauer Berg which is a hit among students.
Just outside Berlin is Potsdam, the erstwhile imperial residence from the times of Frederic the Great with the Sans Soucci Palace and its gardens. Back in downtown Berlin you will be surprised to find an old ruined church, the Gedächtniskirche or the Church of Remembrance as a monument to serve as a constant reminder of the World War II. Berlin was utterly and totally reduced to ashes and this monument plays an important role in building the German psyche which proudly says: Never again war! This monument, more relevant now than even before, stands and stares at you and just by its presence drives the point, why it is so important to retain peace in the world.
On the south west of Berlin lies the region of Saxony with its charming capital Dresden. Dresden, although very much in the heart of Germany, was influenced by the architecture of Florence, therefore also called the Florence of the Elbe. Alchemists in their search for making gold ended up perfecting the fine art of porcelain making which was till then achieved only by the Chinese. Today Porcelain from Meissen stands on the same level as Chinese porcelain and has actually made a name for itself. Baroque art and architecture can best be enjoyed by walking through the old city of Dresden. The three original bridges that span the river Elbe are a visual delight. Castles like Schloss Pillnitz dot the riverbanks of the Elbe and are worth a visit. So is the traditional ‘Christmas market’ with only small range of modern lighting, in stark contrast to the modern bright Christmas markets that Germany offers in December.
Further north a different world awaits you. Hamburg the port city at the mouth of the Elbe River offers rich nightlife and commercial history. Hamburg was the entrance to the world for many years before aeroplanes made air travel an almost mundane thing. Hamburg with its landing bridges bear testimony to millions of people arriving or leaving the country for better opportunities to faraway places like America. It’s a place from where you could embark on a cruise as in the old times. Hamburg is truly international. You will see different nationalities walking around and it’s also a city where a large number of people speak English, making you realise how close you are to the English speaking regions of Europe.
Germany is what India is to Asia. It is the economic powerhouse that moves Europe, has cultural capitals and touristic highlights, a creative and open society and as you may have perceived by now, a destination for every season and reason. It’s a melting pot of European cultures, tongues and cuisine. It is truly the heart of Europe. Willkommen in Deutschland! Welcome to Germany!
How to reach
Frankfurt airport, the busiest in Germany, being the economic capital of the country is well connected with countries across the globe
Where to stay
Germany has no shortage of great accommodations, from beautiful budget hostels to swish four-star digs. One tip, however, is that reserving a room, even if only for the first night of your stay, is the best way to ensure a smooth start to your trip