Being one of the world’s leading nations from an economic and cultural standpoint, Germany is a country that few Euro travelers miss on their journey through Europe. One quick look around this sizable country and its no wonder: from the medieval castles and villages of Southern Germany, to the grit and bleeding edge art scene that can be found in the federal capital of Berlin, there are plentiful opportunities to connect with one of Europe’s mainstay cultures.
Germany has plenty to boast around when it comes to nature as well, with the heights of Bavaria providing world-class hiking and skiing/boarding at the appropriate times of year, verdant forests teeming with wildlife, and under-appreciated sea resorts that provide respite from the mucky heat of mid-summer. There is much to love about this nation, as when you combine its history, present day culture, its rich culinary traditions, environmental stewardship, and even the freewheeling sense of exhilaration one gains from flying down the Autobahn, you’ll find a place that will be difficult to leave when the time comes to continue your European explorations.
What To Do
Upon arrival in Germany’s best known city, the first sight you’ll likely to recognize and want to visit is none other than the Berlin Wall. Once comprising the literal and figurative divide between a free and liberal Europe, and the totalitarian, Communist Europe controlled by the Soviet Union like a marionette compelling a puppet to move, its ruins symbolize the victory of freedom over suppression.
In the years during and after its reign, the Berlin Wall has also played host to a seemingly endless supply of street art inspired by both the alienation caused by the wall’s presence, and the liberty regained by its subsequent destruction.
After enjoying the edgy urban coolness that Berlin offers its residents and visitors (plan on at least 4 days here), head west to see the Cologne Cathedral, which is situated in the city of the same name. With its construction started in 1248, its designers had aimed to build a Christian church worthy of the Holy Roman Emperor that ruled the region at the time.
It turns out that their plans were a bit too ambitious given the manpower and funds available at the time, as construction was eventually halted more than 200 years later in 1473. This story does have a happy ending though, as enthusiasts in the 19th century finally completed construction from the original blueprint in 1880 (more than 400 years after the initial stop in construction, and almost 650 years after the ground was first broken). Though the imperial leaders that it was dedicated to were long dead by this time, the scale of this cathedral is certainly worthy of royalty, designed on a gargantuan scale in the Gothic style. Its front facade with its 157 metre high twin spires is largest of any church in the world, while its choir section inside is also the largest of any medieval-era church on Earth.
If you time your trip right, you’ll end up in Munich in late September. It is at this time that the largest fair in the world goes off, with Oktoberfest offering plenty of beer suds, bratwurst, and lederhosen for all in attendance. The first order of business (well before your arrival here) is to secure accommodation, as your enjoyment of the debauchery that goes on here will be considerably lessened if you don’t have a bed to crash in as the sun begins to rise over the German landscape.
Stemming from the celebration of a royal wedding in the early 19th century, the world’s biggest party has retained its jubilant embrace of beer since that time, persevering through disease outbreaks, wars, and a terrorist attack in 1980. A parade opens proceedings, and is accompanied by a midway with a variety of rides. If you’re going, bring plenty of water to pace yourself, stay within a specific limit, but be sure to have fun! After you’ve slept off the three day hangover that’s sure to result from this alcohol-drenched affair, begin your time in the Bavaria region of Southern Germany with a visit to the fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle. This iconic structure is actually a relatively recent addition to the German landscape, being built in the 19th century in the Romanesque Revival style by Ludwig the Second, the king of Bavaria in the mid to late 1800’s. 6,000 people per day visit this picturesque attraction, which served as the inspiration for the castle in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Photographers will fawn over this place, as the castle sits on a rocky outcropping surrounded by dark green forests and mountains, and the views from the castle itself of the surrounding landscape is no less impressive.
Those seeking to walk amidst the Germanic style houses and medieval town squares they have envisioned in their dreams before arriving in Germany can find prime examples along a route known as the Romantic Road, which is also located in Bavaria. Walking along the many cobblestone streets , do sample local wines, beers and chocolate, enjoy a classic Christmas market if you’re visiting in late November/December, and if you have a taste for the macabre, a medieval torture museum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber will detail all the methods that authorities employed in extracting information from their enemies.
Those visiting in the summer season should make a point to visit the Black Forest region, a densely forested area of low mountains known for its mineral hot springs and cuckoo clocks of all things. Aside from the therapeutic hot waters of Baden Baden and the clock museum, there are extensive trails through forests so dense that sunlight has a hard time soaking through (hence the name), fabulous casinos worth exploring even you aren’t the betting type, and a delicious dessert (Black Forest Cake – see below for more) that has conquered the world with its utter decadence. All of these will make a trip to this region well worth the time spent here.
While only a small portion of the European Alps are located within Germany, the portion that is contains some truly inspirational mountains. Of these, Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, is the most impressive, reaching just under 3,000 metres above sea level at its summit, but its vertical prominence has it soaring 1,700 metres above the valley floor of Fern Pass, making this mountain a truly spectacular sight to behold. Not surprisingly, the best skiing in the country can also be found here, with a solid six months of skiing and riding possible on Zugspitze’s slopes.
What To Eat
While other European culinary disciplines are lighter and more delicate in their approaches to food, German cuisine takes the heartier route, emphasizing gratuitous amounts of meat, breads, sweets, and beer in the usual mix of meals consumed here.
Bratwurst is a famed sausage that has its origins in Deutschland, and has many iterations depending on where you are in the country. Specific varieties are protected under EU law, defining exactly how varying types of bratwurst should be made and prepared.
For example, the Coburger Bratwurst needs to have at least 15% of its meat sourced from beer or veal, and can only include the seasonings of salt, pepper, nutmeg, and lemon vest. The sausage must measure 25 cm in length, and for traditional style points, it should be grilled over pine cones and served in a bread roll.
Those looking for an authentic proper sit down German meal have many choices as well, but perhaps Sauerbraten is the most iconic of them. It is a pot roast most commonly made from beef, but it has also been prepared from a variety of other meats, with the original flesh of choice being horse. An essential aspect of this meal is the fact that it is soaked in wine or vinegar, giving it a sour or pickled flavour.
Germans make some of the world’s best desserts, with Black Forest Cake ranking among the best. Consisting of several layers of chocolate cake, with whipped cream and cherries in between, you’ll be eating this dish in super slow motion, as it’s an after dinner treat that you will not want to have end.