The diverse landscapes of Germany
Date Posted: 27/10/2011
From its fairytale castles and historic cities to its beautiful rivers, Germany is packed with attractions for groups, says Jeannine Williamson.
Germany is a country rich in natural beauty. Between the North Sea and Baltic coasts in the north and the peaks of the Alps in the south lie extremely diverse landscapes. Elsewhere, Germany’s cities embrace historic sights, impressive architecture and enchanting old towns.
The country is renowned for its excellent road system and transport network, which runs like proverbial clockwork, making it easy to plan a stress-free trip covering more than one region.
Something to sing about
Leipzig, the largest city in the state of Saxony, has an international reputation as a city of music. Goethe, the father of German literature who studied in Leipzig, described it as a ‘little Paris’ and a stroll through the Waldstrasse district reveals a collection of 19th century listed buildings and one of the most beautiful German renaissance town halls.
The city is also home to one of Germany’s oldest and most famous boys’ choirs, which celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2012. Comprising 93 boys who live in the choir’s own boarding school, the St Thomas Choir is famous for its repertoire featuring the works of Bach. A host of celebratory concerts are scheduled to take place next year.
This year Berlin has been remembering the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. This period in history can be explored at the German Historical Museum and on themed tours that take in bustling Potsdamer Platz - once dissected by the wall - and checkpoint Charlie. This year also marks the 125th anniversary of Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s grand boulevard where groups can shop at the huge KaDeWa department store. And of course no trip to would be complete with taking in Berlin’s landmark sight, the imposing Brandenburg Gate.
Cologne is home to Germany’s most visited sight - the magnificent twin-spired cathedral where the panoramic views from the south spire make the climb up 509 steps well worth the effort. Germany’s other top city destinations include the green city of Stuttgart, where motoring fans can visit the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz museums; Frankfurt with its skyscrapers and half-timbered Romerberg square; and Hamburg with a lively maritime tradition.
A walk in the black forest
With picture postcard scenery encompassing lakes, mountains, forests and castles, Bavaria in southern Germany is one of the country’s most popular destinations. This year the Black Forest is celebrating 130 years of tourism since the formation of the Black Forest Association, responsible for signposted walking trails throughout the region.
The glorious landscape is epitomised by Neuschwanstein Castle, the turret topped retreat of reclusive King Ludwig II. In Bavaria and the Black Forest groups can also visit crystal clear Lake Titisse, monasteries, the interesting Clock Museum in Furtwangen, and the world’s largest cuckoo clock in Schonach. There are also the thrills of Europa Park, reportedly Germany's biggest theme park and the second-most popular park in Europe after Disneyland Paris.
Prost - cheers!
The German National Tourist Office is currently promoting Germany’s 13 vineyard regions as tourist destinations. The country’s excellent wines - three-quarters of which are white - are a far cry from the sweet imports that might have given your group members their first taste of German wine, and they can taste the difference at one of the many vineyards that offer group tours.
Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, is held in Munich and the annual extravaganza attracts over six million people who consume 1.5 million gallons of beer. The 2012 event runs from 22nd September to 7th October and GTOs need to plan well in advance if they want guaranteed seats in the huge beer tents - although it’s always fun to simply stroll around and quite literally soak up the atmosphere. An alternative is Stuttgart Beer Festival, Germany’s second largest, which starts at the end of September.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds there are beer and wine festivals in smaller towns and villages around the country, or you can simply find a cosy bar and enjoy a taste of Germany’s tipple whenever you visit.
Go with the flow
With meals and excursions included in the price, plus attractive discounts for group bookings, a river cruise is a cost effective way of enjoying some of Germany’s most beautiful scenery and interesting cities.
The Rhine, Danube, Main and Elbe are among Germany’s rivers, and whilst they all offer a variety of wonderful sights and experiences, the Rhine - the country’s longest river - is the most popular and a good choice for groups cruising for the first time. The stretch between Mainz and Cologne is famous for its dramatic scenery dotted with castles, lush vineyards, pretty wine towns such as Rudesheim - ‘the jewel of the Rhine’ - and legends including the sirens of the Lorelei rock.
GTOs can combine river or land-based stays with annual spectacle, Rhine in Flames, when towns and villages between Linz and Bonn stage dazzling firework displays between May and September.
Christmas markets, often set in medieval towns and dating back to 1434 when Dresden hosted its first Striezelmarkt, make a magical trip during the festive season. Open from the end of November to Christmas Eve, they transform town squares into winter wonderlands with wooden huts decorated with hundreds of lights, selling toys, gifts, decorations and traditional food such as gingerbread.
Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt is one of the oldest Christmas markets and a big plus factor for visiting groups is its proximity to the airport - just 12 minutes by underground. Hamburg describes itself as the Christmas capital of the north and has the densest concentration of markets, with five lining the half-mile from the railway station to the town hall.
Cologne has six different markets, including one set against the impressive backdrop of the cathedral. Munster also hosts another excellent Christmas market and the incredible astronomical clock in St Paul’s Cathedral is a fun way of counting down the number of shopping days left to go. Whichever you choose, your group members will be enchanted by the atmosphere of these historic markets.
Top three sights
1. Church of our Lady: A poignant reminder of the war, Germany’s largest protestant church, the Frauenkirche in Dresden, was destroyed in air raids and the ruins were left untouched for more than 45 years until the church was painstakingly rebuilt and reopened in 2005.
2. Heidelberg Castle: One of Europe’s finest castles situated in the beautiful riverside city known as the ‘pearl of the Neckar’, this gothic and renaissance castle houses the world’s largest wine barrel that can hold 55,000 gallons.
3. Marienplatz: The focal point of this lovely square in the heart of Munich’s old town is the carillon, or glockenspiel, with its mechanical figures that appear at 11am, midday and 5pm.
Eat: There’s much more to Germany’s cuisine than sausages and sauerkraut, even though there are said to be more than 1,500 types of bangers and cold meats. Food is influenced by landscapes and geography, be it the sea, lakes, rivers, agricultural land or neighbouring countries, and each region has typical dishes that groups can sample by asking for the regionale spezialitaten.
Drink: With over 1,200 breweries and 5,000 different kinds of beer, it’s no wonder the Germans are a nation of beer drinkers. Their taste for beer goes back to 1040 when monks began brewing at Weihenstephan in Freising, near Munich - reportedly the world’s oldest continuosly operating brewery.
Try: The inimitable currywurst - pork sausage served with a mix of curry and tomato sauce - is a German institution and makes a filling snack when you’re busy sightseeing. It hails from Berlin where the entertaining Deutsches Currywurst Museum explores the history and legend behind this cult fast food.
Buy: Cuckoo clocks, hand-blown glass, traditional wooden toys and lacework.
Go: A year round destination with similar weather to the UK and colder winters, spring and autumn are good times to visit.
Getting there: Eurolines coaches operate services from London to German cities with UK-wide pick-up points using National Express. Eurostar trains run from London St Pancras International to Brussels and Paris with onward connections to Germany on inter-city express amd regional trains. Ferries sail from the UK to France, Belgium and Holland with onward driving distances to Germany as little as two hours.
Air Berlin, BMI, British Airways, easyJet, Germanwings, Lufthansa and Ryanair operate numerous direct flights from London and regional airports to German cities. Ryanair now operates new flights from Manchester to Memmingen (Munich), Frankfurt and Bremen, and from Stansted to Leipzig.
Flight time: Between 1hr and 2hrs.
Time difference: GMT +1hr.
Language: German, with English widely spoken.
Red tape: None.