Germany is an interesting country. Although the people have a reputation for being cold, the country seems to welcome visitors, if not with open arms, with open facilities. The people here are also extremely efficient and pride themselves on doing things with perfection. German villages are among the most beautiful and special in all of Europe, because there are hanging flower baskets everywhere, and every place is neat and clean, always! Bavaria is my favorite part of Germany because people here are the friendliest and the landscape is most interesting. Enjoy my descriptions of the Germany’s "great places", then check out the photo album which is soon to follow.
1. Neuschwanstein, the Romantic Road, and Bavaria
Neuschwanstein, the elaborate fantasy of “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria, is the quintessential fairy tale castle. High on a hill above his boyhood home, Ludwig began this most extravagant project in 1869 and it was still not completed when he died, under mysterious circumstances, in 1886. This castle, however, remains his crowning achievement. It was used as a model for Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland. Recently, it was chosen as one of the top 20 Modern Wonders of the World.
Guidebooks usually advise tourists to first visit Hohenschwangau, Ludwig’s home as a child, to set the stage for an understanding of Neuschwanstein, but a little pre-trip research is all that’s necessary to appreciate the reasons for Ludwig’s escape from reality and the rationale for his extravagances. Add to the mix his obsession with Richard Wagner and his operas, and all becomes plain. So the savvy tourist can dispense with Hohenschwangau and cut to the chase.
Take the shuttle from the base of the entire Konigschlossen complex to Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) which offers a spectacular view of the castle and makes the visitor wonder how the castle was ever constructed (“How could so many materials be brought to such a location?”). From the bridge, it is a mostly downhill walk to the castle itself. A strict schedule of timed tours is adhered to, so pay attention to the tickets which are purchased at the base of the complex. Guides are extremely knowledgeable and informative. Ludwig had a certain flair, even if his decorating is a bit bizarre. Especially noteworthy are his bedroom (the intricate woodwork took a team of craftsmen several years to complete), the Throne Room (with no throne because it was never finished), and the Theater/Music Room, designed for Arts’ performances. Note also the man-made cave next to his bedroom. Keep in mind that the tour requires the climbing of an incredible number of stairs and is not for the faint of heart.
Neuschwanstein is located near the southern terminus of Germany’s Romantic Road, a succession of Medieval villages, from Wurzburg in the north to Fussen in the south, which embody and exemplify the Medieval spirit and style of the country. The marketing of them all as a package has been extremely successful and the entire area is thronged with tourists and tour buses, especially during the summer.
At Neuschwanstein, some visitors spurn the shuttle bus and prefer to walk up to the castle from the ticket area. Big mistake! The climb is extremely steep and takes a long time (although some seem to enjoy it). It’s much better to ride up, then walk down, chuckling at the poor walkers who are panting and sweating.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most visited town on Germany’s Romantic Road and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a perfectly preserved, walled, Medieval city whose residents adorn their homes and businesses with beautiful hanging flowers and keep them spotlessly maintained to further enhance the ambiance of the setting. The streets are kept free of vehicles making the overall experience extremely pleasant. The only blemish in this fairy tale scene are the crowds, which descend on the town with bus after bus, loaded with tourists of all shapes and sizes. Arrive early in the morning (or spend the night) to avoid the rush of midday. Walking is the only way to see the city (the city walls can also be walked and offer views of the countryside). This is a place to be savored and appreciated, taking the time to stop occasionally at a cafe or in one of the many shops which offer a little bit of everything German. Try some Schneeballen (snowballs), a local treat in Rothenburg
Dinkelsbuhl, Germany, another one of the Romantic Road villages, is also a typical, walled, Medieval town. The cobblestone streets complement the houses, most of which date to the 1500’s. Note the Gothic Georgenkirche which was built in the 15th century. Gingerbread is a major product and should be sampled.
Other significant stops along the Romantic Road include Wurzburg, one of the loveliest cities in all of Germany, with its supremely elegant and stately palace, the Residenz, another in a long line of palaces built in Bavaria in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the artwork is by the painter, Tiepolo, and should not be missed. Note also the Treppenhaus (stairway) at the center of the castle.
Fussen, at the southern terminus of the route is another lovely German village with pedestrian-only streets and well-kept buildings. Note, especially, the 15th century castle, and the lovely church clock tower. Fussen also makes a good entry point for visits to Neuschwanstein and to the amazing Wieskirche, a Rococo masterpiece, located just off the Romantic Road, which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible splendor. With its frescoed ceilings and gilded accoutrements and lovely marble columns, it is certainly one of the most extravagant and delightful churches in the world.
Excursions from any of the Romantic Road villages might include the cities of Nurnberg and Bamberg, both to the east.
Nuremburg, Germany, was virtually destroyed by bombing during World War II. However, many of the most important buildings have been restored or reconstructed, so that the city has reemerged, especially as a tourist sight. Visitors can see the Zeppelinfeld Arena, the huge amphitheater where Adolf Hitler held rallies during his rise to power, as well as the Justice Palace where the War Crimes Tribunal took place following World War II. The City Gates and some of the Medieval walls remain intact. Check out the Beautiful Fountain in the Marktplatz (market square). Tourists may also visit the Albrecht Durer House, a Gothic residence of the famous painter, the Kaiserburg, official residence of numerous German kings, and several churches, St-Lorenz-Kirche and St-Sebaldus-Kirche.
Bamberg, Germany, is a beer-drinkers heaven (because of the numerous breweries in the vicinity) which also boasts cobblestone streets with mansions as well as palaces, along with beautiful churches. Domplatz is the focal point for the visitor with its Alte Hofhaltung (the imperial palace complex with Gothic buildings and rose garden), the Kaiserdom, an impressive cathedral with four huge towers, and the Neue Residenz, another opulent palace. Nearby is the Alte Rathaus, the old town hall, which was built on its own little island in the middle of the river between what were once two separate towns that have evolved into present day Bamberg.
Many of these villages are located in a well-known section of Germany called Bavaria, which boasts charming, little, picture-book-perfect Villages. The dramatic setting, at the base of the German Alps, adds to the splendor.
Oberammergau is a picturesque village in the Bavarian Alps with numerous painted houses and shops selling the local specialties, wooden carvings. This town is particularly famous for its production of the Passion Play, every ten years, using town residents as actors. The concept was the result of a promise made by the town fathers as a tribute to God for sparing the town from the Plague.
Mittenwald is another of Bavaria’s quaint. alpine towns. It is famous for its painted houses (even the church bell tower has painted frescoes on its exterior) and as a center for violin-making. Its setting amidst the Bavarian Alps is dramatic and extremely photogenic.
Ettal Monastery (Kloster Ettal), in the town of Ettal, a short distance from Oberammergau, is a splendid abbey with another Baroque masterpiece, the Church of Our Lady. Note the beautiful frescoed dome and elaborate decorations throughout. The exterior of the abbey is made even more beautiful by its dramatic setting, nestled in the mountains.
Also in the area is Linderhof Palace, another of Mad King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria. It is his smallest castle, but gilded to the nines. The rooms have painted ceilings, tapestries on the walls, huge chandeliers, etc. The grounds are also elaborate, with fountains and many statues. Of special note is the Grotto, a make-believe cave with its own pool containing a shell boat similar to the one in Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin. Also on the grounds is Ludwig’s private Moorish Kiosk.
Munich is the capital of Bavaria and one of Germany’s most exciting cities. It has become world-famous because of its Octoberfest, but it has much more to offer than liters and liters of beer.
The center of activity in the city is the Marienplatz (Mary’s square), a huge area encircled by interesting buildings, including the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) which does not appear new at all since it was built in the Gothic style with numerous statues, gargoyles, and towers. Its tall, main tower contains the famous Glockenspiel which performs several times each day. These performances last approximately ten minutes and include several sets of figures moving around (there are dancers, knights jousting, and a cock crowing). Find a good viewing location several minutes before the show starts.
Also on this square is the Altes (old) Rathaus, which is a pretty, Medieval, wooden building with a green tower that announces the time of day on the hour and half-hour. Note also the golden statue of Mary on a column in the center of the square. Take the time to stop at a tavern with outdoor seating (there are many) to have a brew and people-watch.
Near the Marienplatz is the Frauenkirchen (Mary’s Church), a huge cathedral, surprisingly, made of brick. Its distinctive twin steeples are a symbol of Munich.
The Residenz served as home to the rulers of Bavaria for over 500 years. It is a vast complex of buildings and daunting to visit, but there are two requisite places of interest, the Treasury, with its statue of St George Slaying the Dragon, which is gold and studded with numerous gems, and the Cuvillies Theatre, considered Germany’s best example of a tier-boxed opera house in Rococo design.
Schloss Nymphenburg was the summer palace of the Wittelsbachs, the ruling family of Bavaria for many years. It is located on the fringe of Munich, far from the Medieval city center, so it is best visited by public transport, the U-bahn. The palace grounds are vast, so it is quite a walk from the U-bahn station to the palace complex. The part of the main building which can be visited is fairly compact, and offers the typical palace accoutrements, elaborate decorations and wall hangings. Stroll the formal gardens behind the palace which offer some serenity and solitude.
The Deutches Museum, in Munich, is the world’s premier technology and science museum. It is much too large and diverse to see in one visit, so the visitor is wise to prioritize and plot a strategy based on the amount of time available, then, perhaps, return at a later date to see other parts of the museum. Much of the museum is interactive, which adds to the enjoyment. Of note are the Aeronautics Exhibit, with a huge display of flying machines, Chemistry, which allows the visitor to mix chemicals together to see what results, as well as Food Technology, Toys, and Musical Instruments. Depending on interest, everyone will find an area to spend time in and be fascinated with.
The world famous Hofbrauhaus, the most well-known beer garden in the world is a must stop for visitors to Munich. The food is only so-so, but it is a thrill to be served here, especially with an “oom-pah” band playing in the background.
A popular excursion from Munich is a visit to Dachau which was the first concentration camp set up by Adolf Hitler. People were imprisoned here from 1933 to 1945. The history of Nazism in Germany is presented in the museum, as well as information about the treatment of Jews and other prisoners. Visitors can check out the living conditions faced during imprisonment by touring several of the barracks which have been rebuilt. There are also Catholic, Protestant and Jewish Memorial Chapels. It is a somber and moving experience.
Berlin, Germany, is a sprawling city which presents a challenge to the tourist used to walking from sight to sight. Here the distances are much too great to rely on foot power. However, public transport is efficient and user-friendly. Most of the significant attractions in Berlin are museums. However, a few other sights should not be missed: Charlottenburg Palace, which began as a summer residence but blossomed into a massive estate, the Brandenburg Gate, which used to mark the boundary between East and West Berlin, and the Tiergarten, Berlin’s city park.
Spend an hour or so browsing through one of Europe’s largest department stores – KaDaWe, with its incredible variety of goods.
Heidelberg is a university town on the northern edge of the Black Forest region of Germany and lies along the Neckar River. Thankfully, it was one of the few German cities spared during the bombing raids of World War II, so much of the old center is preserved. The ruins of the Schloss (castle) preside over the Altstadt (old town) and are an ominous presence. Check out the view from the river on the Karl Theodore Bridge and walk through the beautiful city gate into the narrow streets and alleys of the city.
Triberg, another town in the Black Forest, offers visitors access to Germany’s highest waterfall, the Wasserfall, and is also one of the best places to buy those characteristic Black Forest Cuckoo clocks.
After visiting Heidelberg, drive southeast along the Neckar River valley for a scenic drive through one of Germany’s major wine regions.
5. Rhine Cruise
The Rhine River, traversing western Germany over much of its length, is one of Europe’s most important waterways. Its history-of-use parallels, in many cases the history of the continent. There is no better way to appreciate this river and its contributions than taking a River Cruise. In Germany, the major portion of the river, of interest to tourists, is the stretch between Cologne, with its famous Cathedral, to Koblenz, where the Rhine meets the Mosel River, and then to Mainz, which is part of a significant wine-producing area of Germany. The most spectacular section of the trip is the area of the infamous Lorelei Cliffs. There are numerous castles along this portion of the river and several charming towns, particularly St Goarshausen and St Goar (together, they host a fireworks display — Rhein in Flammen — on the third Saturday in September) and Rudeshiem. Recommended castles to visit along the way include the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, near Koblenz, Burg Katz (the Cat Castle), and Burg Maus (the Mouse Castle).
Cologne Cathedral is certainly one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in Germany and dates back to 1248 A.D. However, it wasn’t until some 600 years later that the cathedral was actually completed. It dominates the cityscape of Cologne and is immediately recognizable from a distance outside the city. There are numerous art treasures inside, such as The Shrine of the Three Magi, and several chapels along the perimeter. Note also the detail in the oak choir.
6. Danube Cruise
The Danube is another of Europe’s famous and historic rivers. A Danube Cruise is a pleasant way to sample some of southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Many of these river excursions begin in the German town of Regensburg, one of Germany’s best-preserved cities. Regensburg is noted for its many churches. To the southeast lies Passau, on the border between Germany and Austria. Next on this journey is the Austrian city of Linz, which had its origins in Roman times, then the beautiful city of Vienna, onward to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava and finally to Budapest, Hungary. The trip, as outlined here, traverses some beautiful scenery, some incredible cities, and a huge diversity of cultures.
Not really part of Germany, but bordering it on the southwest is the small Principality of Liechtenstein. It is often included in a tour of Germany so I will include it here.
Liechtenstein is another of Europe’s tiny (62 square miles) principalities, this one wedged between Austria and Switzerland. The capital is Vaduz which is also the primary tourist stop in the country. Check out the Castle (not open to visitors) and the Rathaus (Town Hall) on the main square. Wander the pedestrian street (Staedtle) to St Florin Cathedral. There are also several museums for those so-inclined.
Another castle, Wildschloss, now in ruins, towers over the city and is a popular place to hike. Check out the Red House which also provides great views above the city.
In the vicinity, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the capital, is the parking lot at Tourotel-Gaflei, which offers scenic views of alpine meadows. A great hike (2 -2 ½ hours), the Prince’s Path, leads from here to Kuhgrat, the tallest of the Three Sisters at (2100 meters/6700 feet).
Most people come to Liechtenstein just to put another notch in their travel belts or another stamp on their passports, but it is worth the effort to get here.