Germany: Land of Contrast
Germany is a fascinating pastiche that leaves lasting impressions. The panoramic view of medieval houses, Romanesque churches, modern skyscrapers and the soaring Gothic steeples of Cologne’s stunning landmark, the Cathedral, was breathakingly beautiful. As an architectural wonder, it has weathered many moons since it was built more than seven centuries ago in 1248. The cathedral remains the pulse and heart of the city that lures thousands to the metropolis that is a rich melange of art and culture, modern shopping malls, and home to magnificent historical sites.
If you have somehow skipped this fascinating country on an European tour, it is an unfortunate miss that can still be remedied. With a multitude of stunning architectural landmarks and scenic wonders to share, the former divided country no longer has the spectre of its communist past. Germany isn’t just about the Berlin Wall, the Black Forest, which the world know best as that deliciously decadent cake but is a region rich in history, culture and produce. Octoberfest, the biggest public festival in the world, has beer and revelry flowing with copious largesse. Germany is also home to cosmopolitan cities, world-class wining and dining and exciting events and attractions the likes of which I was only beginning to discover.
Begin your journey at Berlin, the German capital. A significant historical as well as political site, with the notoriety of the former Berlin Wall stil a powerful pull for many visitors from all over the world. With the reunification of Germany, the demolition of the changes. Berlin which now stands as the seat of government is a busy capital that also boast the most number of parks and forested areas than any other major city in Germany. Although the wall has been demolished, some parts remain as poignant reminders of a regime that crumbled slowly but surely in the face of changing democratic mores. Head for the Bernauer StraBe. The NiederkirchnerstraBe (near the building of the former Prussian parliement, now housing the parliament of Berlin) and the 1.3 km long “East-Side-Gallery” near the railway station “Hauptbahnhof”. Other landmarks are : the Reichstag building, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the historic Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai quarter) wit the oldest church of Berlin and quaint townhouses and romantic restaurant.
Explore the Pergamon museum and marvel at its intriguing collection of antique art as well as the Pergamon Altar, a temple that was laboriously transported stone by stone from the Turkish city of Pergamum. A visit to the town of Potsdam, south-west of Berlin, is a must, a real treat for its legacy of magnificent palaces and royal gardens. Berlin also a pulsating stop for night life, shopping, art and culture. And of course, no visit to this German capital is complete without shopping at the famed Kurfurstendamm.
The Charming Four
Within reach of Berlin are the cities of Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig and Dresden which are well worth visiting, each with its own charming character. Tagged as an “Event City” and “Gateway To The World”, hamburg boasts numerous concerts, festival, musicals, art exhibitions and conventions. It also claims more canals and bridges than Venice, which is a major achievement. Definitely not for the conservative is the (in) famous Reeperbahn in St Pauli, one of the world’s most sinful mile so they say.
The eyes of the world will be focused on the city of Hannover. Hannover stands at the strategic crossroads of major roads, rail and air transport routes from west to east and from north to south. South of Berlin is Leipzig, a city of commerce and culture. Fans of Johann Sebastian Bach will make a beeline for the Gothic St Thomas Church where he was once choir director.
A memorable gem is Dresden, which is re-emerging as Germany’s most beautiful city, having painfully recovered from a bombing raid in 1945 in which much of the historic city was destroyed. After years of meticulous restoration, the city, once known as the Florence on the River Elbe, is regaining its former glory. Art and architecture strike a special chord here. Walk into old-world charm in the riverside city, and re-live 800 years of history in this capital of Saxony. Or jump aboard one of the old paddle steamers and enjoy the quiet splendor of the Elbe Valley. Don’t miss the Baroque Zwinger Palace which houses three art museums and the Semper Oper, a supreme example of neo-classicism.
A city of fashion, shopping and culture, Dusseldorf is a one-stop, pulsating hub for the sophisticated. Sitting on the Rhine, its easy accessibility makes it Germany’s center for international trade. A shopper’s paradise can be found at the Konigsallee, an elegant boulevard lined with chestnut trees, showcasing all the fashion bigwigs. Not far away, in contrast, is the old town of Alstadt characterized by its distinctive narrow lanes and boasting about 300 pubs and restaurants, together with boutiques and avant-garde shops standing cheek-by-jowl. Down an Altbier, or more affectionately known as “Alt” which is a local top-fermented beer or savor their flons.
Yet despite the modern city buzz, there is a heart-warming conviviality about Dusseldorf that is refreshing. If you do spend a little more time in this capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the secret of its joie de vivre will be revealed. An overwhelming sense of fun and carnival in typical Rhenish style is all pervasive by the Rhine. One of the oldest areas in Dusseldorf is the scenic Kaiserwerth, where ruins of Barbarossa’s ancient Imperial Palace is well worth visiting.
Since the Middle Ages, Cologne has long been established as an ecclesiastic city with its various monasteries and collegiate churches. The 12 Romanesque churches in the Old City stand as testimony to a 2000-year-old history. It was founded by the Romans and is the only city in the world that was managed to preserve this large number Romanesque churches. During the Middle Ages. Cologne was the third largest city behind Rome and Constantinople. Little wonder that the remaining influence of Roman architecture, as evidenced by the trading houses bearing tower, the Town Hall and numerous other Roman-inspired building gives the Rhine its unparalleled panorama. The remarkable Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline, and is undoubtedly a talking point. Taking 632 tedious years to complete this magnificent structure, one stands captivated by the amazingly tall windows and gravity-defying steep vaulting and marvels at the flawless stained glass windows . Works of art adorn the walls and other priceless treasures on view are liturgical articles, ivory work and the golden shrine of the Three Holy Kings.
The holy city’s rich historical and religious heritage exists alongside fun modernity; promising other interesting sights and activities to while away your time. Culture figures prominently, and you can view art in all manner and form from medieval to contemporary to Asiatic art. Or catch tje long-running German musical, Gaudi, which spins of epic proportions a tale of love, art and passion. The Imhoff-Stollwerck Chocolate Museum is unique and deliciously entertaining. Visitors can see first-hand cocoa trees grown in a greenhouse, and watch, drooling, as chocolate bars and truffles are made. Follow the locals to the city’s covered shopping malls; a maze of indoor shopping center housing anything from exclusive designer boutiques to cafes. A cruise on the Rhine is compulsory of course, while you sip the local Kolsch and savour the delicious halver hahn (cheese roll).
Eau, What Fragrance!
The world and a half know about this fragrant product Eau de Cologne but do you know how it came to be called thus? Well it was originally called “L”Eau Admirable” – the “Wonderful Water”. A water formulated in Italy and believed to be a universal remedy for coughs and a host of other illness. It was later changed to what the world knows as Eau De Cologne or “Water from Cologne” and designated in the category of a product for the care of the body. Oddly enough, it was the people who bought this scented water that gave it its current name, not the manufacturers as people kept asking for “Water from Cologne” and so the name was retained. Today, many products are named Eau De Cologne to refer to a fragranced water.The original Eau De Cologne, developed since 1709, with its familiar scent of citrus oils and traces of lavender and rosemary oil continues to be produced in Cologne today.
A gateway for international arrivals and to Europe as a whole, Frankfurt on the Main is hard to miss. Often nicknamed “Mainhattan” for its skyscrapers jostling each other for space, it is the city for commerce and trade, trade fairs, business, culture and events. Yet this metropolis is a titillating melting pot for cultural versatility, historical sights, shopping and entertainment. Take a stroll through Frankfurt’s oldest square in the historical center. The Romerberg, where its trade fair tradition was born during the 11th century. Nearby, the seat of government resides at Frankfurt City Hall, which has see all of Germany’s aristocracy. Visit also the Kaiserdom of Cathedral, dating back to teh 13 th century, the venue for elections of German kings. On any Frankfurt itinerary is the Goethehaus home of Germany most famous poet, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. This charming Patrician house, faithfully restored, displays how the young poet lived and worked.
Museums abound if you can spare the time. Just take your pick from modern art, pre-historic art, film, architecture, natural history and Jewish history just to name a few. Nature lovers have not been forgotten in this hustle and bustle. German thankfully value greenery themselves and you will find them strolling through the many oases of parks alongside the river. The botanical garden is situated smack in the middle of the city.
Frankfurt is a alluring when the sun sets and you will find an endless array of night entertainment to keep you going. How about an apple wine tavern or a cellar pub? The more energetic have the music clubs and discos or just people watch at numerous outdoor cafes dotting the city.
Set in a valley, surrounded by vineyards, forest and parks. Stuttgart is the flourishing capital of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, a region famous for its wine. Vineyards can be seen on hills surrounding the central railway station in the heart of the city. See golden, yellow juicy Riesling grapes or plump, sun-ripened Trolling grapes on special vineyard tours which include a visit to an old vault in the processing house of the wine grower cooperative where wine is still stored in traditional wooden barrels, a wine growing museum at Uhlbach and dinner with wine, of course exclusive wine tasting for connoisseurs are available by appointment only at the House of Wurttemberg Vineyard, formed by the Duke of Wurttemberg.
The city also lays claim to being the birthplace of the motor car, the most significant invention of the 19th century, was such big names as Mercedes Benz and Porsche. Visit the Mercedes-Benz museum, showcasing the creative ideas of Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. The best way to see historic Stuttgart is on foot. Stroll past the beautiful Renaissance Courtyard of the Old Palace (built 1553) at Schillerplatz. It has been completely restored from the Second World War and today stages exhibitions. Close by stands the baroque building of the New Palace built in 1744, residence of the kings of Wurttemberg. Schlossplatz with Jubilee Column stands proudly since 1841. And two fountains are visible dating bach to 1863. Numerous other buildings and palaces outside of the city center offer examples of beautiful Baroque architecture. The Renaissance Palace has a unique spiral staircase consisting of a grapevine carved in stone. Today, the Palace houses the inland revenue department and the courts.
Typical to Stuttgart and the Swabian region is the spatzle, which is really German noodles. The dough is made from flour, eggs, water and salt, and after kneading, is scraped from the board and boiled in salt water, forming noodle-like shapes. Spatzle makes a fitting accompaniment to any meat dish or can be consumed with cheese in Kasspatzle. A popular Stuttgart favorite is Gaisburger Marsch, a stew spatzle, potatoes, diced beef, vegetables, meat stock and fried onions. And everywhere else in Germany in Stuttgart, the quintessential beer has to be drunk.
Strolling through this capital of Bavaria, located close to the Bavaria Alps, is to re-live the splendor of Europe at its most vibrant age. In 1825, when King Ludwig I become King of Bavaria, he owed to turn Munich into a city that would bring much distinction to Germany. This has been long fulfilled as the city today is not only a thriving metropolis but a treasure trove of stately and magnificent sights that rival any other major European city. The Old Town of Munich can best be admired on foot. The Marientplatz, heart of Munich with the Old and New Town Halls (Rathaus), is a magnet for all visitors and locals alike glowing with enviable charm , particularly before Christmas when the square is dotted with a marvelous array of shops that form the well-known Christmas market ubiquitous throughout Germany handicraft, art work jewellery, delightful candles and a host of German bites are on offer. Don’t miss also the Royal residence, home to a fine art collection and the Baroque Nymhenburg Palace, showcasing an exquisite collection of ornate artefacts and a very pretty park and gardens.
Every year in October, Munich takes center stage when Oktoberfest comes calling. Known by locals as ‘Wies’n’, beer tents line the streets, set up by traditional Munich brewries in the name of fun and festivities. Oktoberfest is one of the largest public festival in the world and held. Millions visitors gather gather in a carnival atmosphere, paying tribute by downing around 5 million liters of beer. If you prefer to take in the serene surrounds of the Alpine scenery, trips can be arranged from Munich. About two hours car from Munich, King Ludwig II’s world renowned fairy-tale castle – Neuschwanstein – sits on the steep imposing rock. It is a spectacular sight to behold when the evening sun casts a magical glow on the minarets and cupolas
With so much offer. Both from the old and the new world. Germany was thoroughly enriching filling the memory with many delightful moments.