For most Australians, Germany is usually a country overlooked on the big euro-trip, unless of course it is during the world famous Oktoberfest. What many are unaware of, however, is that there is so much more to Germany than the clichéd beer tents and pretzel wagons.
So what else does Germany have to offer besides a good old bratwurst? The answer is plenty – from medieval cities to top modern cities of today. Some of the most well-known treasures originate from this country, with unexpected island getaways, river-surfing and wine regions that produce some of the world’s best Riesling.
The fairy tale castle
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Just a couple of hours south of Munich, high up in the mountains, sits one of the most popular castles in Europe and the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The magical Neuschwanstein belonged to the insane King Ludwig II of Bavaria; a shy king with a swan-themed fairy tale vision for his private retreat.
The castle has been open to the public since 1886, exactly seven weeks after the mysterious death of the King in the nearby Lake Starnberg during the construction. The castle is to this day still preserved in its incomplete form.
Visitors can enter the castle to view the intricate interior, however the best part is the walk through the mountain’s forestry from the castle to the Marienbrücke. Standing on this bridge gives the complete picturesque view of Neuschwanstein and its surrounding idyllic setting.
Recommended Hotel: The Rübezahl, which is located right in the heart of the Bavarian Alps with a view of Neuschwanstein Castle.
The island getaway
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Something that comes as a shock to most is that Germany has more than 50 islands. The most popular island is Sylt, the largest German island in the North Sea. This island is well-known for its endless stretches of sand dunes, promenades, glamorous tourist resorts and its 40-kilometre-long sandy beach.
There are beaches for all types of visitors, from family-friendly to nudist beaches. Sylt beaches were actually some of the first nudist beaches in Germany. Apart from skinny-dipping and sunbathing, some extra beach fun includes windsurfing and saunas boasting year-round beach views. For those who like to stay up late, there are numerous beach parties held throughout summer.
Sylt is most famous for its fresh premium seafood, especially the island’s pearl, Sylt oysters. Sourced from the North Sea, they have been famed here since 1986 and are among Europe’s finest.
Recommended Hotel: Dorfhotel, an apartment-style hotel situated in a more tranquil part of the island between the sand dunes and the Wadden Sea, just minutes away from the beach.
The artistic and historical capital
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This is one of the most intriguing cities to visit. With its strong connection to both the Second World War and to the divide between the former East and West Germany, Berlin has experienced a great deal. With this however, it has also developed a unique and unmatchable character.
Historical remnants are everywhere you look, including street art, political slogans and communist remains in the eastern part of the city. Additionally, parts of the Berlin Wall are still standing, as well as historical landmarks such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenberg Gate, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and the Jewish Memorial during the war.
Not only is Berlin a city to absorb art and history, but it’s different to other German cities and European capitals. It has a distinct vibe, and it’s not uncommon to stumble across alternative events such as underground warehouse parties, political protests or grungy street music festivals.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Adlon Kempinski faces the famous Brandenberg Gate and is often graced by royals and celebrities, such as Barack Obama and Angelina Jolie.
The Christmas markets
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Germany’s eastern gem lies close to the Czech border along the Elbe River. Dresden is a lively city full of fascinating buildings, impressive museums and historic treasures.
Dresden was an important city in history, as it was the royal residence of the electors and kings of Saxony. However, the majority of the city centre was destroyed in the Second World War. It was after the reunification that Dresden regained importance as a prominent city in Germany and Europe.
This wondrous city is renowned for hosting Germany’s oldest Christmas Market, one of the best in the country. The Streizelmarkt is full of carol singers, music, lights, rustic merry-go-rounds and a 15-metre-high Christmas tree. The best part about Christmas markets are the traditional products sold, such as pottery and glassware, and the warming treats to help on a cold winter’s night, such as mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and hot sugar-coated almonds.
The Centre of the Middle Ages
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Aachen is a small yet significant town close to the Dreiländereck, the point where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. This was the centre of many ancient and modern endeavours. The Romans established themselves here when they discovered the town’s thermal springs, and the ancient baths have been enjoyed for more than 2000 years and are still used today.
It was an active area during the middle ages where many important kings were crowned. It was not only where King Charlemagne resided, but Aachen was also the centre of his empire. Today, his remains can be seen in the treasury cathedral, along with other prominent religious remnants and artistic pieces.
Another famous product of Aachen are the Printen biscuits, which are a special kind of gingerbread and honey cake. These are exported and enjoyed all over the world.
Recommended Hotel: Pullman Aachen Quellenhof Hotel is a luxurious hotel is just one kilometre away from the Aachen Cathedral and Town Hall.
The Wine Region
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The Moselle Region is one of Germany’s 13 wine regions, full of vineyards overlooking the Moselle River. The river is the left tributary of the famous Rhine, sharing borders with France, Luxembourg and Germany.
The three wine towns of the German Moselle region are Trier, which is the oldest city in Germany, the picturesque Koblenz and Cochem, the most romantic part of the Moselle. It is the oldest wine region in Germany, where Celts and Romans first cultivated wine more than 2000 years ago.
This is Germany’s leading wine region in terms of world recognition and prestige, and the third largest wine district in terms of production. It’s most famous for its Riesling, which possesses a light and crisp flavour and low alcohol content. These wines rank among the finest in the world.
Recommended Hotel: Moselromantik Hotel Kessler-Meyer in Cochem is in the most ideal position overlooking the Moselle Valley.
The City Gardens
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This wonderful Bavarian capital has so much to offer besides the renowned Oktoberfest celebration. The English Gardens in Munich city centre are among the world’s largest urban parks – even larger than New York’s Central Park.
This is no ordinary city park. It has undergone a lot of change over the centuries and has incorporated some unique aspects. It boasts a Japanese Tea House and Garden and is home to the Chinese Tower: Munich’s second largest beer garden complete with a giant Chinese Pagoda.
During the summer months, the English Gardens are used as a beach-like getaway. Many swim in the rivers and lakes and nude sunbathing can be found in Schönfield Meadow, a practice permitted in Germany since the 1960s. The highlight of this park in summer is river surfing; under the main bridge in the park, artificial waves are created through a pump and surfers gather to try to ride the waves as long as they can.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Munich Park Hotel is adjacent to the English Gardens and was recently redesigned.
The religious beauty
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Cologne, or known by the Germans as Köln, is the country’s fourth-largest city. It is the city where Eau de Cologne (water of Cologne) originated and is also a place with the most pubs per capita in the whole of Germany.
The biggest tourist attraction in the city is Cologne Cathedral, an enormous gothic church which began construction in 1248 and took 552 years to build. Visitors are able to climb the cathedral tower for a complete view of the city and then venture underground to the treasure chamber to view the religious jewels. The highlight of this cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Wise Men, which supposedly contains their remains.
Although it is a happening city year-round, Cologne is renowned as one of the best party cities in Germany. Travellers should try to visit during Karneval, where thousands of fancy-dressed visitors flood the city for street parties and parades in the week before Lent.
Recommended Hotel: Excelsior Hotel Ernst is an elegant and traditional hotel, boasting some of the best views of Cologne Cathedral.
The romantic historic city
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Heidelberg is renowned worldwide as one of the most picturesque towns in Germany, visited by numerous international tourists. It has a romantic cityscape with traditional red-roofed buildings sitting in a steep valley along the River Neckar.
The highlight of this city is the Altstadt (the historical city centre), which leads to a large castle on the mountain top. Parts of Heidelberg Castle are now left in ruins after it was struck by lightning in 1537 and again in 1764. Today, the castle is a major tourist attraction; it has a detailed exterior, gorgeous gardens and one of the most amazing viewpoints of the city.
Another popular attraction is the Großes Fass: a huge wine barrel residing in the castle cellar. It was constructed from no less than 130 oak trees and boasts a capacity of 219,000 litres. Previously the barrel was used as a dance floor, complete with stairs around it and a platform on the top.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Zum Ritter St.Georg is housed within an elegant Renaissance building in the heart of the Heidelberg Alstadt and is renowned as the most deluxe historical townhouse in the city.
The Marine City
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Welcome to the second-largest city and the maritime capital of Germany. Hamburg is a city full of big names and has a big part to play in the world. Situated on the Elbe River, it is a major transport hub in the north of Germany and one of the most affluent cities in Europe.
A boat trip around the harbour and port is one of the best ways to gain an appreciation for this city. It is the second largest port in Europe and the tenth largest port worldwide. It is also a hub for Germany’s top media and is home to major global industrial companies such as Airbus.
Hamburg is famous for its thriving nightlife. The Reeperbahn, the city’s red light district, is full of bars, clubs and pubs and is ideal for watching concerts and bands. The Beatles used to play in several Reeperbahn clubs back in the 1960s before their career kick-started.
Recommended Hotel: Fairmont Vier Jahrezeiten Hamburg is full of historic charm, using a traditional German approach to offer luxury that avoids pretension.
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