Exploring unique and beautiful places in Germany reminds me of pearls on a necklace – each place is valuable and stunning in its own right. Exploring my new/old home country of Germany after having lived abroad for decades fascinates me. And I do it little by little, as time allows. Yes, Germany has changed a lot and yet, it hasn’t changed at all.
Why you should visit Germany
Old ruins of castles still overlook valleys from hilltops, music sounds in innumerable concerts across the country, and readers and writers reach out to each other in large book fairs. Vineyards soak up the sunshine on the terraced hills and the UNESCO World Heritage sites – cultural, natural and intangible ones – await exploration. Do I want to check out settlements and cave paintings reaching back to the Stone and Bronze Ages? Or old woods which stand majestically in the Black Forest? Or perhaps glide on Lake Constance and watch sailboats dotting the clear blue lake? So many unique and beautiful places in Germany await you.
Since I last lived here a generation has come and gone; new mindsets have sprung up and English has become so much more widespread (good for the tourists). And while Germany has become so much more ‘multi-culti’ – multi-cultural and international – at the same time, it has stayed traditional.
What to eat and drink in Germany
Every corner of Germany has its own specialties and curiosities. Not only are there unique and beautiful places in Germany worth your attention – but traditional foods of Germany deserve your time too.
Brewing beer is one of the ancient crafts, well known for its ‘reinheitsgesetz’ – ‘purity laws’, a never-ending variety with a different brew in nearly every town or city. Our dear monks first created the best beers and schnapps. It has quite a history, too. In old Germany, the water was often not safe to drink, so people drank beer, but the alcohol content was very, very low and oh my! the beer didn’t really foam either.
I can still taste the spätzle (a handmade noodle dish with a special cheese sauce and roasted onions) or a knödel (a special dumpling) here in Baden-Württemberg, the obadzda (a special prepared cheese, taken with toasted bread) in Bavaria, the ‘grüne sosse’ (a vegetarian sauce with herbs and eggs, eaten with potatoes) in Hannover, and the labskaus (a fisherman’s dish from Northern Germany); or a dessert-like Rote Grütze (made with various berries and topped with a vanilla sauce), or the Black Forest cake. There are also loads of international restaurants. Sometimes the best is to ask a local what specialty they recommend. And that may vary by time of year.
Important tips for shopping and eating:
When shopping in Germany it is important to note that shops and department stores do not keep late hours, and are not generally open on Sundays. If you need groceries on the weekend, it’s best to shop ahead or go to a large train station. There, shops will be open long hours and also some are open on Sundays. Also, large train stations have a lot of eateries, some quite nice and they offer healthy choices. Some, of course, are fast-food options.
If you eat at a buffet, it’s polite to only take what you can eat, Of course, if a food turns out to not be palatable, no problem, leave it behind; but then maybe just take at first small portions to try unusual foods first.
1. Lake Constance / Bodensee
At present, I live in the south-west corner of Germany, close to France, Austria, and Switzerland. Here, my favorite region is Lake Constance – in Germany known as Bodensee. We also call it the three-country lake, as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland all border and share this gorgeous lake. Even today – unless there is a big storm churning the waters – it’s still crystal clear and supplies much of the drinking water for all surrounding areas. The water is drawn from the deep and goes through a purification process before it reaches houses.
Interestingly enough, during the last terrible World War, this lake was largely untouched, continuing to provide water for all three countries. There has been and continues to be harmonious cooperation between the three countries to manage this resource successfully.
On a sunny day, the whole lake is dotted with white sailboats, and yearly regattas draw thousands of visitors.
Various art festivals or the Bregenz opera with its stage built right into the water are nearly sold out before the season begins. There are also numerous protected nature reserves that provide nesting grounds for rare birds and animals. The lake is too large to explore in just one or two days, but any time spent there is a most memorable experience.
Island of Mainau
The place that fascinates me the most at Bodensee is the island of Mainau. It’s on the German side, so one might assume that it belongs to Germany. But no, history with its many twists and turns finds it in the hands of the Swedish King. And to this day, it belongs to the Swedish Royal Family. I visited this botanical garden island a number of times, crossing the lake on one of its seasonal boats and was overwhelmed by its lush beauty.
The abundant beds of flowers, which change seasonally, guarantee this as a unique and beautiful place in Germany. Magnificent, tall and aged trees, the butterfly garden, the rose garden, the delicious Swedish food all contribute to the feeling: I want to come here again. Strolling along, you always hear some Swedish sounds amongst the voices of people from all over the world.
2. Cologne and the Rhine
Recently, a train took me to western Germany, to the old city of Cologne. Cologne is a former Roman settlement with a UNESCO World Heritage cathedral and a large Roman museum that shows an entire unearthed Roman tiled marketplace. Leaving Cologne, I couldn’t resist a day trip travelling down the Rhine River in a small cruise boat. This whole Middle Rhine Valley is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its many castles sitting high on top of the hills.
Castles overlook vineyards with various types of wine, and also the small towns and villages squeezed into the narrow spaces between river and hills. I stayed on the upper deck of the ship, and often found myself dashing from one side of the boat to the next to catch the view of yet another castle, maybe a ruin, maybe a rebuilt-one – all with long stories of friendship, rivalry, robberies, conquests and defeats of the times of knighthood and beyond.
3. Triberg in the Black Forest
In the south of Germany is the beautiful Black Forest. In the summer of 2019 I visited a hidden gem in the Black Forest called Triberg. It’s the place where cuckoo-clocks come from and where the street organ found its origin. Black Forest ham is well-know here and so are the magnificent old fir trees that reach way into the skies. There, the Triberg Waterfalls beckoned me, the highest waterfalls in Germany, with the waters rushing over cliffs and around rocks.
The quaint town of Triberg has a long history, too, which is documented in the Black Forest museum in Triberg. It’s actually quite a poor region of Germany, but with its natural beauty and the ingenuity of its inhabitants, it is becoming a more sought after destination.
4. Hamburg and Lübeck
In August 2019, I visited my nephew in the Freie Hansestadt Hamburg, (free Hanseatic City of Hamburg). This northern German city has been trading for centuries and still maintains its importance as a trade and shipping center. When you visit Hamburg I highly recommend The Hamburg card. This gives you free public transport, and lots of discounts for museums, city tours, boat rides, and more. You can purchase the Hamburg Card for between one and five days for either a single person or a group.
Water, trees, parks, red-baked brick buildings, art, history, food fairs all called for my attention on my recent visit. One of the most famous new buildings is the Elbphilharmonie. You can visit the viewing platform of the Elbphilharmonie for free. You need a ticket to enter, but you can get this ticket at the Elbphilharmonie itself and the ticket is free. During the high tourist season, you may need to get this ticket ahead of time, as only a certain number of visitors are allowed up at a given time. You can also go on a walking tour of this leading concert hall.
About an hour from Hamburg is the old City of Lübeck, famous for its marzipan. The medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a romantic feel. It also houses about 800 music students in its famous music school where visitors can listen for free to performances and exam pieces from students, most evenings outside the holiday period at 5 pm and 8 pm.
Where to stay
There are absolutely oodles of hotels, inns from simple to elaborate. You can hardly go wrong with any choice, especially if you take a bit of time to check out recommendations.
If you travel by train, you will often find people quite happy to engage in a conversation; it’s a great way to get to know some people and many will speak English. But, do note: only invite people to your home country, if you really mean it. They may surprise you and take your invitation seriously!
Trips taken 2019.
You may also be interested in this article of things to do in Copenhagen.