By Jim Ferri
Germany is a magnet for American travelers, with nearly five million of us visiting it last year.
And there’s good reason for its popularity: with a superb transportation network – of road, rail and air – which makes getting around easy and efficient, and a bounty of hotels that suit every budget, Germany has a superb tourism infrastructure. Making things even easier for the non-German speaking traveler is that English is spoken almost everywhere.
But what really makes Germany a standout is its diversity. From the wind-swept beaches in its north to the mountains on its southern borders with Switzerland and Austria, the country has an incredible variety of landscapes. It also has an incredible variety of urban cultures, ranging from small villages in Bavaria to avant-garde Berlin, as well as some of the top cultural offerings on the Continent.
The German National Tourist Board recently had visitors from around the world vote on their favorite places in Germany. The following were voted by travelers as the top 10 places in Germany.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau/Füssen, Bavaria
There is no other castle in the world as romantically idealized as Neuschwanstein. Set in a spectacular location near Fussen in Bavaria, it’s said to have inspired Walt Disney’s design of Cinderella’s Castle in Disneyland. One of the most photographed places in Germany, the castle was the built by King Ludwig II whose entrancement with legends, fairytales and myths, were incorporated into the design of the castle.
2. Europa-Park, Rust, Baden-Württemberg
One might be tempted to tag Europa-Park as part Disneyland, part Coney Island and you’d be pretty close to the truth. This family park, which attracts many tourists as well as Germans, combines high-octane thrills with themed European worlds and spectacular events. Its 220+ acre grounds are divided into 13 themed-lands featuring the architecture, food and flora of different European regions. More than 100 attractions within the park, including eleven rollercoasters, provide extreme thrills and excitement.
3. Cologne Cathedral, North Rhine-Westphalia
The symbol of the city of Cologne and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Gothic Cologne cathedral dominates the city’s skyline. A huge edifice with two lofty spires, construction of the cathedral began in 1248 and wasn’t completed until 1880. At the end of its huge nave is the shrine of the Three Magi, the Three Wise Men, whose relics were brought to the city in 1164. If you’re energetic climb its 318-foot south tower for a lofty view of the city.
4. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Set on Pariser Platz in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of the city. Modeled after the Propylaea in Athens, the monumental entry hall of Athens’s Acropolis, it was built as the grandest of several city gates in the wall that encircled the city at the end of the eighteenth century. It’s the only gate that survived over the years, probably because it’s located at the end of Unter den Linden, the renowned boulevard that led directly to the castle of the Prussian kings.
5. The Berlin Wall, Berlin
Like the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, which divided the German capital for 28 years, is also a symbol of the city. It’s also a symbol of the Cold War and though most of the wall is gone today, there are still remnants of it. The longest, best-preserved and most interesting stretch is the ¾ mile-long section known as the East Side Gallery, although even this stretch is under threat from developers. Throughout much of Berlin today the former route of the wall is marked by a double row of paving stones in the street.
6. Lorelei Rock in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s most famous attraction is the Lorelei rock on the shoreline of the Rhine. The rock is so-named because of legends of a pretty, naked blonde woman who with her songs (as well as with her naked body, I would think) distracted sailors as they passed through this treacherous stretch of river, causing them to wreck their ships. The rock is about 16 miles from the popular tourist town of Rüdesheim, near St. Goarshausen.
7. Nature Reserves in the Black Forest, Baden-Württemberg
The Black Forest got its name since it is so dense locals called it “black.” If you’ve never been to it you may only equate it with cuckoo clocks, schnapps and decadent chocolate cakes. In reality though, it’s a beautiful hilly forest that runs along along a 100-mile stretch of Germany’s border with France, a beautiful area of nature reserves crisscrossed by countless hiking trails that lure both German and international vacationers seeking an outdoor experience.
8. Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg
Still one of Germany’s most famous landmarks and considered the symbol of German Romanticism, Heidelberg Castle has been attracting visitors since the 19th century. It originally was built as a fortress, complete with towers, casemates and moats, around 1300. Today, although mostly in ruins with some areas covered with ivy, it’s still a captivating place to visit. And although the castle dominates the city’s skyline when viewed from below, the view from its terrace down over the Old Town is even better. A popular spot in the castle is its wine cellar, which houses the biggest barrel in the world, holding 55,345 gallons of wine.
9. Lake Constance, Baden-Württemberg
Bavaria’s Lake Constance, where holiday-goers enjoy beautiful views of the Alps across its placid waters, is in such a beautiful setting it looks as if it were designed by Hollywood. This a place where Germans come to holiday, and for good reason. In addition to its idyllic setting here you also find fashionable casinos, dozens of beaches and yacht harbors, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and bridle paths, endless luxury and first-class hotels and top restaurants. About the lake you’ll find the flower island of Mainau (visited by more than one million people every year), vineyards on the island of Reichenau (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and beautiful Lindau, the only island in Bavaria. And there’s also plenty of theatre, art, music and museums throughout the area.
10. Museum Island, Berlin
Although only about a third of a square mile in size, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in the Spree River is a unique ensemble of five world-renowned museums. Built between 1830 and 1930, then mostly destroyed in World War II and now reconstructed, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to artifacts that span 6,000 years of the history of mankind. If you enjoy museums, this is nirvana, and all within a relatively compact space.
If you go:
German National Tourist Office
122 East 42nd Street, 52nd Floor
New York, NY 10168
Tel: (212) 661-7200