It’s no secret that I loved Berlin and enjoyed my time there more than I ever expected to. What I don’t like, however, is this feeling I’m left with of extreme dissatisfaction. No, the city and the people of Berlin did not do me wrong in any way. It’s just that my visit was way too short. I need more days in Berlin, yes, but also a whole lot of days to explore the rest of Germany. Berlin has acted as my gateway to the country; I got a small taste of it and it’s left me wanting MORE.
Also fueling my German wanderlust (bordering on obsession) is one of the German National Tourist Board’s (GNTB) current campaigns celebrating UNESCO World Heritage in Germany. Of all the reasons I travel and bring my children along is to experience the culture and history of the places we visit. Touring historic sites, natural environments, and landmark attractions help us all get a feel for the destination and even offer a glimpse of life in bygone eras. The GNTB has taken this notion and turned it into a way for us to “Time Travel – from the distant past to the near future” throughout Germany. With thirty-eight, Germany places third among European countries for number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, tying with France and being surpassed only by Italy and Spain. To explore and highlight these thirty-eight sites, the GNTB has designated eight regional routes, designed to transport the traveler through thousands of years of history while keeping an eye on Germany’s future. The routes feature monuments dedicated to cultural achievements, natural phenomena, and industrial heritage. While the idea is to lure culturally-minded travelers to Germany, the importance of preserving these historic sites is not forgotten. The German UNESCO World Heritage Sites Association works closely with the German Commission for UNESCO to promote low-impact tourism to World Heritage sites on a sustainable scale, which ties in nicely with the time travel/distant-past-to-near-future concept.
I am kind of obsessed with time travel (well, the thought of it) and frequently joke about where I’ll go “when I build my time machine….” I’m also a history nerd so, naturally, this UNESCO-Time Travel campaign appeals to me on those levels. And, because I can’t get enough of Germany these days, I’ve been poring over booklets and studying any other kind of information I can get my hands on. In doing so, I’ve become acquainted with the eight scenic and historic routes, and would like to share with you some highlights of each one. Shall we?
Natural wonders and proud cities (From Bremen to Berlin)
Bremen, the starting point, is a historically proud city, steeped in its trading traditions. The next stop is the coastal city of Bremerhaven and the German Wadden Sea, which is one of the last remaining natural, large-scale, intertidal ecosystems. Home to a host of plant and animal species, including the harbour seal, grey seal and harbour porpoise, the Wadden Sea is also a breeding and wintering ground for up to 12 million birds per year. After a bit of nature, it’s back to exploring historic cities, with stops in Hanseatic Lübeck, Wismar, and Straslund to take in the scenic harbors and Gothic architecture. Next is a visit to Rügen, Germany’s largest island and home to one of the five areas of woodland belonging to Germany’s Ancient Beech Forests. This route ends in Berlin with the oldest of the city’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Museum Island. Four millennia of history, art, and culture are on display at the island’s five museums: Pergamon Museum; Bode Museum; Museum of the Ancient World; New Museum; and Old National Gallery.
Visionaries and pioneering thinkers (From Berlin to Frankfurt)
This route is all about creativity and societal change and offers an interesting mix of Lutheranism and modernism. Travelers start in Berlin with the Modernism Housing Estates and proceed to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where Martin Luther took up residence and reportedly nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in 1517. The two main themes continue to cross paths along the rest of the route: Bauhaus sites in Dessau, followed by Martin Luther’s birthplace, Lutherstadt Eisleben; more Bauhaus sites in Weimar, and then the route’s final Lutheran site, Wartburg Castle. This is where Martin Luther sought refuge and translated the New Testament, all under the alias of “Squire George”.
Earthly treasure and architecture (From Hannover to Frankfurt)
Nature and fairytales: that’s what this route is all about. Well, not really, but those are the two themes that really stand out to me. Throw in some architecture for good measure and I am a happy traveler. The route, in fact, starts with architecture: the Fagus Factory in Alfeld, the first example of modern industrial architecture, built by Walter Gropius in 1911. One hundred years later, it was given World Cultural Heritage status. Continuing with architecture, but a very different kind, is a visit to two Romanesque churches in Hildesheim that comprise one World Heritage site: St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Church. The highlight of this route for me is the stop in Kassel, home of the Brothers Grimm. Not officially a World Heritage site, it certainly is an area I would love to visit, and is also a stop on the separate German Fairytale Route from Hanau to Bremen. After encounters with the likes of Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, my next stop would be the Messel Pit Fossil Site, where fossils from the Eocene period have been found.
Savoir vivre and sophistication (From Frankfurt to Düsseldorf)
The start of this route appears to continue with the fairytale theme in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley with more than forty castles, palaces and fortresses. In Brühl, we find another palace (Augustusburg) and the Falkenlust hunting lodge, where Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, Clemens August, practiced falconry. Venture onward to Cologne and its magnificent cathedral, once the tallest building in the world. After a stop at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, the route concludes in the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf, a hub of arts and culture.
Palaces and Parks (Begins and ends in Leipzig)
More palaces are to be found on this route, as well as parks, literature, and vineyards. (The preceding topics could very well make up a list of some of my most favorite things.) The first stop upon departing Leipzig is Weimar, where the Classical Weimar UNESCO World Heritage site includes the extraordinary Duchess Anna Amalia Library and Goethe’s summer house. Next is a stop at Europe’s first English-landscaped garden, the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz, a 140-square kilometer work of art. The route continues north to Potsdam, then to Bad Muskau and Saxony’s only World Heritage site, Muskauer Park. Before returning to Leipzig and ending the route, plan a stop in culturally-rich Dresden, known as “Florence on the Elbe”.
Roman remains and Bavarian cheers (From Frankfurt to Munich)
“Roman remains”: that’s all I needed to see. Those two words are enough to put this route at the top of my list of favorites. Ancient Rome and the history of the Roman Empire are two of my greatest interests. I’m fanatical when it comes to seeking out Roman ruins and sites, and this route offers a mighty significant one: the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes. It was built by the Romans with the hopes of protecting the empire against barbarians and it became the longest construction in Roman history. One of its fortresses is the Saalburg, the only fully reconstructed Roman border fort in existence. Another thing I’m fanatical about is beer, my appreciation for it equaling the enthusiasm some hold for wine. This is where the “cheers” part of the route comes in: in the town of Bamberg, travelers have the opportunity to sample the distinct rauchbier and learn about the town’s beer heritage (by visiting breweries and historic bars, of course).
Holy and hospitable (From Cologne to Stuttgart)
More Roman ruins are found at the beginning of this route in Trier in the form of an amphitheater, Roman baths, and cathedrals, which stand as reminders of 400 years of Roman rule. It is on to the town of Lorsch and the completely preserved King’s Hall, which was built in the mid-9th century and was the center of European spirituality. Also found here is Lorsch Abbey, founded in 764, which once held a library that was one of the largest and most influential of the Middle Ages. Further on in Speer and Heidelberg are excellent examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, including Speyer Cathedral and Maulbronn Monastery.
Lake Constance and the Alps (From Stuttgart to Munich)
The World Heritage site on this route is the German section of the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings, or stilt houses. Excavations in the area and subsequent reconstructions of the pile dwellings provide insight into life during the Bronze Age. The pile dwellings were remarkable in that inhabitants were able to fish from the decks of the homes while defending against attackers and predators, but were still close enough to shore to be able to cultivate the land. Leaving the pile dwellings behind, it’s on to Munich, with a stop at the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Even though the castle is not an official UNESCO World Heritage site, stopping there is a must.
I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to hop the next flight from Chicago to Berlin! For more information on UNESCO World Heritage in Germany, and additional general information, please visit the official site of the German National Tourist Board. In the meantime, tell me which route you think might be your favorite!
All images courtesy of German National Tourist Board