Celebrating UNESCO World Heritage in Germany

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.

Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Lutherstadt Wittenberg

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.

Fagus Factory

Fagus Factory

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.

Augustusburg Palace

Augustusburg Palace

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.

Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery

Village of Unteruhldingen on Lake Constance

Village of Unteruhldingen on Lake Constance

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 non-stop airberlin 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

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22 Responses to Celebrating UNESCO World Heritage in Germany

  1. Amber Degrace June 5, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    I would enjoy seeing it all! I would love to do a heritage tour of Germany and see the Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt areas, where my ancestors lived. My brother is traveling Germany next year and I am excited for him!
    Amber Degrace recently posted…Jester King Brewery, Where Every Beer is Funky and WildMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:06 am #

      I’m excited for your brother, too – and jealous! I think it’s fun and enriching to explore family heritage in other countries.

  2. Raul (@ilivetotravel) June 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    I love Germany and I have only seen a fraction of it – I need to explore more and share!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted…Photo Essay: Skiing in JulyMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:07 am #

      I need to explore more of Germany, too! If/when you go, please do share!

  3. Greg | Travel Blue Book June 6, 2014 at 5:24 am #

    We have yet to make it to Germany, but it is a top contender for one of our trips next year. It looks absolutely stunning! I can’t wait to finally make it there. Which part of the country would you suggest spending the most time in?
    Greg | Travel Blue Book recently posted…Toronto Pearson Airport Shops & RestaurantsMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      Oh gosh, I don’t know if I can answer that. I’ve not seen enough of the country myself. I can tell you where I’d like to go, though: Kassel and the Fairytale Route, as well as Bavaria.

  4. Cathy Sweeney June 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    I’ve been to Germany a few times now (and Berlin twice), but it’s definitely not enough to feel satisfied. History is everywhere and there is so much else to appreciate at love. When you figure out how to build the time machine, let me know — I’ll join you!
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted…Snapshots of Marinette, WisconsinMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Ha ha, Cathy! You got it!

  5. Leah June 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I really think I’d love to do this Germany tour. I’ve only been to Munich, but loved it so very much. These places look wonderful. No wonder you’re slightly obsessed with the country. 🙂
    Leah recently posted…Which Airline is the Best?My Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Munich is high on my list for the next visit!

  6. Lucy June 9, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Wow, who knew Germany had so many World Heritage sites, and such a range of them too. I’ve only been once but am hoping to get back out there near Christmas so will see if I can fit any of these in!
    Lucy recently posted…Tastes of Sicily: Learning to cook like a CatanianMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      I definitely did not realize there are so many UNESCO sites in Germany. I would love to visit around Christmastime, too, to visit the markets!

  7. Traveling Ted June 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    They all look amazing. Which one would have the best beer drinking possibilities. Perhaps the ones in Bavaria?
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Wat Arun: the Temple of Dawn photo essayMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      I think Bavaria would be at the top for beer drinking….

  8. Karl June 10, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    My father is from Germany and I still have a lot of Family there so I visit lots. This is one of the BEST articles I have seen about Germany. It beautiful architecture, castle’s etc are often over shadowed by other countries for some reason. Great read.

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      You are always so kind, Karl. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed this article.

  9. Adrienne @ AdrienneAway June 11, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Germany looks so awesome.It’s next on my list.Great pics.
    Adrienne @ AdrienneAway recently posted…Honeymoonin’ in St. ThomasMy Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      Woo hoo! I hope you make it there soon!

  10. Erin - The World Wanderer June 12, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    I really need to go back to Germany. I have only been to Munich, and to be honest, I didn’t fall in love. I’ve been saying for a while that I need to give it another chance, clearly this is true.
    Erin – The World Wanderer recently posted…Music Monday: Daylight.My Profile

    • Francesca June 17, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      Definitely give it another try!

  11. Lance July 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    I’ve been to a number of those sites over the years and will be visiting Wurzburg this summer. This is a great overview! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 1, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    I think a lot of people don’t realise just how beautiful Germany really is – I did a day trip to Neuschwanstein last year too and we also stopped off at some beautiful churches and villages in Bavaria en route, one of which is UNESCO listed and it was just magical, especially as it was all snow capped – love this list and there’s lots of places here that I would love to visit!
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) recently posted…Why I started Travel Blogging – Reflections One Year OnMy Profile

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