Tag - Germany

Neuschwanstein: A Fairytale Castle Tribute to Wagner

The end of the Romantic Road in southern Germany climbs to the village of Schwangau, about 60 miles southwest of Munich, the gateway to Bavaria,and probably the beer-drinking capital of the world. Two of the most famous Bavarian castles from the nineteenth century tower above the village: Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig the second of Bavaria (1845-1886) spent many happy summers as a child, and Neuschwanstein.

CastleThey are set against the backdrop of the steeply rising, mighty peaks of the Alps, on a stage of picture-book-perfect scenery of forests and lakes. These breathtaking castles, which cast their reflections in the lakes below, have fascinated many admiring visitors for years.

Ludwig was a ruler in a troubled time. His first years on the throne brought several major disappointments, such as a broken engagement and war between Prussia and Austria, leading to Bavaria’s loss of sovereignty in 1870. Ludwig’s psychological escape mechanism was to withdraw more into his own dream world, peopled by heroic medieval knights.

Sometimes fairytales do come true. They certainly did for the great composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the idolized fatherly friend of Ludwig. The complicated friendship between these two men is embodied in Neuschwanstein, a fairytale castle which appeals to everyone’s collective unconscious. It’s a magical, mystical place, redolent with old German myths, where we can imagine slaying dragons, rescuing damsels in distress and overcoming all manner of hardships.

In this castle, unlikely opposites are interwoven into one gloriously harmonious whole: the young, inexperienced king and the older, more experienced composer; possible madness and indisputable genius; beauty and light, with dark, brooding secrets and problems; earthly delights and religious themes.

Nowadays, Ludwig’s castles are enormous revenue earners, but financial difficulties affected both Ludwig and Wagner. Wagner, deeply in debt, was saved only by Ludwig’s generous patronage. Ludwig spent millions of gulden on his castles and was eventually declared insane by his ministers, who feared he would bankrupt the state. However, there was no consensus as to his insanity.

Castle2Ludwig’s famed generosity, passion for building, interior decorating, and love for Wagner and his works all came together in Neuschwanstein. The first opera he ever saw was Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at age 16, which left a lasting impression.

In 1868 Ludwig wrote to Wagner telling of his desire to build a castle in the neo-Gothic style near Schwangau. The plans for the castle used theatrical sets from Wagner’s operas as models. The upper courtyard was built after a set from “Lohengrin”, and the Minstrels’ Hall on one scene from “Tannhauser”. The other main room, the magnificently decorated Throne Room, was intended as the castle’s Hall of the Holy Grail.

The corner stone was laid in 1869 and Ludwig checked every detail of the work in making his dream castle a reality. A frequent decorative motif is the swan (Schwann), the heraldic animal of the Lords of Schwangau, and a natural link with the Lohengrin legend of the Knight of the Swans. The motifs for the glorious wall paintings were the old legends that had prompted Wagner to compose his operas: Lohengrin, Parsifal and Tannhauser.

The interior is extravagantly ornate. When you enter, the first reaction is one of stunned disbelief: “this can’t possibly be real!” The overriding impression is one of sumptuous gilding, and a dazzling multiplicity of colors and designs. Bursts of color, gold and blue embroidery, elaborate wood-carvings, chandeliers and rows of marble columns lead to the next reaction, of respectful reverence, to be in the presence of such magnificence. Opulence is often not beautiful, but this interior is both—exorbitantly opulent, but undeniably beautiful (note that no photos allowed inside).

Ludwig only lived here for 170 days before his death in 1886. Wagner himself never lived here, although his influence is all-pervasive. In the final count, Neuschwanstein was intended to be a “temple to Wagner,” as the king made clear in his letters “to his dear friend.” And that certainly seems to be the case.

Ludwig’s legacy, with its Wagnerian leitmotif, lives on, seemingly floating in the clouds. You can almost feel the spirit of Wagner’s hauntingly beautiful, powerful music wrap itself around you as you wander through the castle. Every September, concerts are held in the Minstrels’ Hall and the real music lives again, mingling and blending with its mythical origins.


Neuschwanstein is open daily, except Jan 1, Dec 24, 25, 31. Hours: April-15 Oct 8am-5pm, October 16-March 9am-3pm.

To visit inside you have to take a guided tour. It’s advised to buy tickets beforehand, as it gets very crowded. Ticket information here: neuschwanstein.de


As you wander around outside the castle, don’t forget to go on the Marienbrücke, a bridge that offers for fantastic views.

Fussen street

A street in Füssen

We drove south along a portion of the Romantic Road and ended in the historic, old town of Füssen, close to Neuschwanstein. It’s a lovely place to stay for a couple of days, providing an opportunity to visit the castles and the surrounding, picturesque countryside. Füssen is on Lake Forgensee with 11 other lakes nearby for water sports and boat trips. There’s also a great network of footpaths and bike routes.

Fussen

Füssen


For more information: 

neuschwanstein.de

romanticroadgermany.com

FRANKFURT RHINE-MAIN – The Very Heart of Europe

Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I recently visited the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region of Germany where an insightful quote of one of that country’s favored sons – Goethe – made music in my mind. Yes, I’d thought often about this region of Germany, read enough about it till I felt I almost knew it; but it was only through looking, genuinely seeing, that its singular importance, both historical and visual, came through loud and clear. For lack of a better word, may I just say that I was gobsmacked by my visit (sorry, this rather un-pretty word seems to say it all).

Many-Faceted Jewel

The great city of Frankfurt on the Main River is the birthplace of Goethe. It’s a lively destination in the heart of Europe – and a major financial hub, the largest on the continent. The city’s liberal and democratic tradition is one of the reasons that people from very diverse cultures have settled here over time. This ethnicity has contributed to making Frankfurt shine exclusively from every angle, kind of like a jewel that shines differently when observed from unique viewpoints.

Frankfurt by Night

Frankfurt by Night

The architecture here is captivating: the very old that survived the war, along with reconstructed and restored structures of the city’s past, blends smoothly with bold high-rises. The Museum Embankment consists of 13 world-renown museums that house prized collections ranging from classic art to history. Taking the liberty of quoting the great poet Goethe once again: “I call architecture frozen music.” Indeed. On my first evening, a group of us had the chance to experience an unparalleled view of Frankfurt’s skyline via a night cruise on the Main. We sailed under all seven city bridges and viewed sizzling neighborhood streetscapes, while above the sky turned mauve and pink, and below lights cast orange and gold reflections on the water. Enchantment.

Think Spahhhh

Kurhaus Concert Hall

Kurhaus Concert Hall

And the enchantment continued.  Our next stops were Wiesbaden and Rudesheim.  We had a leisurely and picturesque cruise along the Rhine in Wiesbaden, the capital of the Hesse region and a traditional spa city. The banks of the river were punctuated by the occasional lone bicyclist or strolling couple, as well as appealing homes nestled amid verdant woodlands and rows of well-tended vineyards. This city has a long history as a spa town and is home to the celebrated Kurhaus, an unprecedented center for exhibitions, conventions and cultural events. Once inside, our guide explained that if we were quiet as mice, we would be allowed to tiptoe to the uppermost balcony of the concert hall to hear a pianist rehearsing for an upcoming performance. We sat high amid ornate splendor as notes of a Chopin etude drifted heavenward and enveloped us. At the opening ceremony of Kurhaus in 1907, Kaiser Wilhelm II called it “the most beautiful spa building in the world.”

Vineyards in Rudesheim

Vineyards in Rudesheim

On to Rudesheim, a city whose reputation preceded it as the famous wine region of Reingau and its well-known Riesling wines. A medieval atmosphere pervades the city due in part to its architecture of quaint, half-timbered houses. We took a cable car to a high plateau to view the impressive Germania monument and panoramic views over the old town, over the shimmering waters of the Rhine dotted with green isles, and over vineyards – vineyards, vineyards everywhere.

Champagne air anyone?

Bad Homburg is the former summer residence of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and an internationally known spa town. A stroll around its environs was not unlike a trip back to royal times with its 19th century buildings and ornate casino.  Residents are proud of this fashionable heart of the Taunus region and its fresh, brisk air they like to call “champagne air.” There may be something to this because, as I boarded the bus to visit Saalburg, I could swear I felt invigorated. Was it the Riesling tasting or merely air like champagne? Whatever. I was eager to visit this Roman fort which delineates the border fortification of the German provinces. Here we saw a completely reconstructed Roman fort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We returned to Bad Homburg for an evening at its celebrated casino and dinner in the sophisticated surroundings of the Crystal restaurant.

Festivities in Seligenstadt

Festivities in Seligenstadt

Our visit to Seligenstadt was timed just right for the Seligenstadter Geleit – “Seligenstadt Escort,” a celebration held once every four years. This unique ceremony in Germany refers to a kind of safe passage ritual and has been a tradition since the early Middle Ages. During ancient times, traveling merchants were often set upon by thieves and, thus, used Seligenstadt as a rest stop to obtain an escort for safe passage. Today, the entire town becomes one huge festive event of more than 100 elaborately built attractions and a grand carnival parade that wanders through crowds as large as 40,000. This is an attraction you may see only once in a lifetime, and I felt fortunate to be there at this wildly happy moment.

Everything Old Is New Again

Hessenpark Half-Timbered house

Hessenpark Half-Timbered House

Under an hour’s drive to our next destination was Hessenpark, an open-air museum that showcases half-timbered buildings of the Hesse region. Here a hundred houses are on display, each distinctive, each conjuring a fascinating world of more than 400 years of rural life.  There are clock towers, windmills, a bakery, a village school and even an ancient post office. I entered a goldsmith’s workshop – Goldschmiede by name – where graduates in the art of jewelry-making were busy crafting precious pieces. Sara Pukall stopped work long enough to show me around the room and explained that if I felt so inclined I could take a course on-site and make a piece of jewelry for myself – a tempting offer, one I’ll keep in mind.  Hessenpark is a popular family destination and a cool learning experience for kids.

Come Fly Away

A spectacular end to my German holiday was spending the last night at the striking Hilton Frankfurt Airport Hotel. The airport itself has the busiest passenger traffic in the country and is the third busiest in Europe. Serving 264 destinations in 113 countries makes it the airport with the most international destinations in the world. Before dining at its Kafer’s Bistro with members of the airport’s press office, we were told that a “Sunset Surprise” awaited us.  We handed over our passports, had our hand baggage screened, and then boarded a small van where we donned reflective vests. After a short ride, we left the van to find ourselves airside.  That, in lay terms, means we were smack-dab on the tarmac and up close and personal with an A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner! I walked around this behemoth and felt very, very small – insignificant in fact.  I stood under the fuselage of the plane gazing at gargantuan wheels (how many? More than I could count) and became giddy being photographed next to one of its colossal jet engines.  Airside – a one-off experience – and one never to be forgotten.

The author up close and personal with the grand A380

The author up close and personal with the grand A380

An old German legend tells us that after God named all of the plants, a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied “That shall be your name;” thus, this flower became the sentimental favorite of the country. Leaving Germany, I now have countless cherished experiences tucked firmly in my memory. Forget-Me-Not? Not a chance!

If You Go:

Frankfurt Rhine Main Tourism Lufthansa Airline (travel directly in comfort/great food)

Hotels:

Fleming’s Deluxe Hotel (Frankfurt) Oranien (Wiesbaden), Steigenberger (Bad Homburg) Landgasthof Neubauer (Seligenstadt), Hilton Frankfurt Airport

Restaurants

Frohsein (Frankfurt) Lohrberg (Frankfurt), Opelbad (Wiesbaden) Landgasthof (Bad Homburg)

To Do

Frankfurt Cruise Rhine Cruise (Wiesbaden), Hessenpark (Neu Anspach) Casino (Bad Homburg), Glaabs Brauerei (Seligenstadt Brewery)

Berlin – The One We Once Knew

East Side Gallery, Berlin

East Side Gallery, Berlin

The Berlin Wall—a formidable boundary that had divided a country for 28 cold years— fell on Thursday, November 9, 1989. The day marked the end of a bitter separation of East and West Germans and led to reunification of the country one year later.

A quarter of a century on, Berlin’s past is still present and the city brims with history. Stroll down its streets and speak with its people, for each has a story to tell.

What Goes up Must Come down

By 1961, 2.6 million East Germans had voted with their feet and left the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The regime’s response was the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 12, 1961.

GDR Soldier jumping from East to West Berlin, August, 1961

GDR soldier jumping from East to West Berlin, August, 1961

Monika Bimba, born and raised in West Berlin, witnessed a great deal of the city’s history and remembers that morning when her parents took her to the Brandenburg Gate.

“I was shocked and angry when I saw the rolls of barbed wire on the streets,” she said. “I couldn’t understand how the Allies were allowing it to happen. I was only 11, but what I saw scared me. I knew it was serious, and that something terrible was happening.”

Fast forward 28 years to early autumn in 1989. Protests, known as the ”Monday Demonstrations,” had begun in the city of Leipzig. Initially calling for the freedom to travel outside the East, it became evident over the weeks that a modification in this scope would only happen if the entire system were to change completely. Rallies soon reached unprecedented scales in other East German cities, with 100,000 people taking to the streets in Leipzig on October 16 and one million in East Berlin by November 4.

Mario Elle, who was living in Leipzig at that time, recalls those events, which he saw on television as a 12-year-old. “My mother told me about the tension in the air when she took part in one—it was a huge risk for her or anyone to go,” he said. “There wasn’t just joy at the beginning, but also great uncertainty, even fear. Would bullets fly? No one knew. The secret police lurked around every corner, and the consequences of being recognized and reported on were high.”

Bornholmer Strasse, Platz der 9. Nov. 1989, Berlin

Bornholmer Strasse, Platz des 9. Nov. 1989, Berlin

On November 9, 1989, Günter Schabowski, the former chairman of the GDR’s Socialist Unity Party (SED), held a press conference to discuss the plan of easing travel restrictions for East Germans to the West. Journalist Peter Brinkmann from Bild Magazine asked when that would go into effect. Schabowski looked at his notes and said: “To my knowledge immediately, without delay.” Little did he know, the government had actually intended for the process to happen the following day.

Upon hearing the announcement, most East Germans thought it was a misunderstanding or even a joke. Yet, 20,000 East Berliners streamed into West Berlin via the Bornholmer Strasse border checkpoint in those first 45 minutes. Others remained skeptical at home, fearing the border would close just as suddenly as it had opened and strand them from their families on the other side.

Newsreels of that weekend captured the emotions of a moment in history many had deemed impossible even in their dreams.

Brandenburg Gate, Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 10, 1989

Fall of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate, November 11, 1989 (courtesy Monika Bimba)

Jubilation – Then and Now

The reveling in Berlin extended long into that weekend. “The atmosphere was like celebrating all the holidays and my birthday on the same day,” Monika Bimba said. “I took my two children to the Brandenburg Gate on Saturday night, and we chiseled off a chunk of the Berlin Wall. I had never thought I would have seen that day in my lifetime.”

For East Germans, it granted access to elements of freedom and a world that had been out of reach. “As a child, you first saw everything positive and colorful,” Mario Elle said. “For me, it was Coca- Cola, western music and West German teen magazines—anything. But with my eyes as a boy, I saw the country of my childhood—my GDR—simply disappear one year later. And I cried.”

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, events will take place around Berlin all weekend. The highlight is a light installation of eight thousands helium balloons, each one containing a personal message by private individuals, local associations, businesses, schools and parishes.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Berlin Wall Memorial

Created by brothers Christopher and Marc Bauder, this “border of light” will trace 15 kilometers of the once infamous line that had severed Berlin. Along the way, 100 open-air exhibitions will recall daily life with the Wall, the flights of daring escapes and the memory of at least 136 people who died trying. At the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, film montages will project historical and never-seen-before footage from the Berlin Wall era.

On the evening of November 9, 2014, the illuminated balloons will rise into the air and signify the opening of the Berlin Wall.

And Today…

From Seoul to Las Vegas to the Vatican City, roughly 600 segments of the 3.6-meter (11.8-foot) high Berlin Wall are on display around the world. In Berlin, portions of the border wall—the graffiti-laden side many knew from Western television—still stand in three original locations. The longest of which, albeit in sections, is at the lauded Berlin Wall Memorial.  

Berlin Wall, 1961 - 1989

Berlin Wall, 1961 – 1989

An intact stretch of the eastern, inner wall, which was off limits to East Germans, is along the River Spree. In 1990, over one hundred artists from 21 countries traveled to Berlin and converted this 1.3-kilometer concrete canvas into the famed, open-air East Side Gallery.

Berlin is indeed a survivor. It emerged from the ashes and rubble of a world war divided, only to break out of the grim and grey reality of a cold war as one.

Visiting Europe’s Christmas Markets Aboard Uniworld

A Troika of Treasures in Germany, France & Switzerland

During the Christmas season, typically from mid-November through 23 December, all Europe comes alive with holiday festivities and none are more joyous and all-encompassing than the Christmas markets. I had the opportunity to experience these merry events when I joined a Uniworld River Cruise and sailed down the Rhine, visiting cities from Cologne to Strasbourg and all the way to Basel, in Switzerland.

Heedless of the Wind and Weather

Les Trois Rois

Les Trois Rois

During this season, town centers, market squares and narrow cobblestone lanes come alive with brightly decorated stalls, offering regional food, Christmas decorations, sweet confections, crafts, and live entertainment. Oh, and let’s not forget the Glühwein, that spicy, hot mulled wine that is reason enough to visit the markets – and it banishes the cold quite handily! On my excursions into several enchanting German, French and Swiss medieval castle towns, I celebrated the magic of this season in a memorable way. An added plus was learning some background and history of each metropolis– and meeting warm and hospitable locals in the bargain.

Unique Uniworld

Popularity of river cruising is on the rise, as continued news of mega-liners’ disasters at sea lure us toward more intimate, smaller craft like the SS Antoinette—Uniworld Boutique River Cruise’s 164-passenger vessel. The company has been in business since 1976 and currently has 18 ships, including the all-inclusive SS Catherine which launched this year. From the moment I stepped on-board I was giddy with excitement, and that high never flagged throughout the cruise. High above me in the two-storey lobby hung a shimmering light fixture, which I later learned was the 10-foot, blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier. Resplendent with sapphires, it originally graced New York’s famed Tavern on the Green. Checking in at Reception, I gaped at the Brazilian marble on the walls and floor and was captivated by a 19th century Venetian glass mirror mounted behind the receptionist.

Entering my stateroom, I felt I’d stepped into Chateau de Versailles. My room was decorated in 18th century French furnishings, with perhaps my very favorite feature being a mini-conservatory. Heavy toile draperies enclosed this French balcony with two cozy chairs, a soft cashmere throw and a floor-to-ceiling window that, at the touch of a button, lowered half-way, providing a wonderful view of the Rhine and its myriad fairy tale castles. Bikes were available for our cycling pleasure port-side, and each day there was an engaging tour excursion into town to visit the markets, the cathedrals, or just saunter and shop till sailing on to the next port.

This Little Trekker Went to Markets

The Rhine

The Rhine

Our first stop: Cologne. This city of just a million inhabitants boasts 42 museums and a sophisticated dining culture, as the cuisines of all Cologne’s 181 nationalities are represented. A leader in culture and art, it is Germany’s 4th largest city with a bustling center for trade fairs and conventions. Its party-going mentality encourages visitors to join in the fun and have a drink. There’s also a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site: the famed Gothic Cathedral of Cologne. Construction began in the year 1248, was halted in 1473, then finally completed in 1880. A visit here is at once empowering and overpowering. Among its treasures I found my favorite in the Lady Chapel – an important triptych alter painting done in 1442. A portion of the work depicts the legend of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions, who were murdered in Cologne by the Huns. The cherubic faces of Ursula’s girls are sweet and poignant. Cologne’s markets glowed with pre-Christmas excitement and its stalls were small, Alpine huts. I was smitten by the market at Rudolfplatz, which transported me into a world of Grimm fairy tales. Costumed Grimm characters paraded the streets – a fantasy world for kids of all ages.

A castle along the Rhine

A castle along the Rhine

Next up – Koblenz. Talk about old. This city celebrated its 2,000th (no, seriously) birthday in 1992. It lies at the confluence of two rivers—the Rhine and the Moselle—and is considered the “corner of Germany.” Its market’s 130 gaily-decorated, wooden stalls offered an extensive range of hand-made goods and Christmas decorations, hot, aromatic Glühwein and bakeries selling Stollen—a fruit-cake like bread covered in powdered sugar or sugar icing—and other German goodies.

Rudesheim is a medieval city at the southern end of the Rhine Valley in Hesse. UNESCO World Heritage rewarded it for its wine making that dates back to the Romans, who grew vineyards here in the 1st century. Drosselgasse is considered the “party lane” of the town, with taverns and restaurants offering regional cuisine famed Rudesheimer wine, live entertainment and dancing.  120 stalls represented 12 countries and presented Christmas customs from around the world, including specialties from far-flung Finland and Mongolia! I loved the life-size figures on Market Square, the largest Nativity scene in all of Germany.

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

I was looking forward to touring Heidelberg and it did not disappoint – in spite of a freezing, drizzle throughout the tour. I just pulled up my hoodie and was off to the markets. Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university and, of course, immortalized by Sigmund Romberg and his sparkling operetta The Student Prince. The town center sported a lively open-air ice rink and carolers who serenaded in colorful Victorian garb. As far as the castle, it would be hard to find a more striking location than the one it enjoys. Set against the deep green forests on the Königstuhl hill, its red sandstone ruins towering majestically over the entire Neckar Valley. First mentioned in writings in 1225, this monumental pile was destined to become one of the grandest castles of the Renaissance.

Our voyage touched a small corner of France – Strasbourg – which has the oldest Christmas markets in the country. The city walks a tightrope between France and Germany, straddling a medieval past and its progressive future, all the while pulling off this act in inimitable Alsatian style. The markets were situated close to Strasbourg’s inspiring cathedral and the old town’s twisting alleys, which are lined with crooked half-timbered houses à la Grimm. One wonders how a city that does Christmas markets and gingerbread so well can also be home to the glittering EU Quarter and France’s second largest student population. Well, that’s Strasbourg…all the sweeter for its contradictions and cross-cultural quirks. The whole island of Strasbourg is a World Heritage Site, and its holiday bazaars have existed since the Middle Ages. I indulged in one of the region’s specialties: tarte flambée. This confection consists of a thin pastry covered with cream, onions and bacon pieces (every bit as outrageously good as it sounds!).

Certainly Not Least

Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland

Our last port of call: Basel, Switzerland. It’s the country’s third most populous city located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet. Though not a particularly large city, it is grand in countless ways, not the least of which is its Kunst Museum. It houses the most significant public art collection in Switzerland with works from 1661 up to the 19th and 20th centuries. No surprise here. This is, after all, the home of the famous ArtBasel. The Christmas markets at Munsterplatz and Barfusserplatz in the old town are considered to be the prettiest and largest in Switzerland. Each displayed a towering tree that glowed and shimmered at night, casting its spell over the entire square. The wares offered here were of very high quality, and the mulled wine I quaffed was maybe the best of all the ones I sampled (yes, there were many). More indulging: warm, sweet waffles smothered in whipped cream. And why not? It was the end of the trip and when in Rome – or Vienna – or Basel for that matter…..

Les Trois Rois is Basel’s grand hotel. No, let me amend that. It is one of the grandest hotels in the whole wide world! The first official record of it dates back to 1681 and some of its past guests include Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, Picasso – the list goes on. In fact, one could say that every renowned, celebrated person for more than four centuries has guested here. Les Trois Rois (The Three Kings) enjoys a prime location in the city’s center and directly on the banks of the Rhine. On the day I visited, it was decked out in holiday finery with two huge Christmas trees that flanked the steps to the entrance. The property belongs to the first generation of urban grand hotels and truly exemplifies the pinnacle of le grand Swiss hotel. In the plush lobby/bar, I stopped for a glass of bubbly. What a sparkling way to end my Uniworld European holiday happening!

If You Go:

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise: www.uniworld.com

Les Trois Rois: www.lestroisrois.com

 Photos -“Courtesy of Michael Sloane Travel Photography”

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Isn’t it Romantic?

The quaint town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beloved destination on Germany’s Romantic Road in the northern Bavarian region of Franconia. Wander down its myriad of cobblestone lanes, and one would half expect to see fleeting images of Brothers Grimm characters darting in and out of half-timbered houses.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Although tourists flock to Rothenburg by the coach-load every year—2.5 million to be exact—it shouldn’t put anyone off from visiting or even staying a couple of nights. Along with admiring Rothenburg’s architectural gems, here are a few tips to find crowd-free oases in this romantic town.

Set in Stone

Perched snug on a hilltop overlooking undulating hills and the Tauber River, which ambles its way through the Tauber Valley, Rothenburg’s stone walls envelope it in a tight, little package.

When eager groups file through the city gate towers mid-morning and begin to scurry from one corner of history to the other, start the day at the Klingenturm, where wooden steps lead from this tower to the narrow, covered parapet that wraps around half of the town.

section of Rothenburg's covered, fortified wall

section of Rothenburg’s covered, fortified wall

700 meters (2,296 feet) of the eastern wall, connected by six towers, along with nearly half of the historic center, succumbed to Allied bombings in early 1945. As in the case of many German cities after World War II, municipal councils struggled with the decision either to rebuild what stood before or to build completely anew with the architectural tendencies of the time.

Fortunately, Rothenburg settled on the former and has continued with its strict preservation rules ever since. Along this wall, chiseled squares bear the names of donators from around the world who have helped fund the preservation of this medieval town for more than 40 years.

Further down the way, there is one house in particular that won’t go amiss: the Gerlachschmiede. It’s hard to imagine that this beautiful, half-timbered house was a mere pile of debris at the end of the war. The town restored the former blacksmith’s workshop to its original state in 1951, and it carried on serving as a smithy until 1967. Mounted on its gable is the coat of arms—a green serpent with a golden crown, which the former blacksmith, Georg Gerlach, designed himself.

At the southern tip of the covered parapet, stands the figure-eight shaped Spitalbastei. This is the strongest point in the town’s defensive wall system and is complete with seven gates, a drawbridge and three cannons. The Latin inscription on this bulwark reads: “Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus” (peace to those who enter in, good health to those who leave again).

Spitalbastei

Spitalbastei

I’ll Drink to That!

Once admiring the craftsmanship of the bastion inside and out, follow the path that skirts around the town’s southwestern wall to the vineyards in an area locally known as the “Rothenburg Riviera.” The small signs in front of the rows of vines here indicate which wines the Weingut Glocke (Glocke Winery) will produce (think: pinot blanc, Bacchus Gewürtztraminer and Goldriesling).

The Franconian region has been producing wines for a thousand years, and legend has it that in 1631, when Catholic General Tilly and his army of 60,000 men took over this former Protestant market town during the Thirty Year’s War, Rothenburg’s town council tried to save their necks by first offering the general a mug of wine. Tilly took a couple of sips and then gave the councilmen a challenge: “If one of you has the courage to step forward and down this mug of wine in one gulp, then I shall spare the town and the lives of the councilmen.” Thanks to the mayor, who accepted the dare and drank the three-quarters of a liter of wine in one go, visitors can appreciate Rothenburg’s beauty today.

Not surprisingly, Rothenburg reenacts this event every Pentecost, and so too do the clock figures on the facade of the town hall in the Marktplatz between 10 am and 10 pm daily on the hour.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

To find out what the fuss was all about over 400 years ago, savor the local varietals by either attending the merriment at the town’s wine festival in late summer or dabble in a little wine tasting at the restaurant of the Weingut Glocke (Am Plönlein 1). To take a peek in their cellar, wine enthusiasts need to book an appointment in advance.

Downhill from the vineyard, the 16th-century Kobolzeller Church pokes through the lush greenery in the valley, and the tranquil tempo of the small river that leads to the 14th-century Tauber Bridge—a replica of a Roman viaduct. This „double-bridge,“ with its two rows of arches, once linked the trade route between the cities of Augsburg and Würzburg in the Middle Ages. The town completed its restoration in 1956, after Nazi soldiers had heavily damaged it by blowing much of it up during the war.

The bridge is a splendid spot to appreciate Rothenburg’s medieval skyline of soaring stone towers and church steeples amid the waves of terracotta-colored rooftops.

Tiptoe through the Gardens

When the tourists have boarded their coaches in the late afternoon, take a stroll through the Castle Garden, or Burggarten, which jets out like a finger at the westernmost point of the old town. The Hohenstaufen family had built their castle here in 1142, but an earthquake reduced it to rubble two centuries later. Since stone was a top commodity at that time, the town used the remnants towards the building of its fortified wall.

Gerlachschmiede Haus

Gerlachschmiede Haus

Since the 17th and 18th centuries, a manicured garden, complete with a percolating fountain, sandstone statues of the four seasons and elements under a canopy of shade trees, offers respite at the end of the day. The panorama of the Tauber Valley and western flank of Rothenburg is breathtaking—a fitting place to watch the sun descend on the horizon.

Rothenburg is undeniably picturesque with its fairy tale spirit and Christmas card backdrop. Yet, despite the multitudes the town attracts each year, small oases of Rothenburg remain for those who’d like to feel as if they have it virtually all to themselves.

Read More:

Berlin – The One We Once Knew

Journey Through Historical East Berlin

Germany’s Romantic, Castle-Filled Rhine

Join Travel Brigade for a radio podcast from Rudesheim, Germany, as we float along the castle-filled Rhine River, while enjoying locally produced riesling wines. Click below to find out how you can ride a cable car up to the hills above the river and walk through the vineyards while enjoying beautiful views down to the river.

This is known as the “Romantic” area of Germany because there are so many castles lining the river, some that you can even stay in. We’ll also tell you how to make a local treat called a flaming-hot “Rudesheim Coffee.”

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Enjoy the trip! Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.

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Fairy Tale Destinations for Couples and Families

There are some places on earth that make you sit back and pinch yourself to see if you’re awake or dreaming. Visiting these locations with your loved ones can be a great way to inject some magic into your travels, ensuring you, your partner and children can experience some beautiful locations and share some true fairy tale moments together. To help you set an itinerary, here are six destinations which successfully blur the lines between dreams and reality.

Colmar, France

Colmar, France

Colmar, France

Located in north-eastern France, this town is home to 65,000 people and is one of the most beautiful settlements in the world. Walking through the paved streets of the old town, visitors to Colmar will witness fully preserved historic homes and shops, winding canals complete with boats, and a host of fountains. Come at the right time of year and you’ll find everything decked out with flowers of all kinds. Colmar was home to Frédéric Bartholdi, the man who created the Statue of Liberty, and it is easy to see how his artistic talents were moulded by this amazing French settlement.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

The central region of Vietnam plays home to the seaside town of Hoi An, one of SE Asia’s hidden gems. Now a UNESCO heritage area, the old Chinese shop-fronts, temples and bridges are all incredibly well preserved. Walking around with your loved ones, you can take in the sights and purchase the region’s many amazing handicrafts including:

• Lanterns
• Suits
• Dresses
• Pottery

There are also some nice beaches nearby if you and the family want to relax by the seaside after a long day of sightseeing within the town itself.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

For something more natural and surreal, pack your bags and take the family off to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Here, the landscape is filled with bizarre clay structures, some of which actually have homes within them. The rock formations themselves are known locally as ‘fairy chimneys’ so you can image the magical nature of the place! Even though Turkey might not be on the typical tourist itinerary, you can still find exclusive Atlantis Travel deals to fine Turkey hotel resorts so that you and your loved ones can explore this region without having to sacrifice any of the luxuries that you need during your everyday life.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

When it comes to fairy tale locations, none stays true to the actual name like the Neuschwanstein Castle found in the Bavarian region of Germany. As well as acting as inspiration for the magical castle found in the Disney logo, this structure also has a long romantic history of its own.

• It was built by Ludwig II as a private retreat
• Decorations were inspired by Richard Wagner
• It offers stunning views of the mountains and plain

It is here that you and your family can witness true royal style, intricate architecture and spectacular natural scenery all thrown into one.

Bamboo Forest, JapanBamboo Forest, Japan

Bamboo Forest, Japan

Bamboo Forest, Japan

Throughout Asia, the bamboo plant is known for its many symbolic meanings. It Japan, it is a guard against evil which explains why the stunning Bamboo Forest feels so tranquil. Found in Kyoto, this surreal location features a single walking trail through the towering bamboo stalks. Their gentle knocking in the breeze will sooth you as you take in the sense of otherness of this amazing Bamboo Forest. Visitors can also visit the adjacent Tenryu-ji Temple and the Okochi-Sanso Villa for a full journey of inner discovery and outward experiences in this memorable Asian nation.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Our last fairy tale destination may seem a little cliché. Venice still continues to be one of the most magical places on Earth and for good reason. The architecture and the canals offer an unforgettable backdrop and the vibrant culture and extraordinary atmosphere end up providing visitors with a feeling they won’t get anywhere else on the planet. Venice actually consists of 117 islands all interconnected with a number of bridges. Couples and families can stroll through this city, taking in the sights, for weeks on end without growing bored of the surroundings.

These six fairy tale locations will give you an excellent idea of the many amazing destinations available for you and your loved ones to travel to in the future!

Wiesbaden: Germany’s Spa Town

Join Travel Brigade for their radio podcast episode in Wiesbaden, Germany, where the warm, thermal waters serve as the source for amazing spa experiences. Click below to find out how travelers have been coming to this historic town for hundreds of years for the curative powers of the underground hot springs. Those experiences are still available today in both modern and traditional spas in the area.

After a relaxing day in the waters, we’ll tell you about excellent dining with wines from the nearby Rhein region or enjoying a stay at the 200 year-old elegant Hotel Nassauer Hof. Wiesbaden is also home to a James Bond style international casino and a water-powered funicular up to beautiful views overlooking the city from Neroberg hillside.

Enjoy the trip! Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.

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Visit Germany’s Fairy Tale Trail

Some of the world’s best known Fairy Tale characters – Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella – all got their start in one particular area of Germany where the Brothers Grimm collected their famous Fairy Tales. Click on the button below to listen to this Travel Brigade episode where we take you on a trip along the “Fairy Tale Route.” We’ll visit the Brothers Grimm Museum and places where they lived and worked, as well as landscapes and castles that inspired these stories. We’ll take you to the tower that led to the Rapunzel story, the “Sleeping Beauty Castle,” an area where it’s tradition for girls to wear a red cape, and towns where they still celebrate the characters that are beloved by everyone from kids to grandparents. Enjoy the trip! Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.

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Brothers Grimm monument - Hanau

Brothers Grimm monument – Hanau

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Frankfurt: Rhine, Main and Apple Wine

Join Travel Brigade in Frankfurt, Germany, to discover a city with amazing history but also has a modern skyline that is unique in Europe. From going to the top of Main Tower to overlook the river running through the city, to trying local food and drink at the Apple Wine Festival, to leaving a lock on the Iron Bridge that celebrates a couple’s love, we’ll take in all that this amazing city has to offer. Thanks to a large international airport that connects to the autobahn and regional trains, Frankfurt is also a great base for exploring the entire Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region, which includes everything from vineyards, wineries and spas in the Rheingau to the edge of Bavaria to tracing the trail of the Brothers Grimm on the Fairy Tale Route. Enjoy the trip! Follow us on Twitter @TravelBrigade.

Frankfurt Roman Square

Frankfurt Roman Square

Frankfurt am Main Skyline

Frankfurt am Main Skyline

Old Opera Frankfurt

Old Opera Frankfurt

Evening Light - Frankurt

Evening Light – Frankurt

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Buying Euros and Using Credit Cards in Germany

Euros

Euros

Money Exchange and ATMs in German Cities

Is it cheaper to purchase Euros from an ATM upon arrival in Germany or to obtain them in America before departure? This article will inform travelers. North Americans traveling to Germany, or Europe in general, are often unsure whether it is cheaper to exchange dollars to Euros in the United States or Canada, if their credit cards work at any ATM in Germany and where they can withdraw money at a low foreign transaction fee.

Currency Exchange in Germany

Currency exchange desks, or “Geldwechsel” in German, may be found at any airport and central railway stations (Hauptbahnhof) in larger cities. Exchange desks are operated by the ReiseBank (Reise means travel), Germany’s market leader in the travel funds business. The bank maintains 100 branches in Germany at airports, central railway stations and city center locations, for example at trade fairs. ReiseBank works jointly with Western Union and money transfer actions are done within minutes.

They also sell prepaid “CallHome” calling cards. The ReiseBank is open from Monday through Sunday but office hours differ from city to city. However, they normally open very early in the morning and close late. All locations and opening hours may be found at their website.

ATMs in Germany – Why it is Cheaper to Buy Euros in Europe

All established credit cards can be used at most ATMs in Germany which are called “Bankomat” or “Geldautomat.” ATMs are multilingual, thus credit cards may be used without problems. Some banks in Germany have a reciprocal agreement with other banks, for example Deutsche Bank with Barclays and Bank of America, which avoid bank charges when using the ATM. Travelers should check with their bank before traveling to Germany and ask if they must pay a fee for international withdrawals. Usually a 1% to 3% foreign transaction fee is charged. Nevertheless, it is cheaper to purchase Euros from an ATM upon arrival in Germany than to obtain them in the United States or Canada before departure.

Using Credit Cards and Travelers Checks in Germany

Compared to the United States and Canada, the majority of Germans prefer to pay cash or with the EC/Maestro debit card. Many small shops, cafes and restaurants in Germany do not accept credit cards, especially in smaller cities and villages. Therefore, travelers should check before ordering a meal to ensure that credit cards are accepted and, if they are, whether the traveler’s particular card will be honored. Even if shops and restaurants display the logos of the brands they accept on their doors, it is still wise to ask before ordering.

Travelers checks are universally accepted throughout Germany, but as everywhere else in Europe, travelers will be charged a fee for their use which sometimes can be substantial.

When in Germany, do as the Germans do when they travel to America: Use cash for small purchases and a credit card for large purchases.

Office Hours of Banks in Germany

German Banks (except for the ReiseBank, as mentioned above) are open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Thursdays to 6 p.m. They are closed on the weekend, but ATM machines are accessible 24 hours.

Rest Easy, Germaphobes: Here’s How to Avoid Germs and Enjoy a Holiday

Female tourist pointing

Female tourist pointing

by Selena Hernandez,

If thoughts like, “All the world’s your oyster—until that seafood buffet has you clinging to the germy hotel toilet for dear life” have ever crossed your mind, you may be a germaphobe. We get it. Take heart: You can still enjoy your holiday without being paralyzed by nightmares of disease. Take these precautions to avoid the most commonly reported travel germ risks:

Be Prepared

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a comprehensive database of destinations and their current public health concerns. Check the “For Travelers” menu, where you can choose your destination and then click all the conditions that apply to you. Click “Go” and you will get a list of precautions for that location and any vaccines you will want before you fly. Note that many vaccines only reach full efficacy a few weeks later, so plan accordingly. Just keep washing your hands and don’t let anyone pick on you for carrying hand sanitizer.

Food and Drink Risks

The Annals of Internal Medicine reports that food- and beverage-borne gastrointestinal illnesses are the number one travel-related health problem. Avoid uncooked, unpasteurized and cold foods whenever possible. Stick with freshly cooked hot foods, fruits and veggies that can be peeled and bottled beverages. Avoid ice, buffets, uncooked seafood and street vendors. Your tummy will thank you later, but pack some anti-diarrheal pills—just in case.

Hot Tubs, Swimming Pools, Beaches

Salt and chlorine are great germ killers, but they don’t catch everything. Medical Informatics Insider found that 95 percent of hot tubs contain bacteria from feces, and WebMD recently noted that nearly 1.5 million people get sick annually from playing in beach water. Still longing to jump in? Before you dip, ask how well the resort pool or hot tub is maintained. If you’re visiting an outdoor hot tub, do they frequently change the hot tub spa filters and keep up on chemical testing and maintenance?

Also, follow the CDC’s advice on taking a safe swim: Keep water out of your eyes, nose and mouth. Take hot, soapy showers before and after, and if you have any open cuts, sores or illnesses (or just can’t stand the idea of what may be in the water), go sightseeing instead.

Bed Bugs and Other Biters

Bed bugs are one of creepiest travel nuisances out there. Frommers has a good article on how to pack and where to stow your luggage to prevent bed bugs from ruining your vacation. If you are going somewhere buzzing with disease-carrying mosquitoes, choose lodgings with mosquito netting, or bring your own. Wear bug repellent and light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Columbia even has lines of insect repellent clothing.

So don’t sit at home freaking out about travel germs. Take these precautions and enjoy the journey without diarrhea, fevers, rashes or bites!

Willkommen to the Waldorf-Astoria

 Waldorf-Astoria Berlin

Waldorf-Astoria Berlin

The Waldorf-Astoria Berlin is latest addition to the German capital’s ever-increasing list of five-star hotels. From the moment upon entering the hotel’s signature Peacock Alley, where a grandfather clock whispers the passing of time, guests will revel in the subtle statements of elegance and exquisite detail the hotel’s very name represents.

Nighty Night

At 119 meters (390 ft.), the Waldorf-Astoria soars over Berlin’s Breitscheid Platz—just minutes from the city’s celebrated, upscale shopping avenue: Kurfürstendamm, or simply Ku-damm to the locals. The luxury hotel boasts 232 deluxe and grande deluxe rooms and suites with warm tones of plush materials in the finest of art deco design. These posh accommodations also feature the latest in technological amenities, such as floor heating and a built-in television screen in the bathroom mirror.

For those with deep pockets, the presidential suite encompasses 280 square meters, or 3,000 square feet, of the entire 31st floor. Guests will have their own private entrance lobby, two en-suite bedrooms, Jacuzzi, a kitchenette, a grand piano to tickle the ivories and a fireplace to cozy up to on a winter’s night. All this plus a gorgeous 360° panorama of the vibrant German capital will cost a cool €12,000 euros ($9,181 USD) per night—and don’t let the bedbugs bite. While on holiday in Berlin, what better way to splurge than to indulge oneself in sensuous spa treatments from head to toe.

Satiating the Soul
 Waldorf-Astoria Berlin, Junior Suite

Waldorf-Astoria Berlin, Junior Suite

The Waldorf-Astoria’s Guerlain Spa offers a motley of techniques to exhilarate the senses. Facials, reflexology or a traditional Chinese massage are just examples from an extensive menu that will surely invigorate the spirit. To bounce back from a spell of jet lag, take a dip in the swimming pool, relieve aching muscles in the Jacuzzi or have a quick work out in the gym. The Guerlain Spa also provides guests with consultations in make-up, fragrances and skin care. Whether for the working woman or the business man on-the-go, relish the sublime attention the soul desires.

After a day of sightseeing, shopping and some well-deserved pampering, begin the evening with an aperitif and conclude with a dinner to remember.

Delectable Delights and Cocktail Concoctions

Named after famed director and producer Fritz Lang, whose silent film Metropolis was the most expensive of its time on the silver screen in 1927, Lang Bar presents an open yet intimate and cozy ambiance for toasting to an evening in the German capital. The exclusive menu, 10 pages of which highlight a vast selection of prime whiskeys, will certainly leave patrons spoiled for choice.

For an experience in fine dining, Pierre Gagnaire has personally set the stage for a culinary production in his restaurant Les Solistes. The lauded chef’s traditional French cuisine will certainly tantalize the palate with a dexterous flair. Moreover, the sommelier will introduce dinner sojourners to an exposé of exquisite French and German varietals from the restaurant’s ample wine cellar collection. The restaurant also serves a buffet and à la carte breakfast to start the day and a mid-day lunch.

The aroma of freshly brewed java and the sight of scrumptious cakes lure passers-by to pop in for an afternoon nosh at the Romanisches Café. The name has a historical background as well, for it was there that Berlin’s intelligentsia regularly congregated in the early 1900s. However, during the rise of the Nazis, the artists’ haunt faced repeated violence for the liberal significance it stood for and later closed along with other comparable locations. In the end, Allied bombings reduced reduced the Café’s original address to rubble, and the current Europa Center shopping mall opposite the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche stands in its place.

 What’s more…
 Spiral staircase at the Waldorf-Astoria Berlin

Spiral staircase at the Waldorf-Astoria Berlin

 The Waldorf-Astoria is also the latest in a series of new projects around Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten station. In the wake of the flurry of construction and investment in the former East Berlin, which has seemingly overshadowed western Berlin since reunification just over two decades ago, the area now increasingly referred to as ‘City West’ is currently receiving a breath of new life.

Further enterprises include the present conservation of the façade of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, which stands opposite the luxury hotel, the refurbishment of the 1950’s Bikini House and adjacent Zoo Palast Cinema, the latter having always been an important venue during the city’s annual Berlinale Film Festival. The construction of yet another future skyscraper, called Upper West and slated to open in 2016, is also underway along side the Waldorf-Astoria. Once completed, it, too, will consist of hotel and office space with additional capacity for high-rise living.

When staying at the Waldorf-Astoria Berlin, guests will certainly appreciate the best of both worlds: experiencing the very sights and sounds of the dynamic German capital at their finger tips, all the while delighting in every aspect of luxury accommodations in the heart of a cosmopolitan city.

Best History and Culture Vacations

    Bus for rental

Bus for rental

If you want to go out for a vacation to visit historical places this time then here is a list of top places/cities which are known for their culture and history.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem city is among the oldest cities of the world and it has culture and history related to Jerusalem’s religious beliefs. This is capital city of Israel and must visits places are Wailing Wall, Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 Boston, United States

Boston city is also known as ‘The Athens of America” and it is one of the important places in American history. Other than New York City it is the only place in United States known for history and culture. The most popular places you must visit are Fenway Park, Boston Public Library, USS Constitution, the Kennedy Library and the Faneuil Hall.

Hong Kong, China

At this city in China you will see a combination of old tradition and history with modern traditions. It is a place with this kind of rarest combination. The main attractions in the city are Peak Tower, Man Mo temple, Hong Kong Museum of History and Po Lin Monastery with largest outdoor bronze Buddha.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This is one of the best cities in the Netherlands with old rich history. Every visitor visits the Anne Frank House. Other historical places in the city are Royal Palace, Dam Square, the world class Rijksmuseum and the chilling story of Anne Frank House.

Prague, Czech Republic

If you want to visit a place with streets full of historical architecture then Prague is the best place for that. You will find the Gothic and Medieval period history here in the city. The main attractions are Prague Castle, Saint George’s Basilica, Old Town Hall, Prague City Museum and the Wenceslas Square.

Washington DC, United States

If you love the political history and want to visit such place this vacation then Washington DC is the best city to visit. This city is full of debate, democracy, politics, scandals and such history. The main attractions in the city are the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Institution. This is one of the most political cities in the world.

Florence, Italy

Florence has lots of Roman’s history and this city is full of art galleries and historical structures that are still able to survive. You will love the culture of the city and the main attractions in the city are Florentine Church, Renaissance art work and the Duomo. If you are an artist then this is the right place for you.

Montreal, Canada

This place was a village and after the 1535 it has emerged as a big city in the Canada. The history of its development from village to a city is the main attraction to watch. Other attractions are Notre-Dame Basilica, Botanical Gardens and Parisian style streets.

Berlin, Germany

The Berlin city in Germany has been changed a lot in the last 50 years which is now the part of history. This city is among the world’s most interesting cities and the main attractions are Berlin Wall, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandeburg Gate and the Reichstag.

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Know European Places in German

Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany

Some places have different names in German. Save yourself trouble (and ensure you’re on the right train) when traveling through Germany, Switzerland, or Austria.

While some European city names are the same in German as in English (Berlin, Salzburg, Bern, Innsbruck, Hamburg, et cetera), there are plenty of place names, from countries and cities to lakes and rivers, with a completely different German name. Add these names to your German vocabulary list to avoid getting lost or confused during your travels:

A Few European Countries with Tough-To-Identify Different Names

Though the English-to-German spelling difference between many European countries is only slight (Italien, Finnland, Polen, Spanien, Irland, Turkei, and so on) there are several places with names that may be more difficult to recognize.

  • Austria: Oesterreich (Oos-tur-rike)
  • Czech Republic: Tschechien (Chehkh-ee-in)
  • Estonia: Estland
  • France: Frankreich (Frahnk-rike)
  • Germany: Deutschland
  • Greece: Griechenland (Gree-khin-lahnd)
  • Hungary: Ungarn (Oon-garn)
  • Latvia: Lettland
  • Lithuania: Littauen (Lit-tau-win)
  • Netherlands: Niederlande (Nee-dur-lahn-duh)
  • Russia: Russland (Roos-lahnd)
  • Switzerland: Schweiz (Shveitz)
German Names of European Cities

Some German-speaking (and non-German speaking) cities are called something other than their English name, or are spelled differently, in German. Rome, for instance, is spelled “Rom” but pronounced the same as in English; Prague is spelled “Prag” and also pronounced the same. Zurich is spelled Zürich in German, and the pronunciation difference is only slight, with a more rounded “u.”

  • Brussels: Brüssel (Broo-sell)
  • Ceske Budejovice, CR: Budweis (Bood-vice)
  • Cesky Krumlov, CR: Krummau (Kroo-mau)
  • Cologne: Köln (Koohln)
  • Geneva: Genf
  • Lucerne: Luzern (Loo-tsern)
  • Milan: Mailand (My-land)
  • Munich: München (Moon-chen)
  • Nuremberg: Nürnberg (Noorn-bairk)
  • St. Petersburg: Sankt Petersburg (Sahnkt-Pay-terz-bairk)
  • Venice: Venedig (Vay-nay-dik)
  • Vienna: Wien (Veen)
  • Warsaw: Warschau (Vahr-shau)
Lakes, Rivers, and Other Miscellanous Locations with Different German Names

In German, the Rhine is spelled Rhein and the Danube is the Donau. Lake Constance, which is located between Switzerland and Germany, with a small portion of the shore touching Austria, is called the Bodensee. As a side note, the German word for “lake” and “sea” is “See,” and the term used for “river” is “Fluss.” Remember, in German, the double “s” is sometimes replaced with the symbol “ß.” Keep your eyes peeled for that when reading signs, because it’s not just a weird-looking letter “B.”

Groups of countries with different names include Great Britain (Grossbritanien) and Scandinavia (Skandinavien). And if you’re a tourist from the U.S., it would be useful to know the name of your own country in German: Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika (dee fur-aiyn-ig-ten staht-in fon a-mayr-ih-kuh). If that seems like a mouthful, which it is, just refer to the U.S. as the “USA” (prounounced “ooh-ess-ah”).

Recognizing these names on train tickets, train platforms, bus schedules, in airports, and so on, will give you peace of mind in terms of knowing that you’re heading to the right place.

Schwerin—a Royal Gem in Northern Germany

Set in the lush greenery of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Schwerin’s narrow lanes, quaint houses and a majestic castle make this small city a delight to discover.

Castle

Schwerin Castle

Schwerin Castle

It is the grande dame of northern Germany and a reminder of the bygone days of the royal courts that once reigned here. An eccentric and extraordinary feat in architecture, Schwerin Castle is truly the city’s crown jewel. Completed in 1857, it first served as the home of the ruling dukes and grand dukes of Mecklenburg; yet, today, it is the seat of government for this German federal state.

Located on a small island in Schweriner Lake, the city’s iconic symbol features a whimsical fusion of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, towers, statues and golden domes. It’s quite apparent that money was no object when constructing this grandiose building with six different façades. The niche above the main gate shelters the statue of the Slavic prince Niklot, who once ruled this region but fell in battle to the forces of the Saxon duke and founder of Schwerin Heinrich der Löwe (Henry the Lion) in 1160.

Exquisite parquet flooring made of mahogany, ash, walnut and oak will creak underfoot while strolling through the castle’s luxurious apartments, reception and state rooms. From statues of ladies balancing vases of flowers in the Flower Cabinet to the over-the-top Throne Room, visitors will certainly relish this castle’s opulence. Red damask, golden friezes and the extensive use of papier-mâché are just samples of the wonderful painstaking details each room reveals.

Exploring Old Town Schwerin

Fortunately left untouched during World War II, Schwerin’s compact Altstadt (old town) is relatively easy to explore. Opposite the castle in the Alter Garten of Ekhofplatz, take a peek inside the city’s 19th-century state theatre. A picture near the box office gives an idea of how grand the theatre’s stage setting truly is. Along with some exhibited statues by Ernst Barlach, the City Museum, situated next to the theatre, displays works of art that include not only a collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, but also 19th and 20th century paintings by various German artists.

Walking up Schlossstrasse turn right onto Puschkinstrasse and head to the cobbled Marktplatz (Market Square), where the city’s 14th-century Gothic cathedral looms in the background. In front of the baroque and classisism architecture of the Neues Gebäude (New Building), the towering column with a poised lion is dedicated to Heinrich der Löwe. Enchanting streets and buildings are characteristic of not only the Altstadt, but also the neighbouring district of Schelfstadt.

For a bit of shopping, Mecklenburgerstrasse is a pedestrian zone lined with stores, cafés, restaurants and a 19th century post office. The street also leads directly to the waters of the Pfaffenteich. A modern-styled pond that is popular among locals, it offers a pleasant setting for a stroll past the stately homes that line its shores. Off to one side, it’s not difficult to miss the imposing, terracotta- coloured Arsenal and former barracks. Constructed in 1840, it is the current Ministry of the Interior.

Under the Sun and Stars

Don’t forget to take in the afternoon sun by enjoying a boat excursion around Schweriner Lake and its small islands. Then, end the day with a romantic evening under the stars for an open-air performance at the Schwerin Castle Festival. The state theatre puts on this annual event on summer evenings, Thursday through Sunday, on the grounds of the Alter Garten. To visit other former homes of royalty nearby, set aside a day-trip for the towns of Güstrow and Ludwigslust.

Güstrow Palace

Located approximately one hour from Schwerin, the 16th century Renaissance structure of Güstrow Castle showcases various exhibits that range from coin collections, dating to the 1500s to Art Niveau vases from the early 20th century. Stucco friezes of detailed hunting scenes are also quite prominent in some of the palace’s main rooms.

Güstrow is also noted for the artwork by Ernst Barlach. A few of his pieces, which he created out of wood, plaster and metal, are on display at St. Gertrud’s Chapel. Labeled as a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis, the artist lived in Güstrow for the last 28 years of his life before he died in the city of Rostock in 1938. One of his most celebrated items is the “schwebende Engel”, or floating angel, which hangs above a WWI memorial in the city’s cathedral.

Ludwigslust Palace

Ten kilometres off the main highway linking Schwerin and Berlin, the red-brick town of Ludwigslust boasts a Baroque palace befitting of any royal family. Set amid a beautiful landscape of greenery and water, the gallant residence’s from 1776 is well worth the visit. Its over-the-top Golden Hall is just one of the many features that will certainly strike the wow-effect.

Ludwigslust Palace

Ludwigslust Palace

Directly across from the grand palace is Duke Friedrich’s court church. It may look ordinary on the outside, but it’s the work of art inside that is so amazing. An absolute masterpiece, the „Announcement of the Birth of Christ“ measures 350 square metres and rises 14 metres behind the altar. First begun in 1772 by court painter Johann Dietrich Findorff, the lower half of the wall consists of 1,000 painted papier-mâché squares, whereas the second artist, Johann Heinrich Suhrlandt, completed the upper half of the scene by painting onto the wall itself and finished in 1804.

Luring visitors each year, Schwerin, Güstrow and Ludwigslust are easily accessible by car or rail. Coupled with a landscape of rollings hills, lakes and a picture-postcard coast line, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a treasure to explore.