German Points of Interest
A list of some of the most popular German destinations, tourist attractions and quite interesting legends, traditions, kings and beer stein artists.
- Munich, Bavaria
- German Beer Purity Law
- Bavarian Lion
- Koblenz, Germany
- The Black Forest
- Ludwig's Venus Grotto
- Kannenbäckerland - "Jug Baker’s Land"
- Bavarian Traditions
- King Charlemagne
- Legend of the Edelweiss
- The German Beer Boot
- German Hat Pins
- German Hat Feathers
- The German Maypole Tradition
- Legend of Lorelei
- The Munich Child
- Trumpeter of Sackingen
- Hermann the German
- Gambrinus, The Beer King
- St. Salvator, Franciscan Monk
- Franz von Defregger, beer stein artist
- Gustav Thinwiebel, beer stein artist
- Wilhelm Kamp, beer stein artist
- Reinhold Hanke, beer stein artist
- German Beer Gardens
- Rothenburg, Germany
- Oberammergau, Germany
- Heidelberg, Germany
- Nuremberg, Germany
- Düsseldorf, Germany
- Frankfurt, Germany
- Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany
- Berlin, Germany
- Höhr-Grenzhausen, Germany
- St. Goar, Germany
- Westerwald Region of Germany
- Cologne (Köln), Germany
- Dresden, Germany
- Hamburg, Germany
- Kaiserslautern (K-Town), Germany
- Bremen, Germany
- Christmas in Germany
- German Nutcrackers
- German Eagle
- Tyrolian Traditions
- Ludwig II, King of Bavaria
- German Glass Measuring Marks
- Moselle River Valley
- Rhine River Valley
- Isar River
- Danube River
In 1853, German poet and novelist Joseph Victor von Scheffel wrote the epic poem Der Trompeter von Sackingen (The Trumpeter of Sackingen). The romantic and humorous tale is based on a dramatic love story that was often told in the taverns of the Upper Rhine town of Bad Sackingen. The main characters, trumpeter Franz Werner Kirchhofer (Werner) and his mistress, Maria Ursula von Schönau (Margaretha), were actual 17th century citizens of the town. Despite the resistance of the von Schöngau family, the lower class Kirchhofer managed to marry the noble Maria Ursula. The poem quickly gained in popularity and has been reprinted more than 250 times. In 1884, it was made into an opera, and shortly after von Scheffel’s death in 1886, German artist Carl Schwenniger Jr. produced 10 paintings to illustrate the poem. Artists have also recreated beautiful scenes from the love story on beer steins.
Arminius (Hermann the German) was a German tribal leader who inflected a major defeat on Rome by destroying three legions under a high-ranking Roman official, Publius Quinctilius Varus, in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD.
Arminius lived in Rome as a hostage in his youth, where he trained and successfully served as a Roman military commander. He obtained Roman citizenship, as well as the status of equestrian (a member of the Roman lower aristocratic class), before returning to Germania in 9 AD. When he returned to his people, he immediately began to use his knowledge of Roman means of warfare to organize and ready his people for battle.
Arminius implemented his plan by reporting a rebellion in Germania to Varus. Varus knew Arminius as a worthy and trusted subordinate in the Roman army. Arminius persuaded Varus to march to winter quarters to suppress the rebellion. Varus and his troops marched into the trap that Arminius had set for them. Arminius’ tribe, the Cherusci, and its allies ambushed and annihilated Varus' entire army of 20,000 men. Upon seeing all hope was lost, Varus committed suicide.
Arminius' success was one of the most devastating defeats Rome has ever suffered, and a high point in Germanic successes for centuries. His victory had a great impact on the history of the Roman Empire and the Germanic peoples. The battle cast the Romans out of Germania back past the Rhine, and they made no further attempts to conquer and permanently hold Germania beyond the river. In the 19th century, Reformation reformer Martin Luther began referring to Arminius as "Hermann" and used him as a symbol of the German-speaking people and their fight against Rome.
According to legend, there once lived a man named Gambrinus who learned the art of beer brewing after trading his soul to the devil in the hopes of forgetting the memory of his unrequited love. Gambrinus was a novice glassmaker training under a skilled master when he fell for the master's daughter, Flandrine. The girl did not reciprocate his feelings and refused him. Heartbroken, Gambrinus left his position and became a musician.
Gambrinus was a very talented musician. However, one day he was performing for a large group when he noticed Flandrine in the crowd. He became upset and played so poorly that the crowd became enraged. He was arrested and spent a month in jail for disturbing the peace. When he was released, he decided to kill himself so he could finally be free of his love for Flandrine. He planned to hang himself in the forest. When he began the preparations, the devil appeared and proposed a deal. If Gambrinus couldn't earn Flandrine's love, the devil would allow Gambrinus to forget her, but at a price—possession of his soul for 30 years.
Gambrinus accepted the deal, and his love for Flandrine was replaced with a passion for games. His skill and luck enabled him to win a fortune. Now that he was able to offer Flandrine a comfortable lifestyle, he approached her again to see if she would change her mind. But Flandrine once again refused him. Afterward, Gambrinus confronted the devil and told him he wasn't holding up his end of the deal, because he still loved Flandrine. Suddenly, a field appeared with lines of poles covered by strongly scented green plants. The devil said they were hops, and that Gambrinus would be taught how to make beer to help him forget Flandrine. Gambrinus took his beer back to the townspeople. At first, the people disliked the new drink, thinking it was bitter and strong. However, the devil had taught Gambrinus how to play chimes. He began to play, and all the people started to dance. Gambrinus played for hours. When he was done, the thirsty dancers began drinking the beer and changed their minds. From then on, Gambrinus was known as "The King of Beer."
Another legend states that, in a quest to appoint a new leader of their guild, some brewers held a contest. The first man who could lift a full barrel of beer to a designated spot would be the new leader. The barrel weighed over 300 pounds, so it wasn't surprising that all the men who tried to lift it were unsuccessful. When Gambrinus took a turn, he had the barrel tapped and drank the entire barrel himself. After he was done, he picked the barrel up and carried it to the designated spot, thus securing him the title of King of the Brewers.
Gambrinus has been a legendary cultural hero for many years. Although his origins are uncertain, many believe that Gambrinus was actually a real person, most likely Jan Primus, a Burgundian duke in the 13th century. Others believe that he was Jean Sans Peur, a cup bearer for Charlemagne in the late 14th or early 15th century. Gambrinus is typically portrayed as being a stout, bearded figure with a crown on his head, holding a tankard or a mug, sometimes with a keg nearby. Particularly during the 19th century, the image of Gambrinus was used by many brewers to promote their products. He is one of the most common figures used to decorate older beer steins.
In the 16th century, the Catholic faith, especially in Germany, was shaken by the Protestant Reformation. The sign of the cross was rejected by some Reformers, who believed it was a superstitious practice. During this time, a Franciscan monk named Salvator lived in Spain, where he was a cook, designated beggar and porter at the friary at Tortosa. While gathering alms—money or food given to the poor—Salvator often came upon sick people who requested that he pray for them. He would make the sign of the cross over them, and many said they were immediately healed. Salvator soon acquired a widespread reputation as a healer. Nearly 2,000 visitors came to the friary weekly to see him. The large number of visitors began to disrupt the order of the friary. Salvator was moved to nearby Horta, where he spent the greater part of his religious life. Although his move to Horta was done in secrecy, shortly after his arrival, the sick began seeking him there as well. In 1567, Salvator died. At the request of King Philip of Spain, Salvador was allowed to be venerated, or revered, as "Blessed" by the pope in 1606. He was canonized in 1938.
A beer boot, or a Bierstiefeln, is simply a German boot-shaped glass, most commonly used for beer. The first recorded references to these glasses appear in German history books approximately 100 years ago.
The exact origins are unknown, and there are many legends associated with the boots. The most commonly believed legend is that a Persian general told his troops he would drink beer out of his boot if they prevailed in battle. After their success, to carry out his promise, the general had a glass boot made so that he could drink his beer without the added taste of his foot. The practice caught on with soldiers throughout Germany and eventually the rest of the world.
Beer boots are known for being especially challenging to drink from. Those that don't know the secret to drinking from them usually end up showered with beer. An air bubble can form in the toe of the boot, pushing the beer up and all over the drinker. To avoid this, the trick is to hold the boot so that the toe is pointed either left or right.
The Tyrolean hat (also called Bavarian or Alpine hat) is a type of headwear that originally came from Tyrol in the Alps, in what is now part of Austria and Italy. The hats are usually made of felt or wool and are commonly grey, black or green in color. They may have a colored, corded hatband and a spray of flowers or feathers at the side of the crown. Many people decorate their hats with various accessories, including hat pins. The pins, which come in assorted shapes and sizes, allow owners to personalize the hats, showing where they have been or things that they like.
Traditional German hats—often called Tyrolean, Bavarian or Alpine—are brimmed hats that are usually made of felt or wool and are commonly grey, black or green in color. They often have a spray of feathers, flowers or "brush" at the side of the crown. The tradition of wearing feathers began many years ago, when hunters would pull a feather from their catch and place it in their cap. The bigger and more elaborate the feather, the better the hunter.
One of the most widely known Bavarian traditions is that of the "maibaum," or maypole. The maypole is a tall, wooden pole usually erected as part of an annual Maifest celebration on May 1. The festival celebrates the arrival of spring.
While the maypole's origins are unknown, it has been a tradition in Germany that dates back to the 16th century. Before the maypole is erected, crowds gather to watch the procession through the village. Later the pole is installed and decorated with emblems depicting local crafts and industry, ribbons, flowers, carved figures and various other items, depending upon the area. Additionally, the pole may have been painted in the traditional Bavarian colors of white and blue. After the decorating is complete, a traditional ribbon dance around the maypole, often referred to as "Maibaum Tanz," is held, as well as the Maifest festival.
It is a fierce competition among many Bavarian towns to see who can erect the tallest and most magnificent maypole. It is also a tradition to try and the steal another town's maypole before it is set up, so maypoles are guarded. The rule is that the only towns that may steal a maypole are those that will be putting up, and subsequently guarding, their own. If a pole is successfully stolen, ransoms involving beer and food are typically negotiated.
Along the eastern bank of the Rhine River in Germany, near Sankt Goarshausen, lies a large rock called the Lorelei (also often spelled Loreley). The rock, which soars almost 400 feet above the waterline, marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. Over hundreds of years, countless ships have been shipwrecked there. German folklore attributes this to a siren named Lorelei. According to legend, Lorelei is a beautiful, distressed maiden who sat upon the rock, awaiting the return of her lover. Her unfaithful lover never returned, and in despair, Lorelei threw herself into the river. Upon her death, she was transformed into a siren and can occasionally be heard singing a hypnotizing, soft melody that draws sailors to her, distracting them and causing their ships to wreck.
Since the 13th century, the symbol of a young monk dressed in black and yellow, holding a book in one of his outstretched hands, has been the coat of arms of Munich. Known as the Münchner Kindl, or Munich Child, the image can be found throughout Munich, from the top of the city hall to manhole covers, trams and underground trains. It is also often pictured on beer steins.
While the original coat of arms is thought to be a young monk, the symbol has often been transformed into the figure of a small child wearing a pointed hood, usually holding a beer mug and a radish. It is not known why exactly a monk was used in the coat of arms. One theory is that the name Munich comes from the term "Kloster von Mönchen," or "Cloister of Monks," due to the Imperial Abbey of Tegernsee Benedictine monastery, near where the original town of Munich was built.
For a long time, the Munich Child was depicted as a boy. Around 1890, Munich artists began to represent the child as a girl. Now when the Kindl is portrayed by a person, such as in Munich’s Oktoberfest, it is usually enacted by a woman.
Some of the most popular folk scenes depicted on beer steins and mugs are those that were painted by Austrian artist Franz von Defregger. Born in 1835 in Ederhof in the Austrian state of Tyrol, Franz was the son of a wealthy farmer. He studied art formally at a school in Munich. After completing his formal education, he spent time in Paris, where he perfected his skill at figure drawing and studyed other artists’ work in museums, art collections and studios. He later returned to Munich, where he spent many years painting as well as teaching art.
Franz is known mostly for his genre art, or paintings of every-day scenes, of life in Tyrol. He is also known for his history painting, which is art that represents scenes from history, typically a moment in a narrative rather than a specific and static subject, such as a portrait. Franz’s works appear on literally hundreds of different beer steins.
Gustav Thinwiebel was one of the most successful beer stein modelers (artists) of the 19th century. Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1853, he moved to what is now Höhr-Grenzhausen in 1879 to create designs for a newly-founded stoneware manufacturing and pewter company, Marzi & Remy. Gustav’s figural designs—designs in which steins represent an object, person or animal—helped Marzi & Remy to become one of the most successful contributors to the early character stein market. Marzi & Remy went out of business in the 1990s after being acquired by another failing company, S.P. Gerz. When Gerz’s assets were sold off, beer stein company King-Werk bought many of Marzi & Remy’s original molds, including Gustav’s designs. Many of those designs continue to be produced today.
Wilhelm Kamp joined German beer stein manufacturer Thewalt as the chief designer and sculptor in 1897, when he was only 18 years old. He had studied sculpture at a local college, and then went on to study under famous sculptor Ernst Baralch, as well as relief designs artist Ernst Duemler. Relief is a sculptural technique used in beer stein designs as well as other art, which gives the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane. While Thewalt had created a few small steins before Wilhelm arrived, stein production basically began with his hiring, and he is often credited with having designed the company’s first beer stein. He went on to design nearly 800 steins, many of them based on the work of artist Franz von Defregger.
In 1868, German stein modeler Reinhold Hanke launched a stoneware manufacturing company, which he named after himself. The company became one of the most successful in Westerwald. It was the first to produce stoneware steins, making it instrumental in launching the 19th century Golden Age of Beer Steins—the time period when molds were first used and factories were able to produce large quantities of steins in a variety of shapes, decorations and colors. Reinhold built a reputation as one of the most well-known and respected stone manufacturers in Germany. He became the supplier of the German Emperor, as well as to other nobles. Many of the famous German stoneware manufacturers and merchants, including Peter Duemler, were trained by him. He also built a reputation outside of Germany by traveling to various world exhibits, where he was awarded many gold and silver medals.
Looking for a way to keep their dark lagers cool during the hot summer months, 19th century Bavarian brewers dug out large, underground cellars along the banks of the Isar River. To further reduce the cellar temperature, gravel was placed around the area, and chestnut trees were planted to provide shade. The area provided the perfect location for the beer to ferment and stay cool. The brewers noted that the shady trees, as well as the river and greenery, provided a tranquil spot for people to gather and enjoy beer. They began to sell their beer to the public in these outdoor areas, which were called “biergartens,” or beer gardens.
Today, Munich is home to almost 200 beer gardens, including Europe's largest, Hirschgarten, which offers seating for almost 8,000. Beer gardens provide a place for people to enjoy a cool mug of refreshing lager and the camaraderie of friends as well as strangers, all gathered on simple benches placed at long wooden tables. Traditionally, food was not served at the establishments. When they first originated in the 19th century, innkeepers objected to the impact it would have on their businesses. The Bavarian king ruled in their favor; however, people were able to bring their own food, which they enjoyed while they sampled the establishments’ beer. Today, many beer gardens serve a variety of hot and cold German dishes, although some keep with tradition and allow guests to bring their own.
Gemütlichkeit (pronounced guh-myoot-lish-KYT) is a word used to describe a feeling of belonging and/or well-being, or a situation that induces a cheerful mood or peace of mind a relaxed, pleasant feeling. It is being content with one's surroundings, enjoying the companionship of others, mutual appreciation and understanding. The word—which comes from the German gemütlich, meaning comfortable or cozy—can be applied on a public or private scale. An evening spent at Oktoberfest could be just as gemütlich as one spent quietly at home.
There is no word in the English language that accurately captures the meaning of gamut (mind, soul, disposition, heart) or gemütlich, so the word gemütlichkeit has been adopted into the English language. Queen Victoria is said to have been the first to use the term gemütlich. The current meaning of the word derives from its use in the Biedermeier period, a time period from 1815 to 1848 that was originally used to describe a specific style of furniture, but eventually developed into a description of art and architecture, as well as a social phenomenon centered on family and private life.
The Germans take their Gemütlichkeit quite seriously. In the early seventies a man sued a travel agency because there was no gemütlichkeit on his vacation. He won.
Known for its scenic beauty and historical architecture, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which means "red fortress above the Tauber," is one of the only walled medieval towns remaining in Germany. Located halfway between Frankfurt and Munich, the Bavarian town was founded in 1274. It stands today exactly as it did in the 11th century, with much of the town pedestrian-only. The medieval buildings and cobbled streets resemble something out of a fairy tale.
Every year, tourists from around the world travel to Rothenburg and step back in time as they explore the “Alstadt”—the old world city center, which is encircled by a 14th century wall. The Rothenburg Town Hall Tower, Rauthausturm, rests on top of the gable of a Gothic building. Visitors who climb the tower are rewarded with a stunning view of Rothenburg and the surrounding countryside. The Plönlein, a narrow half-timbered building with a small fountain in front, is another popular tourist destination. It is often referred to as one of the most photographed spots in the world.
Rothenburg has appeared in several movies. It was the inspiration for the village in Walt Disney’s Pinnocchio and the location for the Vulgarian village scenes in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts I and II were also filmed there.
The small Bavarian town of Oberammergau is well-known for its passion play, which brings to life the story of Jesus Christ’s trial, death and resurrection. When the bubonic plague hit the town in the 1600s, the villagers vowed that they would perform a passion play every 10 years if God spared their lives. The first performance was in 1634. The play is now performed repeatedly over the course of five months in years ending in zero. Over 200 actors, singers, instrumentalists and technicians, all of whom are village residents, are involved with the show.
A number of Oberammergau’s 5,300 residents are woodcarvers. Many were trained at the Bavarian State Woodcarving School, which is located there. An array of crosses, nativity scenes, figures of saints, angels and Madonnas, as well as other handiworks, can be found throughout the village at numerous woodcarving shops. The community is also famous for its “luftlmaleriei,” colorful and attractive frescoes on the facades of buildings and houses. During the 18th century, wealthy merchants, farmers and craftsmen showed their wealth and status by having the frescoes painted on their homes. The beautifully detailed murals are typically based on scenes from fairy tales.
Located in southwest Germany, Heidelberg is the fifth-largest city in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Home to nearly 150,000 people, it is a popular tourist destination, as many are drawn by its romantic, picturesque cityscape and interested in its history.
Heidelberg can trace its beginnings back to the 5th century, when it was first referenced in documents. The oldest part of the city is the Aldstadt, or "Old Town." The narrow streets and market squares, as well as the art, shopping and old and new architecture, make it a charming destination. Heidelberg University, which is the oldest university in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe, is located there. Established in 1386, it is known for being one of the finest research universities in Europe.
The Altstadt sits just below the once grand palace, Heidelberg Castle. The earliest castle structure was built before 1214. Throughout the years, the castle fell under siege by three emperors, was pillaged and burned by a French king and struck by lightning twice. However, the remaining ruins are still breathtaking.
Heidelberg is also the location where an important historical find was discovered. Sometime between 600,000 to 200,000 years ago, “Heidelberg Man,” an extinct species related to modern man, died near the city. His jawbone was discovered in 1907. With scientific dating, the remains of Heidelberg Man (homo heidelbergensis) were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe.
The second-largest city in Bavaria and the 14th-largest municipality in Germany, Nuremberg is located approximately 170 miles north of Munich. This bustling city of almost half a million residents has almost 1,000 years of history. It was most likely founded around the turn of the 11th century, according to documentation, and quickly grew in size because of its location on key trade routes. In the Middle Ages, Nuremberg was the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1050 and 1571, all emperors spent at least some time in residence at Nuremberg Castle. It was the place where each newly elected German emperor had to hold his first Imperial Diet (assembly), and where the crown jewels of the empire were kept.
Today, Nuremberg is well-known for its traditional gingerbread (Lebkuchen) products, sausages, handmade toys and its annual Christmas market (Christkindlesmarkt). Held in the Hauptmark (Central Square) in Nuremberg’s historic Old Town, the market is one of Germany's oldest Christmas fairs, dating back to the mid 16th century. It opens each year on the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent, concluding on December 24, unless that day is a Sunday. Approximately 2 million people visit the market annually. The Christkind, the fairy-like being that is the bearer of gifts in many German-speaking countries, is an important part of the market. A girl between the ages of 16 and 19 is chosen to portray the Christkind and serves as an important representative of the city and a symbol of the Christmas Market.
Renowned for its fashion and trade fairs, academy of fine arts, cartwheeling and Altbier, Düsseldorf is the capital city of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The city dates back to the 7th or 8th century, when farming and fishing settlements could be found along the Rhine River. The city grew from these settlements. Today, it is an international business and financial center with a population of approximately 590,000.
Düsseldorf's Alstadt, or Old Town, is where most of the art and cultural venues can be found, including museums, an opera house, a theater and a concert hall. Many beautiful churches can be found there as well. The Alstadt is known as "the longest bar in the world," because the small area, which encompasses less than a quarter percent of the whole city, has more than 300 bars. Altbier, a specialty beer brewed from an old traditional recipe, is enjoyed by many in Düsseldorf.
Düsseldorf is also well-known for its long history of cartwheeling. The tradition is said to have begun after the Battle of Worringen, one of the largest battles in Europe in the Middle Ages. When the soldiers returned home after they battle, they began cartwheeling. Today, the cartwheeler is a popular symbol in Düsseldorf, as well as a sport. Annual competitions are held, which have hundreds of participants. Cartwheelers can also be found by several fountains throughout the city. The most famous is Cartwheeler's Fountain in Burgplatz.
Considered to be the most diverse city in Germany, Frankfurt am Mein (or just Frankfurt as it is commonly known) is the largest city in the state of Hesse. Approximately one-third of Frankfurt's nearly 690,000 residents are not German citizens. Home to several large commercial banks, the city is the largest financial center in Europe and is a global city—a place that is an important node, or link, in the global economic system.
Due to its location on the Main River and its similarities to the city of Manhattan, it is often referred to as "Mainhattan." Frankfurt is one of the few European cities with a skyline that includes a significant number of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in its downtown area. Skyscrapers are not common in Europe due to the objections of residents on their impact on the historical value of existing buildings.
Despite its numerous tall buildings, Frankfurt also has maintained some of its history. The area was first settled by Celts, followed by Romans, around the 1st century. Among its most famous historical structures is the Römer, or "Roman," where the Holy Roman emperors celebrated their coronations. It now serves as the city hall. The Römer is located within the Römerberg, or "Roman Mountain," the historic main square, which was formerly the site of Frankfurt's first trade fairs in the 13th century.
Rüdesheim am Rhein lies on the northwest corner of the German wine region of Rheingau. The area was first settled by Celts, followed by Romans in the 1st century, who brought along their wine-making knowledge. Evidence of this can be found in Rüdesheim’s Weinmuseum Brömserburg, a wine museum located in one of the oldest castles on the Rhine River (it was built in the year 1000). The museum contains hundreds of exhibits of original medieval winemaking equipment, along with other wine-related artifacts and drinking vessels.
Today, there are about 11 registered vineyards in Rüdesheim. Riesling grapes are the main type grown there, producing mainly high-quality white wines. In Rüdesheim's old town, which dates back to the Middle Ages, there are many traditional wine taverns in historic half-timbered houses. These are found on the Drosselgasse, a narrow, cobblestone avenue in the western part of town. Built in the 15th century, the Drosselgasse was designed for boat owners to move items from the river to homes in the town. Now, in addition to wine and open-garden taverns, many restaurants, shops and live bands can be found at this popular spot.
Located in northeastern Germany on the River Spree, Berlin is the capital city of Germany and one of the country's 16 states. It is Germany's largest city, with a population of 3.4 million. The city was first documented in the 13th century.
Over a third of the city's extensive surface is covered by sweeping parks, gardens, forests and lakes. Berlin is known for its museums, architectural buildings, opera house, theaters and the Kurfurstendamm, known locally as Ku'damm. The Ku'damm is an avenue full of small boutique, exclusive shops, department stores, houses, hotels and restaurants. Like other areas in Germany, Berlin also has numerous castles. The largest, Charlottenburg Palace, is located in the Charlottenburg district of the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf borough. Built at the end of the 17th century, it is the only surviving royal residence in the city dating back to the time of the Hohenzollerns, a noble family and royal dynasty of electors, emperors and kings of Brandenburg, Prussia, Germany and Romania.
Berlin is also known for its famous Berlin Wall, which was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Party in 1961, after World War II. The wall divided the area into East Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and West Berlin (West Germany), which was surrounded by the wall. The German Democratic Party claimed the wall was built to protect the people from fascists conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany. The wall came down in 1989 after a series of political changes occurred in the Eastern Bloc.
Höhr-Grenzhausen is a town located north of Koblenz in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The town is within the Westerwald region, an area known for its clay quarries and its highly-skilled potters. One of the oldest and most successful producers of the early salt-glazed pottery in Europe, Höhr-Grenzhausen is considered by many to be a center of the ceramics industry. It is home to the State College of Ceramics and the Keramikmuseum Westerwald (Westerwald Ceramics Museum), as well as being the site of the annual International Ceramics Market and Museum Festival.
The Westerwald Ceramics Museum provides the history of the development of ceramics, from prehistoric times to the origins of Westerwald stoneware, as well as Renaissance, Art Deco and contemporary ceramics. The museum’s spectacular exhibits have established it as a world class center for ceramic art.
Jewelry, decorative ceramics, salt-glazed stoneware and more can be found at the annual International Ceramics Market and Museum Festival. Over 150 artisans display their work at the festival, which is held on the first weekend in June. The event is very popular, with approximately 35,000 people attending every year.
St. Goar is a small town of approximately 2,700 people, located on the west bank of the Middle Rhine in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The town obtained its name from Goar of Aquitane, a 7th century priest and hermit who worked as a missionary to the local people. He built a hospice and a chapel on the site where the town now stands. After his death around 575, his grave became a pilgrimage site, and the place was named after him.
Upstream from St. Goar is the well-known Lorelei, a large rock which soars 400 feet above the waterline at the narrowest part of the Rhine between Switzerland and the North Sea. Besides the Lorelei, St. Goar is also known for its ruined castle, Burg Rheinfels. The castle was started in 1245 by Count Diether V von Katzenelnbogen. It is the largest castle overlooking the Rhine, and historically it covered five times its current area. While most of the castle is a ruin, visitors still enjoy exploring the castle’s maze of trenches and tunnels. There is also a luxury hotel, wellness center and restaurant in some of the castle’s outer buildings, as well as a museum, which has ancient plans and historical illustrations on display.
Westerwald is a 50-mile long, mountainous region in western Germany, northeast of the city of Koblenz. The name "Westerwald" was first mentioned in documentation in 1048. It originally described the woodlands around three churches. Since the mid 19th century, it has become the name for the whole region.
Westerwald is renowned for its quality of substantial clay deposits, as well as for its highly-skilled potters. For many hundreds of years, dating back to the 15th century, the production of valuable stoneware products has brought fame and prestige to the area. Westerwald stoneware is a distinctive type of salt-glazed (orange-peel textured) stoneware.
The area is surrounded by the Rhine, Lahn, Sieg and Dill rivers. With its extensive forests and beautiful river valleys, Westerwald is an ideal area for hiking and outdoor activities. Visitors to the area also enjoy popular tourists attractions such as Dornburg, an elevation upon which are the remains of a Celtic settlement dating back to sometime between the 5th and 1st century, and the town of Limburgan der Lahn, which is famous for its medieval town center.
Its population of approximately 1 million people makes Cologne (Köln) the fourth largest city in Germany. Situated on the Rhine River, the city is known for being a popular tourism and business hotspot, with more than 2 million visitors annually.
Cologne was founded in the 1st century AD as the Roman Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. It was the capital of the Roman provenance Germania Inferior and the headquarters of the military in the region until it was occupied by the Franks in 462.
Cologne was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany during World War II, with 262 separate air raids by the Allies. The bombing reduced the population by 95% and destroyed almost the entire city. With the intention of restoring as many historic buildings as possible, the rebuilding has resulted in a very mixed and unique cityscape.
The city's most famous monument is the Cologne Cathedral, a Gothic church which is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne. The cathedral houses the Shrine of the Three Kings, a reliquary, or a container for relics, said to contain the bones of the Biblical Magi, also known as the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men.
Cologne is home to more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries. The Museum Ludwig has an impressive collection of modern art, including one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe. The famous Römisch-Germanisches Museum is also located there. It has a large collection of Roman artifacts from the city’s distant past.
The Cologne carnival is one of the largest street festivals in Europe. The carnival season officially starts on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., with the proclamation of the new Carnival Season, and continues until Ash Wednesday. Street carnival, a week-long street festival, also called "the crazy days", takes place between Fat Thursday (the Thursday before Ash Wednesday) and ends on Ash Wednesday. The city central and all bars and pubs in the area are crowded with people in costumes dancing and drinking in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Cologne during this time. Generally, around a million people celebrate in the streets on Fat Thursday.
The capital of the German federal state of Saxony, Dresden became a city in 1206. It was the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with culture and stunning art and architecture. Before World War II, Dresden was considered to be one of the world's most beautiful cities. Many referred to it as Elbflorenz, or "Florence on the Elbe," because of its location on the banks of the Elbe River, mild weather, and lovely forests, gardens and parks, as well as its Baroque-styled architecture and world-renowned museums and art collections.
In 1945, during World War II, the historical city center of Dresden was 75% destroyed by Ally bombings. At least 25,000 civilians were killed. These events are still remembered each year in processions and ceremonies. The city was so badly damaged that it was suggested it should be leveled. Instead, some of the city was rebuilt, including the Zwinger, the Saxon royal palace, and the baroque buildings around the palace. The palace features a nymphaeum—a monument dedicated to water nymphs—as well as many sculptures by the famous sculptor Permoser, a bell pavilion and famous art collections. Many other areas of the city were then reconstructed with modern buildings. Today, the city center has been largely restored to its former glory, although some parts still remain under construction. Dresden is considered to be a cultural, educational, political and economic center of Germany and Europe. It is also seeking to regain the kind of cultural importance it held from the 19th century until the 1920s, when it was a center of art, architecture and music.
Home to over 1.8 million people, Hamburg, Germany, has a well-deserved reputation as "The Gate to the World." Hamburg's status as a major transport hub makes it one of the most important economic centers in Germany. It is the country's biggest port, the second largest container harbor in Europe and the seventh largest worldwide. As a center for trade and transport, the city has more than 90 consulates, which is second only to New York City. Numerous companies have their European headquarters or branch offices based in Hamburg. It is a also media center, with half of the nation's newspapers and magazines rooted there, as well as a leader in specialized industries like medical technology, biotechnology and aerospace.
Located on the Elbe River at its confluence with the Alster and Bille, Hamburg is on the southern point of the Jutland Peninsula, between Continental Europe to the south and Scandinavia to the north, with the North Sea to the west and the Baltic Sea to the northeast. Despite its large population, Hamburg has the lowest population density of any European city. Hamburg is a major tourist destination. Its exclusive shopping, 4,000 restaurants, 40 theaters, 50 state and private museums, and 100 music venues and clubs offer something for everyone. One of the most well-known museums is the Emigration Museum Ballinstadt. Between 1850 and 1939, more than 5 million people from all over Europe emigrated from Hamburg to the New World. The museum recreates their journey, with displays of the original emigration halls and an interactive exhibit. Visitors can trace back the journey of their own families by studying the original passenger lists and the largest genealogical database in the world. Another popular landmark is Church St. Michaelis, a baroque church built between 1648 and 1661 that is the most famous church in Northern Germany. Hamburg's Planten un Blomen, a more than 100-acre park, features a botanical garden and the largest Japanese garden in Europe. During the summer, visitors can enjoy free water-light concerts, theater performances and festivals in the park.
Located in the southwestern German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Kaiserslautern is a city of almost 100,000 people with a strong U.S. military presence. Approximately 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. citizens also live in and around the city, forming the largest U.S. population center outside of the United States. The numerous U.S. military bases and housing areas in Kaiserslautern cover a total area of approximately 7,000 acres around the city. The city's nickname, K-Town, was coined in the 1950s by the American military population who had difficulty pronouncing the name. The strong relationship between K-Town and the United States stems back to between the 17th and 20th century, when numerous emigrants left Kaiserslautern for economical, political, religious and other reasons and settled in America.
Visitors to K-Town can find a variety of attractions. The Palatinate Gallery of Art displays sculpture and paintings from many regional artists from the 19th through the 21st centuries, while the Theodor Zink Museum offers a collection of art and artifacts that date back to the Stone Age. Visitors can also view the ruins of Kasierpfalz, the imperial palace of Holy Roman Emperor (Kaiser) Frederick Barbarossa, for whom Kaiserslautern was named. K-Town is surrounded by the Palatinate Forest, Germany's largest contiguous forest. Home to many rare plant and animal species, it has numerous hiking trails and lakes, along with panoramic views and ancient Celtic ritual and burial sites located throughout the forest. The Japanese Garden, the city’s botanical garden, has carefully selected plants, ponds, waterfalls, fishes, lantern lights and stone arrangements that create an atmosphere of the Far East. Another unusual attraction is the Waschmühle, an over 180-yard public swimming pool that is the largest in Europe.
Bremen is a commercial and industrial city with a population of approximately 550,000 people, making it the second most populous city in northern Germany and the 10th in the country. The city is an important center for the aircraft, aerospace, automobile, steel and ship building industries. It is also well known for its beer and coffee, due to its being the home of Beck's Brewery, makers of the world's best-selling German beer, as well as Jacobs Kaffee, one of Germany’s largest coffee producers.
The Bremen Town Musicians, a bronze statue depicting the Brothers Grimm folktale about a group of animals on their way to Bremen, and the UNESCO World Heritage 600-year-old town hall are probably among the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Many of the sights in Bremen are found in the Altstadt (Old Town) and the Wallgraben, the former moats of the medieval city walls. The oldest part of the Altstadt is the southeast half, starting with the Marktplatz (Market Square) and ending at the oldest quarter of the city, Schnoor, which earned its name from the many old buildings that line the narrow lanes like pearls on a string (schnur in German). This area has numerous restaurants and cafes as well as boutiques and souvenir shops. Since 1036, Bremen has hosted one of Germany’s oldest continuously celebrated fairground festivals, Freimarkt (Free Market). The event takes place the last two weeks of October, with the Freimarktsumzug (Free Fair Procession) as the highlight of the festival on the second Saturday.
The Christmas season in Germany begins with Advent, a religious celebration that signifies the preparation of the arrival of Jesus on December 25. It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The start of Advent also launches the start of the German Christmas market season. Germany’s first Christmas market was held in 1393. Today, there are thousands all over the country, with almost every German city celebrating the holiday with its own market. Originally, these fairs provided people with food and practical cold-weather supplies needed for the winter. Now, items offered include hand-crafted Christmas decorations such as hand-blown glass ornaments, wood-carved toys and nativity scenes, as well as baked items. The delicious, traditional regional specialties available include stolen (fruitcake), lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread), sugar-roasted almonds, crepes, cookies and glühwein (hot, spiced wine).
On December 6, Sankt Nikolaus, or St. Nick, visits the homes of children who left a shoe or boot outside their doors the previous night. He brings small presents and treats, and also checks up on the children to see if they have been good, polite and helpful over the past year. Those who have not been will receive a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead of treats or gifts.
Christmas Eve is when the Christmas tree, another Christmas tradition that originated in Germany, is usually put up and decorated. Tinsel, glass balls or straw ornaments, candy, and a star or angel atop the tree are all common decorations. Beneath the tree, a nativity may be set up, with presents alongside it. Some Germans also use real lit candles instead of lights on the tree. Christmas Eve is also the main day when Germans exchange presents with their family. Families may sing carols, read the story of Christ’s birth aloud or attend Mass. In some parts of Germany, children wait for the Christkind, an angel or fairy-like being that is the bearer of gifts. In other areas, children wait for Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann). December 25 and 26 are known as the First and Second Christmas days. Christmas Day is typically spent with extended family, while Second Christmas Day is a quieter time spent at home.
Traditional symbols of the holiday season, nutcrackers are wood-carved items that date back to at least the 15th century. They developed as a cottage industry in forested rural areas of Germany, with some of the most well known coming from the Ore Mountains. These nutcrackers—which were commonly carved into soldiers, knights or kings—have large mouths, with levers in the back that open and close the mouths. Once functional and used to crack nuts, modern nutcrackers in this style are mainly used for decorative purposes, especially at Christmas.
An eagle has been the symbol of national unity in Germany for centuries, as far back as the Holy Roman Empire, when it was used on banners as the insignia of the Imperial power. Today, Germany’s coat of arms is the Bundesadler or “Federal Eagle,” which depicts a black eagle on a yellow shield. Over the years, the coat of arms was modified numerous times, due to changes in political power. Different variations of single- or double-headed eagles have often been used, including by the German Empire, Weimar Republic and National Socialist Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany began using the Bundesadler in 1950.
German Tyrol was a historical region in the Alps that is now divided between North Tyrol and East Tyrol in Austria and South Tyrol in Italy. Nestled within isolating mountain valleys, these largely ethnic German areas were remote from other regions for centuries and developed their own regional politics, customs and culture.
One of the most well-known Tyrolean customs is their costumes of white blouses, embroidered dirndl skirts and wide-brimmed black hats adorned with flowers for women, as well as lederhosen, loden jackets and hats for the men. These are still worn at many occasions.
Tyrol is also known for its many ancient traditions and folklore, including pagan fertility rituals, summer mountaintop fires, and other pagan beliefs and occasions. In February, Fasching (also called Carnival) celebrations take place in some areas of Tyrol. A pagan fertility ritual called the Blochziehen is held every four years, where a branchless tree is carried around the village by young men. The mystical fires are lit in June, on the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year. Religious images are the most common designs used for the fires, mainly because the solstice fires are often celebrated with the religious celebrations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus fires and the St. John’s fires.
Tyroleans depend on their livestock for food, clothes and income. In early September, 180,000 horses, steers, goats and sheep return from their traditional Alpine pastures. It the cattle remained down in the valley during the summer, the pastures would become overgrown and farmers would also need to purchase additional food. The return of the cattle is celebrated by decorating the animals with flowers, bells and wreaths and paraded them through the streets.
In December, Tyrol shares the German tradition of Christmas markets, which offer a wide range of local products including Christmas tree decorations, candles, felt slippers, hand-knitted caps and treats. There are Christmas or Advent markets in several cities in Tyrol, including the capital, Innsbruck, where you can sample local delicacies such as glühwein (spiced wine), Kiachln (hot donuts laced with sauerkraut) and Spatzln (pasta).
Ludwig II was king of Bavaria from 1864 until 1886. He succeeded to the throne at the age of 18, after his father, Maximilian II, passed away. Sometimes referred to as the Swan King, the Fairytale King or the Mad King, Ludwig was considered to be a bit eccentric and reclusive. He avoided formal social events and public functions, preferring to spend his time focusing on art, music and architecture. He was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. One of the first acts of his reign, a few months after his accession, was to summon Wagner to his court.
Ludwig used his personal fortune to fund the construction of a series of elaborate castles. At the smallest of these castles, Schloss Linderhoff, Ludwig had his Venus Grotto built as a private spot where he could enjoy his beloved Wagner operas. The grotto features a grand entrance, an underground lake and waterfall, artificial stalactites, and a swan boat that Ludwig enjoyed being rowed in. The largest and most-well known castle that Ludwig commission is Neuschwanstein, or “New Swan Stone Castle,” a dramatic 19th century fortress designed as the romantic ideal of a medieval knight’s castle. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, with approximately 1.4 million visitors annually. It also served as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland park locations around the world.
Ludwig used his own money for these grand and expensive projects, and also borrowed extensively. His ministers tried to restrain him, but Ludwig resisted their efforts, determined to see his artistic architectural designs come to life. This was later used against him to declare him insane. By 1885 he was 14 million marks in debt, and yet he continued to plan further opulent designs. Feeling harassed by his ministers, he considered dismissing his entire cabinet, but the ministers acted first by claiming he was mentally ill and unable to rule.
While many would agree that Ludwig occasionally acted peculiarly and that he was irresponsible, the question of whether or not he was, in fact, insane has been debated. Ludwig was evaluated by a doctor who read or heard testimony mainly from servants and never actually met or examined him before. Ludwig was taken into custody on June 12, 1886. The next day, he took a walk with the doctor but never returned. Their bodies were later found in the water. Ludwig’s death was officially ruled a suicide by drowning, but the official autopsy report indicated no water was found in his lungs, and he was known for being a very strong swimmer. The doctor’s body showed blows to the head and necks and signs of strangulation, and it was suggested that Ludwig had killed him, but there was no evidence. Many believe that Ludwig was murdered by his enemies.
German Glass Measuring Marks
In German pubs, beer glasses used to serve the paying public must have a measuring mark below the rim to indicate the proper fill level. The head space starts above the fill mark. The mark is required by law under the European Union Measuring Directive. It ensures that a pint of beer is actually a true pint. In the United States, there are no laws requiring this. Since there is no additional room for head in glasses, consumers actually receive less than an American pint, or 16 fluid ounces, of beer because of the head. Some restaurants in the U.S. have even replaced 16-ounce pint glasses with 14-ounce glasses, often referred to as "falsies." They look like normal beer glasses, but have a thicker base so they hold less.
Moselle River Valley
With its numerous rustic towns and stunning countryside covered with vineyards and impressive castles, the Moselle Valley is a beautiful river valley. The Moselle River, which flows through France, Luxembourg and Germany, is a tributary of the Rhine. While the Moselle lacks the reputation of the Rhine, many think its river valley is even more charming because it doesn't have the heavy industry.
Some of the best Resiling grapes are grown in the valley. The area has been promoted as a quality white wine-producing area since the 19th century, with Mosel Wine produced in all three countries that the river flows through. Tourists are also drawn to the area, whether to sample the wine, explore one of the many castles or enjoy the quaint towns. During the summer, towns hold wine festivals with music and dancing. German towns along the Moselle include Trier, Bernkastel-Kues, Bremm, Cochem and Koblenz. The twin town of Bernkastel-Kues, with Bernkastel on the right bank of the Moselle and Kues across the bridge on the left bank, draws many visitors, who enjoy exploring Bernkastel's medieval Market Square (Markt) with its half-timbered houses and the sites surrounding philosopher, theologian, jurist and astronomer Nicholas of Cusa, who is regarded as one of the greatest geniuses of the 15th century, at his birthplace of Kues. Cochem is another popular town. Its imperial castle, the Reichsburg, was most likely originally constructed sometime in the 12th century, and then was destroyed in 1687. It lay in ruins until 1868, when it was purchased and reconstructed.
Rhine River Valley
The most famous section of the 820-mile Rhine River is the Rhine Valley. Its stunning countryside, beautiful castles and ruins, picturesque towns and hills full of vines have earned it the nickname "The Romantic Rhine." The almost 50-mile glacial alpine valley runs between the cities of Bonn and Bingen in Germany, spanning the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate.
The area has been a major tourist attraction since the 19th century. Reichenstein and Rheinfels castles, along with the famous Loreley—a rock that soars almost 400 feet above the waterline—are three of the most popular attractions. The valley is one of the 13 recognized wine districts in Germany. The sunny, dry and warm climate provides excellent conditions for growing grapes, and vines can be found all over. The annual Night of the Thousand Flames, when 50 illuminated ships convoy to the town of St. Goar to watch the illumination of the Loreley rock, is a popular event.
For Bavarians, the Isar River is more than just another beautiful waterway in Germany. The 183-mile river—which flows in Bavaria, Tyrol and Austria—is also major city attraction, drawing both residents and visitors. River rafting is a popular activity. The wooden rafts leisurely float along the river while German food is served and bands play, entertaining those on board. Fishing and picnicking are also common, along with sunbathing. Nude sunbathing is allowed in certain areas. However, even within Munich, people can often be seen doing it in other areas. The most recognized stretch of the Isar is the Eisbach, which runs directly through the Englischer Garten, a large public park in the center of Munich. Surfers in particular enjoy the Eisbach because just past a bridge near the Hau der Kunst art museum, the river forms a standing wave over 3 feet high, which is a popular river surfing spot for experienced surfers.
Since the 1920s, Isar water has been used to generate electricity. Unfortunately, this has had a lasting effect. The river's water is diverted several times and almost the whole river was canalized. Attempts are now being made to restore the river. The quality of the water has been improved by the upgrading of sewage plants along the river. The number of germs, however, is still relatively high. Munich, along with other cities and communities along the Isar, is attempting to reduce that number, with the ultimate goal being that the water quality is good enough to allow bathing in the river. If this goal is accomplished, Munich would be one of the few big cities in Europe with a river that is safe to swim in.
The Danube River is a popular tourist attraction in Germany. Visitors love to cruise along the river to take in the beautiful landscape, as well as to see the cities that have arisen along its banks over the years. The river, which is called Donau in Germany, originates in the town of Donaueschingen in the Black Forest. It then flows for about 1,770 miles before emptying into the Black Sea, traveling through nine countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. Its drainage extends into nine more countries. The Danube is famous for being an exclusive river in Europe and is the European Union's longest and the continent's second longest (after the Volga) river.
Along with being of cultural and historical importance, the Danube also has many fascinating landmarks and sights. Ulm is the first major city on the Danube. Founded in the mid-9th century, it is well-known for its church, Ulm Minster. At 530 feet, the church has the world's tallest steeple. Ingolstadt is another German city along the river. This small city features many Gothic buildings including a beautiful castle, Neues Schloss, which is said to be one of the most important Gothic secular buildings of the 15th century in Bavaria. There are numerous other cities along the river, all with their own charms and interesting sites.