There’s no way around it: Germany has firmly established itself as a first rate travel destination, not just for the well-informed few but for the happy-go-lucky crowds of tourists from all over the world too; in case anyone wonders why: this country has much more to it than meets the eye (no rhyme intended).
Germany’s multitude of regional identities offers a cornucopia of distinct experiences to meet all kinds of expectations and suit all possible tastes (even the most discriminating ones) – whatever it is you fancy: beautiful scenery, great architecture, lively festivals, glamorous events, exciting nightlife, delicious food and the best beer ever – Germany has it all and more…
Enumerating all the attractions that make visiting this country worth its while would be a daunting task – the possible reasons are so many and so multifarious that any attempt at shortlisting “the best ones” would smack of presumptuousness and of having an axe to grind.
Still, at the risk of appearing presumptuous, here’s a selection of just a few (14 to be precise) good reasons:
#1. River cruises on the Rhine and Maine
One only need kick back and take in the mesmerizing beauty of the German countryside, with its captivating landscapes, elegant old castles perched on the nearby hilltops, and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see; the main waterways of Germany allow one to see the country from a unique perspective and gain an insight into how important a role some of the main rivers have played historically in the development of important urban centers (Frankfurt, Mainz, Koblenz, Cologne, Dusseldorf, etc) and thus the country as a whole.
The navigating of the stretch of the river known as the Rhine Gorge, dotted with beautiful castles, as well as the Lorelei rock (towering over the river just as painted by J.M.W. Turner) are particularly enjoyable aspects of what truly is a magical journey.
#2. The Carnival Season
A wonderful opportunity to relax and allow yourself to get swept away by tides of carnival celebrations, simultaneously taking place in a number of cities and regions in Germany (especially its western and southwestern parts) during the weekend and through Rose Monday (also on Mardi Gras in larger centers) just before Ash Wednesday. ‘Fifth Season,’ as it is also called, brings with it an explosion of colors: decorated floats, all kinds of flamboyant costumes, bizarre setups ridiculing politicians, street dancers and marching bands. For a truly awesome carnival party go to Cologne – you will experience first hand the warmth of this city, have one helluva good time, and see the stereotypically ‘reserved’ Germans in their ‘party animal’ edition.
#3. Berlin Film Festival
The Berlinale (a.k.a) is doubtless one of the most glamorous events in the global cinematographic calendar; but glamor, commerce, and relentless media attention notwithstanding, this prestigious film festival manages to maintain a good head on its shoulders, in the sense that it promotes and rewards genuine artistry and innovation in film-making within a number of different genres (hence its several sections: Competition, Forum, Panorama, etc) and spanning the full spectrum of global film production.
Attending ‘the Berlinale’ is a great way of keeping abreast with the latest trends and developments in the film industry (not to mention it being a great time to visit Berlin), as an incredible number of film projections – up to 400 – are held for the duration of the festival, making it the world’s largest film festival based on public attendance (over 300.000 tickets sold).
#4. City of Berlin
For the young and young at hart: you’ve got to set some time aside to explore this city! Now, there’s no shortage of events taking place in Berlin that in and of themselves are enough of a reason to visit (Berlinale of course, ‘Karneval der Kulturen,’ ‘Fête de la Musique,’ ‘Long Night of the Museums,’ etc), but just exposure alone (open-minded, needless to say) to the creative stirrings of this bustling city , with its alternative art-scene, ‘underground’ culture and wild parties, is a stimulating experience.
Make the most of the atmosphere around the ‘Hackesche Höfe’ and ‘Oranienburger Straße,’ and get catapulted into Berlin’s nightlife.
Everyone (beer aficionados in particular) should, at least once in their lifetime, attend this great festival IMO, and join in the fun of downing consecutive Maßkrüge, to the sounds of lederhosen-clad ‘Oompah Bands’ while feasting on ‘wurst,’ ‘hendl’ and ‘schweinebraten,’ and generally, celebrating all things Bavarian.
Little wonder people from all over the world travel to Munich in droves to be a part of this festival – the atmosphere in and around “die Wiesn” (the epicenter of the festival) and the tents is cheerful in the extreme.
#6. City of Munich
The capital city of Bavaria, situated near the foothills of the Alps, with its characteristic ornate architecture, beautiful parks, world-class museums, nearby castles, and its trademark ‘beer gardens’ is a great place to visit year-round and not just during Oktoberfest.
Munich is a charming city full of remnants of its royal past (most notably around ‘Marienplatz’); being neither big nor small – just the right size – it offers a ton of attractions of all kinds within a relatively small area. Munich’s whole culture of beer gardens greatly adds to its friendly character.
#7. German Food
One of the great things about Germany is the delicious food one gets to eat while over there; yes, you heard me right: German food is great!
With all its ‘wurst’ this and ‘wurst’ that (1500 different types of sausages) served with sauerkraut and potato salad, exquisite soups and stews, ‘sauerbraten,’ ‘schweinebraten,’ ‘schwenkbraten,’ (and other ‘bratens’), hundreds of different types of bread (Brötchen my favorite), all washed down with the best beer in the world, Germany is a true gastronomic wonderland.
On top of that, almost everywhere you go out to eat, you get served a huge plate full of food, instead of some stylishly decorated little morsel.
#8. City of Hamburg
If it weren’t for the overcast skies, I’d move to this great city and never look back! Hamburg, like few other cities in the world, has it all and more: incredible energy, cosmopolitan flair, thrilling nightlife, tons to see and do, and the list goes on …
Due to its phenomenal geographical position on the river Elbe (close to where it flows into the North Sea) with many canals and lake Alster not far from the city center, Hamburg allows for an incredible variety of outdoor activities (even beech sports, believe it or not). Countless attractions to vist during the day (e.g. ‘Speicherstadt,’ promenade by the ‘Landungsbrücken,’ ‘Kunsthalle,’ the futuristic ‘HafenCity’ etc) and the exciting “Reeperbahn” nightlife hub to explore in the evening. No matter what your thing is, you’ll love this city.
#9. Bachfest Leipzig
A delightful annual event for lovers of classical music in general and of the great baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach in particular; takes place every summer at the historical venue of ‘Thomaskirche’ in Leipzig, where Bach served as the ‘Kapelmeister’ during the last three decades of his life.
Each year the festival features top-notch individual performers and classical ensembles from all over the world; after roughly 100 different events staged, the festival culminates with the performance of the ‘Mass in B minor’ at the ‘Thomaskirche.’
#10. Frankfurt Book Fair
Not only one of the most important events in the global book-publication calendar but also a media event of notable relevance, the ‘Frankfurter Buchmesse’ is the largest book fair in the world (with nearly 7500 participating exhibitors representing 110 countries). The fair dates back to 1476 – shortly after the mechanical movable type got invented by Gutenberg in the nearby Mainz.
The Frankfurt Book Fair with its incredible array of colors is a veritable spectacle for the eyes and a real treat for book lovers from the world over. It is also an important venue for negotiating book-related business deals such as licensing fees and international publishing rights.
Although situated in the center of the country, Erfurt the capital city of Thuringia lies completely off the beaten track of mass-tourist itineraries. This forgotten gem of Germany with its astonishingly preserved medieval nucleus, and an exquisite mixture of medieval, baroque and classical architecture, comes as a breath of fresh air to an unsuspecting visitor. Erfurt boasts one of the oldest universities in Germany (Martin Luther was a student there in the early sixteenth century). Erfurt is conveniently close to Weimar and Jena, a couple of towns very much worth visiting.
#12. Wagner Festival in Bayreuth
If you’re into the music of Richard Wagner, than this festival is a must; the monumental ‘Ring of the Nibelungen’ cycle is the highlight of the festival, but other works like ‘Parsifal,’ ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg,’ ‘Tristan and Isolde,’ ‘Tannhäuser,’ ‘Lohengrin’ and ‘The Flying Dutchman,’ are performed too.
First staged in 1876 when, owing to the support by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the famed composer realized his long-held ambition of instituting a special venue to showcase his own work. A quick caveat: tickets are very difficult to come bye and proper planning, well in advance, is necessary.
#13. Festival Mediaval
Granted it’s a bit unusual, to put it mildly, but if you’re a history buff with a penchant for all things medieval, you are going to love the kind of re-enactment of scenes from life in the middle ages they stage every September in the Bavarian town of Selb.
All kinds of medieval paraphernalia on display with the obligato fire shows, dungeons, archery tournaments, medieval music, bizarre looking characters like beggars and witches, and what not; an entertaining time-travel into a past shrouded in mysteries and myths.
Last but not least, a good reason to go to Germany is to meet and befriend Germans. While some of the stereotypes about them ring true, they only conveniently cover one half of the truth (the one readily visible at first sight) while filtering out the other half of the equation; namely, while it is true that they are reserved and don’t exactly take to small talk like ducklings to water, once you earn their friendship and trust, you gain a friend who is a helluva lot more solid and real than many a super-sociable flake with whom you quickly take off, only to realize they’re a ‘potemkin village.’