So far as destinations go, it is not the most beautiful. So far as history goes, it is all bad news. If not for Oktoberfest, Berlin nightlife and rides on the Autobahn, most would think twice before considering Germany as a worthwhile stopover.
But as Germany and the world prepare to whip themselves into a football frenzy this month, that is all set to change. As host nation for the World Cup, Germany is promoting the competition as a ‘time to make friends’. And with the action spread out over the entire country, there are certainly plenty of places to look.
While Germany hardly counts as an exotic location, time spent in the area quickly proves that it has more to offer than dictators, disastrous fashion and David Hasselhoff fans. Far from the stiff and stern types that everyone imagines, Germans are overwhelmingly good-humoured and hospitable, and their cities are lively — particularly in summer.
In 2004 I spent a year living in southern Germany and travelled the country — south to north, west to east. People who have travelled Germany before, or anyone remotely familiar with German history, will know that the aesthetic and layout of German cities are a living testament to the country’s turbulent past.
Cities to the north, northwest and east are a visual and architectural reminder of wartime destruction and capitalist/socialist division. Cities to the south exhibit rich, alpine beauty and largely retain their pre-war Germanic charm. While the northern cities may be culturally and historically more interesting, with the exception of Berlin, it is their southern neighbours that draw the tourist crowd.
With all of Australia’s round one games based in southern states, Aussies in particular might be considering a trip this year, if only to wave the green and gold. But if you do not have a ticket, or your team is not playing, there is still plenty on offer besides the sporting atmosphere.
While southern Germany is far from the ocean, southern states Bavaria and Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg are beautifully green and leafy. The entire region is linked by an intricate lake system dotted with towns that exude quiet tradition. And while quiet tradition is often what lures travellers here in the first place, this quiet tradition is also quietly deceptive.
Put simply, visit any town or major city in southern Germany and you are just as likely to find a club, S & M store or piece of world history on every corner, as you are a pub or bakery. Despite their quaint exterior, southern towns are decisively modern and, like the majority of their inhabitants, liberal and open-minded.
From a touring perspective, southern Germany is best travelled by car or train. While trains are notoriously expensive in Germany, they are fast, reliable and nine times out of ten entertaining. If you make like the locals and grab a cheap deal on regional trains, you can expect to be treated to a visually stunning, if overly circuitous, route as well connection cities that are more interesting than your intended destination. If you are lucky the numerous Punks and Penner that patronise Deutsche Bahn will throw in a performance or two as well.
Once in your chosen city the choice is yours. Location-wise, Munich makes a popular and logical starting point. But rather than heading straight to the HofbrÃ¤uhaus for a mug of beer that is as big as your face, take some time to view the city on foot. Most of the key sites like the Frauenkirche and Glockenspiel are situated around Marienplatz in the town centre.
MÃ¼nich was heavily bombed during the war so most of the inner city is in fact a reconstruction. The flavour however is still wonderfully Bavarian with a few quirks — the new town hall for instance is now older than the old one. And as Hitler’s political birthplace, Munich is simply brimming with historical landmarks — be they victim memorials or quiet protests.
The outer city is particularly good for viewing former Nazi buildings that now house independent art galleries or cultural centres. And despite what British comedies have told you about not mentioning the war, Munich (along with most German cities in fact) is one place where it is certainly safe to do so.
All Munich school students make a mandatory trip to Dachau Concentration Camp, a half our drive from the city and housing possibly the most comprehensive museum on Nazi terror. Far from ignoring the horrific nature of Germany’s past, the museum documents the camps with brutal photographic honesty and will likely provide your most moving experience in Munich.
If history is not your thing, in addition to the numerous pubs, clubs and cafes in the inner city, outer Munich offers bike paths, swimming spots and beer gardens. In the enormous English Gardens you can do as the Germans and sunbake nude, or check out the surfers at the natural wave pool.
Elsewhere in Bavaria, medieval Ravensburg and the Nuremberg’s old town make beautiful stopovers. Closer to Munich, a day trip to Fuessen and mad Kind Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein is a must.
West of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg is Germany’s other, more modern and infinitely cooler southern state. More than just the industrial home of Daimler-Benz and Porsche, capital city Stuttgart is a cultural hub and, many Germans would argue, just as hip as Berlin. If it is culture and consumption that you are after, this is the southern German city to visit.
In addition to modern and impressionist art galleries, theatre, opera, and shopping strips, Stuttgart is home to southern Germany’s music scene and in summer boasts numerous (and often free) festivals in addition to the many clubs already dedicated to Germany’s favourite music — and I don’t mean Bavarian oompah bands, I mean techno, trance and hip-hop.
Football fans will also find this makes an excellent base during World Cup time. If you are not fortunate enough to make it to the stadium in Bad Canstatt, Schlossplatz in the inner city will make for awesome, big screen viewing. Additionally, you can travel to virtually anywhere in Germany from Stuttgart.
Close by, fairytale student town Tuebingen is an often forgotten treasure. Further south, Lake Konstanz offers stunning views of the Swiss Alps and is without contest the best swimming spot in Germany. Look out for the statue of a giant prostitute waving sailors in from the sea and, if you can, try to time your visit with Southside Festival, a three-day music onslaught that is one of Europe’s cheapest, drunkest and muddiest.
Short girls will find many a German man willing to fling them onto their shoulders.
Whether it is history, cobbled streets, friendly locals or great beer you are after, southern Germany has it in abundance and should not be missed. And Aussie supporters — I hope to see you there.
Tips: Baaden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria and Schoenes Wochenende (Germany-wide) rail tickets allow up to five travellers to travel on a single ticket on regional trains. The price is an absolute bargain (works out at around â‚¬6 each).
Specialties: In addition to the many beer varieties, Kaesespaetzle, Maultaschen (both Schwaebisch pastas) and Mohnkuchen (poppy seed torte) are delicious.
Sport: The World Cup kicks off on Friday June 9 in Munich. Games also be played in Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund, Hannover, Frankfurt, Cologne, Nuremberg, Kaiserslautern, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Leipzig. The final will be played on Sunday July 9 in Berlin.
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