Exploring Germany: Gateway to Europe

Aasee Lake, Munster

Image: Aasee Lake, Munster

Germany was my first choice when I began planning a three-week summer break in June 2014. I have family and friends settled across the east, west and central parts of the country. This would allow me to cover different cities and experience first hand the regional variations in food, fashion, architecture, and way of life. I must say, I had the time of my life in Deutschland and look forward to visiting other parts of the country in the future!

There is a wealth of natural beauty, including forests, greenery, valleys, gardens and parks; cultural spots on the lines of grand museums and contemporary art galleries, opera houses, historical towns and squares, castles; urban spaces such as airfields, pubs, street music and art, artist enclaves, start-up studios, and a whole lot of food, entertainment, shopping and commercial avenues to explore in Germany.

Some technicalities: Germany is the seventh largest country by area in Europe and the 62nd largest in the world. The longest distance from north to south is 876 kilometers; from east to west, the longest distance is 640 kilometers. However, I come from the sub-continent of India where the longest distance from north to south is 3,214 kilometers, so Germany is actually a “small” country, comparatively, to navigate. If you wanted, you could go from north to south within half a day by train!

Germany Map

Image: Map with pointers highlighting the places I visited.

My journey across Germany took me to Frankfurt, Schwangau, Heidelberg, Rothenburg, Berlin, Potsdam, and Munster. I would say Frankfurt and Berlin can be covered in 3 days each, where as the other smaller cities and university towns need only a full day of exploration. Of course, if you are a leisure traveler like me, you would invest a good five weeks for an immersive cultural experience and explore not just the main hubs, but the countryside and quaint towns as well.

Since I stayed with family and friends, I got to enjoy typical, everyday and non-touristy activities that helped me get a sense of what makes the locals tick, observe what they are passionate about and understand their daily rhythm. I enjoyed grocery shopping, visiting the local school and university, spending time at the park, enjoyed a post-sunset barbecue. A lot of my discoveries came by just walking around streets and not having a fixed itinerary to follow or a place to cover.

Frankfurt business district

Image: Frankfurt’s business district. The skyline is impressive, whether you view it up close, from the vantage of a cruise or from the roof top.

Helaba Tower, Frankfurt

Image: Main Tower is a 56-storey, 200 m (656 ft) skyscraper in the Innenstadt district of Frankfurt, Germany. It is named after the nearby Main river. The building is 240 m (787 ft) when its antenna spire is included.

Museum of Modern Art and Culture, Munster

Image: LWL Museum of Art and Culture in Munster presents over a thousand years of art history, from the Middle Ages to modern times.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau

Image: Neuschwanstein Castle is a nineteenth-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner.

Potsdam Biosphere

Image: Potsdam Biosphere is a jewel on the city’s urban crown. It’s a magical, albeit artificial, nature preserve in the university town and features diverse flora and fauna. The butterfly gallery is a delight!

Tea house, Berlin

Image: The Recipe for a Good Connection | Tea House / Shop in Berlin

Sansoucci Palace Interior, Potsdam

Image: The Sanssouci Palace is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin.

Stolperstein

Image: A stolperstein from German, “stumbling block” is a monument created by Gunter Demnig, which commemorates a victim of the Holocaust. Stolpersteine are small, cobblestone-sized memorials for an individual victim of Nazism.

Shoe plant

Image: Somewhere in Berlin, on the rooftop of a popular mall, lie scores of shoes with plants and buds thriving within.

Hoscht, Frankfurt

Image: Traditional German architecture. This is Höchst, a suburb in Frankfurt.

Graffiti on trains

Image: Graffiti on Deutschbahn, the local and regional trains in Germany.

Berlin Wall

Image: The eponymous Berlin Wall

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Image: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Tree on the Grounds of Heidelberg Castle

Image: A mothball-ish tree at Heidelberg Castle. This is a famous ruin in Germany and landmark of Heidelberg. The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. Read a detailed post on Heidelberg here.

Kornerpark Berlin

Image: Körnerpark at Neukölln, Berlin. This was a mesmerizing and abundant park, replete with trees, fountains, a cafe, benches, and a walking track. A must-visit place in Berlin.

lace shop in Rothenburg

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a picturesque town in the district of Ansbach of Mittelfranken, the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is well known for its well-preserved medieval old town, a destination for tourists from around the world. It is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

Glass pen seller at Potsdam's Russian Quarters market

Image: Got a pair of glass-blown pens from this gentleman who had a stall at the Russian Quarters market in Potsdam. Spent a whole lot of Euros and a pleasant afternoon shopping at the street.

Wishing Locks + Love Locks on the Main River Bridge, Frankfurt

Image: Eiserner Steg or The Iron Footbridge in Frankfurt. It’s also referred to as the Love Bridge as thousands of couples declare their love for each other by fastening a lock to the fences. I am particularly fond of the golden-colored lock in the shape of a heart!

Note on CouchSurfing
I am a late entrant to the CouchSurfing community and it’s been such a pleasant wake-up call! I had a very positive experience with two of my hosts; they were friendly, caring, went out of their way to show me around the city, and made me feel comfortable in their homes. In return, I couldn’t offer anything more than my gratitude, conversations, firsthand knowledge sharing about my country enthusiasm, and a special gift!

CouchSurfing can be an enriching experience if approached with the right intentions. Yes, having a place to crash in a foreign country is a godsend and not having to pay for it in cash is like finding the Holy Grail of Travel. However, please remember, the hosts take time, effort and money to welcome you into their homes. The least you can do is offer to do one or more of the following: cook, clean up after yourself, do the dishes or help with some chores, pay for meals taken in a restaurant, provide useful references and tips on countries you have visited and they haven’t, and lastly, leave the place and people better than when you came in.

Dear Readers and Fellow Travelers, if you would like to share notes or just ask for suggestions and tips on traveling to Germany, please feel free to email me or ping me on Twitter @culture_curate. Your comments make my day!

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