I went to Germany mostly to visit friends that I met traveling in New Zealand or knew in high school. To be honest, before I knew any Germans it wasn’t really a place I ever dreamed about or considered going to. But I’m really glad I went because I loved my time there! And since I was staying with friends, I went to some places that tourists don’t really go to and experienced the “real” Germany. Some things I observed during my time there:
- Germans seem to have a reputation of being so serious and unfriendly, but I found a lot of people were very friendly!
- There are a lot of nice cars on the road and they all look really clean and well-kept.
- You really can drive as fast as you want on the Autobahn.
- Nobody talks like the German guy in this video. The German language isn’t as harsh as most people make it out to be, especially in the north where it actually sounds quite nice!
- The cities were clean and modern, yet still preserved their Old Word charm.
- Like many other European countries I went to, the food was soooo good! From currywurst to apfelstrudel to all the delicious breads, I ate really well in Germany. And yes, the beer really is the best!
Like throughout the rest of Europe, getting around is very easy. The train system is very good and travelling within regions can be very economical if you’re travelling with a few people using a regional pass. Bus companies like Meinfernbus are great if you don’t mind spending more time getting from place to place. They’re very cheap and comfortable, sometimes costing just a few euros. Most of my time in Germany was spent in the west and the north, although I did spend a few days in the south as well.
Düsseldorf was the first place I went to and it’s where I met up with my friend, Annette, whom I met traveling in New Zealand. It wasn’t the best day weather-wise, but we still spent the day out in the rain walking around the city for a few hours. Düsseldorf is an artsy upscale city in the west of Germany situated along the Rhine river. We tried some Leberwurst and Kartoffelsalat (German potato salad) for lunch and spent a few hours walking the streets and along the riverfront admiring the city’s modern style and funky architecture.
After Düsseldorf, we hopped on the train further up the river to the nearby city of Cologne. After leaving the station, the first thing you see is the Kölner Dom, a massive Gothic-style cathedral in the city center. It’s huge–even bigger than Notre Dame in Paris. In fact when it was completed it was the tallest building on Earth for a short time. After checking out the cathedral, we followed the grey cobblestone streets to the Altstadt or Cologne’s old town. Compared to Düsseldorf, Cologne seemed more laid back and trendy with a definite hipster scene going on. Even in the rain, the streets are bright with colorful buildings and lively with hip cafés and bars. And of course no visit to Cologne is complete without drinking some Kölsch beer!
After Düsseldorf and Cologne, I stayed with Annette and her family in her hometown of Bielefeld for a few days. It’s a big university town in the northwest that hardly ever sees tourists (at a population of over 300,000 people I would call it a city, but by German standards it’s a big town). Many Germans haven’t even been there and there’s even a joke about how the town is just a conspiracy and doesn’t really exist. But it does and it was actually a nice area to visit for a few days! The town is surrounded by forest covered hills, with lots of hiking and biking trails. There’s even a castle on top of one of the hills that overlooks the town, so one day we decided to hike to the castle via a long hike through the hills. Somewhere along the way we missed a turn and got lost, ending up in some neighborhood at the other end of town. While walking down one of the streets, we came across an old couple out in front of one of the houses and asked them for directions to the castle. Instead, they kindly gave us a ride all the way up to the castle in their nice clean car, even with the little muddy dog we had with us! It’s one of my favorite memories from Germany.
Another day we drove out to the countryside to the nearby town of Detmold. It’s a beautiful little town that looks just the way I thought a German town would look like– cobblestone pedestrian-only streets lined with little shops and charming old German-style buildings. The town had a very relaxed atmosphere and on a warm sunny summer day it was the perfect place to be. Visiting places like Bielefeld shows that it pays to go off the beaten track sometimes!
After saying farewell to Bielefeld, I took the bus north to the city of Hamburg and stayed with my friend Alena, who was an exchange student at my high school I’ve stayed in contact with over the years. I’ve always heard Hamburg was a nice place. While it’s less popular than other big cities like Berlin and Munich, Hamburg was pretty amazing. It’s a big riverside city that happens to have the 3rd largest port in the world and is said to have more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined.
Some of the things we did included climbing to the top of Church St. Michaelis for a wonderful view of the city, taking a quick jaunt through the Reeperbahn, munching on Franzbröchten (a pastry you’ll only find in the bakeries of northern Germany), and checking out the miniature world. The latter was really impressive by the way—uber nerdy yes, but it’s incredible how much detail and work went into the project.
In the peak of the summer season, the city was alive and buzzing. Heaps of people were out everywhere you went, especially in the parks and by the water. We spent an afternoon canoeing through the city’s maze of canals and lakes, which in my opinion is the best way to experience Hamburg. There’s even a café where you can order ice cream from, right from your boat! There’s many more things to see and do here, but I didn’t have the time to see it all unfortunately, which means I’ll just have to pay another visit someday!
I actually traveled to Munich after visiting Prague as a stopover on our way down south to Italy. It was a very short two days, but we still managed to see quite a bit with the help of my friends Marco and Magdalena (also friends I met traveling in New Zealand). They took us to all the big sites: Olympic Park (where the 1973 Olympics were held), the famous Glockenspiel clock tower, the Marienplatz, the BMW museum, and the famous Hofbräuhaus for some weisswurst, massive brezels, and huge mugs of beer. Munich is a fun city. It’s very green with lots of parks and you can tell a lot of people like to spend their free time outdoors. The city has a big system of biking trails and there’s even a special spot in English Garden, a huge park in the middle of the city, where you can go surfing on the river! And with the Alps only an hour away, the opportunities for some outdoor fun is endless.
On our second day, we took a train out to Dachau to visit the concentration camp and WWII memorial. I’ve seen lots of movies and documentaries about the concentration camps, but being there in person was a very sobering experience. It’s very easy to get to from the city, admission is free, and it’s very well done–well worth the visit. Overall, Munich was probably my favorite city in Germany. If I was German, I’d live there!