Friday, 12 February 2016

Germany - a travel option too often overlooked

Munich (courtesy tourist office)

Just back from the German Travel Show in central London. It's a trade and media event aimed at whipping up tourist interest in a country still too often overlooked by the British. It served as a reminder - if I needed one - of just how much there is to grab the attention there, both in terms of culture and outdoor activities. Diversity, too, from the North Sea and Baltic coasts to the well trodden paths along the Rhone and the little discovered gems of the former DDR, from the magnificent museums of Berlin and Munich to a whole firmament of delicious small towns resplendent with medieval architecture, such as Rothenburg. There are plenty of new developments. Slow holidays specialist Inntravel has just launched a cycling tour of of Rügen, off the Baltic coast, for example. The island has some 375 miles of sand beaches, white cliffs hinted by Casper David Friedrich, Belle Epoque architecture, a surviving Trabant or two - and a massive holiday complex decreed by Hitler that was designed to cater for 20,000 Germans, but because of the outbreak of war never saw a single one of them. Not too far from there is  Lübeck, where a fascinating museum dedicated to the story of the Hanseatic League has opened in the German city of Lübeck. The League -  – the original northern powerhouse – developed in the Middle Ages as a mutual defence network, protecting the interests of merchants trading along Europe's northern coasts. By 1400 its area of influence stretched from what we now call the Baltic States to the North Sea coast of Holland. Its towns raised their own armies, its ships carried goods far and wide. Lübeck, a crucial trans-shipment port that became known as the Queen of the Hansa, may be seen as its cradle. The League’s importance waned in the 17th century, though its name lives on in that of Germany’s national airline, Lufthansa. The Hansemuseum is open from10am – 6pm between March and October. During the rest of the year it closes an hour earlier. Last year Germany's longest walking route was born, with the extension of the Saar- Hunsrück trail.  Following the addition of 12 new stages covering 190 kilometres it now runs all the way to Boppard on the Rhine. The total length is now 408km. The Hunsrück, much of which is rolling, tranquil countryside, lies west of the Rhine. Heimat, the long running German film series, was the story of a family from the region which spanned some 80 years from the immediate aftermath of the First World War. On arm of the footpath runs through vineyards to the the lovely city of Trier. Details of packages are available here - click on long distance hiking trails. There's also excellent walking in Bavaria, in the Rhine Valley, the Eiffel region and Harz mountains and on or around the long distance (169.3km) Rennsteig, which runs through Thuringia in the former east. You could combine that with visits to Weimar and its neighbour Erfurt, the former the cradle of the Bauhaus movement and birthplace of the short lived inter-war republic, the latter  a great historical crossroads of European trade. See my review of Weimar's most celebrated hotel here and my article on Erfurt here. In Munich, home of the world's most famous beer festival, this year will see celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of Germany's Reinheitsgrebot, the law which lays down which ingredients may be used in brewing.   In a city already rich with art galleries, a new museum that attempts to explain why it played such a key role in the rise of the Third Reich opened last year. The museum aims to maintain awareness of the need to guard against social exclusion, anti Semitism and all racial prejudice. Called the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism, it  stands on the Brienner Strasse site once occupied by NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party)  headquarters. Along with permanent and special exhibitions there is  a floor where you can investigate Nazi history in depth. And a smartphone app enables you to find places associated with that history when they are exploring the city. These are just some random suggestions, prompted by today's show, which might just tickle your palates. Germany is currently great value too - notably when it comes to hotel rooms and eating out.

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