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Last updated : Nov 2009
Northwest Germany
Northwest Germany - TravelPuppy.com
Undiscovered by many holidaymakers, the northern region, although relatively flat, offers pleasant scenery with gently rolling hills, lake country and fine sandy beaches and dunes in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, bordering on Denmark.

Hamburg

Hamburg is Germany's second-largest city with a population of 1.8 million people. It is a city-state, forming with Lübeck, Bremen and Rostock and other European ports the medieval Hanseatic League.

A sightseeing tour, starting at the Hauptbahnhof (main station) gives a good overall impression of the city.

The Baroque Church of St Michael (der Michel), the Town Hall with its distinctive green roof, the elegant Hanseviertel, the Alster Arcades and the Alster Lake, the biggest lake inside a European city, are principal sights, along with the Arts Mile, location of most important museums and galleries.

Museums of interest include the domed Hamburg Art Gallery (Kunsthalle), the Historical Museum, the Decorative Arts and Crafts Museum and the Altonaer Museum.

Hamburg has many theatres, including the Hamburg State Opera (Hamburgische Staatsoper), Germany’s oldest opera house, John Neumeier Hamburg Ballet, the German Theatre (Deutsches Schauspielhaus), and the Ohnsorgtheater, which performs plays in the Low German dialect (plattdeutsch).

In the city’s heart is the Planten und Blomen park near the Congress Centrum Hamburg, with its spectacular fountain displays during the summer. During a daytime visit to the park, the Television Tower is the highlight. For a small charge, visitors take the lift to the top platform and enjoy a view of the city, the harbour, the northern districts and the surrounding countryside. Just below is a restaurant, which turns full circle in the course of an hour enabling diners to enjoy every vantage point.

Not far from the Television Tower, next to the Feldstrasse underground station, the large Dom funfair takes place several times a year. From Feldstrasse it is not far to the famous St Pauli district, which includes the notorious Reeperbahn, with its various ‘adult’ entertainments. After dark this area comes alive with neon lights, music, crowds, theatres and door staff trying to attract people into their establishments. After a long night out, revellers congregate at the Fischmarkt, which opens at 0630 hrs, and sells fruit and vegetables as well as fish.

A wide range of harbour trips are available, and the Speicherstadt historic Warehouse Quarter is a must. Hamburg enjoys unrivalled shopping, with pedestrianised shopping streets, elegant arcades, fine department stores and street cafes concentrated in the area between the main railway station and the Gänsemarkt.

Refuge from a hectic day’s shopping can be sought by hiring a rowing boat or a paddleboat and exploring the Alster and the intricate network of canals (Hamburg has more bridges than Venice) which extends throughout the city. On Sundays, a stroll on the banks of the River Elbe is a favourited pastime or a visit to the Museum Harbour at Övelgönne. Numerous cafes and restaurants line the route.

Bremen

Bremen, also a city-state, with over half a million inhabitants and is the oldest German maritime city, having been a market town since AD 965. For all its history, though, it boasts two of the country’s most modern high-tech visitor attractions including the interactive Universum Science Centre, and the Space Travel Visitor Centre.

Historic Bremen clusters around the marketplace, featuring the Gothic Town Hall (1405-1410), in front of which stands the Roland, the statue of a medieval knight and symbol of the city. The extensive pedestrian zone includes a sculpture of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Musicians of Bremen), made famous in the fairy tale by Grimm. Also part of this is the Schnoorviertel, a district full of medieval charm, with narrow cobbled streets now housing art galleries and exclusive shops. The nearby port of Bremerhaven is home to the German Maritime Museum.

Schleswig-Holstein

In Schleswig-Holstein is Germany’s ‘Little Switzerland’ and the dukedom of Lauenburg, an area of quiet meadows and wooded hills. Glistening among them are the blue waters of the many lakes and fjords reaching deep into the interior of this state. A trip could also include visits to tiny undiscovered towns such as Ratzeburg and Mölln or to one of a string of Baltic resorts such as Timmendorfer Strand, Grömitz and Schönhagen, whose golden, sandy beaches attract summer crowds.

Lübeck, whose picturesque oval-shaped old town, ringed by water, still has many reminders of the city’s medieval golden age and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, claims to be the most beautiful town in northern Germany. The Holsten Gate, the Rathaus and the many examples of northern red brick town houses are part of the historic heritage. Thomas Mann set his famous novel, Buddenbrooks, here. Buddenbrook House contains the Heinrich and Thomas Mann Centre, giving information on the life and works of both authors.

Flensburg, the most northerly town in Germany, has architecture dating back to the 16th century and for many years of its history was part of Denmark. Just south of Flensburg is Kappeln an der Schlei, a picturesque small town between the Fjord and the Baltic. Every hour during the summer the traffic comes to a halt when the rotating bridge allows sail and fishing boats to pass. At the beginning of the season in May the Heringstage lure visitors to taste the town’s speciality, herring.

Along the Schlei lies the old Viking town of Haithabu, with its interesting museum.

Further south, still on Schleswig-Holstein’s east coast, is state capital Kiel, a modern city with a large university. It stands on the Nord-Ostsee (Kiel) Canal, which connects the North Sea with the Baltic. In June, yachting and sailing enthusiasts flock to the Kiel Week. One of Germany’s biggest passenger ports, Kiel’s highlights include a Maritime Museum, the Molfsee Open Air Museum and the Oceanographic Institute Aquarium.

Large systems of dykes protect the low-lying western coast of Schleswig-Holstein from constant pounding by waves. Sea breezes, a wealth of bird species and nature reserves make the North Friesian Islands of Sylt, Föhr and Amrum a favourite for nature holidays. Ferries connect with the numerous Halligen, small flat islets off the coast.

Westphalia

Westphalia extends from the Rhine to the Weser Valley. For many, Westphalia conjures up images of the industrial Ruhr Valley, but the region is also one of outstanding natural beauty and historical interest. Highlights include the Teutoburger Forest with its nature reserves, the ancient episcopal see of Münster and whose attractions include the newly opened Pablo Picasso Graphics Museum containing nearly 800 original lithographs, and the Sauerland Region, an area of lakes, forests and hills, providing good skiing in winter and walks at any time. Major cities along the Rhine in the west of the state are described in the Rhineland section.

The Ruhr Valley

South of Münster is the heavily industrialised Ruhr. Made up of several large cities merging to form one huge conurbation, the Ruhrgebiet is, however, also a vibrant centre of culture with many museums, theatres, art galleries and opera houses. The region also has many parks providing refuge from the industrial landscape. Many older buildings survive from the days when this was an agricultural area dotted with small towns.

The main cities of the Ruhr are (from west to east): Krefeld, Duisburg, Germany’s largest internal port, Mühlheim, Essen (in the heart of the region, and home to Germany’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Zollverein Coke Plant), Bochum, and Dortmund, centre of Germany’s brewing industry. South of the Ruhr and bordering the beautiful Siegerland and Sauerland regions is Wuppertal, which, stretched out along its own valley, is home to a unique suspension railway urban transit system, the Schwebebahn.

Lower Saxony

East Friesland, on the North Sea coast of Lower Saxony, consists of a wide plain interspersed by ranges of tree-covered hills known for their health resorts and modern spa facilities, as well as their fine sandy beaches. The car-free East Friesian Islands also offer relaxing health-oriented holidays. Sea air and scenery along the coast guarantee a happy and restful holiday atmosphere.

In contrast is the large nature reserve between the rivers Elbe and Aller further inland. The countryside comprises moorland with large expanses of heather, grazing sheep, clumps of green birch trees and junipers. Of interest in this area are the half-timbered houses of Celle and Lüneburg, historic centre of Germany’s salt industry.

Further west is the town of Oldenburg, economic and cultural centre of the region between the Ems and the Weser, to the north is the spa town of Wilhelmshaven, which has as its speciality relaxing and therapeutic mud baths. It is also the starting point for many tours along the East Friesland coast and the off-lying islands.

Romantic Germany can be found in the Weser Valley, near Hanover (see below), where there are fairytale towns such as Hameln (Hamlyn), famed for the tale of the Pied Piper. A play about the infamous piper is re-enacted during the summer months every Sunday at noon. The town has several buildings in Weser Renaissance style. Here is also the romantic area of the Weserbergland with numerous hill ranges and deep forests.

In the east of the state is Wolfsburg, home of Volkswagen cars. Autostadt (Car City), an unusual and major new visitor attraction dedicated to cars, opened recently on a 10 hectare (25 acre) site in the heart of the city.

Hanover

The state capital of Lower Saxony hosts the renowned Hanover Trade Fair. The ‘Big City in the Park’ is also an important tourist draw, with many interesting sights. Attractions, linked for visitors’ benefit by a 4.2km (2.5 mile) route marked by a red line on the pavements, include the Herrenhausen Castle with its baroque gardens incorporating a new rainforest house. The annual music and theatre festival, which is performed on open-air stages within the garden, attracts many visitors during the summer. The city also has a 14th-century market church, the Marienkirche, several museums and a 15th-century town hall with the famous gable. There are also numerous museums, such as the Sprengel Museum near the Masch Lake, which is becoming an important centre for modern art.