Germany has much more than beer, clubs and Berlin. If you want to get away from the tourists, do these top 10 activities to find the best off-the-beaten path German destinations.
Now that the world is truly a ‘global village’, places like Germany are often being looked over in favour of crazier, more unique, less guidebook-y experiences. When most of us think of Germany, we might think of a few things: maybe beer, or their turbulent history, or beer, or lots of English speakers, or schnitzel or even beer. However, that’s been done, and there’s little adventure appeal in that. So what’s left?
Plenty. Here’s a few things you can do — once you get off your haunches at the Hofbräuhaus — to make sure your experience isn’t a touristic one.
1. Have dinner in a dungeon
What makes any meal better? Having to wander through a series of underground tunnels lit by candles and wrought iron chandeliers to get to it. Felsenkeller in Pfullendorf is just one of these places, and the experience is damn near close to magical without being too Medieval. You can get a similar experience at Weinkeller Einhorn, in a cellar from before the actual medieval times (circa 700). That’s like five times older than the US, but infinitely cooler.
Also, there are hidden unicorns everywhere. Win.
2. Take a stroll along the big ‘blue pot’
Blautopf, or ‘blue pot’, in Blaubeuren is a 21m-deep spring as turquoise, teal and aqua as that satin bridesmaid dress in your closet. It’s a limestone funnel (the reason for the colour) and the source of the river Blau, which eventually flows into the Danube. If you were to dive into the spring, you would be led into a 15km series of underground caves leading you to the river.
It’s still being excavated and explored, so currently only professionals are allowed in.
3. Feel the gritty appeal of Sternschanze
You’ve done Berlin, so now do Hamburg. Visit the Sternschanze neighbourhood, or just ‘schanze’, and, if you’re a creative type at all, you’ll feel it in the air. The combination of street art (some funded by the local government), posters, paint-peeling-but-delectable cafes, mélange of characters, and eclectic mix of global, streetside cuisine give it an unrefined, raw allure.
After all, the Beatles didn’t get their start in Hamburg for nothing. Once you get off the S-bahn, take a visit to Bullerei for a Burrata and a beer, Elbgold for a roasted-on-the-premises latte, or find any one of the falafel shops downtown and just try to figure out which one is best (because they’re all fantastic). Consider it a dare.
4. Take part in the boutique hotel movement
How many hotels have you stayed at where the ‘do not disturb’ placard would indeed disturb your mother? Where the ‘lobby’ is full of pillows and record players, where the guest book is a typewriter, and you wouldn’t bat an eye at grabbing a book of the shelf, a drink from the fridge, and hankering down next to the receptionist? The boutique hotel movement in Germany is nothing short of blooming and they’re doing it right. Hotel Henri and 25hours are just two prime examples, and once you go boutique, you’ll be back in a week. Or something like that.
5. Get your Heiße Liebe, or ‘Hot Love’ on
If you don’t know, you’ll just have to find out.
6. Visit the last natural tannery in the world
At first you’ll be thinking ‘this is kinda gross’ or ‘man, this makes me want some jerky’, but by the end you’ll be converted. Every other tannery in the world uses some kind of chemical to get the processing done, apart from Gerberei Kolesch in Biberach an der Riß — where they’re doing it the same way they’ve been doing it since the 1700s.
Why are they such Luddites? Not using chemicals creates a product that never tears, stains, grows fungus, and will literally last you forever; just ask the owner, Jürgen. You’ll probably see him sporting a pair of duds from two decades ago, worn but perfect, hat, boots and all. If you think you’ve found Indiana Jones’ brother, you’ve found the right guy.
The prices reflect this quality and care, too: a wool and leather jacket goes for almost EUR 900, and a pair of men’s pants will be well over EUR 1,000. But don’t balk at the price — these babies take months of hard work to get just right.
7. Skip the beer and get your fill of wine and liqueur
While there are towns in Germany that have been brewing brews for centuries and centuries, there’s no reason to gloss over the plethora of wines, liqueurs and sekt that come from the area, too.
Turns out Germany produces 1.2 billion bottles of wine a year (Riesling being most popular) and its vineyards have existed since the Roman Era. Try sipping on Blanc de Noir — a white wine that tastes like a red — from Staatsweingut Meersburg, while looking over Lake Constance and onto the hills of Switzerland and Austria. Not too shabby.
Not an oenophile? Try the sekt at Kessler, which is Germany’s oldest producer of sparkling wine or the schnapps at Brennerei Rössle. That’s not before gazing into the cellar, though, where if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were in Potions class at Hogwarts.
8. Follow the stumbling stones for a hands-on history lesson
Germany has come a long way in its history and they’re acknowledging their tumultuous past now more than ever. Part of that acknowledgement comes in the form of ‘stumbling stones’, or stolperstein — little markers in the pavement dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, placed where they once lived. There are over 48,000 in 18 countries in Europe, but 30,000 in Germany alone.
If you run into one, take a second to think about the things the streets you’re now wandering have seen and the change that you’re thankfully witness to.
9. See what the country used to look like
Germany has a liking for linking its towns together. There are more than 80 scenic roads, from the Fairy Tale Route to the Cheese Route to the Old Salt Road. But if you want a glimpse into the past of what Germany looked like before the devastation of WWI and WWII (and even the 30 Years’ War and the Protestant Reformation), take a trip along the Fachwerkstrasse, or Framework Road. It’s a series of 98 towns that all have gone largely untouched and preserved from the 1300s on. It’ll feel like a step back in time, wandering cobbled streets between half-timbered houses and literally centuries-old restaurants and cafes.
Stop into Café Kolesch for their famous Wielandtorte and try not to drool at their cases of colourful sweets.
10. Eat nothing but white asparagus
Germans love white asparagus so much they even have the Asparagus Road, or Spargelstrasse. Spargelzeit marks the beginning of spring, and the beginning of Germans going crazy for their ‘vegetable of kings’, ‘edible ivory’ and ‘white gold’. It’s said that the average German diet consists of at least one helping of white asparagus a day during this season, if not once a meal. As you hop from restaurant to restaurant, ask about their white asparagus dishes — it may be off-menu since it’s seasonal.
You’ll no longer look so much like a tourist and you’ll be taking part in an age-old and delicious local tradition.
Jacqueline lives out of a suitcase. She hails from America’s heartland, though part of her soul was left in Vietnam. She can be found rocking a microphone, baking cakes just for herself or kickboxing her Saturday night away. Much to her dismay, she has developed a recent aversion to coffee and is currently seeking advice on what to do. More can be found at The Strange and New. Jacqueline was a guest of Tourism Germany. Photo credits: dierk schaefer (blue pot), Michael Fielitz (Berlin).