The Romantic Road. Those three words conjure up images of fairy tales and charming little villages. For years, despite numerous trips to Germany, I’ve avoided what is arguably the best known holiday route in the world. I had a lot of preconceptions about the Romantic Road – some were true and some were just legends. One thing is for certain, The Romantic Road in Germany was a complete surprise.
For over a thousand years, Germany has been a commanding force in Europe. It sits at the crossroads of several different (and important) trading routes. To this day, commerce and trade is an incredibly important part of the German export-based economic machine. The country’s cars and high-tech products are sought after around the world.
Visitors to Germany frequently come to Bavaria or the Black Forrest looking a fairy tale experience: medieval villages, half-timber houses, beer and bratwurst. There’s plenty of that to go around. However, there’s more to this country than Grimm fairy tales.
World War I and World War II took a devastating toll on Germany and many war sites are now important monuments. As a country, it doesn’t shy away from these difficult and painful topics. The country has the best preserved, best marketed and most thorough collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Germany has thoughtfully evaluated its contributions to world culture and has systematically preserved those sites all of humanity to enjoy.
Having been around the world many times, this is a country we keep visiting again and again. For us, there’s just so much to see and do in Germany! Here are a few of our favorite German experiences.
Like ghosts in the mist, white hooded bodies move silently through the 200 year old wooden structure. The dense fog strangles the senses as sight and sound are distorted. Slowly, the bodies pace back and forth. The only noise is the faint trickle of water. These pilgrims come to the Keltenbad spa (or Celtic Bath) in Bad Salzungen, Germany for “The Cure.” As I quickly learned, the Keltenbad Bad Salzungen is like very few places on earth.
Weimar, Germany is a town with an identity crisis. On one hand, it is a town deeply rooted in the Romantic Classical period. On the other hand, it is progressive, modern and gave birth to the Bauhaus movement. The dual traditions – Classical Weimar and the Weimar Bauhaus – are both recognized as separate UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I’ve visited the city several times over the last 20 years, and each time is a truly profound experience.
The hamlet of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany’s most visited small towns. It is also one of its best preserved: hundreds of years of poverty and neglect left the town in mint shape. In the summer, over 2 million visitors pack its tiny streets. But in the dead of winter, I had the town nearly to myself and was able to explore the many things to do in Rothenburg virtually alone.
On a recent trip to Central Germany, I encountered a man who played an important historical role, but has been relegated to a mere footnote: the painter known as Lucas Cranach the Elder. During the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, he had a ring-side seat for one of Europe’s most transformative periods. I didn’t go looking for Lucas Cranach, but I’m glad I discovered him.
The place called Buchenwald was not just a location. It was a journey into the darkness of the human soul. For me, the Buchenwald Concentration Camp is where the Holocaust becomes most real. Buchenwald was not the first concentration camp built by the Nazi’s. Buchenwald was not the biggest camp in Germany’s World War II machine. But in many ways, Buchenwald is the most symbolic and most important.
In a valley north of Nuremberg, Germany, modern medicine changed forever. For over 160 years, nearly every major diagnostic medical achievement can trace its roots to this area. The Siemens Med Museum in the quiet university town of Erlangen, Germany tells the story of technological progress in medicine.
For many visitors to Germany, the causes and effects of the deeply troubled Nazi-era are never far from the surface. All across Germany, Nazi sites are preserved so that Germany will never forget what happened and the world can focus on never again allowing it to happen. Perhaps no other city is more intractably tied to the Nazi legacy than Nuremberg. Hitler chose Nuremberg because it was the seat of the medieval emperors and thereby legitimizing his regime. Today, tourists can visit the Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally Grounds to understand the role of populism and propaganda in Nazi Germany.
Often overlooked by bigger neighbors, Wurzburg, Germany doesn’t receive nearly enough credit. The city is the start of the Romantic Road tourism route and the center of one the country’s most important wine regions. This best of Wurzburg walking tour takes in as many of the top attractions in a one-day itinerary.