The Nuremberg Trials are probably the first thing most people think of when they see the name of the city. While that was a pivotal moment of 20th century’s German history, the city of Nuremberg has beautiful sights that transcend its historical events. It has a history that stretches back a millennium, which you’ll easily see when you’re walking around and admiring the architecture. While it did suffer heavy damage during the war, a good number of the medieval buildings were rebuilt to their original splendor. It’s a perfect place to visit for history buffs of all stripes, whether they’re concerned with the contemporary period or earlier.
Heidelberg takes charm to a whole new level. Right on the banks of the River Neckar, the area that is now the city has been inhabited for several millennia, probably due in some part to the pleasant climate. By the late middle ages, Heidelberg had already become an important city in Europe, and it played a large role during the Reformation era. As it wasn’t an important target during the war, it escaped Allied bombing during, so the city that you see when you arrive is the city that grew organically over the centuries. The baroque city center and the castle are just two aspects that you can’t miss.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a town that fairytales are based on. You’ll find yourself transported into the world of the Brothers Grimm as you walk through the twisty streets of the old center, which is full of particularly well-preserved medieval buildings. Many of these are quite unique and definitely worth seeing, so you could easily while away a lot of time exploring them. The town’s appearance has made it particularly attractive for movie makers, so you can see it in many films, perhaps most notably in recent years in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Schwerin, a millennium-old city entirely surrounded by lakes, is the capital of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The landscape itself is impressive on its own, and the architecture only adds to it. The state’s parliament is housed in the Romantic Schwerin Palace, which is on an island in Lake Schwerin. The dramatic setting of the palace would be enough to draw attention, but the city is also known for its old town, which was only slightly damaged during the war. Culture lovers won’t want to miss the State Art Museum, which has a great collection of Dutch paintings and antiquities.
Another city whose name primarily brings to mind Germany’s dark period of history, Weimar is relatively undiscovered by tourists and yet hugely worthwhile as a site to visit. There are even several sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, mainly because of their association with two major movements. Weimar classicism, spearheaded by such literary luminaries as Goethe and Schiller, and Bauhaus, which was created in Weimar. Even besides those pieces of cultural interest, Weimar is a lovely place just to walk around, as it abounds with 17th and 18th-century buildings and quiet places to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
The Leipzig skyline is an excellent example of how gorgeous it can be when old meets new and they meld together to form something different and wonderful. Once an important stop on the trading routes in the Holy Roman Empire and now a major economic center in the city, Leipzig has always kept itself at the forefront of development while also managing to hold onto its past. While it did suffer significant damage during the war, many of the monuments and buildings were either rebuilt or preserved, so you can still see things like the old town square and several churches from various architectural periods.
Bonn, which was first founded as a Roman settlement, is one of Germany’s oldest cities and its current second seat of the federal government. Its position on the Rhine river has always made the city accessible (and at times quite strategic), and therefore it has always had a certain level of influence. While it is now host to a number of important German federal and United Nations institutions, probably the most notable part of its cultural history was that Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770. If you’re looking for a city of grandeur, Bonn should be your first stop.
Trier holds the notable distinction of being the oldest city in Germany. It was founded by the Celts in the 4th century BC as Treuorum, held great importance to the Church in the Middle Ages, and then developed into the beautiful town that it is today. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list, mostly thanks to its collection of Roman and medieval buildings, including the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of Our Lady. Trier is unusually far to the north to have such an impressive number of Roman structures, and its location is also distinctive for another reason, it’s right in the middle of the Moselle wine region.
Lubeck gained its fame and wealth through its status as a trading city, especially beginning in the 14th century when it became the unofficial Queen of the Hanseatic League. The architectural style used at the time in that region was Brick Gothic, which is very strongly associated with northern Germany and the other areas influenced by German traders and immigrants. Lubeck is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as one of the best examples of a Brick Gothic city, and the center is striking because of all of the buildings in this unique style. The city was painstakingly restored after the war, so now you can become acquainted with this part of Germany’s history yourself.
Freiburg can proudly claim that it gained its fame not as a center of industry or trade, but of learning. While it was originally a very rich mining city, as silver was the main quarry, the first university there was built in 1457, and it has continued drawing people to Freiburg to study and take part in its vibrant cultural life ever since. The city is also on the edge of the Black Forest, so it’s a great branching off point for exploring some of Germany’s most scenic landscapes as well. With its exceptionally sunny climate, verdant surroundings, and gorgeous center, you might never want to leave Freiburg once you’ve arrived.
By Lani Seelinger