There is a reason that the obvious tourist attractions are popular. How could you visit Germany without seeing the Brandenburg Gate or the Black Forest or the Alps? The thing is that Germany is a big, diverse country, and there is a lot to be gained from heading off the beaten path. Here are 10 (admittedly eclectic) ideas if you’re looking for the German road less traveled.
This stunning little Bavarian city on the Danube is where many Germans go to relax. It’s an architectural marvel — its stone bridges, medieval squares, palace and Gothic cathedral have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the Document Neupfarrplatz, a museum dedicated to the remains of a Roman military camp and the Old Town’s 16th century Jewish quarter. And, by the way, it’s fun. Regensburg is jam-packed with restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs. The Wurstkuchl, or Sausage Kitchen, is a favorite among visitors and locals alike.
It bills itself as “a surreal museum of industrial objects,” which is actually a pretty good description. Think of it as a combination of the weird genius of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and the American sculptor Ed Keinholz. It’s less a gallery than a kind of walk-in art installation, with rooms full of sculptures made from creepy combinations of mannequins, dummies and industrial objects. Depending upon your taste, it will either inspire you or haunt your nightmares.
Nestled in a quiet northwestern town, the Junkerhaus is one of the quirkiest, most idiosyncratic architectural sites in Germany, if not Europe. The house was the brainchild of Karl Junker (1850-1912), who trained as a carpenter and visual artist. When Junker came into money he was able to embark on his house, which would become his life’s work. The Junkerhaus is a unique combination of architecture, painting and sculpture, and, if you’re in the area, not to be missed.
This ancient city is perhaps best known for the Edict of Worms, which declared Martin Luther a heretic. But medieval Worms was also a crucial center for Ashkenazi Jewry. Its Jewish cemetery is 1,000 years old — the oldest legible gravestone dates from 1058 — and to this day it’s a surprisingly fascinating place to visit and contemplate the heritage of the Jewish people. Worms has an interesting Jewish museum as well. Whatever your reason for visiting, don’t leave the city without sampling a glass of its famous Liebfraumilch.
Berlin doesn’t have exclusive rights to coolness in Germany. If you want another take on German it, head north to Hamburg. There’s a reason the Beatles got their start here. Along the picturesque Elbe, the beach bars are open every day in the summer; a couple are even open year-round. Hamburg’s nightlife rivals Berlin’s. Arguably the coolest neighborhood is the Schanzenviertel, which has tons of boutiques, cafés, clubs and bars. Spend a little time in Hamburg and you’ll know why Germans and travelers alike are flocking to this northern seaside metropolis.
The Island of Sylt
Most visitors don’t realize that the North Sea is strung with islands like pearls. One of the best places to visit is “the Queen of the North Sea,” Sylt. As part of the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park, vast portions of this 99-square kilometer island are protected, making Sylt a place of stunning natural beauty. There’s fun to be had off the beach too: Sylt is known for its quality restaurants and pubs.
This place is potty humor heaven. Klo is the German word for “toilet,” and that’s what the place is — not a literal toilet but a toilet-themed bar. The walls are festooned with toilet seats, and your beer comes in urinal-shaped glasses. In keeping with the juvenile theme, they’re big on pranks. There are water jets, so don’t wear anything nice, and the tabletops tilt — hang on to your beer. Is it classy? No. But it’s fun. Locals will tell you it’s a horrible place, and yet they all seem to have been here more than once.
There are many reasons to visit this lovely southern region, but one of the least-known, at least to Americans, is the Besenwirtschaften, or broom tavern. A quirk of German law has it that vintners can serve food and drink without a license — for a maximum of four months per year. You’ll know a tavern is open when they display an old-style broom by the door. The taverns range from a more established restaurant to, quite literally, a vintner’s family living room. Thus the Besenwirtschaften is a great way to mix with locals and learn about German wine. Look for the Maultaschen or, meat ravioli, a local specialty. You can find a Besen calendar here (in German).
This isn’t going to be for everybody, but if you’re the intrepid outdoorsy type — like a lot of Germans, actually — Schrecksee is a can’t-miss. It’s an all-day hike to this gorgeous Bavarian alpine lake, but the rewards are substantial: gorgeous views and a swim in a pristine mountain lake.
Germany is a car-lover’s paradise. One big reason is Motorworld, the complex of car museums, restaurants and bars near Stuttgart. The V8 Hotel is the best place to stay for gearheads. The place is chock full of car-themed art and photography, and the themed rooms — like the Route 66 Room or the Racing Room — will get you feeling like a kid again in the best way possible.