I'm planing a trip to Germany for my nephew and he wants to focus on key WWII historical places. Any ideas on how to plan such a tour?
We just completed such a tour of Germany with our son who is very interested in WW2. We let him drive the planning by telling us the places we wanted to visit and list by priorities. We used RS's Germany book extensively. We started in Munich as it was a direct flight from Houston and used it as a base for Nuremberg (day trip by train; documentation center and rally grounds were easy to visit by tram from main station). Dachau in within metropolitan Munich (need more than half day if your nephew is like my son). We rented a car at the end of our Munich stay and drove to Berchtesgaden (Hitler's Eagles Nest), very pretty location in the Alps with a Documentation Center, a maze of bunkers and a bus to the top of the mountain. We also drove to Dresden and ended up in Berlin (where 3 days were not enough). I would recommend booking a tour of the Reichstag Building in Berlin as soon as you know your dates.
One of the resources you might want to check is a web site that shows places as they were at the end of the war and as they are now. The site is www.thirdreichruins.com. It is very interesting and quite large. Plan to spend a lot of time to examine the whole thing.
Nürnberg should certainly be on such a route. The Party Rallying Grounds (Reichsparteitaggelände; easily reached by S-Bahn) is the place where those mass-scale propagands exercises were held. Just north of the city centre the Palace of Justice (Justizpalast) is where it all ended with the Nuremberg trials.
Berlin has, of course, a lot of sites connected to WWII. The Olympic Stadium was the decor of another propaganda exercise: the 1936 Games. In the city centre the Ministry of Finance on the Wilhelmstrasse uses the building of the Aviation Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium), which was responsible for a large part of the re-armament of Germany. Another typical building of this period is on the Werderscher Markt: now used for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was built for the Reichsbank. At the entrance a mosaic in a typical socialist style reminds of its use in the GDR period.
What it all led to is demonstrated by the Soviet War Memorial (Sowjetisches Ehrenmal) in the Treptower Park: a monumental exercise in Soviet propaganda.
Some options that do not appear quite so prominently in English-language guidebooks:
Valentin bunker: http://www.efre-bremen.de/detail.php?gsid=bremen59.c.13956.en
Panzerwerk Katzenkopf, near Trier: http://www.westwallmuseum-irrel.de/en/
Remagen Bridge Peace Museum: http://bruecke-remagen.de/
B-Werk Besseringen, near Merzig: http://www.merzig.de/en/tourismus/sehenswuerdigkeiten/b_werk_besseringen
Several cities have Nazi documentation centers including Cologne, Munich, and Nuremberg. Cologne's is in a former Gestapo prison building:
How to plan? I would probably select a region within Germany where there's a good concentration of the types of WW II sights that interest you most - and of course seek out some other historical places of interest and other activities as well within that region. Traveling the whole country for WW II sites probably won't make for such a rewarding trip, overall. There's a whole lot more to learn about European history in Germany than just the brief stage appearance of the Nazis.
Just a note that Germany has a lot more to offer tourists than Nazi sites.
One comment about the Munich Documentation Center: Munich and Bavaria are the cradle of national socialism so this a good area for Nazi history. It also seems (to me anyway) to provide the gateway into Germany of central and eastern European severe antisemitism, as was common in the Russian and Austrian empires. The Austrian empire was much more backward than German states, for example, peasants were not allowed free movement to emigrate until 1850, centuries after peasants in England, the Netherlands, France, and German states were allowed to move freely and emigrate. Also Jews were forced out of towns and cities in the Austrian empire to forced to live in villages in about 1790. Of course Hitler was Austrian and Munich had close contact with Austria.
For insight into Munich's dramatic role in the rise and fall of the Third Reich, visit the new NS Doku-Zentrum, which just opened last May. It's on Briennerstraße, on the site of the Third-Reich-era Nazi headquarters building. Führerbau (Hitler's office building, where the 1938 Munich Accord was signed) is next door, repurposed as a High School for Music and Theater. Historic Königsplatz is across the street. The City's website offers free downloadable maps and audioguides for self-guided walks tracing the history of National Socialism in Munich.
Topography of Terror and Saxenhausen in/near Berlin. Dachau, Begen-Belsen, Buchenwald...
Planning for a trip to Germany focusing on WW2 sites, I divide into two main areas...Nazi sites, ie sites that included the concentration camps, Wannsee, Dokumentation Centers, etc. The other main area is war and military sites.
Your focus is on the "historical places"...I suggest Seelow Heights (Gedenkstätte Seelower Höhen) on the battle for Berlin, Berlin-Krampnitz (the ruins of the Panzer Schule), Reichswald Military Cemetery and Wesel am Rhein war cemetery on the battles for the lower Rhine area, Berlin-Karlshorst on the Nazi-Soviet war and where the surrender was signed to the Russians, the room is arranged as it was on 9 May 1945. Küstrin an der Oder, if you have car, to get to the place from Berlin to see the ruins (like Pompei) where once was the town or a district totally destroyed in 1945 as the Soviets broke across the Oder.
In Berlin you have some suggestions above. I would add the Invalidenfriedhof, take the Invalidenstrsse exit from the Hbf., turn right. Part of this Prussian-German military cemetery focuses on WW2. Another site connected to 1945 is Torgau an der Elbe, the site where the US and Soviets linked up. In Munich at the Marienplatz there is the words of liberation (in Ger) of the city by US troops on 30 April 1945.
On planning for this type of trip: first decide the geographic extent, expenses, modes of transport, what the focus is...Nazi sites or military/war related. Aside from my suggestions above, I would include Rastatt (nice town too) to see the German Army Museum, plus Munster/Õrtze for the Panzer Museum, especially enlightening if you have a good level of reading German to read the posters, operational maps, information on the walls. See the military ordinance museum in Koblenz and in Wiesbaden the Südfriedhof (cemetery) with its WW1 and 2 sections, very easy to access from the train station by bus. For naval war history the museum in Stralsund, and near Kiel the naval memorial at Laboe and on the U-Boats at Möltenort.
Not specifically WW2-oriented, but there is a wonderful Bavarian Military Museum in Ingolstadt,
We did a rail tour from a company called to-europe.com (and they didn't seem to mark up the prices at all, just take commissions from the hotels and tours we used). They sell tours that include hotels (usually with breakfast), train tickets, some local transportation tickets, and tour tickets. You're not on a bus, it's up to you to make the connections between cities on the trains. And you figure out where to grab lunch and dinner. Great fun, easy, reasonably priced. And they can customize it to your specs.
Anyway, they have a WW2 Tour on their site.
A walking tour of Berlin had great WWII information. Part of the tour included hopping on the S-Bahn/UBahn and passing by the ghost stations which I had never heard of.
Another very detailed website which might be useful: http://en.tracesofwar.com/country.asp?countryid=7
As for Munich I would strongly recommend the "Third Reich Tour" which is walking tour with a guide showing dark side of Munich's history covering both pre-war and war period. And also the visit to nearby Dachau is essential.