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No Gemütlichkeit in Northern Germany

I just listened to Rick Steve's latest podcast show, and he raved about the "Gemütlichkeit" of Bavaria, saying that there is no "Gemütlichkeit" in Northern Germany. As a Northern German, I couldn't resist writing a reply here, well knowing that he probably won't see it. :-)

Yes, it is so sad. We Northern Germans rush through life, working all day, with no sense of humor like the Rhinelanders (Karneval? What's that?), no time for dolce far niente like the Italians or savoir vivre like the French. There are a few puny attempts at an Oktoberfest in Northern Germany, but really, that just makes it all the more pathetic.

That way, we have built an impressive image of ourselves which will effectively prevent our being run over by tourists.

Now... hush... come closer, we'll keep this a secret, and Rick doesn't need to know it... The southern Germans and the Rhinelanders flood the North Sea and the Baltic Sea shores and islands at vacation time, I wonder why? We have a tea ceremony in the Northwest that will easily outdo all British tea tradtitions and has actually been accepted as a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage tradition... And can any Hofbräuhaus kind of "Gemütlichkeit" compare to this?

But we'll keep this little secret to ourselves, and no one needs to know about it!

Posted by
1411 posts

I think it is a common prejudice with Americans.

In the 1980's I was assigned first to Bremerhaven and then to Nürnberg. At a "Hail and Farewell" in Nürnberg, one of the hospital dietitians asked if I was happy to transfer, implying an improvement. I said that I was happy to be in Nürnberg but that Bremerhaven had been great as well. She said the Bremerhaven was so far from everything. I was a little irritated. I asked, "From what?" She answered, "From the Alps." She meant well.

I reminded her that Nürnberg was a far from the North Sea. We did both laughed.

We loved Nürnberg but we missed our Halibut and Lemon Sole.

Posted by
5959 posts

I listened to most of the podcast and his brief off-hand comment on "Gemütlickeit", made in the context of a chat about "living as a temporary European" when you travel. He seems to think the word doesn't even exist in the north.

To be fair, Rick's self-assigned travel-guru job is to cover all of Europe. That means relying on his own personal wisdom to draw distinctions between different places, customs, cultures, etc. around the entire continent. It's a very large undertaking that involves a lot of chutzpah. It seems to me inevitable that any travel guru - no matter how much he thinks he may have traveled Europe as a "temporary European" - will still have personal biases and acquired stereotypes that surface here and there. (In Rick's case, this might be especially true since he writes to a North American audience that is largely inexperienced in European travel and that largely understands Europe through a lens of stereotypes in the first place.) And I agree with you, Anna; as a monoglot who only gets "kinda" close to pronouncing "Gemütlichkeit", he should show more modesty in his statements about what words are used where, how, and by whom in Germany. Maybe he once mouthed "Ein prosit zur Gemütlichkeit" at Oktoberfest, but that hardly means that Bavaria has a monopoly on either the word or the cultural concept of Gemütlichkeit.

And Anna, I'm happy to join in on your invitation to shield northern Germany from the eyes of tourists! The tour bus horde and the long lines in the usual 6-7 Bavarian high-profile travel spots can just stay there.

Posted by
3655 posts

Oh no, we’re about to spend a month north of Bavaria. How will we entertain ourselves? We’ll report back later and let you know. BTW we have traveled and lived in/near this part of Germany before and loved our experiences.

Posted by
6774 posts

Berlin is the farthest north I've been in Germany. It may not be the far north of Germany but it's definitely not Bavaria and I found plenty of "Gemütlichkeit" when I was there. Of course, like all terms of this sort, it does depend on your personal definition of the term.

Posted by
13820 posts

No Gemütlichkeit in Northern Germany... na , und?

If one makes such a statement about North Germany, that shows how much one knows about North Germany , or rather how little the person knows.

Posted by
961 posts

I was amazed to find while visiting Hamburg for the first time a few months ago, the people were friendlier
than you’d find in a city of equal size here in the U.S.
It really felt like a large “small town.”

Posted by
2748 posts

I have never found ANY part of Germany "mit keinen Gemütlichkeit". I've been to many parts, and lived in Frankfurt during the Cretatious age (actually 1957-1962). Now, the Ossie-zone was a different story, but today? It's all good.

Anna, wo wohnen Sie
mit Gemütlichkeitischen Tee?

Posted by
265 posts

I have always been sad about Rick's dislike of Hamburg and our other northern cities and customs. He tries to hide it some, but it is painfully obvious he has not seen what is on offer up here. That's okay--I like that it isn't super touristy for sure! And it means nobody has heard of all the cool things when they come visit and everyone leaves MORE impressed and overwhelmed than they expected to be. So there is that.

Our version of Gemütlichkeit up here does require a different take. Germans are, on the whole, solar powered--but what those in the south don't have is wind with their sun. So here we will happily sit outside and enjoy coffee, a Fischbrötchen, or a meal--but it may be breezy, which isn't for everyone. Heck, on our anniversary the hubby and I sat on the covered patio of our favourite seafood joint in Hamburg--in the POURING rain--and we loved it!

And if you haven't ridden a horse across the beach at St. Peter-Ording (UNESCO again) or walked down a dike in a "breeze" (read: stiff wind for most people) or hiked through purple heather, you have missed a chance to see some of our more beautiful nature. Like cute old towns or interesting traditional architecture? Visit Jork and have Kaffee und Kuchen inside a windmill or admire the half timbered brick and reed roofs with horse gables--heck, stay in one of those, and if you come in September, go apple picking.

We have TONS of weird cultural traditions that are often not considered typically German by the average American and often not even known by other Germans or even other northerners. The tea ceremony is not a thing up here, while Rummelpottlaufen isn't known in Hannover.

But as Anna said, since we don't have tons of beer gardens with chestnut trees, we must not have any Gemütlichkeit.

Posted by
8500 posts

There are tons of beautiful villages in Germany which Rick has never visited, otherwise there would be a Villages of Germany tour, like he does in other countries.
He holds on to old ideas that some guide has told him 40 years ago about a place and rather than find out for himself, keeps repeating it as facts for his followers. How else to explain the infatuation about Rothenburg? Frankfurt was already on its' 2nd palace and had important churches before Rothenburg even gets mentioned in history.
The ignoring of Mainz, Wiesbaden, the rest of the Rheingau, the 10 min. cruise on the Rhein from Bacharach to St. Goar, the dissing of Heidelberg, the complete ignoring of the history of Frankfurt as though the city just had some skyscrapers and banks and that was it? Ignoring towns like Limburg, Marburg, Büdingen, Gelnhausen, Idstein, Seligenstadt, Michelstadt, Eltville and their places in Germany history as well as their quaint charm, city walls and towers and ancient churches. Add in Speyer, Worms, Fulda, Stuttgart, Esslingen, Bad Homburg, Kronberg, and the entire Taunus mountains and their Roman and Celtic history?

When I first read the section in his book about Frankfurt, I could have screamed, there were so many mistakes. How many other cities has he ignored facts? I think it is a lot if you go by some of the comments from locals on Fodors or Trip Advisor, or talk to guides in those cities. It is just stuff that isn't true! I was excited about his new Germany film of which Frankfurt was one of the featured cities, but then was shocked at how awful it was. No wonder the people on this forum think they should land here and train away as fast as possible? As though there was nothing to see here. I know that people on this forum joke about my passion for this city, but it feels like fighting an uphill battle.

As to the north, he completely ignored it until just a few years ago, with only Berlin being included in the guide book. It as as if 3/4ths of Germany didn't exist. So, good on you guys for bringing it to the attention of everyone. Keep up the work!

Posted by
265 posts

And on that note, you should all feel free to check out little Glückstadt, especially its Matjes festival in June every year (pandemic permitting ;) ) if you are in Hamburg/the north. Any town of 12,000 that swells to 100,000 for the weekend has to be doing something right!

Posted by
5959 posts

@Ms. Jo: I certainly agree with your idea that Rick's recommendations and emphases should be compared with those of other guidebooks and travel resources (Fodors, etc.) It's not rational to turn your vacations over to just one individual, not as I see it anyway.

But to explain Rick's success, I must accept that there's an audience out there that's happy to do just that. In my 24-year-old edition of Rick's GAS book, he promises on the inside cover the best information available from his vast personal experience; his book should help readers avoid overspending on multiple guidebooks - no sense reading "more information than you'll need," he asserts. He adds, "The best is, of course, only my opinion... but I've developed a sixth sense of what stokes the traveler's wanderlust." It's presumptuous - and, yes, it's incomplete - and very subjective. He's not interested in writing "comprehensive" travel options. But at least Rick makes no secret of this. And in fact his one-brand, one-size-fits-all travel guidelines are eagerly consumed by a very devout group of followers that doesn't seem to care so much whether Rick has all the facts right or knows about all the other great places that exist. For them, it's enough that his guidelines come in a convenient package. By all appearances, Rick has a pretty solid standing in this segment of the travel market. Who else does this?

Of course there are those travelers who for whatever reasons DO question the guru's plans for them and end up here on the forum. Wisely, I think, Rick lets forum members like you fill in the gaps and the special needs - or even contradict the master's teachings when needed. If he were to go comprehensive with his materials, he'd be turning his format on its head. With knowledgeable forum members sharing their tips, his readers remain happy readers, I think. So... keep up the good fight.

Posted by
1778 posts

I recently talked with someone who went on a trip to Germany from north to south on ICE trains starting in Hamburg. Before she went she was most interested in Berlin and Munich, like most Americans. But she came back raving about Hamburg, the food, the multiculturalness of the city and it's people and she though it was the best place to live in Germany.

I think Oktoberfests in the US have given the idea that Bavaria IS Germany and ignores the fact that in a way it's more like the US South, rural and conservative. I use RS guides but I also use Yelp and TA forums as those are more localized with Germans and less Rick Steves addicts. It's wonderful to have the internet for travel as when we first went traveling, it was either Frommer's, Let's Go, or RS guides.

Posted by
13820 posts

I used to some extent Let's Go on my first two trips to Germany in the early 1970s. Mostly I relied on material from the German National Tourist Office, which was located in Union Square in SF.

My German trip also started in the North from Lübeck-Travemünde, slowly working down to Munich, including Berlin(west) too.

The main focus was to spend much more time in the North, focus on the North than in Bavaria, which I saw was not "typical German" however that is defined, but Bavarian.

If you want to see places in Germany not swamped, inundated by US and international tourists, go to places in the North and East...Weimar, Leipzig, Meissen, Magdeburg, Jena, Halle, even Dresden.

Posted by
11 posts

I've spent decades reading and watching Rick's various creations. It's amazing to watch the great things he's done, and also to see the gaps that are big enough to drive an ICE train through. He does seem to love simplifying European regions down to stereotypes. A quick phrase that encapsulates the region, plus a food and a drink, and he can repeat it like a mantra. Yet it seems like he doesn't care about food being good, just local and quaint.

He ignores most natural beauty and physical activity (other than walking). He is uninterested in nice livable cities (e.g. Hamburg) that aren't filled with A-list sites. He talks about slowing down and being a temporary European, but his tours spend so few nights in any one place that you're constantly unpacking and repacking and getting back into the bus.

But he's done some amazing things. Crafting self-guided walking tours in his guidebooks, both of cities and of museums, adds so much depth to traveling without a guide. And if you want a guide, he has established connections with guides even in small towns and plugs them. He focuses on the transportation, how the ticketing works, how to get to sites, how to get between towns. It removes a lot of anxiety.

The big thing is his notion of a guidebook being "the best three weeks" in a country. I've looked at both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet for Germany, and although they certainly include more than he includes, their guides are not often filled with huge adulation for places that Rick omits. None love Frankfurt, although they give more suggestions. Rick oversells Rothenburg, but so do other Germans. It's not as if the tourist hordes there don't include Germans! And certainly most Americans will prefer strolling a small italian village in Tuscany/Umbria to strolling one in Northern Germany. If Rick started selling a Small Villages of Non-Bavarian Germany tour, it would not sell well.

If you take Lonely Planet or Rough Guide and strip them down to three weeks of touring, you get something like Rick's guide. Except Rick can include MORE details about those places he likes because he entirely omits those he doesn't like. I enjoy the contradictions that are Rick almost as much as his guidebooks. He seems like a preacher, his flock are Americans who enjoy Europe but find it intimidating, and his message is to overcome uncertainty and explore Europe. By simplifying Europe he makes it easier to sell Europe to ignorant and insular Americans. I am an avid traveler, so I'm not in his intended demographic, but I find a lot to learn from him anyway.

Posted by
13820 posts

The first time traveler going solo may well find it daunting or challenging, maybe more if s/he knows no German. One equipped with a comfortable level of the language, I would recommend Rough Guide exclusively and depending on the length of this trip, suggest and recommend an itinerary concentrating on North Germany and cities/towns in eastern Germany as well, especially, if the person wants to see salient sites pertaining to German cultural history and political history.

Focusing on North Germany doesn't mean skipping Munich, Cologne or Frankfurt. On top of my recommended list to the newbe would be: Berlin, Meissen, Dresden, Hamburg, Naumburg an der Saale, Rüdesheim am Rhein, Koblenz, Weimar, Lüneburg, Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Potsdam, Münster/Westfalen, Leipzig, Marburg, Heidelberg, Lübeck and still others, from which the newbe can select.

Posted by
1496 posts

If someone has really no understanding of Germany he demonstrates it by sorting it into cardinal directions.

The reality and studies show how inhomogeneous the regions are, see maps of big five project applied to Germany.

So, an opinion of whoever what "Gemütlichkeit" is, is just an opinion.