I am toying with a trip to Germany – either in September, so something I can cobble together on short notice, or else next year, not sure yet. I’ve been to Munich but nowhere else in Germany and really want to go to Berlin. I would also like to go to Heidelberg and stop in Heilbronn, which is where my ancestors are from, just a quick day trip, I think. I was thinking of something like flying to Frankfurt, taking the train down to Heidelberg and basing there a few nights, then going up through the Rhineland area, not exactly sure where but definitely Cologne and Bonn, and then stopping someplace in the middle so as not to have a gigantic long train ride to Berlin – Bremen? Or Hanover? It doesn’t look like there’s much on the way. I generally spend just over 2 weeks (16 nights) on a trip and like to spend 2-3 nights per place to not feel rushed, and more nights in a big city like Berlin. Any suggestions most appreciated!
It doesn’t look like there’s much on the way.
There is much to see between Cologne and Berlin, you just need a good travel guide. Rick Steves is no authority when it comes to Germany.
Here is a map of Germanys highlights according to Baedeker, Germanys most popular travel guide:
As you can see, there is easily as much to see as in Bavaria. If you take the northern route you first cross the Weser area, which is famous for the so called Weser Renaissance. Hamelin, Soest, Minden, Lemgo and Höxter for instance. After that you pass the Harz region with dozens of preserved towns with literally thousands of half-timbered houses. Here is a gallery with 130.000 pictures of the region. Have a look at Goslar, Quedlinburg, Wernigerode, Stolberg, Celle, Wolfenbüttel and the cathedral of Halberstadt. There are also pictures of the towns of the Weser region. The region between the Harz area and Berlin is quite empty however.
If you take the southern route you cross Northern Hesse, where the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers were collected, and Thuringia and Northern Saxony, which Rick Steves calls "Luther Land". But it's also Bach, Goethe and Schiller land. And the capital of Thuringia, Erfurt, actually offers one of the biggest and best preserved old towns of Germany. Rick Steves calls Erfurt a "untouristy Rothenburg", which tells you a) that it must be really beautiful and b) that he never visited Quedlinburg. From Erfurt you can do day trips to Weimar, Wartburg castle (both World Heritage Sites) and many little towns with huge castles, which were all capitals of tiny duchies (like Saxe-Coburg-Gotha = Windsor). If you continue towards Berlin you cross Naumburg, Leipzig, Dessau and Wittenberg. Naumburg is a beautiful preserved town with famous Gothic cathedral, Leipzig is the new Berlin, Dessau offers both the Bauhaus and the first English park on the continent (the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm (both World Heritage Sites)), and Wittenberg still looks like 500 years ago, when Luther lived there.
Bottom line: if you plan to leave Bavaria and the Rhine buy a real travel guide.
What Martin said. If you plan to traverse areas not covered by Rick Steves' book, you really need some geographically complete guidebooks.
In addition, if visiting Heilbronn from Heidelberg, take the scenic route through the Neckar river valley. Consider stopping at least at Bad Wimpfen. Similar to the more famous Mittelrhein. Don't get your hopes up too much for Heilbronn, though, it's almost completely rebuilt from the war. Unless your ancestors left in the 1950s, there's almost nothing remaining that they would recognize, if they were alive today.
May I aslo recommend that while in the Heidelberg area, research the following towns, in addition to the Neckar river gems: Speyer, Ladenburg, Heppenheim, Weinheim, Lindenfels, Michelstadt, and Eberbach?
This is great, thank you so much! I did look up Baedeker Germany guide, and they are available on Amazon but it appears that the most recent version is from 2000. If these are not recent books, are there any other good suggestions for guidebooks? And we would like to use trains if at all possible and not rent a car, as some of these suggestions look like a car is required. We have rented cars on several trips in other countries, and I feel that we have spent more time getting lost (!) and parking than enjoying ourselves. So if we limit ourselves to trains/buses, I'd like to know what's realistic. Thx!
It's easy to get around by train. Inexpensive if you know how. Lots of info on this and other forums if you ask about specific routes.
Driving in Germany is pretty easy. Signs point you everywhere you need to go. It's really hard to get lost. Likewise, there's always signs that point you directly to parking. Often, in cities, the signs will even display how many spots remain open.
The Eye Witness guide to Germany offers a pretty good geographic survey of the country, even though the writing style is pretty monotonous. For English-language books, I find that Fodor's "Great Drives in Germany" (or maybe it's "20 Great Drives in Germany, or something similar) has some good recommendations not mentioned in any other series. The Michelin Green Guide is probably the single most comprehensive book out there, but it's usefulness for prior planning is partially limited because they list towns alphabetically, not by region. But a good tool to look up something on the fly.
Finally, the two best resources, by far: Google maps and Wikipedia.