Please sign in to post.

Art and Architecture in Western and Southern Germany

The helpline posters did such a fabulous job in helping with my last German itinerary that I hope you can advise me again.

My spouse and I will visiting Germany in May and we love to see art and architecture, especially in non-touristy places. We can only travel by public transportation. We prefer art in situ (in churches, etc) rather than museums. Of course I will research with guidebooks, but I find asking other travelers to be especially helpful. Since we concentrated the Northern and Eastern regions on our last trip, we will focus on Southern and Western areas on our upcoming visit. We plan on seeing the Aachen cathedral for certain. We love medieval art and architecture as well as Renaissance. I do enjoy contemporary art, but I see a lot of it at home so I don't seek it out when traveling. I'm not crazy about Baroque, Roccoco or neoclassical art. Some palaces can be wonderful, but I can't stand the ones full of nothing but shiny things like chandeliers and mirrors. We love to hear classical music and opera in local venues, if affordable. What would you recommend?

Posted by
435 posts

I've been looking through my art history book and I'm definitely adding Bamberg to our itinerary.

Posted by
1976 posts

Hi Alyson. Do you like Roman ruins? If so, stop in Trier for one or two nights to see Constantine's basilica and the Porta Nigra.

Cologne's medieval cathedral is stunning. Cologne is also home to the Basilica of St. Ursula which I think isn't as well known. St. Ursula made a pilgrimage with 11,000 virgins (medieval saints' tales are the best, aren't they?), all of whom were martyred. You can read a version of the story on Wikipedia; I forgot most of the details. The basilica is Romanesque and Gothic. At the time I was there, the Golden Chamber (supposedly where Ursula and the 11,000 virgins are buried; decorated with skulls and bones) was closed but I know it's something to see. Also, there are a number of two-sided statues of ladies in the balcony; one side faces the churchgoers in the nave and the other side faces people standing on the balcony. When the nuns sang during mass, they were unseen and it seemed as though the ladies were singing.

I don't know how much time you have, or if you'll have a car, but there's a small town in central Germany called Walkenried which has a medieval abbey. The cloisters are in good shape but the church is nothing but ruins on a neatly mowed lawn - amazing! You can drive right up and wander around.

If you're interested, please attend the Chicagoland Rick Steves Travel Group Meeting on January 18 at 10:00am at the Panera Bread in Oak Park near the Harlem Green Line stop. We'll be happy to answer any other questions you might have.

Posted by
12040 posts

"we love to see art and architecture, especially in non-touristy places."

Here's some suggestions for scenic towns that are located near destinations that receive a lot of tourist visits. Some of these aren't very convenient by public transportation, though.

Near Aachen, Stolberg has a castle right in the middle of the town. Much of the architecture looks completely different from what most people consider "typically German".

Ahrweiler-Bad Neuenahr, near Remagen. Half the town is an elegant spa resort, the other half still maintains its defensive wall, and it all sits in a scenic wine valley.

Maria Lach- Near Koblenz, Benedictine Monastery right next to a large volcanic lake. Here's your source of "art in situ". Konrad Adenauer also spent most of the Nazi era here as a political refugee.

On the upper Rhine, Worms gets more attention, but except for the cathedral and a handful of other buildings, most of the town is fairly modern. Check out instead it's sister city a little further up river, Speyer. The cathedral is even bigger and the town is fairly well preserved.

Heppenheim- has one of the most beautiful market squares I've seen in Germany.

Fritzlar- well-preserved walled town in northern Hessen. Completely off the usual tourist path, and there are several castles in the surrounding countryside.

Büdigen- another well preserved walled town, north of Frankfurt.

Marburg and Wetzlar- more of the above, but no walls.

Michelstadt- partially walled town deep within the Odenwald region. It also hosts a basillica from the Carolingian period. Nearby Erbach is worth a stop over as well.

Lorsch- Partially intact Carolingian abbey and an attractive market square.

That's enough for now.

Posted by
7948 posts

My favorite unique cathedrals and churches are the following:

Mainz Cathedral - over a 1000 years old, very massive and dark but with lots of wonderful sculptures.

Justinus Church Frankfurt - consecrated in 850, this is one of the very few Carolingen style churches to have survived the centuries. Limited opening hours.

Redeemer Church - Bad Homburg (20 min. N. of Frankfurt with the S-bahn) Byzantine style church inside, built in 1909 and extremely unusual.

Union Church - Idstein (45 min. N. of Frankfurt with the S-bahn) Ceiling is made of 36 oil paintings done in the time and the style of Rubens. Stunning!

Seligenstadt - (30 min. S. of Frankfurt with the S-bahn) Basilica and Abbey founded and built by Charlegmagnes' biographer, Einhard. Largest, best preserved Abbeys in Hessen.

Kronberg - lovely little Staufen castle that has never been bombed or burned down. Nearby is St. Josephs, that has a unique wooden barrel vaulted ceiling, entirely painted, from the 1600's.

Frankfurt - Deutsche Orden Church - (Teutonic Order of Knights) built in 1309, this survived the war very nicely. Go to the Baptism chapel to see the vaulted, painted ceiling. Has some wall paintings done in the early 1300's.
Alte Nikolai - built in 1290, survived the war intact.
Karmeliter Cloister - 150 meters of wall paintings done in the early 1500's. These are the largest religious wall paintings N. of the Alps.

Worms - very similar to Mainz, but I like it anyway.

Have a look at the Fachwerk Route / Half-Timbered Route to find wonderful towns chock full of fabulous architecture, most of them are off of the tourist route except for Rothenburg.

Posted by
517 posts

Slightly off topic: Right now I'm reading "The Monuments Men" by Robert M. Edsel. It is the true story of the small team of art historians and experts whose mission it was to recover the art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. It's an interesting mix of WWII history/action and art/architecture trivia. Anyway, I'm enjoying it.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Right now I'm reading "The Monuments Men""

There's a movie coming out based on this book soon, if I'm not mistaken?

Posted by
7948 posts

Too funny, I got that book for my birthday, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Looks like I better get to it soon.

Posted by
435 posts

Wow, this is absolutely perfect advice, thanks so much! We don't drive, so everything will have to be by public transportation, which is fine, since I was so impressed by German public transit on my last trip.

I wish I could go the Oak Park meeting, but unfortunately I have to work.

Posted by
435 posts

I recently read The Nibelungenlied, and Worms cathedral was mentioned several times, so thanks for that suggestion--now I really want to go!

Posted by
18024 posts

"if you'll have a car, but there's a small town in central Germany called Walkenried which has a medieval abbey."

I've been to Walkenried. Arrived by bus from Braunlage and continued on by train to Northeim, on the main rail line between Hamburg and Frankfurt. There are hourly trains from Northeim to Walkenried, so getting there without a car is no problem. It's about a 1/2 mile walk from the station to the abbey. On the north side of the Harz park, Goslar, Bad Harzburg, Wernigerode, and Quedlinburg have lots of Fachwerk buildings.

Posted by
435 posts

Thanks Lee--the transportation directions are super helpful. And you are absolutely right about the Harz mountains area. I was there around Easter time and loved it, esp. Goslar.

Posted by
12040 posts

"I recently read The Nibelungenlied, and Worms cathedral was mentioned several times, so thanks for that suggestion--now I really want to go!" Unfortunately, other than the Nibelung museum, there's almost no trace of the Burgundian period remaining in town. Most of it is just post-war architecture. If you wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Nibelungenlied, explore the Odenwald mountains region on the other side of the river. Here, you can see the purported spring where Hagen stabbed Siegfried in the back (the Siegfriedbrunn, although it's located deep within the woods and difficult to reach without a car), and several locations that claim to be the basis of the legend of Siegfried's battle with the dragon (not in the Nibelungenlied, I know). The most spectacular is the castle ruin in the town of Lindenfels, which sits on a high point within the Odenwald and provides some stunning views, on a clear day at least. There's even a modern iron statue interpretation of Siegfried slaying the dragon.

I guess my issue with Worms is that although you can read all about it's very long history, other than the cathedral, you can see very little of that history because the city got flattened in WWII and was mostly rebuilt without much regard to historical preservation. Spend more time in Speyer, which was untouched by the war and has an even more impressive Romanesque cathedral.

Posted by
813 posts

Suggest you look up concerts at Kloster Hirsau in Calw, Germany. In SW Germany, awesome architecture, awesome local, outdoor music venue, and affordable....everything you're looking for! We saw Jethro Tull there last year. Here's the schedule for next summer, concerts are typically July-August, but there may be something happening in May. http://www.calwer-klostersommer.de/

Posted by
12040 posts

Speaking of the Hartz... the Romanikstraße runs through this region. It's often incorrectly translated as the "Romantic Road" (not the same as the over-rated tourist trail in Bavaria), but "Romanesque Road" is more accurate. I've only really seen Quedlinburg, Wernigerode and a few of the minor towns surrounding them, but each of these locations are wonderful. A car is the easiest way to explore the area, although public transportation is feasible enough. I think also the Romanikstraße may co-incide with the Deutsche Fachwerkstraße for part of their routes.

Posted by
12040 posts

Oh, and how could I forget this gem, between Wiesbaden and Rüdesheim?

Eberbach Monastery

And a little further south, near Pforzheim:

Maulbronn Monastery

The first is easy to reach by public transportation, the second, not so much.

Posted by
435 posts

Thanks so much for the information, Kathy and Tom. I almost always travel in winter, so I'm delighted to realize I'll actually be traveling in outdoor concert season! I'll have to choose Speyer over Worms, and I am investigating those two monasteries, esp, the first one since I like the looks of that cloister.

Posted by
7948 posts

Tom beat me to listing Eberbach monastery. This place is so impressive, that they filmed "The Name of the Rose" here. Near-by is also Kiedrich that has a wonderful church too. You can get here by bus from Elteville I believe.

Posted by
435 posts

Thanks Jo--I read The Name of the Rose not too long ago. Having a hard time choosing places to see because they're all so enticing!

Posted by
18024 posts

"Kloster Hirsau in Calw"

Kloster Hirsau is actually in Hirsau, not Calw, but it is a short distance from Claw. While you are there, Calw is a very pretty town, filled with Fachwerk buildings. It is the home of Hermann (Steppenwolf) Hesse. There is a museum in Calw about Hermann Hesse. Hirsau is a few minutes down the river from Calw. A little further down is the town of Bad Liebenzell, with the Paracelsus Therme. The whole area is accessible by train from Pforzheim.

Posted by
813 posts

Lee, actually Kloster Hirsau is indeed inside the city limits of Calw. Hirsau is the village area within the district of Calw. Just want to be clear so Alyson can be properly informed.

Posted by
435 posts

Thank you Lee and Kathy. Kloster Hirsau looks stunning!

Posted by
18024 posts

OK, Whatever. "Hirsau" has it's own train station, so if you get off in Calw, you will have a long walk to Hirsau. Better to get off in Hirsau.

Just want to be clear so Alyson can be properly informed.

Posted by
435 posts

LOL Tom--thanks for the Monty Python. I needed that this morning.

Posted by
150 posts

In the late 1990s I visited Freiburg-am-Brisgau in SW Germany, it was a lovely city. Two things I remember were the gothic cathedral with its stained gass windows and one rather original gargoyle (to put it delicately, the water doesn't come out of its mouth) that, according to legend, was sculpted by a stonemason who felt that he hadn't been paid the full amount by the town leaders, which is why the gargoyle faces the town hall (and again, "faces" isn't quite the word I'd use!).

Also the old town has narrow little streams of water running down the middle of the streets, called Baechle if I remember correctly. We were given no specific explanation for this, as I believe that even the townsfolk don't quite know the reason for them. One theory is that they kept the city cool in the summer.

One thing that jarred slightly was a McDonald's in a medieval building, but then again, if the townfolk want a McDonald's in their town center and all their buildings are ancient, there are not many other options. It just looked odd having a big yellow M on an 800 year-old structure.

Posted by
435 posts

Thanks for the tip on Freiburg-am-Brisgau Ian---I think I have a visual on those gargoyles ;)

I tend to think of the Mcdonalds as a free bathroom stop, but, yes, they can be jarring in well-preserved medieval towns.

Posted by
12040 posts

"One thing that jarred slightly was a McDonald's in a medieval building"

Off topic slightly, but there's a certain remarkable Burger King located on the outside of Nürnberg. I've read that some consider this an insensitive use of the building, but I think it's a great lasting symbol of the defeat of National Socialism.

Posted by
435 posts

From Nazi party rally center to Burger King--amazing!!

Posted by
11798 posts

Not in situ but the old and new art galleries in Munich (Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek) are two of my favorites in Europe. There is also a modern art gallery but it goes beyond my tastes.

Posted by
435 posts

Thank you Brad--those museums do have stunning collections that I'd love to see!

Posted by
12400 posts

When I was on a tour in Potsdam for the first time in 1987 (in the Cold War days), the bus took a route passing by a building typically found in Soviet bloc countries, that of Soviet-German Friendship. After the fall of communism and the end of the East Germany, that building dedicated to the fraternal Soviet-German friendship was no longer but replaced by a Chinese restaurant. That was in 1992. It looked as if Burger King or MacDonald's had been beat out.

Posted by
7948 posts

Yes, it is touristy. If you want to see that kind of town, medieval and walled, Germany has many of them and they may be easier for you to get to, and won't have the souvenir stores and the tourist buses.

Look at this website about the Half-Timbered Route and pick out a town that will be fit into your schedule and travel plans. If you are going to be in the area of the Rhine, then my pick would be Büdingen, but there are so many more.

http://www.deutsche-fachwerkstrasse.de/uk/index.php

http://www.buedingen.info/en/

Posted by
12040 posts

"Is Rothenburg horrifically touristy?" I wouldn't say "horrifically", but definately "very". I've been accused of being a "Rothenburg hater", and bizarrely by extension, a "Rick-hater" (as if disagreeing with the man equals "hate"), but that's not true. I do think Rothenburg warrants a visit IF it lies along your route of travel. Otherwise, I don't find it unique enough, other than all the trinket shops and tour buses, to justify going out of your way to visit. Stop by and enjoy it if you're in the region, but you're missing plenty of other non-touristy alternatives if you have to travel more than 90 minutes out of your way to see it. And if you visit Rothenburg, don't miss nearby Dinkelsbühl. I haven't seen any towns elsewhere in Germany that feature a similar look. About as close as you can find to a Disney-run Fantasyland that has no connection to Disney.

Posted by
861 posts

Hi Alyson,

It's technically not in Germany but I would recommend Strasbourg just over the border with France. The entire city center is a classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will get to see centuries of architecture styles from medieval bridges to Gothic cathedrals to Romanesque buildings to German Renaissance to modern Art Nouveau. It's also interesting to see the "not-quite-France but not-quite-Germany" mix that is Alsace.

It's only 1hr between Freiburg-am-Brisgau and Strasbourg by train (1.5hr on the slow train) so it is very accessible.

Last but not least, it should fit your requirement of a "non-touristy place".

DJ

Posted by
435 posts

Thanks for the links Jo: you are right, there are so many excellent choices that it is hard to choose. I am trying to see if I can fit Dinkelsbühl (hat tip Tom) and Büdingen in our itinerary, and I think I'll skip Rothenburg, since I already know what trinket shops look like (please tell me there's no torture museum....)

DJ: I have been to Strasbourg and absolutely loved it, and Alsace and how distinct the culture was there. I esp. loved the cathedral and the cathedral carvings in the adjacent museum and the food was amazing. I can't wait to go back, but not on this particular trip.

Posted by
26087 posts

oh, there is a torture museum, for sure. The altarpiece is pretty cool. It is a nice town, just a bit over-run and Kathe Wolfhardt needs one or two shops not a dozen. Probably not a dozen, but it sure feels like it....

Posted by
435 posts

I had to google Kathe Wohlfahrt--is she kind of the Thomas Kincaid of Christmas ornaments?

Posted by
12040 posts

Not really... as far as I know, nobody ever collected Käthe Wohlfahrt merchandise and expected it to appreciate in value. One of the hang-ups I read on this website often is that people want the stereotypical souvenirs they buy to be made in the country they represent, not in some Chinese factory. Well, at least with Käthe Wohlfahrt, you can guarantee the stuff was made in Germany. To be honest, it's pretty well made stuff. No plastic molded into wood shapes that I can see. But like Nigel, I'm not sure why the company has several stores in Rothenburg. They also have shops in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Munich, Heidelberg, Nürnberg and even Brugge (in case you wanted to buy traditional German handcrafts... in Belgium), and many of the larger Christmas markets usually have a small Käthe Wohlfahrt shop.