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Northern Germany Itinerary Help

Hello-

I'm trying to plan my 1st trip to Germany, and I'm thinking I would like to focus on the northern portion of the country. I will have 14 days on the ground, not including my flight days. I'm planning to fly into Berlin and out of Hamburg or vice versa. I'm trying to decide how to split up my time without being too rushed. I'm 43, will be traveling as a solo female and will be using trains to get from one place to the next. Here's what I'm thinking so far:

Berlin 7 nights
Stalsund 2 nights
Schwerin or Lubeck? -2 nights
Hamburg 3 nights

My great-grandparents on my mom's side came from Pomerania so that is a big part of my interest in visiting this part of the country. I also love history (especially interested in WWII and the Hanseatic history) and architecture. I'm ok with some days being slower with a chance just to poke around. I definitely want to see Munich and Bavaria at some point but since it's 6 hours from Berlin by train, I'm thinking I will save it for a future trip.

Any tips on my itinerary? And when would be a good time to visit this part of the country? I'm fairly open about when I could travel but I'm thinking maybe either spring or fall would be nice, assuming most sites would be open. I live in Minnesota so I don't need temps to be warm but I would prefer to avoid winter.

Posted by
868 posts

Northern Germany, especially the Baltic Coast and the Mecklenburg Lake District, are a very popular summer destination for Germans, and summer is the perfect time to visit the region. Prices however skyrocket in July and August, but mostly in the spa towns and not so much in the cities. In June and September the weather is still very good, but the prices are a bit lower. Weather-wise May is OK too.

Please note that you only visit a small part of Pomerania on your journey. Most of it is in Poland today, but because of WW2 and the population transfer it's not the same country your family left anyway. German Pomerania is between Stralsund and the Polish border. In Greifswald, a cute, mostly preserved town with a nice harbor, is the Pomeranian State Museum, in case you are interested in the history of Pomerania.

Your itinerary looks good to me. It doesn't make a big difference if you stay in Schwerin or Lübeck. Lübeck is historically more significant, bigger and shaped by the Hanseatic League, while Schwerin is slower, more cozy and basically the 19th century seat of a duke. Each city is good for a day of sightseeing (although some people squeeze Schwerin and Wismar into one day), and on the second day you will visit the other city anyway. They could be done from Hamburg too.

In case you travel in summer I recommend to visit at least one spa town, which make the Baltic coast so popular. Many of them offer wonderful so called "Bäderarchitektur" (resort architecture) from the 19th century:

Resort Architecture

The most popular resort is Binz on Rügen island, which can be done from Stralsund. Equally popular are the "Three Emperor Spas" on Usedom island, which can be reached by train from Greifswald. If you want to visit a spa town I recommend to spend only 6 days in Berlin. Also consider only 2 days in Hamburg, which IMHO is enough to see the city. This way you could split your time evenly between two big cities and rural Germany. In this case you could also see Bad Doberan, which offers one of the most beautiful churches along the coast, or Wismar, a World Heritage Site, or Ludwigslust, like Schwerin a seat of the Mecklenburg dukes, or Güstrow, a provincial town which probably gives you the best idea how the home of your family once looked.
If you focus on Mecklenburg and Pomerania and spend a week there you could also consider to rent a car. Driving there is easy. The region is sparsely populated, the cities are small and the Autobahn along the coast is the quietest in Germany (the place to drive flat out!). ;) A car gives you much greater flexibility, since train connections aren't always the best, and some places, like the Darss peninsula near Stralsund, aren't accessible by train at all.

Posted by
12400 posts

Kathleen,

Great itinerary you have listed. If it's history and culture you're interested in seeing on the Pommeranian area left in Germany, (the rest of it Hinterpommern along the Baltic is in Poland, as pointed out above), I suggest going to Greifswald. Not only you'll see the second oldest university there in Northern Germany, but also the museum on Pomerania. (Pommernmuseum). In Strasund is the Naval Museum, (Marine Museum), which I'm sure will picque your interest.

Cities like Lübeck and Schwerin (formerly of Mecklenburg Schwerin) are not to be rushed where you can set aside some down time, explore, "poke around" and relax. I assume you have six full days reserved for Berlin, you're business. Which aspect of WW II history do want to see in Berlin, how esoteric?

I would also plan on one day for Potsdam, take a tour which meets across the street from Potsdam Hbf., after which take the tram back to say Neues Palais or just to walk around in the center.

It's still doable to see Munich after Hamburg if you take the CNL night train, which gives an extra day. But if you're adverse to taking night trains (I had no problems taking that CNL to Munich), then save Munich for next time. Or, you skip Hamburg for Munich.

Posted by
104 posts

So if I reduce my time in Berlin by 1 night down to 6 nights and my time in Hamburg down to 2 nights, would it make sense to add the extra days to Stalsund? One day, weather permitting could be a visit to Ruger island and the other maybe to Greifswald?

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

If you go by that time equation above, you defintely can do a day trip r/t from Stralsund to Greifswald or to Rügen. I was going to do a day trip to Greifswald from Berlin this summer but had to cancel on a last minute notice. Both those towns are places one can use as down time and unhurried traveling after big cities like Hamburg and Berlin. If this is first time in Berlin, six nights is an ample introduction for return visits when you can hit the big dept. stores near Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, in Berlin-Charlottenburg, and Alexanderplatz.

As for when: If you want to avoid the summer crowds and that heat in Berlin, then I suggest September. After that it starts to get cold and colder. In which district do you plan on staying in Berlin? Staying in the West or the east, there are advantages to both, but mainly stay close to a S-Bahn station that gives you lateral transportation.

Posted by
868 posts

Yes, makes sense. Binz is a very pleasant resort, and close to Binz is also Prora, the infamous, 4.5km long beach resort of the Nazis. Normal trains stop there. From Binz you could also take a nostalgic steam train called Rushing Roland to Sellin (great pier!) and Göhren, two other resorts, or to the Granitz Hunting Lodge.

IMHO you should only visit Greifswald if you are really interested in Pomeranian history. From the four Hanseatic towns that are World Heritage Sites (Lübeck, Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald) it's the smallest and least interesting. A few hours are usually enough. In the suburbs however are a beautiful small village called Wieck, and the romantic ruins of medieval monastery, but for both you need a car. Farther away is also Peenemünde on Usedom island, where Wernher von Braun developed the V2 in WW2, and on the other end of the island the three Emperor Spas, but both are 2h away from Stralsund. The Emperor Spas are on the Polish border btw., you can cross the border there.

Instead of Lübeck or Schwerin you could also use Wismar as a base and add a day there. The town is perfectly situated to visit Lübeck, Schwerin, Güstrow or the wonderful minster in Bad Doberan. Oh, and another nostalgic steam train called Molli connects Bad Doberan, which was the summer residence of the Mecklenburg dukes, with the resorts on the coast, among them Heiligendamm, the first German resort.

I hope I didn't confuse you too much now... ;-)

Posted by
104 posts

Wismar looks really cute.

I'm interested in the history of Pomerania mostly to find out more about what the area would have been like when my great-great-grandparents still lived there.

Berlin seems really spread out. I haven't decided on a neighborhood. Mostly I want to be central and near public transit.

September might work well for me.

Posted by
2525 posts

You have selected a great area of Germany to explore. Potsdam is wonderful. Berlin super. Stralsund and environs offers much. Not a huge fan of Binz...very (too?) pretty, upscale, jam-packed.

Posted by
527 posts

I spent 7 days in Binz this past September; it was awesome; I loved it. The weather was sunny, warm enough, almost went swimming but just a little too chilly for total immersion. :) The Promenade and the spa architecture really "got" me. The biking and hiking trails were nice; the Prora was interesting/eerie/spooky; the steam train, Rasender Roland, to Sellin was fun. There are historical plaques on numerous houses in Sellin. The pier there is gorgeous. PM me if you want/need any hotel or restaurant info, or general "solo woman traveler" impressions. I had intended to do a day trip to Stralsund from Binz, but now plan to spend time in Stralsund on a future trip.

I enjoyed walking around Luebeck on a trip 10 years ago. I like the Hanseatic history and the architecture there, too. Have fun planning your trip!

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

"...what the area would have been like...." First of all, do you know the name of the town/village your family members lived in Pomerania? What geographic landmark? West or east of the Oder?

Yes, Berlin is spread out and huge, when you go from Berlin Wannsee to Berlin-Karlshorst. If you want somewhere central, then Mitte or, you prefer, Charlottenburg not far from Bahnhof Zoo (better areas are away from the immediate station, such as Fasanenstrasse to Savignyplatz. The S-Bahn gets you out to Karlshorst and the RB (regional train) to Seelow, east of Berlin for some of the WW II military sites.

A day trip to Schwerin, which was the seat of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, is most easily done from Hamburg, a direct shot. The next stop after that is Rostock.

After Berlin if you stay only in Stralsund and Hamburg, you can not only see those places but also do a day trip to Schwerin or Lübeck, both r/t from Hamburg. Re: your interest in Pomerania, great, don't miss going to Greifswald and seeing that museum, which is relatively new.

Posted by
104 posts

My great-grandmothers family came from hinter, pommerin according to one of the census documents I have so that I believe is east of the Oder. The documents I have on my great-grandfather are not as specific and only list Pomerania.

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

That area "Hinterpommern" is east of the Oder, ie, it is part of Poland. Since your documents will show the German name for the town/village in Hinterpommern, you can track it down by getting the current Polish names for each place.

Since you are going to Berlin, I know of a music store (it's a biggie of five floors) which also sells maps, travel maps, as well as detailed bilingual travel maps in Polish and German of former areas, (such as Pomerania, Silesia, West Prussia, Memelland, East Prussia, Posen) now in Poland, Russia, Lithuania. That store is located very close to Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse ( a few mins) on Friedrichstrasse called Dussmann...an utterly fantasic store for music. The map publisher is Höfer Verlag... only if you want to pursue the research. They do publish a bilingual map of Hinterpommern listing the current Polish and former German names of villages/towns.

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

Actually, Höfer Verlag publishes TWO detailed travel maps covering the extent of the former Hinterpommern area, ie, from the Oder to the Vistula. They can be ordered on line and are available at Dussmann.

Posted by
868 posts

Here is a map of Hinterpommern:

Map

If you consider to visit this area I highly recommend to learn more about the prewar and postwar history of the Polish part, which suffered heavily in and after the war, before you go. Not only were most places destroyed in WW2, the German heritage was moreover deliberately destroyed by the Polish Commies until the late 1970s. Most cemeteries for instance were leveled in the early 70s, which means that finding traces of your ancestors is almost impossible.... if they were German. Jewish and Kashubian cemeteries often still exist... ironically.
A good book about the fate of Northeastern Germany, i.e. Prussia, is "The Vanished Kingdom: Travels Through The History Of Prussia" by James Charles Roy:

Link

Posted by
104 posts

I'm thinking I want to alter my itinerary (maybe add 1 day to my total so 15 days) to spend at least 2-3 days in the section of Pomerania in what is now Poland. Any advice about good areas to base there for a few days would be welcome.

Thanks for all the recommendations on the books and maps. I'm going to read up some more.

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

Geographioally, how about the town of Koszalin about equildistant from Szezecin, the former capital of Pomerania, both parts, and Gdansk, the former capital of West Prussia. In 2003 I passed through that town on the train from Szezecin to Gdansk.

Posted by
868 posts

Most easily accessible from Berlin is Szczecin, which was the most important Pomeranian city and the seat of a duke. The old town however was almost completely leveled in WW2, and afterwards further destroyed by providing bricks to rebuild Warsaw. The castle of the dukes, which is a postwar reconstruction, is quite interesting. Not the castle of 1945 was reconstructed but a Renaissance phantasy, which eradicated the Prussian and Swedish influences and shows a building from a time when the last Griffin duke ruled, who was of Slavic descent and related to Poland. The other interesting sight is the Hakenterrasse/Wały Chrobrego, a ensemble from the late 19th century. Apart from that there isn't much to see.

The most interesting Polish city along the coast is Gdansk/Danzig... which, however, is not Pomeranian. Historically Gdansk is related to Poland and East Prussia, whereas Pomerania was part of the Holy Roman Empire since the Middle Ages.

The best preserved Polish town in Pomerania is probably Darłowo, formerly Rügenwalde. The old town is preserved, the church is interesting and a castle of the Pomeranian dukes exists too. And the beaches are quite nice.

Posted by
11798 posts

If you're interested in Pomerania and Hanseatic history. I'd try to include some time in Poland, maybe as far as Gdansk. Visiting Poland is a definite money saver, the trains are dirt cheap (in fact, virtually everything is cheaper in Poland) and people are very accommodating (which can sometimes not be the case in northern Germany).

Lubeck is a great stop. I also like Kiel as a classic northern German city. Schlesswig is beautiful and relaxing. Hamburg is a thriving big city and a completely different feel than Berlin.

The ideal time for me would be early September, but summer months are good too because it doesn't really get the swarm of tourists you see further south. Anywhere from July to September, you are likely to get occasional rainy days, which can be pretty chilly, but nothing resembling winter.

Posted by
104 posts

I'm definitely trying to bank a few more vacation days so I can extend my trip and include more of Poland. Is Poland fairly easy to navigate for an English speaker?

I'm thinking of going either in the fall, September or October or else waiting until Spring of 2015, likely April or early May.

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

Poland is easy for the English speaker to navigate. You can expect that service industry personnel will know English, esp among young people who are good at it. A good number of service industry people, say in hotels, etc. speak 2-4 languages, French, German, Russian, (some will speak better German than English or vice versa), aside from their native Polish, very helpful, very accomodating. I saw this in Krakow, Malbork, and Gdansk, train stations and hotels.

Any decision on where you're staying if you go to Poland, to the former Hinterpommern? I agree with the ease of getting a train connection from Berlin to Szezecin, they run frequently, sometimes transfering in Angermünde. I f you decide on going on to the lower Vistula to Gdansk from Szezecin, the train goes through the halfway point Koszalin.

Posted by
104 posts

Fred- I'm definitely planning to try to extend my trip to allow more time in Poland. I'm thinking of starting in Szczecin as I found an older birth certificate that listed place of birth as Stettin and then a night or two around Kozalin or Kolobrzeg with a side trip to Bobolice before finishing in Gdansk (no ancestry there, just interested.)