My husband and I will be flying into Frankfurt on Wednesday, July 16th, and will stay in Frankfurt until the 22nd for a convention. After that, our itinerary is completely open. We plan to stay in Germany until we fly out on the 28th, but we can fly out of another airport if that makes sense due to where we travel to during those days. I would love to see Berlin, but we are open to any suggestions. We are not sure whether we will be renting a car (we've driven before in Europe,) or we will be using trains. We like to see castles and museums, but what we love most is just drinking in the ambiance of the places we visit. One must-see thing, though, would be to visit at least one concentration camp. Any suggestions would be MONUMENTALLY appreciated. Thank you!
Unless there is someplace you really want to go to that is inaccessible by train or bus (that's rare), you'll save a lot of money by not renting a car.
There are several castles in the Rhein-Mosel area that are authentically old (Rheinfels ruins, Marksburg, Burg Eltz). The Rheinfels and the Marksburg are accessible without a car. In both cases there is a trolly from near the boat dock to the castle. You can get to Burg Eltz by hiking from Moselkern. On the weekend there are buses from Treis-Karden. That's the one place where you might want to rent a car for one day.
Munich is a great town to visit, and you could fly back from there. It has a lot of museums - Pinakotheke (art), Deutsches Museum (like our Smithsonian), Münchner Stadtmuseum (local history, only in German). There are a number of authentic castles a day trip from Munich (Burghausen' Harburg, Nürnberg). And, of course, Dachau is in a suberb of Munich and easily accessible by public transportation.
With only six days for touring, you likely won't have time for more than one city with day trips. As Lee mentioned, Munich would be a good choice as there's so much to see in that area. While there you could also visit Ludwig's Castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, which are an easy day trip from Munich. As you want to visit one Concentration Camp, Dachau is also an easy trip.
For both the trips to the Castles and Dachau, you can either make the travel and other arrangements yourself, or use a tour firm such as www.radiustours.com/index.php/en/english-tours (you'll still be travelling on public transit, but they'll make all the arrangements). Note that Neuschwanstein requires compulsory time-specific reservations.
At the conclusion of your trip, the airport in Munich is very easy to get to and very well organized.
Of course if you want to visit Berlin, that's also a possibility. It's very easy to get there by train from Frankfurt. There are some direct trains (no changes) with a travel time of 4H:10M. There are also LOTS of sights to see in Berlin, and lots of history. You'd also be able to visit a Concentration Camp, as Sachsenhausen is only a short distance outside the city, just outside the town of Orienenburg. Again, you could travel there on your own or go with a tour firm. It was a purpose-built camp, constructed in a triangular design. It was also used by the USSR to house prisoners after WW-II. One interesting fact is that the one of the largest counterfeiting operations in history took place at the camp, which was intended to destroy both the U.S. and British economies.
I would highly recommend Original Berlin Walks. I felt that I learned a lot more of the history by taking a guided tour (I took several with them), and the Guides were all outstanding! If you decide to visit Berlin and take one of their tours, I'd suggest staying in the area around Bahnhof Zoo and Savignyplatz, as it's an easy walk from their to the Berlin Walks office.
There are lots of choices in Germany, but with such a short time frame you'll have to make some choices.
If you want to see Berlin, then go for it. It is only a 4 hour train ride from Frankfurt. There are actually 2 concentration camps near Berlin, Sachsenhausen as already mentioned by Ken, and the less visited, but just as emotionally chilling, Ravensbruck. This was the camp for the women, while Sachsenhausen was for the men.
If you desire to see more towns or cities besides Berlin, you can also visit Dresden, Potsdam, or go a bit further to Luebeck, Quedlinburg, or even Hamburg, though Berlin can easily take up a week or more.
There are many high quality walking tours in Berlin, and you can barely go wrong with any of them. I have been on 4 tours led by Insider Tours and have learned so much, that when I go back next July, will go on another one. Most of the tours cost about 12-15 euro per person for a 4 hour tour. I recommend avoiding the so-called free tours.
If you're just hitting cities, no need for a rental car. But if you went for some of the smaller towns (like as Jo mentioned, Quedlinburg, which I highly recomend), a car can make things much more convenient.
Because you want to see Berlin, I think you can cover most of your wishlist in that region, particularly the concentration camp. Castles are a little more sparse in the north than in central and south Germany, but there's plenty of palaces in the greater Berlin area. Berlin and Munich are a little too much for only 6 days, especially because you have to return to Frankfurt to fly out.
"we love most is just drinking in the ambiance of the places we visit." Then, while in Frankfurt, do this... have dinner one night in the wine-soaked Rhine town of Rüdesheim. It takes a bit of a beating on this website for being too "touristy", but there's one unique feature of the town that makes a visit worthwhile. Most of the restaurants offer live Schlager music performances nightly. Hence, you find a lot of bachelorette and post-wedding parties trickle into town throughout the night.
Thank you so much for your replies...I've realized we probably need to stick to just one (either Munich or Berlin,) and I really am torn between the two. We would probably fly back from whichever city we choose in order to save time.
Basically you have a priority problem as to where to focus: Munich or Berlin. Both are well worth it, but in terms of size and offerings, Berlin has it over Munich... no doubt. On seeing a concentration camp, the first two were set up near to Munich and Berlin. So, you have a choice there. I suggest Berlin, not only you're with a 2.5 to 3 hr radius to Hamburg, Lübeck, Dresden, as well as Leipzig, Jena, Schwerin, Frankfurt an der Oder, where you can see the Oder Bruch and cross into Poland. No ID check will be there, I've seen it.
If you intend to go to outlying villages in the greater Berlin area, having a rental car is just the thing, especially if you're tracking down historical military sites.
"we love most is just drinking in the ambiance of the places we visit."
Well, Munich area is the place for you. There are a number of beer halls in town. The downtown palace, Nymphenburg Palace, Dachau and the Deutsches Museum are also must see's.
I absolutely love the Augustiner beer hall in Salzburg, and the city is one of my favorite tourist places.
The Andechs Monastery (southwest of Munich) may be the best of them all. Fuessen and some of the castles are also closeby.
Save Berlin for your next trip.
The issue of Munich vs Berlin is so contentious, there was a thread here called "Munich-Berlin Cagematch." Unfortunately, I can't find it until the search function starts working again. I'll just say that they are very different, and you can certainly fill as many days as you want in either one. As with other such "cagematches" (Madrid or Barcelona? Prague or Budapest?), you will find people who love one and hate the other, who love both, and who are cool or cold to both. I personally preferred Berlin, but you should look at them yourself (in addition to various guidebooks, Rick's videos are on Hulu and YouTube) and pick the one you want to see.
My wife and step daughter went to Berlin recently and wondered what the fuss was all about - they thought dreary and a quick one and done. Others say you need weeks. Daughter has been to Munich many times - Bravia and the first camp, Dachau. If you like to pack light then take the train. If only one city and not want to explore the countryside, then train. If car then waive the insurance if your credit card covers. I would car to Munich and explore along the way, unless you like tour groups and train schedules and lots of museams.
Have a great trip.
I think the remark about visiting Munich many times already gives you the answer. Munich and Bavaria give the foreign traveller exactly what he expects from Germany: beer and pretzels, lederhosen, a mad king with fairytale castles, old towns and some Nazi stuff. The only thing the unprepared visitor expects from Berlin are Nazi rubble and Commie blocks. And that's indeed dreary. If people would invest the same amount of preparation and time for Berlin they would never come to that conclusion. But how many people know all the parks and palaces of Potsdam? I rarely see a foreign tourist at Glienicke or Babelsberg park. Why does everyone travel for over 2 hours from Munich to see the fairytale castle near Füssen, but almost no one visits the fairytale castle in Schwerin, which is only 1:30h away from Berlin. No beautiful nature,like the Alps near Munich, around Berlin? Visit the Spreewald, which is only 1h away, and rent a canoe.