My spouse and I will be flying into Berlin in late March and we love to see art and architecure, 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. Places closer to Berlin may be better, to save on transportation money. (I'd love to see the Aachen cathedral, but that seems quite a hike from Berlin). Other places that look interesting are Quedlinburg, Hildesheim and Lübeck. What would you recommend? We love medieval art and architecure as well as Renaissance. I do enjoy comtemporary 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.
I respect your need to save money. But if you haven't bought the ticket yet, don't fly to Berlin. It doesn't match up with your stated needs for art and churches. (I loved Berlin and have been there at least three times ...) Can you go to Cologne, or Prague instead? Even Dresden matches your needs better, although most of it is ... wiederaufbauen .... that is, rebuilt. Quedlinburg is superb, but out of the question for a public transportation from Berlin. (There are lots of other authentic medieval towns in Germany, they just aren't as big as Quedlinburg and they don't have the church treasure room there.) Even if you get to Dresden, medieval towns like Erfurt and Eisenach are not easy without a car. Cologne is touristy, but rewarding, and matches your needs well. It would help to evaluate your position by asking yourself, if I were in Cologne, would I go to the unique, unavailable elsewhere Kathe Kollwitz museum? Would I want to see the Kolumba "museum"? You are too hard on church art moved to a museum. For example, in Antwerp, most of the major Rubens works (I mean, that weren't stolen and taken to Vienna, for example) were taken out of churches (except the Cathedral) to protect them from temperature and humidity, not to mention ... ... theft. European museums have treasures American collections can only dream of.
Hi, Somes places not too far from Berlin on where to go to see churches, (logistically very doable either as day trip from Berlin r/t or visiting the towns/cities for a day or two; they're certainly not across the country like Aachen,) are Erfurt, Meissen, (which came through the war relatively unscathed), Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Naumburg an der Saale, (very famous in Germany for its church towers), and obviously Dresden, regardless if it's rebuilt. All of these places are easily reached from Berlin and connected to each other.
Thanks for your replies Tim and Fred. I do already have tickets to Berlina direct flight from Chicago was just added and for $680 it was too good a deal not to jump on. Anyway I heard nothing but great things about Berlin so I'm curious to visit. To clarify, I love museums (and I work for one) and I always want to see great art in a museum. I just get more thrill from seeing it in situ because we don't have medieval art in situ in the US. We don't need to day trip from Berlin either since enjoy the night in smaller towns. All of your suggestions sound wonderful and I greatly appreciate them.
Wondering why Tim thinks all of those towns are out of the question using public transportation from Berlin. Of course you can get there by train. All of the towns mentioned are only 2-3 hours away. Jump on a train at 7 and you are there by 10:00. You will have a great time in Berlin and whatever towns you visit. I quite like the architecture in the town of Potsdam as well as all of the structures that make up the Sans Soucci palace grounds. The Berliner Dom was beautiful inside, and a trip to the top of the dome, gives you a good look at the inner architecture of the place. There are sure to be some classical music and opera taking place. Look up the local events for the cities and towns you want to visit.
I haven't visited yet, but another consideration from Berlin would be Schwerin, capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Take a look at some of the pictures from the Wikipedia article. Quedlinburg is a gem, as are nearby Wernigerode and Goslar. BTW- most of what people consider "medieval" architecture in Germany, apart from the castles and some churches, usually dates from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Other than the two exceptions noted above, it's pretty rare to find a building that's still occupied and used that was constructed in earlier periods.
H.S., I'm sure you know about "Museum Island" in Berlin (several good museums close together, including the Pergamum Altar museum).
The immediate surroundings of Berlin don't offer what you are looking for. You can see the parks and palaces of the Prussian kings in Berlin and Potsdam of course (Baroque and later, and much more than just Sanssouci!), but sadly almost no Gothic or Renaissance architecture. All the interesting churches, castles and towns are at least 2 hours away. They can be done on day trips, but you will always spend at least 4 hours on trains. Very interesting are the towns of the Baltic coast with their preserved old towns and massive churches. Not only Lübeck, also Stralsund, Wismar and Schwerin, which all offer impressive brick churches. And close to Rostock is Bad Doberan, whose minster is the most beautiful brick church I know. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brick_gothic The Harz mountains are ~3h to the west of Berlin. They offer many preserved towns full of timber-framed houses which rival the Romantic Road, like Quedlinburg, Goslar, Wernigerode, Stolberg, Einbeck or Wolfenbüttel. Not many important Gothic churches though. One however, the "French" cathedral of Halberstadt, is without a doubt one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Germany. And Magdeburgs cathedral, a otherwise ugly city, is very important. Many other important churches there are Romanesque, like the ones in Gernrode or Quedlinburg for example.
You will find the most Gothic and Renaissance architecture in Thuringia and Saxony, which are 2-3h to the south of Berlin. Here the list of towns with often impressive examples of Renaissance architecture is almost endless. The highlight is probably Görlitz on the German/Polish border, but towns like Meissen, Naumburg, Freiberg, Pirna, Weimar, Wittenberg, Erfurt, Bautzen, Torgau or Eisenach also offer completely preserved old towns. Churches that stand out are the Gothic hall churches of the Ore mountains. The highlight here are St. Annen in Annaberg-Buchholz and Freibergs cathedral. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Interior_of_St._Annenkirche_(Annaberg-Buchholz) Other highlights are the cathedrals in Meissen, Naumburg, Erfurt and the churches connected to the Protestant Reformation, like the ones in Wittenberg, Torgau or Mühlhausen.
There are also quite a few authentic castles without later alterations to see, but it's often quite difficult to reach them with public transport, especially from Berlin. Classical music and opera is very affordable in Germany. And in some cases it's almost free, like the masses of the Thomaners in Leipzig, i.e. Bachs choir in Bachs church. I don't know if you already booked your hotel, but if you mostly want to see pre-Baroque architecture I would recommend not to stay in Berlin but in one of the previously mentioned regions.
"The Harz mountains are ~3h to the west of Berlin. They offer many preserved towns full of timber-framed houses which rival the Romantic Road, like Quedlinburg, Goslar, Wernigerode, Stolberg, Einbeck or Wolfenbüttel." Many of these towns lie on or near the Straße der Romanik ("Romanesque Road"), which ironically, is often mistranslated as "Romantic Road".
Thank you all so so much for these suggestions--I love them and I can see I'll be returning to Germany many times. I don't mind taking trains, etc for 3 - 4 hours. I understand that the rail system is quite efficient. No, I haven't booked a hotel in Berlin yet and I'm open to suggestions 70 euro and under for double (since I do want to stay in Berlin a night or two).
Listen, I'm a big spender, but I see that Berlin-Quedlinburg-Berlin is 74 Euros p.p. and takes over 3 hours with a change. When there's no alternative, I've day-tripped from Antwerp to Lille, France and back, but you don't end up with much time in the swell place you went to. And on the day I did that, one of my connections was missed, lengthening the trip. It seemed to me that they roll up the sidewalks pretty early in Quedlinburg. But a highlight of our long day (from Dresden, by car) was dinner at the restaurant beside the church, overlooking the sunset on the red roof tiles of the town. Incidentally, since most of the treasures in Quedlinburg were made from parts of older objects, they "are" Quedlinburg only by tradition! I just mean that sometimes its better for objects to be moved to a museum-like the magnificent Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, which (except for the surrounding park setting in NYC), I rate higher than The Cloisters. Maybe it's cheaper if you're a student with all the cards, or a citizen. But I stand by my comment. Just one person's opinion.
>"Of course I will research with guidebooks, but I find asking other travelers to be especially helpful." I'm afraid English guidebooks will not be particularly helpful. They are all crap. To give you an idea: Baedeker is Germanys most popular publisher of guidebooks. The company offers 31(!) books about Germany. 11 (12 with Berlin) of them are about Eastern Germany, i.e. Berlin and surroundings. One third. In contrast only 136 pages in Rick Steves book of 800 pages are about this region, while 500 pages are about Southern Germany and the Rhine. And the Harz mountains or the Baltic coast aren't mentioned at all. And most people here have never visited these regions either, that's why many of them will recommend places they know instead.... usually Bavaria. Not very helpful if you ask me. And I also strongly disagree about Cologne. The city is ugly, and the few impressive churches don't worth the long journey from Berlin. If the treasures of Quedlinburg aren't enough you can visit Halberstadt next, which is just some kilometers away and offers one of the biggest ecclesiastical treasuries in Europe. Afterwards you can move on to Hildesheim, which is again just some kilometers away and not only offers two famous Romanesque churches, which are World Heritage Sites, but also another treasury. And from there Braunschweig isn't far, which doesn't offer a treasury (the Braunschweig treasury is in Berlin now) but a cathedral which is the burial place of Henry the Lion. I would recommend to spend some days in Berlin and the remaining days either in the Harz mountains or Dresden... or both.
H.S....You're welcome. You "don't mind taking trains"...Most of these places suggested above are within that 3-4 hr. radius from Berlin, (such as Lutheratadt Wittenberg, Schwerin, Meissen, Potsdam, Dresden, Leipzig, Görlitz, Naumburg an der Saale, etc), or did you mean r/t total time? What about Magdeburg, also doable timewise,...you won't see any Americans there, spent a week-end there a couple of years ago, see the Protestant church, it may refurbished by now. Like Dresden the city is on the Elbe, walk across the Elbe bridge. As to hearing any affordable classical music events, I suggest going to the Tourist Office main floor at the Potsdam Hbf. and also Berlin Hbf on the Invalidenstrasse exit for such information.
Thanks again for your array of impressive suggestions and opinions! When I travel I generally put together an itinerary from place to place and spend the night in each town. We rarely do day trips, and a 4 hr journey to the next destination is fine, if necessary. If the American guide books are crap, can you suggestion any in English that I may be able to order from Amazon? UNESCO World Heritage Sights are my favorite!
My next trip to Germany I hope to visit Muenster. Looks like a neat small city.
Not particularly helpful for this trip, but the Germanisches museum in Nuremberg has a very large collection of Medieval art, not just paintings but whole alterpeices and a lot of statues and wood carvings, presented very nicely. I'd consider it a must-see for a return trip.
...and there certainly will be a return trip!
Hi, A nice place re: accomodations for a DZ (double) ca. 70 Euro with breakfast I suggest the Meininger Hotel across from Berlin Hbf., 2 mins to your right as you exit. I second the suggestion on visiting Münster/Westfalen...way too far for a day trip this time. You would have to transfer after a Berlin-Dortmund Hbf leg to Münster.
Instead of guide books, simply use the internet, visiting town websites, etc. and honestly, Trip Advisor is fantastic for finding information. Most cities have Destination Experts who really, really know their towns and the surrounding region. I am always astounded at this treasure trove of information that people offer on there. The RS Helpline here is good, and so is Fodors, but TA really gives you the nitty gritty on the small towns, special events, etc. I am with you about preferring the Gothic look over the glitz and glam of Baroque and Roccoco. I know you weren't coming down this way as it is too far from Berlin, but some of my favorite churches are located near Frankfurt, mainly due to their architecture, artwork and history. The over 1000 yr. old Mainzer Dom & Worms Dom, the Rubens style painted ceiling in the Union Church in Idstein, the wooden, barrel-vaulted and painted ceiling in the Johannes church in Kronberg, St. Leonhards in Frankfurt (unfortunately closed for 2 more years for archeological & renovation work) and the best is the Justinus Church in Frankfurt Höchst. Very Carolingen, which makes it rare, and the fact that it was consecrated in 850 and has been used as a church ever since, making it one of a kind in Germany. Much of the religious artwork in Frankfurt is sitting in museums, mainly the Städel and the Liebieghaus, but it lets you see how the artwork progressed through the ages, which I find interesting.
>"My next trip to Germany I hope to visit Muenster. Looks like a neat small city." For true architecture aficionados Münster is less interesting since the old town was completely destroyed in WW2 and only partly, and often simplified, rebuilt. And it's on the other end of the country.
>"If the American guide books are crap, can you suggestion any in English that I may be able to order from Amazon?" I have no idea. But Amazon offers the possibility to look inside the books. Simply check if the sections about Northern, Central and Eastern Germany are as big as the one about Bavaria. And I always check if places like Quedlinburg, Stralsund, Goslar or Erfurt are mentioned. And here are some links to galleries of the places I mentioned before. All relatively close to Berlin. First Saxony: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1512349 Upper Lusatia, which is the eastern part of Saxony (with Görlitz, IMHO one of the most beautiful towns in Central Europe): http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=869852 The towns of the Baltic coast (sadly without Lübeck): http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=866406 Thuringia (no Wartburg though): http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=986977
And Quedlinburg and Wernigerode in the Harz mountains: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=933418
"If the American guide books are crap, can you suggestion any in English that I may be able to order from Amazon?" I find that the DK Eyewitness Guides and Insight Guides both provide very thorough summaries of the overviews they cover. They have their weaknesses, but overall I find them pretty useful, especially for covering areas that other books only lightly describe or completely skip. Ditto the Michelin Green guides, but the downside to these is they list towns alphabetically, not by region. German bookstores are filled with regional guidebooks, but you're out of luck if you can't understand the language. Also, don't underestimate the combined research power of Google maps and Wikipedia. Just pick any random town in Germany from Google maps, enable the photo or webcam option (360 degree Streetview images aren't available in Germany), and you see more pictures of that town than any guidebook could possibly offer. And just about every municipality in Germany has it's own English language Wikipedia article. Even articles on relatively small towns often feature a substantial amount of information, including pictures.
Thanks all. Fred, thanks for the hotel recommendation. It seems perfect for the price and for the connection to the main train station. Jo, good suggestion for Tripadvisor: I received excellent advice from that site in the past and I'm a contributor myself. I have been to Frankfurt only briefly and can't wait to return. The Frankfurt area would warrant it's own trip since it's so rich in lovely sights! Martin, thanks for all the links. I will explore them at lenght. Tom, yes I'll have a look at the DK guides. I love the pictures in them. And wiki / google maps. I'm afraid neither of us speaks German, so we'll need to learn some before we go, but we'll not know enough to get German guidebooks.
A real off-the-beaten path in Berlin is the Gründerzeitmuseum, which is connected with the contemporary play, "I Am My Own Wife". http://www.gruenderzeitmuseum.de/ It's a long walk or a bus ride from the S-Bahn station. I liked it, and they need your admission fee! I was very satisfied with Lonely Planet (in English) on several recent trips to Germany.
Small world Tim: I saw "I am my own wife" when it premiered at the MCA in Chicago!! I've had good luck with Lonely Planet for other countries too.
H.S....On the "crappy American guide books:" Some books I avoid, some I just browse through, you just might find something of use. I rely primarily on and recommend strongly Rough Guide Germany, geographically comprehensive, (as much as it gets for an anglophone guide), well written, has both budget and moderate level recommendations, as well as HI hostels, (in Germany DJH hostels), and to a lesser extent Let's Go if I want to put up its editorialising. Also, I check out German sources on where to visit.
I have a rough itinerary ready. Checking the bahn website, I see that there are several fare sales. Assuming I would be able to get the sale prices by buying in advance, I believe I would be able to reach everyplace by rain, with the longest travel time being about 3:15 and the shortest :45 and the total price of about 140 euro per person for rail tickets.
I haven't sorted out how long to say in each town. Berin < Quedlinburg < Goslar < Hildesheim < Lübeck < Stralsund < Berlin That's leaving out so many wonderful places, but I certainly will return!
Hi, Good choices Lübeck and Strasund.
Fred, what are your favorite things to see in Lübeck and Stralsund?
I can't believe I didn't notice this before, but I just realized I'll be in Germany on Easter, March 31. Should I expect places to be closed on Easter Sunday? Is the next day, Monday also a holiday and should I expect closures?
Hi, Lübeck is in a way special for me since it was my first city in Germany back in '71. Special sights not to miss are the Holstentor, walkable from the train station, signs pointing the way, the city hall (Rathaus, and the old town. If you're interested in that northern German architecture, Lübeck is the place to see it. I haven't been to Stalsund, only know that the Marine Dänholm is there if you'r interested in naval history.
You can get "off the beaten path" right in Berlin. For instance, superstar modern architect Frank Gehry installed one of his whale's-mouth interiors at the DZ bank, steps from the Brandenburg gate. Wikipedia has some info and a photo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DZ_Bank_building Or, for 20th-century design, the small but provocative displays at the Bauhaus archives speak volumes about how our buildings look and feel today. The Bauhaus school itself was not in Berlin but rather Dessau, within reach of Berlin. More at http://bauhaus-online.de/en Chicago is very aware of its own contributions to architecture and public sculpture as well as more difficult art, so I'm guessing the above might be relevant though not from the old old days.
Google opera to see that Berlin is one of the great oprts cities in the world with at least three ambitious companies and subsidized tickets. If you don't buy on-line, the city tourism office at the main train station (and maybe elsewhere) sells tickets.
Oops, fumbling fingers. Make that "great opera cities in the world" in the last sentences.
Thank you Southam-- I am interested in Frank Gehry (we have his wonderful bandshell in Millenium Park in Chicago) as well as Bauhaus architecture. Of course some of the best musicians in the world are in Berlin. Do you know if there are standing room tickets? We once got standing room tickets to a Wagner opera in Vienna and it was fantastic!
>"My next trip to Germany I hope to visit Muenster. Looks like a neat small city." For true architecture aficionados Münster is less interesting since the old town was completely destroyed in WW2 and only partly, and often simplified, rebuilt. And it's on the other end of the country.< True, Muenster is too far to the West for someone exploring Berlin and area. However, I think the city's architecture is a fabulous example how one can rebuild a city on a shoestring budget right after a war, preserving the atmosphere of the historic centre without going to the expensive and time-consuming extreme of restoring every single historic detail. A few buildings of special importance have been restored historically accurate, including the Lamberti Church and the town hall where the peace treaty ending the 30-year-war was signed in 1648. Others have created their own style combining traditional designs with modern day features. This kind of approach ("simplefied" as Martin calls it) could have gone horribly wrong but for me it's an inspiring example of what architecture can achieve in restoring a city - in a very creative way. If you are also interested in the art of sculpture, especially sculptures in public places, Muenster is also a great place to be. You can find some unique sculpture projects all over the city. Maps with the exact locations should be available from the tourist information.
OK, now that I have put in my plug for Muenster, a more useful suggestion for H.S. for his upcoming trip. In terms of guide books I second the DK Eyewitness Guides. They have a strong focus on art and architecture and the many photos definitely emphasize that approach. If classical music in local venues is important to you then you shouldn't miss Leipzig. And I'm very happy to see that I'm not the only one suggesting this destination ;-) It's only a one hour train ride from Berlin and full of history and musical tradition. The St. Thomas Boys Choir is a must-see. However, do make sure you check their schedule well in advance as concerts sell out quickly, the exception being the motets that don't require reservation (2 Euro, first-come-first-served)
You should not worry too much as most will not be closed. Normal shops will not be open but you may find some fun markets on Saturday Morning to try. I'm not sure how religious you are but here in Hamburg for example, there is an English speaking church and the services at Easter can be really nice and I find in a new place you will always meet real people that are willing to talk to you.
>Berin < Quedlinburg < Goslar < Hildesheim < Lübeck < Stralsund < Berlin That's a nice itinerary. But keep in mind that Hildesheim was almost completely destroyed in WW2. Apart from the Romanesque churches and the market square with the wonderful Butchers' Guild Hall (all reconstructions btw.) there isn't much to see. Maybe you could do it in a combination with a second sight? Celle or Wolfenbüttel maybe? And really try to see the cathedral in Halberstadt if possible, which would definitely be the most beautiful church on your trip (the town itself was sadly also completely destroyed in WW2). >I can't believe I didn't notice this before, but I just realized >I'll be in Germany on Easter, March 31. Should I expect places to >be closed on Easter Sunday? Is the next day, Monday also a holiday
>and should I expect closures? Shops will be closed on both days, and churches will be full. Museums are usually open. >Fred, what are your favorite things to see in Lübeck and Stralsund? Although I'm not Fred: you should see the churches of course. The ones in Lübeck were the models for all Gothic churches along the Baltic coast. Sadly they were partly destroyed in WW2. The main church in Stralsund has one of the best interiors of all Brick Gothic churches I know, like the stalls of the Hanseatic merchants (preserved are the stalls of the Bergen and Novgorod traders) or the astronomical clock, which dates from 1394. The Maritime Museum inside a former medieval monastery is also quite nice. And in Lübeck you should see the "Haus der Schiffergesellschaft", the club house of the brotherhood of captains (established in 1401).
Thank you all for your conttinuing and exceptionally helpful feedback. I'm researching Leipzig and Halberstadt to see how I can fit them in to our itinerary. The reason I want to go to Hildesheim is to see the famous Bernward's doors, which I've seen reproduced in art history books so many times (as long as the church treasury wont be closed for Easter). As far as Easter is concerned, I don't really care about shops being closed, since I don't enjoy shopping, but I do want to be sure I can get some food (I generally eat from grocery store or eat street food)--hopefully I can find something open so I can eat. I've been reading that some churches have passion oratorios on Good Friday, called Kirchenmusik Karfreitag. I will try as hard as I can to attend one.
Great idea! Meeting people is one of the real joys of traveling.
We have returned from our trip to Germany, and I wanted to report back, and most importantly, thank everyone who contributed on this helpline. Our final iterary was Berlin, Leipzig, Halberstadt, Quedlinburg, Goslar, Lübeck and Stralsund. Our time in Germany was right in the middle of the Easter holiday, and we were able to include special Easter related activities in our trip. Berlin: we loved it, and it was quite cold while were were there, so we spent our brief amount of time mostly on museum island. (Not off the beaten path, but certainly fantastic museums.) We actally went to the Pergamon museum twice because it was so wonderful. Leipzig: the highlight of our trip was hearing Bach's St. John's Passion in Thomas Church on Maundy Thursday, the church where Bach was cantor and the boys choir has been in residence for 800 year. Celestial, gorgeous, moving...I don't have enough ajectives to describe it! Halberstadt: we attended another St. John's Passion on Good Friday, this one by composer Bartholomäus Gesius, in main church of Halberstadt. It was more intimate than the program in Leipzig, but beautiful. Actually, we spent most of the day in that same church. Holy smokes they have a fabulous treasury! The Romaneque tapestry from 1150 was so so excellent. We also loved As Slow as Possible by John Cage as performed in an abandoned Church in Halberstadt. The current organ performance of the piece at St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and is scheduled to have a duration of 639 years, ending in 2640. Quedlingburg: a lovely and well perserved town, that we enjoyed a great deal, although it's the one place that had a whiff of tourist trap about it (could just be because of the holiday weekend). To be continued:
Goslar: a jewel! It snowed the entire time we were there, the most decorative snow I ever saw outside of a musical theater performance. The whole town was a site, so well kept and full of details we could just keep looking at. We were esp. impressed with the main church, which was full of medieval and renaissance treasures and suprisingly great contemporary stained glass. Lübeck and Stralsund: we spent a day per town and loved them both, and really got to know brick gothic as an architecture style. Both towns had a unique feel to them, with Stralsund seeming more Scandinavian. Thanks again for your invaluble advice. We we certainly be back to this wonderful country, with it's enviable infastructure and (best of all) clean public bathrooms!