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Discovering Eastern Germany

We visited Eastern Germany last two weeks of September. Rick Steves’ guide book on Germany, woefully inadequate for this area, was supplemented with Lonely Planet to plan an itinerary. Using Airbnb.com and booking.com, stayed at centrally located pensions and small hotels.
Berlin: 3 nights
Stay in the city center, the “Mitte”, for easy walking access to most sites.
Listen to RS walking tour (available on the Rick Steves app) from the Reichstag to Alexander Platz.
Make an online reservation to visit the Reichstag.
Take a RS recommended boat tour on the Spree River.
Visit the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall.
Visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
See the Brandenburg Gate after dark.
Buy a Berlin Welcome Card if you expect to use a lot of public transportation and take advantage of some discounts.
Endless museum opportunities if desired.
Bautzen: 2 nights
Leave Berlin early to stop at Lübbenau, have a nice lunch (including assorted local pickles and mustard at the Biergarten am Spreeschlosschen). Consider taking one of the local boat tours or walk to Lehde.
Bautzen is a beautiful small city worth exploring.
We stayed in one of the medieval towers in a lovely Airbnb (or book direct): Mühlbastei Turmzimmer
Use the Bautzen city map to follow a walking tour around town.
Visit Bautzen II, a former Stasi prison.
From Bautzen make a day visit to the divided town of Görlitz/Zgorzelec. An inexpensive booklet at the TI has a self-guided walking tour around town.
Meiβen: 1 night
After an early departure on the way to Meiβen visit Festung Königstein, a huge impregnable fortress. English audio guide.
Arrive mid-day in Dresden and visit the Zwinger and Historic Green Vault and the recently reconstructed Frauenkirche. Obtain Historic Green Vault tickets online in advance.
If you want to visit one or more of the Zwinger museums, you might want to overnight in Dresden for a couple nights.
Overnighting in Meiβen allows for an early visit to the Meiβen Porzellan Manfaktur for an excellent demonstration (English audio) of porcelain making followed by a large museum display of Meiβen porcelain.
Erfurt: 2 nights
On the way to Erfurt stop by Colditz Castle. Visit the museum (as we did) or consider taking a more in depth tour (consider advance arrangements).
Take a relaxing day to explore Erfurt on foot using the RS Germany book walking tour and just wander.
Quedlinburg: 1 night
Early arrival at Wartburg Castle (English audio guide).
Explore cutsy half-timbered Quedlinburg on foot on the day of arrival and more the next day before driving to Wörlitz. Don’t miss the Stiftskirche St. Servatius in Quedlinburg.
Wörlitz: 2 nights
In Wörlitz use the Wörlitz Park tourist map to walk around the park and visit the follies. Take the boat tour starting near Schloss Wörlitz.
Visit the Bauhaus Museum in Dessau.
Potsdam: 1 night
On the way to Potsdam stop in Wittenberg. In Wittenberg walk from one end of the historic town to the other, visiting the Schlosskirche, the Stadtkirche St. Marien and the Luther House (English audio guide).
In Potsdam consider splurging a little and staying in the family run Villa Monte Vino for a close 10 minute walk access to Sanssouci Palace and a phenomenal hotel buffet breakfast.
Walk to Sanssouci well before opening time to have the vast park all to yourselves along with local joggers. Reserve entry time to Sanssouci Palace online well in advance. Walking from Sanssouci to the Neues Palais (combo ticket) is also recommended. English audio guides included. Take all the time you can to explore this vast park even it means an extra day.
Berlin: 1 night
Late afternoon or evening arrival in Berlin mostly for easy access to Tegel Airport for flight out the next day. Consider staying in the Mercure Hotel MOA with easy access to TXL by bus or taxi and a huge Asian buffet restaurant.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
4779 posts

What? No Dresden and trip to the Saxony section of the old East Germany? It was perhaps Europe's most beautiful city until Alled bombings at the end of WW II. We have a relative that grew up there, and she left on the last US ship leaving Hamburg for New York City.

Posted by Kirk OP
6 posts

You missed it. We spent 1/2 day in Dresden visiting the Historic Green Vault, the beautiful Frauenkirche, and walking around the grounds of the Zwinger and around the Old Town. RS devotes 50 pages to Dresden in his Germany book, Lonely Planet 15 pages. RS also covers Leipzig in Saxony, which we did not visit, but he neglects so much of Saxony. Other places we visited in Saxony as described in my report include Bautzen, Görlitz, Festung Königstein, Meiβen and Colditz. There are so many other places to explore that we could just not include in 2 weeks. The remarkable rebirth of Dresden, especially since German reunification, is well documented in various sources. Everything was nearly totally destroyed in WWII, then some treasures were looted by American troops and Soviets, much of which has been returned. Some treasures of the Green Vault are still missing. We did not visit the Zwinger museums, but again, there is so much to explore depending on your interests and time.

Posted by Shelley
Central Valley, California
250 posts

Such an interesting trip report, thanks a lot. I'd like to know what sparked your interest in this list of cities. I'll have to read Rick's 50 pages on Dresden. How was the food there?

Posted by Kirk OP
6 posts

Having visited much of Europe including Western Germany over the years, and Berlin in 1983, we wanted to explore areas where we would not be overrun by American and other foreign tourists, and update our view of Berlin. Except for Berlin (a wonderful vibrant city), Dresden and Wittenberg, we were often the only Americans, German tourists predominating by far. Going beyond the big sites, Lonely Planet described many interesting opportunities to visit. For example, Colditz Castle was a POW camp for Allied officers who attempted, and sometimes succeeded, in making many remarkably creative and well documented escapes. Coincidental to our choice to travel in 2017 was the fact that it is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Erfurt, Wartburg Castle and Wiitenberg are major Martin Luther sites. We learned a lot about Luther's influence, good and bad, to the last 500 years. It was fun driving through tiny towns as we ventured from one destination to another. Definitely spring for GPS navigation on your rental car! We were 100% satisfied with our choices, feeling only that we would like to have spent even more time exploring other quaint, interesting and historical sites if we had extended our two weeks.
For food you go to Italy, France and Spain, but we enjoyed the endless variety of wurst, pork, pickles, mustard and beer. There are also many ethnic restaurants everywhere.

Posted by Shelley
Central Valley, California
250 posts

Very good. Thanks for your response. This has been very interesting for me to read your report.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8393 posts

Hi,

Very interesting report....great that you picked these cities/towns for your first trip there.

Aside from Berlin, Dresden, and Potsdam, the others on your list I've been to are Meißen, Bautzen and Lübbenau, which I saw in 1999. From the Leipzig Hbf (just outside) there is a bus depot, one of which takes you to Colditz. The next time in Meißen I had better spend a night there, since two day trips were still insufficient.

That area Lübbenau and Bautzen was fought over in 1813 in the Befreiungskrieg to throw out Napoleon. At Bautzen it was the Allies, ie the Prussians and Russians, who were beaten by Napoleon. Walking in Lübbenau I saw a plaque recalling the events of 1813.

Use the Rough Guide Germany to plan a trip in Germany, forget the RS book.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8393 posts

If you are planning another trip in eastern Germany, I would suggest Magdeburg, Greifswald, Frankfurt an der Oder, Schwerin
(formerly of Mecklenburg-Schwerin), Weimar, Görlitz, Halle, Neustrelitz (former of Mecklenburg-Strelitz if you're into Prussian
history), Naumburg an der Saale....all deep in the cultural history (besides political) of Germany, plus all totally off the American tourist radar.

Posted by Kirk OP
6 posts

Thanks for the additional suggestions about other Eastern Germany sites to visit. I would enjoy returning and seeing more. Also, thank for the Rough Guide suggestion. I have not used that in the past, but worth a try to get another perspective on places to visit.
By the way does anyone have any insight into the apparent German obsession with orchids? We noticed that what seemed like every residence window in every town in Eastern Germany had orchids growing. We have never seen so many orchids in so many places before. They are tricky to grow and maintain. Is it some kind of tradition in that part of the country?

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8393 posts

Of those places on my suggested list, a few places I have to go, such as Görlitz, Naumburg an der Saale, Greifswald. The others, Magdaburg, Neuhardenberg, Weimar, Neustrelitz, Neuruppin (the town of T Fontane and K Schinkel), Frankfurt an der Oder, Schwerin I have visited once or more.

You get a different feel being in eastern Germany, and one thing can be sure, "they" won't come at you talking English. From the linguistic perspective as well as cultural, that is refreshing.

Posted by Dave
Spartanburg, SC
334 posts

Thanks for the trip report! My German wanderings have included Berlin, Schwarzwald, Bodensee, Berchtesgaden, and München. I'm adding Stuttgart in December and the Rhine valley next fall (along with my annual trip to Berlin in early May). Hopefully, old East Germany will be up in 2019.

Posted by Kirk OP
6 posts

I agree, because so few Americans visit some of the smaller towns and sites in Eastern Germany and because English was not the second language of many or most Eastern Germans before reunification, conversations with tourists will usually begin, and often continue, in German. This was a refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable challenge for me, having studied German in school and having the used the last couple months before traveling to brush up on my German. I was able to comprehend and express myself, even through my at times stumbling German, enough to carry on most conversations in German. If I had done anything differently in preparation, it would have been to study menu terms in more detail. But for those speaking little or no German, or concerned about their pronunciation, all one has to do is to look to Rick Steves as someone, who despite his foreign language and pronunciation skills, or lack thereof, has been a very successful traveler.

Posted by jayhamps
Liverpool UK
356 posts

Lonely planet and rough guides are great compliments to Ricks books for areas he doesn't cover.