When planning a city break in Germany it’s easy enough not to look any further than the lively metropoles that are Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. But it’s just as much fun to venture into the German hinterland and discover some beautiful lesser known cities, often filled with charm and historic splendor, surrounded by breathtaking nature. Don’t miss these 4 cities during your next trip to Germany.
The oldest city in Germany: Trier
Trier is a Unesco World Heritage Site since the 1980’s and when you set eyes onto the rolling, vines filled, hills, the medieval market quare and the fine Roman relics scattered around the city, it is not hard to understand why Trier made the shortlist. The city is the oldest in Germany, thousands of years old, and an important settlement in Roman times, when Trier was knows as ‘Roma secunda’ and the home to many emprerors and the centre of an ancient wine growing area. Rome fell, the garrisons moved away, leaving impressive Roman ruins like the thermal baths, the basilica and famous black gate Porta Nigra.
The wine production, however, remained an important trade in the region throughout the centuries and now a visit to Trier isn’t complete without some sampling of the local vintages. I highly recommend going for dinner and a tasting at Weingut Gehlen, just out of town, where you can taste honest food accompanied by some velvet Dornfelders of fruity Rieslings. Trier is also one of the largest university towns in the southern part of Germany and the large student populations keeps things lively around town with many options for cheap eats and snappy cafés. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, just venture a little out of town, across the bridge over the Mosel river and walk towards the big statue of Mother Mary on top of a hill offering spendid views of the town and region.
Historically, Koblenz was always the former residence of the electors of Trier and was named ‘Confluentes’ by the Romans, which translates into ‘where the rivers meet’. Pretty spot on, as Koblenz is beautifully set, exactly where the Mosel en Rhine rivers meet, and is surrounded by a low mountain range. The strategic spot of the town drew many cultures to Koblenz and lots of battles were faught here, resulting in castles and fortresses that rise from the hilltops surrounding city. The Ehrenbreitstein castle rises dramatically from a high hill facing the ‘German corner’ where the two rivers meet and can be reached by a cableway.
In summer Koblenz the perfect place to explore the surrounding hills hiking and do some wine tasting along the way. Though you won’t get bored in the cosy old town either, where you can enjoy the architecture, for example the 18th-century Electoral Palace and the many Art Nouveau buildings that scatter the city centre.
Gateway to the Black Forest: Freiburg
Another cheerful university town is set at the foot of the Black Forest, just waiting to be discovered. Freiburg is said to be the sunniest and warmest city in Germany, having counted the most hours of sun a year and therefore a great year round city break destination. Its medieval old town seems to have been designed from a book by the brothers Grimm with half timbered and gabled town houses, cobblestoned treets and bustling squares buzzing with locals either doing their shopping or sipping their coffee and having a big slice of, local scrumptious speciality, schwarzwälder kirsch torte.
The Münster Platz is Freiburgs main square and an impressive one at that, with the cathedral as a centre piece and the big halls flanking the square all built in a deep red brick giving the centre of Freiburg a scarlet glaze just before sunset. To taste some local brews, have a seat in the shady biergarten of town brewery Feierling and order a glass of beer and something nice to eat. Wine lovers can always taste local wines at the gorgeous old market building Alte Wache. Another advantage of staying in Freiburg is its proximity to other popular holiday destinations, such as Baden Baden, Titisee and Colmar, that are all very well accessible by train.
The city of Osnabrück will be forever linked with its neighbor Münster as the cities were chosen to sign the Peace of Westphalia, that ended the Thirty Years War. Even though the ink has dried for almost 400 years, the event still echoes in Osnabrück where portraits of those signing the treaties decorate the wall of the festive chambers of City Hall and many museums in town are ‘war and peace’ themed, like Erich Maria Remarque-Friedenszentrum. The museum dedicated to this great writer who lost his German citizenship under Nazi rule after writing his pacifist All Quiet on the Western Front, which was later made into an Oscar winning movie. Another must-visit is the Fleix Nussbaum Haus, which houses the modernist works of Osnabrück born Nussbaum, who was later murdered in Auschwitz. The museum was designed by Daniel Libeskind who also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
For such a small town, Osnabrück has a surprisingly large numer of excellent shops, cafés and restaunts. Especially the Heger Tor quarter holds excellents galeries, small shops, boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Kaffee 1871 is Osnabrücks only coffee roaster and pours the best coffee in town, which can be enjoyed in the cosy café or the shady backyard. Sampling the local wine is done best at Das Wein Cabinet and beer lovers simply must venture into the towns own brewery Rampendahl. In the evening try and table at La Vie, the excellent three star Michelin restaurant of Osnabrück.
I’m curious! Have you visited some great German hidden gems?