Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned as the private refuge for Ludwig II of Bavaria, but opened to the public immediately after his death in 1886. Now recognizable as the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle, Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular castles in Europe. The fairytale charm of Neuschwanstein Castle is also felt from the idyllic scenery of the Bavarian Alps. During the winter, some of the best views of the snow-capped mountains can be seen from the palace grounds.
The picture cycles in the castle were inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner, to whom the king dedicated the castle, and the corresponding medieval legends from his works. The throne room is magnificently decorated with frescos of angels, ironically the king died before the actual throne was built. Despite the medieval motif of the decor, the castle was actually outfitted with latest technology of the time with running water and central heating.
Dachau Concentration Camp was the first of its kind opened in Germany by the Nazi government in 1933, and it served as a model for later concentration camps. Designed to hold Jews, political prisoners, and other "undesirables," the camp is now a memorial to the more than 40,000 people who died and over 200,000 who were imprisoned here during the Nazi regime. The memorial was established in 1965, 20 years after Dachau was liberated by American forces.
An English documentary of Dachau plays in the museum part of the memorial at 11:30 am, 2 pm, and 3:30 pm and the "Path of the Prisoners" exhibit sheds light on the lives of those in the concentration camp. Although a sobering excursion, many visitors find the trip extremely moving and informative about the Holocaust.
Ludwig II had a habit of designing palaces after his idols. In the case of Linderhof Palace, the inspiration was the Sun-King Louis XIV and Versailles as he built up the "King's Cottage". Sun decor, hall of mirrors, and a smaller scale version of Versailles Ambassador's staircase are testament to the king's admirations. As far as royal palaces go, Linderhof Palace has a private atmosphere with only four rooms that actually served a purpose.
The gardens surrounding Linderhof Palace are considered some of the most beautiful in the world, combining the formal elements of Baroque style and Italian Renaissance gardens with landscaped sections in the English style. There are also a few unique structures apart of the palace park including the Venus grotto, Hunding's Hut, Gurnemanz Hermitage, and the Moroccan House.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was one of the most notorious death camps of the Nazi regime, located just north of Berlin.
It was built in the summer of 1936 by prisoners from the Emsland camps and was used to train SS Officers who went on to command other camps. In January 1945, there were more than 65,000 prisoners here including 13,000 women. A total of 105,000 Jews died in this camp. Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was liberated by the Allies on April 22nd, 1945. The Soviets then used it as a prison camp until 1950.
Today Sachsenhausen is a museum and memorial site, located in Oranienburg about an hour by train from central Berlin. There is a library and archive open Tuesday to Friday, and an open air exhibition and memorial open every day. There are a dozen exhibitions located in the buildings giving the history of where it actually took place: the barracks, the prison, the kitchen and the commandant’s offices.
Topped with an acclaimed glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Reichstag parliamentary building is home to Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.
The classically pedimented and columned building was built in the 1890s, and seriously damaged by fire in 1933 and subsequent air raids. In the 1990s the building was restored to host the parliament of the newly reunified Germany.
Visitors can step inside the multi-tiered glass dome and onto the roof terrace for 360 degree views of Berlin’s government district and the Tiergarten.
Take an audioguide tour to learn about the parliamentary goings on in the Bundestag and the history of the famous building. After taking a stroll, relax in the rooftop restaurant.
Oktoberfest is possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, taking place in fall in Munich, Germany. Around one million partygoers pour into the city between mid-September and the first Sunday in October for 2.5 weeks of serious carousing and drinking; the epicenter of the merrymaking is Theresienwiese (‘Wiesn’ for short) festival ground just to the west of the Altstadt (Old Town). Here local Bavarian breweries sponsor 14 gaily decorated tents – each accommodating up to 6,000 beery revelers – with their own theme and local beer to sample in one-liter (2.2-pint) glass steins. As the hours pass by, the vibe ramps up and singing and dancing become the order of the day.
But Oktoberfest is not just for drinkers; there are fairgrounds for kids, costumed parades through the streets, an abundance of Bavarian folk costumes – dirndl skirts and leather shorts – to be admired, brass-band concerts and horse-and-trap rides.
The Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s original city gates, erected in 1791. It marks the entry to the Under den Linden avenue as part of the ceremonial boulevard that led to the Prussian monarchs’ royal seat.
The classical monument is topped by a chariot driven by a winged goddess, which was briefly carted off to Paris by Napoleon as booty.
During the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate could not be accessed from East or West Germany, making it a particularly poignant symbol after reunification.
To experience the pomp and majesty of the Hohenzollern Dynasty, pay a visit to Charlottenburg Palace (or Schloss Charlottenburg), Berlin’s largest palace.
Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, the palace combines rococo and baroque decor and architecture, and is surrounded by landscaped gardens in the manner of Versailles.
Visitors can tour the baroque rooms of the Old Palace, and the rococo apartments of Frederick the Great in the New Wing. German porcelain is displayed in the Belvedere building, and the marble tombs of famous Hohenzollerns lie in the mausoleum.The treed grounds are ideal for leisurely strolls, and the restored Orangery now operates as a cafe.
"You are leaving the American sector."
Memorialized in film and print, Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous symbol of Cold War era Berlin.
Marking the border crossing between the American Sector (Kreuzberg) and East Berlin (Mitte), only allied personnel and foreign visitors could pass through the checkpoint.
Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous security point in the Berlin Wall, but for most of its life it was little more than a wooden shack and boom gates. Today a replica shed stands in the middle of Friedrichstraße.
While you’re here, drop into the Mauer Museum (Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) to learn about the history of Checkpoint Charlie, and the audacious and often tragic attempts made by East Berliners to escape from East to West.
Located on the northern tip of Spree Island, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is an ensemble of five world-renowned museums. In 1830, King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned the construction of the Royal Museum - now the Altes Museum - to allow the general public to view the royal art treasures of Germany. The idea for the island was devised in 1841, when Friedrich August Stuler wanted to create a cultural center, which later became Museum Island.Almost 70% of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, where the collections were divided between East and West Berlin. Since 1999, the museum has been the only architectural and cultural ensemble that was honored world heritage status by UNESCO.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Alpsee and Schwansee lakes and close by the Austrian border, the magnificent Hohenschwangau Castle (Schloss Hohenschwangau) is a dramatic gothic fortress dating back to the 19th century. The sister castle to the world-renowned Neuschwanstein Castle (the famous blueprint for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle), Hohenschwangau is a popular stop on the German Castle Trail and is often visited on day trips from Munich or nearby Füssen.
Hohenschwangau Castle was built in 1832 on the site of the 12th-century Schuangau fortress and is celebrated for its striking interior décor, including a series of paintings by Domenik Quaglio depicting key events in German history. Built by King Maximilian II of Bavaria, the palace is notable as the childhood home of his heir, the future King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
The huge Potsdamer Platz has been a major focal point for Berliners since the 19th century, the busy meeting point of half a dozen major thoroughfares.
Historically, the square was dominated by the enormous Potsdamer train terminal, and at the turn of the 20th century it was a major dining, hotel, entertainment and shopping hub.
Potsdamer Platz was destroyed by Allied raids during World War II. Before reunification the barren area was a militarized no-go zone cut in two by the Berlin Wall; this no man’s land was one of the first areas to be breached in November 1989.
Since the 1990s, Potsdamer Platz has undergone a total rebirth as the new heart and inspiring symbol of the reunified Berlin.
Take in the surroundings from the Panorama Observation Deck, and seek out the only pre-WWII building, the Weinhaus Huth.
The Old Bridge in Heidelberg is a sandstone pedestrian bridge that goes across the Neckar River linking the old town on one side with the Neuenheim district on the other. It was built in 1786, and even though there were several other bridges before it in this location, it was the first one made of stone. On the city side of the bridge, there are two towers that once formed part of the city walls. They contain old dungeons which were used to hold criminals. Between the towers, you can see a plaque honoring the Austrian troops who helped defend the bridge against an attack from the French in 1799.
Another feature visitors will notice is a statue of a monkey holding a mirror. The monkey represents the idea that neither those who lived within the city walls nor those who lived outside the city were any better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as the cross the bridge to remember this.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, to give it the full name which distinguishes it from Germany’s other two Rothenburgs, has few equals as a fairy tale destination. This perfectly preserved medieval town looks like a film set, and indeed the town’s tumble of half-timbered houses and stone watchtowers have been featured in numerous movies, including the last two Harry Potter installments.
Wandering the streets is the main activity here, but you can also climb the Röderturm to make sense of Rothenburg’s confusing layout and then walk along the intact wall which circles the town. Indoor attractions include the Kriminalmuseum, full of gory torture instruments or, for those with a more delicate constitution, there are all sorts of medieval art treasures in the Reichstadtmuseum. The Gothic church of St Jacob, which contains a magnificent carved altarpiece, once made the town a center of pilgrimage, and remains a magnet for visitors to this day.
Germans' love of beer is unrivaled worldwide, and Munich is home to Bavaria's most celebrated beer hall: Hofbrauhaus. Formerly the royal brewery for the Kingdom, Hofbrauhaus is now owned by the state government and also has the second largest tent at Oktoberfest - "Hofbrau-Festzelt".
Grab a stein of their finest brew and drink with friends in the restaurant, die Schwemme (beer hall), or Biergarten (beer garden) often accompanied by live music . In case there was any doubt about how much Germans value their beer, regulars to Hofbrauhaus keep their valuable steins in a series of safes in the beer hall.
Although the Black Forest is located in the sunniest area of Germany, its name dates from a time when thick tree cover shielded the forest floor from light. There are more clearings now but the country’s largest and most renowned forest remains a 3D Grimm fairy tale dotted with gingerbread villages and serene wood-fringed lakes.
The landscape rises from the Rhine Valley through gently undulating ground perfect for hiking, to the slopes of the Feldberg, a winter sports center. Firs and other evergreens predominate but the hills and valleys are garnished with enough deciduous trees to ensure spectacular fall displays.
If you’re driving, the 60 kilometer-long “Schwarzwaldhochstrasse” starts at the elegant spa town of Baden-Baden in the north and takes in some of the region’s most scenic villages and breathtaking vistas. Otherwise, take advantage of the numerous scenic railway routes through the Black Forest. Try the romantic steam train journey Sauschwänzlebahn.
The Old Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university, was build in the early 1700s. It now holds the Rector's Office, the Old Assembly Hall, and the University Museum. The museum shows the history of the university beginning with its foundation in 1386 through today. Exhibits, portraits, and documents explain this history in three different sections. There's one about the Palatinate electors, one about the Baden era, and one about the twentieth century. In addition to the permanent exhibits, every few months there is a new special exhibit opens.
In the square in front of the building is a fountain of a lion, called Löwenbrunnen. The lion was the symbol of the Palatinate. At the back of the Old University, visitors can see the student prison, which was in use until 1914 and is now one of the most popular attractions in the city. Students could be put in the prison from two days to four weeks depending on the offense, although life there was quite comfortable.
The notorious wall that divided Berlin for nearly 30 years was erected by East Germany at the height of the Cold War in 1961. The barrier isolated West Berlin within a heavily armed barrier of double concrete walls and gun turrets and was constructed to stop disaffected East Germans escaping to the west; it was part of a strictly enforced military fortification that separated communist East Germany from capitalist Europe.
Guards patrolling the wall’s watchtowers and mined "death strip" were ordered to shoot East Berliners attempting to escape to the west, and increasingly the wall became a canvas for protest murals and memorials.
With the thawing of relations between east and west and the downfall of communism in Poland, the Czech Republic and other central European countries, the Berlin Wall was ceremonially torn down in November 1989 with the world’s media as witness.
Sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when Germany was split.
Alexanderplatz remains the largest urban square in all of Germany and is a central meeting place in Berlin, located in the Mitte District. At its center is the large railway station (Alexanderplatz) with connections to many subway (U-Bahn), tramway (Strassenbahn), city trains (S-Bahn) and buses.
Named after the Russian Czar Alexander I, who visited the capital of Prussia in 1805, ""Alex"" became a traffic hub when a train station was established there in 1882.
Alexanderplatz took on its present form in the 1960’s after being ravaged in World War II. After the war it became the center of East-Berlin and used as a showcase of socialist architecture. This resulted in some unattractive buildings like the former Centrum department store and the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower). In 1969 two more monuments were added to the square, the Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock) by Erich John and the Fountain of International Friendship.
The Kölner Dom, also known as the Cologne Cathedral, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, it would take 632 years to complete.
Begun in 1248, the Kölner Dom was commissioned as a suitable place to house the relics of the Three Kings, acquired and delivered by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Construction was predictably slow, beginning with the east wing. At some point in 1473, construction came to a stop and it remained at rest for four centuries, marked by a crane that loomed over the south tower; until 1842, when a civic organization raised the bulk of the money to finish construction. In today’s dollars, the cost for finishing Kölner Dom would be over a billion dollars. Finally, in 1880, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed.
The Berlin Television Tower,or the Berliner Fernsehturm is the city’s tallest structure at 368 metres high. It was inaugurated on 3 October 1969 just before the 20th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). For Walter Ulbricht, who was the State Council Chairman of the GDR at the time, it was one of the most important symbols demonstrating the superiority of socialist societies. The construction of the Berlin Television Tower illustrated that a better future was being built in East Berlin.
With over 1.2 million visitors a year, come early to beat the lines to go up the tower at the panorama level at 203 metres. This point offers one of the best views of Berlin on a clear day. You can look for your favourite Berlin landmarks here or at the upstairs rotating cafe, which makes one revolution every 30 minutes.
VIP ticket holders can visit at any time without waiting in line and are guaranteed the next available free seat in the Tower’s restaurant.
Located in the Mitte district, the Gendarmenmarkt has gone through a few name changes. After being used from 1736 to 1782 by the military for sentry duty and housing their horses, it was known as the Gendarmenmarkt. After being damaged in the war, the square was renamed “Platz der Akademie” in 1950 in honor of the 250th anniversary of the Academy of Science. In 1991, it got its original name back.
The Gendarmenmarkt is arguably Berlin’s most magnificent square. It is best known for the triple architectural force composed of the German and French cathedrals (Deutscher und Französischer Dom) and Schinkel’s Konzerthaus (concert hall). The ‘domes’ refer to the domed tower structures erected in 1785 by architect Carl von Gontard were mainly intended to add stature and grandeur to the two buildings.
Some of the most high-end restaurants, businesses and hotels are located around the Gendarmenmarkt, especially around the streets of Charlottenstrasse.