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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Germany

Germany offers a path for every kind of traveler, whether it leads toward the castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof, a glass of local wine in Rhine Valley, or across to Austria's Salzburg Lake District, an area synonymous with the Von Trapp family and The Sound of Music. For history buffs, stories of the Cold War abound in Berlin, and day trips to World War II memorial sites offer a somber and significant look at the past. If you find yourself in Munich in the fall it can only mean one thing: a stop at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, for a taste of Bavarian brews, culture, and food.
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Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
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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.

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Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum)
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Hans Imhoff, a chocolatier and businessman from Cologne, opened the Schokoladenmuseum in 1993, after retiring from the confectionary business in 1992. The museum that bears the late industrialist's name is a paen to the product of the cacao bean, from its development and primitive processing in the New World by the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, to modern production methods and innovations. The program discusses the role of chocolate in later South American societies and among European elite. The museum sits inside a glass-and-steel structure shaped like a ship. Inside, the tour takes visitors through the process of chocolate production from the farm to the candy store, continuing through a greenhouse where two species of cacao trees are grown and then on through the industrialization of chocolate production, including vintage advertising campaigns. Miniature machinery allow guests a closer look at the production process, and the chocolate produced by these machines can be sampled.

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Reichstag
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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.

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Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm)
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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.

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Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)
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With its many green domes, the baroque Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) is the city’s largest church. The classical building was built in the mid-1700s, and was extensively restored following bombing during World War II.

Audioguide tours provide in-depth information about the building’s history and artworks. Highlights include the Hohenzollern Crypt, with its royal tombs, and the monumental pipe organ. The centerpiece of the building is the soaring dome, with its stained glass and mosaics. The original dome was destroyed by Allied bombs, and its restoration was particularly painstaking.

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Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)
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The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.

This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.

A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love.

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Museum Island (Museumsinsel)
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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.

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Karl-Theodor-Bridge (Alte Brucke)
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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.

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Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)
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Standing 67 meters (220 feet) high and topped with a 35-tonne gilded figure of Victoria – the Roman goddess of victory in battle – the Berlin Victory Column was inaugurated in 1873 to commemorate Germany’s (or Prussia, as it was called then) victory over Denmark in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864. Lovingly nicknamed ‘Golden Lizzie’ by Berlin locals, the sandstone memorial was designed by German architect Heinrich Strack and sits on a red granite base adorned with columns; it originally stood in Königsplatz, which is today’s Platz der Republik. In the run up to World War II, the column was moved to the center of the Tiergarten park as part of Hitler’s plan to rebuild Berlin as the grandiose capital city of the Third Reich.

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Berlin Dungeon
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The Berlin Dungeon takes visitors on an hour-long journey through the city’s dark history, from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. While exploring the 2,500 square meters of the Dungeon, you will experience the thin line between humor and terror thanks to the various areas with different themes based on real events in Berlin's history, as well as nine different shows performed in both German and English by live actors.

Gripping storytelling, special effects and rides bring the history to life in a way that's both funny and scary. You'll meet characters from Berlin's past, such as twisted Monk Pater Roderich and infamous serial killer Carl Grossmann. Experience a river raft ride, the Elevator of Doom, the Labyrinth of the Lost, the deadly plague in Kloster Strasse, the fearsome torture chamber and the legend of the White Lady. The Berlin Dungeon occasionally has special events for certain holidays, like Halloween and Christmas.

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More Things to Do in Germany

Madame Tussauds Berlin

Madame Tussauds Berlin

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Madame Tussauds is the ultimate wax museum with locations the world over. Madame Tussauds Berlin has a wide variety of life-like wax figures made to look like celebrities, including actors such as Johnny Depp and Julia Roberts, and musicians such as Rihanna and the Beatles. Wax exhibits also include politicians such as Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, sports stars such as Muhammad Ali and Mesut Özil, and historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Ludwig van Beethoven. There's even a section of superheros like Spiderman and Shrek. There's also a behind-the-scenes area where visitors can get a closer look at how the figures are made. It's a complex process starting with measuring and photographing the person who will be sculpted. Great care is taken to ensure the eye color, hair color and style, skin color and even the teeth are as accurate as possible.

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Odeonsplatz

Odeonsplatz

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Located at the western entrance to the exquisite Hofgarten gardens, the Odeonsplatz is one of central Munich’s largest public squares, notable for its distinct Italian-style architecture. Taking its name from the 19th century Odeon Concert Hall that once stood at the head of the square (the remains of the building now form part of a government office block), the space still retains its creative streak, hosting a number of annual concerts, parades and city celebrations. At the top of the list is the Odeonsplatz Classical Evening, a grand open-air event held each July and drawing crowds of over 16,000 to watch performances by the prestigious Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and other world renowned classical acts.

Even if you don’t catch the square at its most atmospheric, the Odeonsplatz still offers a dramatic starting point to city walking tours.

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Marienplatz

Marienplatz

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Marienplatz serves as Munich's city center with a variety of historic town hall structures and shopping markets. At the center of the square, the Mariensaule, the column of St. Mary, exhibits a statue of the Virgin Mary and the "four putti" symbolizing the city's triumph over war, pestilence, famine, and heresy. Visitors flock to Marienplatz at 11 am, 12 noon, and 5 pm each day to watch the famous animated Glockenspiel (carillon) in the New Town Hall made of 43 bells and 32 figures. The best views of the show can be found on the top floor of the Hugendubel bookstore and the Cafe Glockenspeil.
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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial)

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The Holocaust Memorial, also known as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is an urban tribute to remember and honor up to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Located within walking distance between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the Memorial consists of the Field of Stelae designed by Peter Eisenman and the underground Information Center. Eisenmann set up 2,711 concrete pillars - so-called stelaes - of varying heights to create a grid-like structure that can be approached from all angles. You can feel the unmarked and harrowed suffering as you walk through the pillars that rise as you continue through them. The underground and modern information center complements the outdoor memorial, where visitors can learn more about the victims of the Holocaust and deepen understanding about this tragedy.
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Munich Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus)

Munich Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus)

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Enclosing Munich's central square Marienplatz, the Old Town Hall, Altes Rathaus in German, serves as the center for city council activity for the historic city. The Old Town Hall is also known for its architechture style change from Baroque to Gothic after the structure was bombed during World War II.

The interior is a masterpiece of medieval design with golden stairs, decorated beams, and a frieze of Munich's multiple coats of arms. The Grand Hall is decorated with the figures of Erasmus Grasser's Marisco Dancers. The tower of the Old Town Hall is now home to the Toy museum, a childhood collection by Ivan Steiger.

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Elbphilharmonie

Elbphilharmonie

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The Elbphilharmonie, or Elbe Philharmonic, is a concert hall located in the Hafen City district of Hamburg. It has been under construction since 2007, and the expecting opening date is in January 2017. The concert hall is being built on top of an old warehouse building, and once it is completed, it will be the tallest inhabited building in the city standing at 360 feet. The eastern side of the building will be a Westin hotel, the lower floors will contain restaurants and a wellness and conference center for the hotel, and the upper floors will have residential apartments.

The Elbphilharmonie will be home to classical music as well as music from the 21st century. There will be a small hall with 550 seats for chamber music, jazz concerts, and banquets, as well as the Great Hall with 2,150 seats for larger performances. The building's integration with the warehouse combines the modern philharmonic building with Hamburg's history as an important port city.

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Main River

Main River

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Flowing 527km between Mainz and Bamberg, and passing through 3 German states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse), the Main River is one of the main tributaries of the mighty Rhine River. Running through the heart of Frankfurt, the river is not only the lifeline of the city’s industrial center, but brings with it a steady stream of cruise passengers.

Frankfurt sightseeing cruises are also a popular way to take in the city’s sights, with attractions like Museumsufer (Museum Embankment), Frankfurt Cathedral, Frankfurt’s famed financial district, nicknamed ‘Little Manhattan’, and Europaturm, the city’s tallest building, all visible along the waterfront.

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King's Square (Königsplatz)

King's Square (Königsplatz)

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Königsplatz was initially built to serve the urban notions of King Ludwig I, who wished to integrate culture, administration, Christianity and Bavarian military in one massive green space. The king opted for a European Neoclassic style based on the Acropolis in Athens. He even had two museums built in the same style; first was the Glyptothek, where he could house his sprawling collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, and second, the Bavarian State Collection of Antiques, which contains Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts. King Ludwig I also commissioned the Propylaea, an imposing and austere gate which served as a memorial to his son, the Bavarian prince Otto of Greece.

Despite this architectural and urban prowess, the square is now infamous for being the place where the Nazi party held marches and mass rallies during the Holocaust. In fact, the national headquarters of the Nazi party, the Brown House, was located on Brienner Straße just off the square.

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Hard Rock Cafe Munich

Hard Rock Cafe Munich

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Munich’s Hard Rock Café was the second to open in Germany, and the 3,000-square-foot space has hosting late night parties and live concerts with enough seating for hundreds of guests, plus plenty of standing room, since 2002.

The cafe mixes typical Bavarian elements with its modern decor and light installations. The Munich location has more than 150 exhibits on music history in its memorabilia collection, which features local artists, as well as international celebrities like Madonna and Freddie Mercury.

Along with classic American dishes like spare ribs and the famous Legendary Burgers, guests can also order dishes like the Hard Rock Pizza. Bavarian variations on certain dishes can also be found on the menu, such as in the Obatzda Burger, which is topped with Bavarian cream cheese. In addition to food, guests can enjoy a wide variety of cocktails.
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Cologne Old Town (Altstadt)

Cologne Old Town (Altstadt)

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Old Town is in many ways, the heart and soul of the city. It's near the Köln Dom, surrounded by "the Ring," a ring of streets, botanical space, and promenades following the path of the old city's walls. Inside the ring and along the Rhine is a vibrant scene of bars, pubs, and restaurants. While it can get crowded, Old Town is known for its hustle and overall friendly vibe.

Tours of Old Town include tours of the Cathedral, a brewpub tour (expect to drink a lot of Kölsch), or a cruise on the Rhine. However, the best way to experience Old Town is on foot. Confident travelers may want to practice their German in this area; if you do, pay attention to speakers - Kölsch is a beer, but it's also an accent, both of which being native to Cologne. In Alter Markt Square, you'll find plenty of both, as brew pubs and bars are plentiful.

Beyond the rhythm of the bars and shops are seemingly innumerable small streets and alleys that wind through the old buildings.

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Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

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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.

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Dresden Frauenkirche

Dresden Frauenkirche

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The Frauenkirche in Dresden was built between 1726 and 1743. Its dome collapsed on Feb. 15, 1945 during the bombings of World War II. After the war, the ruins of the church were left as a war memorial. Once Dresden and the rest of East Germany were reunified with West Germany, reconstruction on the church began and was completed by 2005. As much as possible, the reconstruction of the church followed the original plans and methods and used the original materials. The church now serves as a symbol of reconciliation.

The reconstruction of the church was supported by donations from people all around the world. In order to honor those who donated, the church set up an exhibition area, which explains what was left after the destruction and what was was needed to start the rebuilding process. The exhibit includes original documents and finds from the archeological site.

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Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

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"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.

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Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz

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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.

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