Updated: Aug 18, 2020
With domestic travel restrictions lifted in May, we set off on an ambitious tour through Germany to try and make up for time lost during quarantine. All said and done, we travelled nearly 2,200 kilometres from the Black Forest to the Baltic Sea coast and back in five nights and six days.
Me, Jason, and Sam (who you'll remember from our last road trip) packed up the rental car and headed north, snaking our way along parts of Germany's Fairy Tale Route. The Fairy Tale Route is a collection of roads that take you through towns associated with the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, commonly known as the Brothers Grimm. The pair is best known for collecting folklore from Germany and other parts of Europe and publishing them through iterations of their book, "Kinder und Hausmärchen" (Children's and Household Tales). These stories may have existed in some form as long as time itself, but they were undoubtably cemented into popular consciousness thanks to the Brothers Grimm. You'll be familiar with the Brothers Grimm one way or another, whether you were brought up with stories from their books or popular Disney adaptations like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
I hope you enjoy as you follow along with photos collected by Sam, Jason and I on our German Fairy Tale trip.
Our first stop of the day took us to Würzburg in the heart of the Franconia wine region. Franconian wine is dry yet fruity and defined by the unique growing conditions of the region. This wine can be easily recognized by its bottle, the Bocksbeutel, which is squat and flatter than your typical wine bottle.
Pictured below is Würzburg's Marienkapelle, or Maria Chapel, a gothic style church in the market square along with Fortress Marienberg, ancient fortress turned museum.
We zipped along the autobahn, at one point hitting a speed of 185 km/hour, towards our first destination: the vibrant university town of Marburg. This city is home to Phillips Universität, the oldest Protestant university in the world and the first university the Grimm Brothers attended. Cobblestone streets and steep steps carve their way up and around the hillside on which the historical downtown core was built. The Landgrafen Palace, built between 1248 and 1300 sits atop the hill overlooking the assortment of half-timbered houses and tiled roofs below. The connection to the Brothers Grimm, old buildings and the energetic atmosphere made Marburg a perfect stopping place on Germany's Fairy Tale Route.
Early the next morning we set off, winding through narrow country roads towards the small town of Alsfeld. The town was quiet and nearly empty save for the early birds lined outside the bakeries eager to snag loaves of fresh-baked bread. We stopped by a small restaurant with the hopes of getting a quick breakfast and were treated to some fresh rolls with soft cheeses, meats and greens before heading back out on the road.
Our next stop was the beautiful riverside city of Bremen, connected to the North Sea by the Weser river. Bremen is one of Germany's three city states and is officially recognized as the Freie Hansestadt Bremen, or Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, due to its membership in the Hanseatic League. The Hanseatic League was formed in the 1100s first to protect and promote, and eventually dominate, merchant trade in the North and Baltic Seas. The League consisted of 200 cities from what is now seven different countries in Northern Europe. Today, Bremen's regional food specialties still reflect its connection to the sea with impeccable seafood, most notably their pickled herring or Matjes in German.
Bremen is also connected to the Grimm Brothers through their fairy tale, "Town Musicians of Bremen" which follows a group of farm animals on their quest to cut ties with their old life to become the town musicians of Bremen. A statue of the group, who never actually make it to the city in the story, can be found in the town square.
The town square is anchored by the 600 year old town hall and is almost overwhelming in its beauty. Standing in the very centre you'll see notable sights such as the old town hall, the St. Petri Dom, and the Liebfrauenkirche - all pictured below. Just south of the city centre is the Schnoor, the oldest neighbourhood in the city with some houses dating back as far as the 15th century. Historically, the Schnoor was one of the poorest regions of the booming city where people utilized every bit of available space for homes and shops, all packed tightly together. Today however, the Schnoor is home to unique art displays and an assortment of funky shops.
We stepped back from our breakneck tour speed to slow down and smell the roses in Lüneburg and treat ourselves to a sit-down breakfast, known as Frühstück in German. We nabbed a table by the river and lazily sipped cappuccinos and stuffed our faces with an incredible spread of cheeses, meats, yogurt, jellies and of course, fresh bread rolls. We even got to try Mett which is raw minced pork served with onions and popular throughout parts of Germany.
As we journeyed north we began to see the architecture change throughout the small towns of Germany. By the time we reached Lüneburg the half-timbered houses of the south were replaced with grand brick buildings. The town was an inland member of the Hanseatic League and played an essential role with its rich salt deposits, needed to preserve herring caught in the North and Baltic seas. Due to its extensive mining history many of the buildings and streets are on a noticeable slope.
Lübeck and the Baltic Sea Coast
After a delicious breakfast in Lüneburg we set off for Lübeck, a town known for its marzipan. Their marzipan is actually protected in the EU and must adhere to strict quality requirements in order to be called Lübeck Marzipan. Lübeck is recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site due to the town's extensive brick Gothic architecture.
With a whirlwind tour completed and marzipan in hand we continued north to a little town called Rosenhagen along the coast of the Baltic Sea. The architecture in this small community was markedly different from anything else we had seen so far in Germany with thatched roofs and manicured lawns - large by German standards.
Hamburg is home to the world's largest warehouse district as well as one of Europe's best known red-light districts and was referred to as a second home by members of The Beatles. We actually stayed in the red light district, known as the Reeperbahn, but due to COVID restrictions the typically wild and unruly streets were eerily quiet. Hamburg is another one of Germany's city states and along with Bremen was a member of the Hanseatic League.
Hamburg experienced heavy bombing during WWII that reduced half of the city's housing into rubble, killing somewhere between 34,000 and 43,000 people and displacing one million. The St. Nikolai memorial is what remains of the St. Nikolai church and offers a quiet place of reflection on the atrocities committed throughout the Nazi regime and the ensuing destruction of the city by the Allies. After visiting the underground museum we took the elevator to the top of the former church steeple to get a bird's eye view of the city.
After leaving Hamburg we made a quick pitstop in Schwerin to see Schwerin Castle and its impressive gardens. The castle was built in the mid 1800s and today serves at the regional house of parliament.
Brunschwieg, or Brunswick in English, was a very powerful city in medieval Germany and was a member of the Hanseatic League thanks to its connection to the North Sea through the Oker River. It was a small town, but gave us the perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Bremen and Hamburg.
No tour of Germany's Fairy Tale Route would not be complete without a stop in Kassel where the Grimm Brothers spent much of their teenage years. The town was largely destroyed during WWII and was never restored to its former glory unlike many other German towns. What Kassel lacks in historic buildings it makes up for in Grimm memorabilia through GRIMMWELT museum. GRIMMWELT, or Grimm World in English, is the ultimate homage to the two brothers and holds in its collection precious items such as personal copies of their Childrens' and Household Tales, hand-written notes and Grimm stories from around the world.
Fulda was a charming little town and our last overnight stop before returning to Freiburg. Pictured below is the Fulda Cathedral, completed in 1712 and St. Michael's Church, dating all the way back to 744.
We enjoyed some traditional hearty German food along with beer from Munich's Hofbräuhaus to cap off this stellar tour.
Frankenstein's Castle and Heidelberg
The castle referred to as Frankenstein's Castle is said to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein written in 1818.
Heidelberg is a university town home to Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university founded in 1386.
Travelling from the south to the north through 10 German states was truly a unique experience that put into perspective just how diverse Germany is. COVID-19 may have forced us to cancel some of our European travels but it gave us the opportunity to explore parts of Germany that we may never have.
Thanks for following along!
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