Beyond the Lederhosen: An In-Depth Guide to Germany’s Regions

Country Guides, Germany — By on April 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Kae Lani Kennedy
LG Contributor

What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions Germany?  Most people’s minds wander to thoughts of dancing on grassy mountains, locals wearing dirndls and lederhosen, eating heavy decadent meals of sausages and sauerkraut, and washing it down with an oversized glass filled with frothy beer.  Yes, you can find these things in Germany, but what most people do not realize is that this image does not encompass the country as a whole.  Germany varies from region to region so much so that as you cross over “Bundesstaat” borders dialect, food, mannerisms, and traditions begin to change.

Starting in the South

When people think of Germany, this is the Germany they imagine.  In between the green valleys and below medieval castles on the mountains lay villages that would make the perfect backdrop to any fairytale.  This region is known for having the most agreeable weather in a country that is usually cloudy and somewhat damp most days of the year.  For that reason, agriculture is still an important part of the southern economy, and offers tourists the chance to indulge in fine German wines along with meals starring a host of in-season vegetables and fruits from local farmers.

Bird's eye view of HeidelbergWhere to visit
Nestled between lush mountains next to the Neckar River, the city of Heidelberg is one of the great getaways in the south.  Famous writers such as Mark Twain and Johann Wolfgang Goethe ventured to Heidelberg to meander down the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Way), gaining literary inspiration as they walked.  On an opposing mountain overlooking the red roofed buildings of Heidelberg, this ancient Roman path is sure to enlighten any traveler who walks through it’s flower scented courtyards, gets lost in its winding dirt paths, and stumbles upon the many ancient ruins hidden within the fairytale forest.

Another great pit stop in Heidelberg is the mile long Hauptstraße (Main Street).   Lined with historic buildings and paved with cobblestones, the Hauptstraße gives tourists the opportunity to not only shop for quintessential southern German gifts such as Black Forest cuckoo clocks and Bavarian biersteins, but also the chance to sample the locally harvested foods of Baden-Württemburg.

Southern Language Barriers
Guten Tag” is a greeting heard throughout all of Germany, but don’t be surprised if you are acknowledged with a “Servus” in the south!

Exploring the East

Landscape from East GermanyIt has been over twenty years since the Iron Curtain that divided Germany fell, but the relics of Communist Germany still stand, serving as a marker to remind us of economic hardships and oppression.  Eastern Germany offers a plethora of educational pit stops for any history buff but is also known for its premier outdoor activities.  The vast landscapes and dense forests of Thüringen allow for some of Germany’s best camping and hiking while the mountainous Harz region invites guests to ski down a variety of slopes available to all skill levels.

Foods to Sample
Butchers in the East take their claim to fame from having some of Germany’s most sensational meats.  This is especially true in the state of Thüringen, where the name of the state precedes the name of the meat.  Immerse yourself in the small villages of Eastern Germany by participating in a Schlachtfest meal or if you’re daring enough, sampling some of Germany’s authentic blood sausages.

East German Language Barriers
Germany’s days of being divided are long gone, but citizens in the East will still refer to themselves as “Ossis” and call people from the west “Wessis.

Wandering through the West

If you are searching for an urban travel experience along with an active nightlife and a host of characters and lifestyles, then the Ruhrpott region of the west will suit you best.  This dense pocket of German cities is home to a progressive attitude stemming from student protests and movements for racial equality and gay rights.  The Ruhrpott consists of the major German cities of Cologne, Dortmund, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Essen, Duisburg, and the former capital of the West, Bonn.  With a backpack and a statewide train ticket in hand, conquering the major cities of the west within a week is a breeze.

Mainz, Germany, home to Faschingsfest When to visit
New Orleans might have Mardis Gras, but the Ruhrpott throws a Faschingsfest that makes those on Bourbon Street look like saints.  The party starts at noon on Rose Monday with the Rosenmontag celebration in Mainz.  Here, the people of Mainz take to the streets and partake in one of four dance parties featuring live bands and radio DJs.  Visitors and locals alike will pause between songs to sing drinking cheers like “Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi” and “Prosit!”  Take the Deutchebahn an hour north on Shrove Tuesday for Karneval in the city of Cologne.  The day begins with a parade of politically controversial floats with people dressed in wild costumes throwing candy.  It’s fun for children and adults alike.

Western Language Barriers
Life is fast in the west!  Locals will save time by combining words and say “N’tag” (Guten Tag) or “N’abend” (Guten Abend).

Getting to Know the North

The North: where the flat land meets the sea.  This is the only region that has access to a large body of water, and for that reason, has developed an economy based off of the shipping industry.  Most cities of the north were members of the Hanseatic League, a free trade agreement that has been long gone but is still ingrained in the northern lifestyle.  Even to this day, the north’s largest city of Hamburg is still a shipping industry behemoth, transporting teas, coffees, and other goods through its harbors and into the rest of the world.

Things to Do
A true gem of the north is the city of Hamburg, a harbor city offering a plethora of activities from indoor attractions such as museums, a planetarium and a tour of the Rathaus to outdoor activities like boating, bike tours, and relaxing in the park.  And if you’re not tired from experiencing all of that during the day, then the Hamburg nightlife will keep you entertained.  For a calm evening out, stop into one of Hamburg’s theaters for a show like Tarzan the Musical.  Or, if you’re looking for a party, stop by the Sankt Pauli’s red light district and pick between a variety of bars and clubs on the Reeperbahn.

Northern German city of LubeckOther great northern cities include Flensburg, the last highway exit before Denmark, where sailing is one of the most popular sports and can be experienced by hopping on a boat for a tour or by visiting the Schiffahrtsmuseum and the Museumwerft.

Also check out Lübeck, Hamburg’s Hanseatic sister city.  Even after several wars, most of the architectural structures in the city of Lübeck are still standing.  Another aspect that is still intact is the delicious Marzipan history.  Lübeck is where Marzipan originated and is still baked in the normal tradition to this day.

Northern Language Barriers
Earlier in the day, expect to be greeted with a “Moin, Moin.” But if it’s after lunch the greeting is shortened to just one “Moin.

Thumbnails all courtesy of the author.

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