When I first traveled to Germany some four years previous, what struck me the most is how much of what I saw surprised me. My generation (Y) and those that came after mine do tend to only associate continental Europe’s most powerful country with the events that took place in the 20th century. The incidences that occurred during the World Wars I, II, and the Cold War made a huge impact on German history but they certainly do not define the country as a whole. The fact to the matter is that the many different faces of Germany are reflected on all four corners and spans several centuries worth of history. Let us take a closer look at each one of them.
The Many Different Faces of Germany
Much of medieval Germany is concentrated along the middle Rhine River Valley, hiding amongst the Riesling vineyards that line the small towns of Koblenz to Bingen. This stretch of the river was granted a UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2002 for the well-preserved and scenic grape-filled slopes. As you cruise along the Rhine River, you will begin to see remnants of medieval Germany in the form of castle ruins. You’ll also hear legendary stories like that of the Lorelei, the large rock that was rumored to create whispers and punish those boisterous seafarers.
There’s also the ancient city of Heidelberg, which was once a Roman territory. Visit its imposing medieval castle, built on a hillside that overlooks the old city. Make sure you stop by the highest overlook which will also give visitors panoramic views of the Old Bridge and the River Necker and explore the grounds and buildings of Heidelberg University, one of the world’s premiere schools of thought where reformist Martin Luther once spoke in defense for his early works. Visit its library, a Renaissance-styled structure that holds approximately 3.2 million books and consistently ranked as Germany’s best library.
Among the different faces of Germany, its romantic side might be the one least expected. We expect Germans to be reserve, more practical, and often detached individuals but we tend to forget that the likes of Wagner, Beethoven, and Strauss created some of the most beautiful melodies in the Romantic era of classical music. Then there’s also Germany’s Romantic Road sights that commence in the city of Wurzburg and culminates at one of Europe’s most beautiful castles, Neuschwanstein. Rent a car and drive so you can spend more time in one of the many small towns that line up the route including the picturesque Rothenberg ob der Tauber, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and Oberammergau, a small town known for its Passion Play, (performed once every 10 years,) charming house frescoes, and excellent woodcarving works.
War Torn Germany
The 20th century wasn’t at all pretty for many Germans because they had to endure life in war torn cities that were eventually bombed by the Allied Forces. They also suffered the consequences of a militarized state during the height of the Cold War. When we think of war torn Germany, we envision images of Hitler and the Nazis, the Berlin Wall, and the Stasi Police that terrorized much of the German capital in the 60s. One visit to Berlin and you’ll begin to understand the impact Germany had for much of the 1900s, both good and bad, but it also showcases the resilience the country and its people have especially when you see historical images of the same areas like that of Potsdamer and Alexander Platz. Both have been utterly transformed and revitalized since the fall of communism in 1989. There was also the Thirty Years’ War, one of the longest and most destructive wars Europeans endured. Most of the conflicts were fought in the smaller towns and villages of Germany, ranging from the Black Forest to the Bavarian regions.
A Look Into the Future
It’s incredible to think about how Germany managed to rebrand itself in just half a century, becoming Europe’s economic powerhouse despite the challenges of both world wars and the Cold War. Cities like Frankfurt and Dusseldorf that were decimated by Allied bombs stand afresh, with dazzling skyscrapers and modern architecture making up its skyline. It also continues to diversify as the country welcomes immigrants from all parts of the world taking the different faces of Germany more literally than it has ever had in its 800-year history.