I had been wanting to visit Germany for a very long time. In 1984 my family would participate in a student exchange program that would bring a German female student to live with us for a year. Her name was Sabine and she was a senior while I was a freshman in high school. We had some great times
while she was here and I hated to see her leave. So I always wanted to visit her in Germany ever since she left. We would stay in touch through the years and my mother would visit her during a military operation in Belgium. Sabine would also travel to the US a couple of times with her family. However, I had never been over there to visit.
Finally in 2009 the opportunity came for me to visit my friend in Germany. In part I had one of my fellow Rangers from work to thank for this opportunity. His brother was stationed in Germany with the military and had introduced us to each other while he was in the States visiting the year before. We had become friends and he had also encouraged me to visit Germany. So one of my friends lived in Bad Homburg outside of Frankfurt, the other one lived in Vilseck in the Bavarian region near the Czech border.
So I flew into Munich, the Bavarian capital in Germany, first and met my military friend at the airport. Munich is a wonderful city however, we went on to another town first and would come back to Munich later on in my visit. One of the first places we went to was this small medieval tourist town called Rothenburg. It was such a cute little town. It almost felt like some kind of fairy tale walking around. We ate at this place called Michelangelo’s Restaurant and Cafe and it was delicious! There are several good restaurants, hotels, and activities here in this town so be sure to make a stop here. The road leading to the town is one of Germany’s most popular scenic drives called the Romantic Road. It runs from the Franconia Wine Country to the German Alps.
Next we headed to Nuremberg. Those who know history will remember this city for the Nuremberg Nazi Party Rallies of the 1930’s, it’s destruction in WWII, and the Nuremberg Trials after the war. However, the city has so much more to offer than the painful
memories of war and Hitler. There is much to see and experience here in this city from food, to ancient breweries, to the architecture, to the markets.
Frauenkirche is a church famous for its clock in the square or Hauptmarkt but it is as beautiful inside as the architecture is on the outside, so be sure to take a tour. There are several churches in the Hauptmarkt and nearby that are worth looking at. Whether you are religious or not, the churches in Germany are magnificent and should be on anyone’s list to tour.
The Hauptmarkt is also famous for it’s Christmas Market from the end of November through Christmas Eve. If you plan on visiting during this time frame don’t miss out on this tradition.
Another famous piece of art is the Schöner Brunnen, which is a beautiful 14th century fountain in the Hauptmarkt. They have a fence around the fountain so no one can get in or too close to the spire to protect it from damage.
One thing you must try before leaving Nuremberg is the Drei im Weggla (3 in a roll). It’s Nuremberg’s favorite snack, Nuremberg sausages, 3 of them, sliced on a roll with mustard. I asked for it without mustard as I hate condiments but if you like that then get it the way it’s intended. They are pretty famous for their type of sausages here in the Bavarian region so be sure to try one. You can find them all over the city from street vendors and I bet you can’t stop at one.
The Old Town is also very fascinating, rich in history and dates back to the Middle Ages. This area was the heart of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The old city walls are still there and the Imperial Castle. You will feel like you have transported back in time walking through the cobbled streets.
I don’t know if it’s just Americans or not but traveling overseas and seeing these beautiful cities, monuments, architecture etc. that are sometimes thousands of years old is just breathtaking. Maybe because in the US we don’t have anything older than a few hundred years. I have several friends from other countries and they just don’t seem as impressed with these ancient cities as I am.
There is so much to see in this city so plan on staying here at least a couple of days to get all the sites in. I prefer the fall and winter in this country because of the festivals and events they have but there are also some great festivals and events during the spring and
summer such as the beer festivals, art and music, medieval, food and wine, traditional dancing, and history festivals in most of the cities throughout Germany. Check out the sites below that lists all the festivals and events going on throughout the year all over Germany.
Next my friend took me to the US military base near Vilseck known as Grafenwoehr and consisting of the Rose Barracks, which are near Vilseck. The base is about an hour northeast of Nuremberg in Bavaria. The US Army has used this area for training since 1947 and it is the largest NATO training area in Europe.
During the time I was there in Vilseck, the military base had some kind of an antique market going on for a weekend. They had some beautiful antiques and artwork at this market along with some great food. This particular market was for military personnel only, however there are other antique and art markets throughout Germany for civilians.
My friend was pretty big into gambling so he wanted to take me to a famous casino nearby in the Czech Republic. They actually have several nice casinos just across the border. So we took the train over to
indulge in a little gambling action. This is another city that is full of rich history, beautiful architecture, and some pretty fantastic festivals and markets of its own. I wish I had more time to spend in this country but it wasn’t to be on this trip. Maybe the next time I visit Germany I can spend more time in the Czech Republic as well.
Next stop was the ancient castle ruins of Lichtenberg. This castle was first constructed in the 12th century and expanded around 1170-1180. There is quite a history about the castle at Lichtenberg.
Parts of Germany were occupied by French Revolution troops in 1792, and then by 1795 the French would dissolve the old German borders to create new ones. These new borders would place Lichtenberg Castle in the Saar District. The castle would be plundered on numerous occasions over the course of the French occupation and eventually would mostly be destroyed by fire.
Once Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated and the French withdrew from Germany, this area was turned over to the Duke of Saxony-Coburg-Gotha in 1816 and became a Princedom of Lichtenberg. This arrangement did not last long and in 1834 the area was sold to Prussia. The castle would continue to decay and finally in 1895 it would be placed under historical monument protection. By the end of World War II the Prussian government was no longer and again Lichtenberg would change hands to the new state of Rhineland-Palatinate in 1945. By 1971 Rhineland-Palatinate would hand over the castle and the area to the Kusel district in Germany. There are some beautiful countryside views and small towns in this area so worth the drive out there.
From a famously ruined castle to a castle that inspired Walt Disney, The Neuschwanstein Castle or ‘New Swan Castle’ near the Bavarian town of Fussen.
The castle was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and fashioned after Richard Wagner’s, a world renowned composer, characters in his operas. Even though the castle is a medieval design, the construction did not begin until 1869 and upon Ludwig II’s death in 1886 the construction continued and oddly enough it still continues today.
“Mad King Ludwig” as he was known, was consumed by romantic literature, opera and perfection. This would explain the modern touches such as flushing toilets and central heating throughout the castle. King Ludwig II also picked a beautiful spot to build his fairy tale castle. Don’t leave Germany without visiting this enchanting place and the foothills of the German Alps. Also if you have the time and inclination, the town of Fussen is about a 25 minute walk to Austria.
I took a break from Bavaria and rode the train to Frankfurt next to visit my other friend Sabine. On the ride I had to take a connector at one point which was a little confusing
and there were no signs in English or anyone around that could speak English. I knew a little German but not really enough to discuss the train situation. Finally I figured it out on my own and made it to the Frankfurt station. I had contacted Sabine through WhatsApp to let her know what time I would be arriving and I made it with no real issues.
After we left the train station she took me around some places in Frankfurt before we headed out to her home in Bad Homburg. Frankfurt was about what I expected, a beautiful old city with plenty of modern touches mixed in with the architecture that is
hundreds of years old.
One of my favorite places in Frankfurt was part of the old town with traditional style German buildings, beautiful architecture, statues, fountains, and churches. One of the statues was this one to the right called The Fountain of Justice in the square outside of City Hall.
I have always steered clear of tour groups, in my mind they are a nightmare, however when you have a good friend that’s a local in one of the places you visit, a friend tour can’t be beat! I prefer to take my time, look at everything I want to as long as I want to with no interference. I don’t want a stranger taking me to what they think is cool or interesting and giving me a time limit to look. You can’t put a time limit on a moment or a vision while visiting other countries.
Sabine took me to some wonderful places, restaurants, bakeries, and squares. It was great getting to hear the history of the city and the country from a local, as well as opinions on the government and political past as a German.
I love to get the insight from people who actually live in the countries I visit. Not only on the country we are in but I’m always curious how people in other countries view Americans and the relationship of the US with the country I’m visiting. More times than not the answer is “We love Americans but we hate your government”.
One thing I found fascinating in Germany, as well as other countries I have visited, is just how far the Roman Empire reached. Their presence is felt and seen in so many places and remarkably preserved in many locations. Romans wanted to conquer the world and wanted to be remembered and while
they did not succeed in conquering the entire world, they did succeed in being remembered. Their culture, art, philosophy, government, and lust for life live on today in many countries and cultures.
After touring Frankfurt we headed to Bad Homburg where Sabine lived with her family. Her neighborhood was a very modern one although the houses were closer together than I would have expected in such a nice neighborhood but still each had a fairly good sized yard with them. I was so excited to get to meet her entire family as this would be the first time meeting her parents, sister, husband, and three children.
As I expected they were all as nice as she has always been. Her children were relatively young when I visited on this occasion all of them still in primary and secondary school at the time. Her daughter Katharina was the youngest and I think she was in 3rd/4th grade at the time. Not sure why but Katharina really liked me and wanted to hang out with me the whole time I stayed with her family. She couldn’t speak English, and I could only speak very limited German but it didn’t matter. Funny how you can communicate with people without speaking the same language.
Children don’t usually take to me. I have no children of my own and I really don’t like being around children. I don’t know how to react to them or their questions. But she hung on to me as if I were her best friend while I was visiting.
Next Sabine took me to the Saalburg Museum which is an archaeological site of Roman buildings, forts, ruins, and a lot of artifacts within the museum that were found onsite. The Romans left this area in 260 AD and left the site abandoned. The site was later refurbished and became a UNESCO site in 2005. I have always loved the history of ancient civilizations, how they began, how they lived, and how they ultimately fell or adapted and merged into new civilizations. To me the three big ones were the Egyptian, Greek, and of course the Roman Empire. I have been lucky enough to visit Egypt and Greece, however I have not been to Italy…yet! So getting to see the Roman ruins in several other countries I have visited has been a treat.
The Romans were a prolific military force and getting to see one of their forts and military barracks really put into perspective just how focused they were on creating such a military and empire.
Next my friend took me to the Schloss Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, or Castle of Bad Homburg. This castle was built in the 12th century by the Landgraves of Hesse-Homburg and in 1660 most of it was demolished by Frederick II, Landgrave Hesse-Homburg. He rebuilt the castle to his liking between 1680-1685 and had it designed by Paul Andrich. His son Frederick III and his wife Victoria would later add
electricity, telephone rooms, and some beautiful gardens.
Unfortunately you are not allowed to take any pictures on the interior of the castle and mansion only on the outside. I was able to take some in the torture tower though which was very interesting.
The interior was very beautiful, ornate, and over the top as most of these places are from past kings and queens that built and lived in them. They had a guided tour that takes you through the castle and mansion. Some of the areas were off limits and the guide did not speak English so my friend had to translate for me what she was saying.
Hopefully they have adapted to international travelers by now, otherwise it will be difficult to understand the history of the place.
After spending a few days with Sabine and her family, it was time for me to head back to Vilseck. Once back my military friend took me for a ride to the Autobahn so I could drive his brand new BMW the way it was intended…fast! I can’t remember where we exactly got on the Autobahn, but boy did I have a great time driving on it. I had heard so much about it and how there were no speed limits at all. That is very enticing to someone with a lead foot.
However I would find out that there actually are ‘suggested’ speed limits in areas and ‘actual’ speed limits in other locations along the Autobahn. But make no mistake you can drive your vehicle how you really want here and it is exhilarating!
So we drove back to Munich where I initially flew into to spend a little time exploring what the city had to offer. As with all the cities I had visited in Germany, Munich was full of history, beautiful architecture, fantastic restaurants, shopping, and a vibrant market square.
What stood out the most to me was the beautiful New Town Hall built between 1867-1874. This is where the mayor’s office and the city council are as well as the headquarters of the city administration.
Their Christmas Market is one of the oldest dating back to the 14th century. However it has only been held in Marionplatz in the center of the city since 1972. This is definitely something to see if you’re visiting during the winter months at the end of the year.
Next we drove to Amberg a city that is not as popular as it’s neighboring cities but every bit as rich in culture, history, and beautiful architecture. The old city walls are well preserved and date back to the Middle Ages. It is said that the settlement of Amberg could date back to the 8th or 9th century, however the first written record is from the 10th century.
Amberg was a mining town of local iron ore deposits and shipped them down the river Vils to other major rivers. The town also saw quite a bit of religious turbulence during the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation between the Protestant followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin. The town ultimately became completely Catholic and expelled all the Protestants.
Walking through this town feels as though you are walking back in time like so many other towns in the country. It felt like the epitome of an old German village. The town is small enough to walk the entire area and shop all the way. Beautiful German gifts can be found around every corner with very friendly and helpful shop keeps. This town may be small but it is worth the visit.
After Amberg it was time for me to return home. Germany was a great trip only like so many other trips, it never last long enough and it leaves you wanting more.
Be sure to check out the sites below for places to visit, activities to do, hotels, restaurants, and more for each city I visited while in Germany.
Roman Ruins in Frankfurt Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle Fussen Bavaria Germany
Bad Homburg vor der Höhe Germany