Germany has long been a powerhouse of innovation and has bestowed upon the world the printing press, the automobile, the aspirin and other milestones of invention. And 100 years ago, a little school in the Thuringian countryside kick-started an aesthetic movement so globally influential that its reverberations are still felt today: the Bauhaus. Join the year-long birthday party of this midwife of modernism that was founded in Weimar in 1919, flourished in Dessau and was quashed by the Nazis in Berlin in 1933. Sparkling new museums are set to open in these three cities along with scores of related events and exhibitions held throughout Germany.
You can visit castles and cathedrals built before Columbus set sail or take in the latest trends in street art. Wherever you go, Germany is here to charm, enlighten and surprise you.
Since the fall of the Wall in 1989, Berlin has been on a breathless journey to turn itself into one of the world’s most vibrant capital cities. Go ahead and snap those selfies with the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and other famous landmarks. And yes, do stand in awe of the monumental antiquities in the Pergamon Museum or the eternal beauty of Queen Nefertiti at the Neues Museum. But then tap more deeply into this cauldron of cultural experimentation by checking out those ‘only-in-Berlin’ places.
Hit the Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport turned urban frolicking zone for everyone from kite-surfers to community gardeners. Across town, get a bead on the contemporary art scene at the Boros Collection in a WWII-era bunker or treat your ears to a concert at Silent Green, a crematorium reborn as a cultural centre. On a hot summer day, there are few better places for cooling off than the Badeschiff, a cargo barge up-cycled into a beach club. Or scope out Berlin’s vibrant street art scene on a walking tour led by an actual spray-can meister before popping into Urban Nation, the world’s first street art museum. All of Berlin itself is still an unfinished canvas.
Weimar & Dessau
The year was 1919. Germany was in turmoil, struggling deeply with post-WWI trauma and chaos. But order was restored in Weimar, an idyllic town in the Thuringian countryside. Not only did it give birth to the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first experiment with democracy, but also to the Bauhaus, the design school whose ‘less is more’ credo would revolutionise 20th-century aesthetics. A new museum in Weimar will soon pay tribute to this midwife of modernism that entered its seminal phase after moving to Dessau in 1925. In this city on the Elbe, you can take a spin around the original school building, then pop into the Meisterhäuser, the private homes of some of its famous teachers – Walter Gropius, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky among them. Wrap up a Bauhaus tour in Berlin, where the school was quashed by the Nazis in 1932. Fortunately, plenty of modernist buildings survive, including the horseshoe-shaped Hufeisensiedlung, one of half a dozen 1920s housing estates granted Unesco world heritage status.
Germany’s second-biggest city is poised to blow you away, and not just because of the brisk North Sea winds. A trading powerhouse since the Middle Ages, Hamburg is a captivating mosaic of contemporary culture, architecture, music and wickedly fun nightlife. Start by scanning the city skyline from the outdoor viewing platform of the wave-inspired Elbphilharmonie, the city’s spectacular new concert hall and gateway to the HafenCity, a former docklands area turned futuristic waterfront quarter. Break for coffee in the canal-laced Speicherstadt, a Unesco-recognised warren of red-brick warehouses that also shelters the truly mesmerising Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway. Grab a fish sandwich at Brücke 10 in the harbour and chase it down with a beer while counting container vessels from a beach chair in the funky StrandPauli bar.
No visit to Hamburg would be complete without a night on the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s gloriously tawdry nightlife and red-light district where the Beatles once cut their teeth. Drift away from this neon-lit mecca of mischief to party with the locals, perhaps by catching an up-and-coming band at the Golden Pudel Club or sipping a smooth martini at Chug Club.
The Bavarian capital is always happy to deliver on the clichés visitors to Germany expect. Yes, Munich is indeed a city of Beemers, dirndls and beer halls with oompah bands. But beneath the cutesy veneer lies a sophisticated, proud and wealthy town.
Gobble up canvas candy from Rembrandt to Richter in the trio of Pinakothek museums or in the exquisite Lenbachhaus with its new Foster-designed wing. Connect with Germany’s soccer obsession by scoring tickets to a home game of the FC Bayern München, Germany’s superstar team that plays in the spectacular Allianz Arena. Gear heads should make a beeline to the BMW museum, plant and showroom while royal groupies can take a spin around the rambling Munich Residenz. Daredevils can surf the Eisbach wave or take a screaming zip line ride over the Olympic Stadium.