Travelling to Germany
By: Alan Liptrot
In 1871 the German Empire was created, with the Hohenzollern dynasty of Prussia at its head. The empire was proclaimed in Versailles after the French were defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and by 1884, Germany was creating overseas colonies. In the Berlin Conference of that same year, the major European powers divided Africa, and the Germans claimed regions which included German East Africa, South West Africa, Togo and Cameroon. This rush for Africa caused tension between the powerful countries of Europe, and is often cited as a contributing factor to the conditions that led to the First World War, which was eventually triggered by the assassination of Austria’s Crown Prince, Franz Ferdinand. In one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, Germany was defeated and in June 1919, was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. The harshness of the treaty set the scene for the rise of Nazism in the country.
With almost 10 million Germans dying, and the destruction of cities, the Second World War was a grim period in the country’s history. The east was claimed by the communists and the rest was partitioned by the Allies. These sectors were merged in 1949 to create the Federal Republic of Germany, whilst the Soviet sector became the German Democratic Republic. They came to be known informally as West Germany and East Germany respectively, with the latter choosing East Berlin as its capital. The West opted for Bonn, but only provisionally, as they considered the two state solution to be artificial. Construction began on the infamous Berlin wall in 1961. The wall stood for more than a quarter of a century, in which time, between 98 and 250 people died attempting to cross it, depending on which version you wish to believe.
In 1989, Hungary opened its borders causing thousands of Germans to flee the East and enter West Germany via Hungary. The East never recovered from these events, and in 1990 the four occupying powers relinquished their rights and Germany regained full sovereignty. Today, the country is divided into 16 states.
Tourism has grown since the war, with the country claiming 7th place in the world’s ‘most visited’ chart. Let’s not forget that this is the land of Goethe, Mendelssohn and Bach. The history is rich, the landscape is varied and the people are friendly. As a holiday destination, the country takes some beating. Although sunshine isn’t guaranteed, as is the case in the south of Europe, there are plenty of other attractions.
Berlin is a fantastic city to visit, especially in springtime. The historical centre of the city is replete with Prussian splendour. Unter den Linden has many well known, historical buildings. The Brandenburg Gate is well worth a visit, as is the cathedral. As you would expect of any major city, there are numerous restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
The Rhine River, one of Europe’s major arteries, has been a favourite destination for many years. Rising in the Alps, it passes through Switzerland, Germany, France and Holland before arriving at the North Sea. The Moselle meets the Rhine at Koblenz, then continues past the historic fortress town of Boppard. Cologne could provide an interesting stop-over, with its chocolate museum and huge Gothic Cathedral.
Munich hosts one of the most famous events in Germany, if not the world. The Oktoberfest runs for some sixteen days annually, and receives over six million visitors who consume huge amounts of beer and sausages. Other delicacies on offer are roast pork, grilled fish, potato and bread dumplings, cheese noodles and sauerkraut.
Another world famous event is The Passion Play at Oberammergau. In 1633, many villagers perished when the plague descended upon Oberammergau. The survivors pledged to re-enact the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, in order to avoid a repetition of the tragedy. Despite wars and other complications, the play has taken place every ten years since 1634, and so far the plague has not returned. Running from May through to October, the play attracts half a million visitors. The actors are chosen from Oberammergau and the surrounding villages, in order to maintain the solemn tradition. The play runs from 2.30pm until 10.30pm, with a break for dinner at 5pm.
Germany has many fine beaches, historical cities, dramatic rivers and spectacular countryside, and as you would expect, the road connections are superb.