Tag Archives: nature

Hannover, green city of pleasant average

There is probably no city in Germany quite as smiled at by other Germans as Hannover. Unjustly, as I think, and usually by those who have never been there. Which is alright with most Hannoverians, who are content with their city in a quiet way. For many, it is simple: They have lots of green, two small rivers, a city lake and a zoo, they have the university and the trade-fairs, and they have a reasonable infrastructure, so what more could they need?

Hannover unfortunately cannot pride itself in having been rebuilt in any meaningful way after the war. There are too many buildings of the 50s, 60s and 70s, including large concrete blocks such as the Ihme Zentrum, which may have looked fine as a cardboard model, but not in real life. To compensate all this, modern art has for years been placed along the central city roads. The art is mostly annoying, but you cannot say this openly, as it would show you as uneducated and intolerant, and in addition would insult the well-paid civil servants responsible for making the choices.

Otherwise, Hannover is largely defined by easily being the greenest city in Germany. As the large urban forest, called the Eilenriede, forms a green belt of broad-leafed trees through most of the South, it is possible to walk or ride your bike for hours, while just occasionally crossing a road. Mostly adjoining or close to this green belt are two well-kept English parks, the Georgengarten and the Hermann Löns Park, both with flowing paths along green meadows, as well as the Tiergarten, which is home to deer and some porcupine. Internationally known for its firework competitions is the baroque garden of Herrenhausen. Along many of these green refuges, the quality of living is high and sometimes almost rural.

Close to the center of Hannover lies the Maschsee, an artificial lake with a footpath of six kilometers around, abundant with joggers and pedestrians. You can take a pedal boat and even sail here, and when you are thirsty have a cold drink and a bratwurst in the beer-garden overlooking the water. From here, it is just a few steps to the Arena which houses many games of Hannover 96, the local football club which at times surprises with its fluctuating success.

The new Rathaus, also not far away, is by some seen as slightly kitschy, while others love it. In any case, it is one of the few recognisable buildings in Hannover, and again borders on a park. Being the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony, Hannover is a bustling, lively city with lots of culture, much of it tax-sponsored, including museums, several theatres and an opera house. There are concerts, festivals and sporting events here, plenty of them outside, with the Hannover marathon, the musical Maschseefest, the artistic Kleines-Fest-im-Großen-Garten and the big Christmas market around the Marktkirche church being some of the most notable.

The House of Hannover, or Hanover, as the English say, was actually some centuries ago responsible for refreshing the bloodline of the English monarchy, but today the most well-known descendant is one who drunkenly urinated in public at the Expo 2000. The Expo, by the way, was an outer-worldly expensive event, but it did have the great advantage of giving Hannover one of the nicest train stations in Germany. Which even won a prize, and that makes it official.

The people living in Hannover are in many ways similar to the city. Not over the top, but rather straight-forward and peaceful, at times edging towards the mediocre, with a quiet and dry humour. Being accustomed to it, many enjoy the green, and those who want more of nature can easily do this by driving 40 minutes westwards to the large Steinhuder Meer lake, or southwards for 20 minutes and more towards the woody hills of the Gehrdener Berg, the Deister and the Süntel, or for just over an hour to the Harz mountains, which are mostly covered in coniferous trees. Northwards you can reach the pleasant Heide landscapes in one hour, then Hamburg, and then the Baltic and the North Sea in just over two hours. Not exactly near, but easily done on a sunny weekend day.

Summing up, Hannover is not a city of life-style and flair, but for many, it is a pleasant place to live. And that can be more than it at first may seem.

The lift to the top runs at a tilt, but once you are up, you can look straight down

The lift to the top runs at a tilt, but once you are up, you can look straight down

Würzburg on the Main, and its people

The city of Würzburg is one of those places in Germany that is so perfect, it is hard to match. In many ways, it is like a piece of art or a meal with just the right composition of ingredients.

Würzburg lies in the Northern part of Bavaria, and thus is as much middle-German as it is South-German. In fact, quite a few Franconians there do not see themselves as Bavarians and could well imagine independence, or so they say. The city is sweet and beautiful, but at the same time brimming with real life, there is a large river running through it, and it is surrounded by softly rolling hills that are covered with fields, woods and vineyards. Sun and warm weather are plentiful.

The wine produced here is mostly white, as it is in many parts of the country, the typical types of grapes are Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus, Riesling and Scheurebe, with the latter offering a fruity and almost flowery aroma. In one of the many ‘Weinstuben’ you can enjoy a good glass, with two of the nicest places being the Eulenspiegel and the Alte Mainmühle, both offering small recluses on different levels, with a candle on a wooden table in front of you.

Although a university city rich in tradition, Würzburg, with its around 130,000 inhabitants is nonetheless large enough to offer a rich life  beyond the world of studying. There is culture everywhere, and so are churches, most of them catholic. It is hard to imagine that much of this city was rebuilt after the war, for though there are many newer houses, almost none seem displaced or modern in an overbearing way. Looking down on Würzburg is the Festung, a large fortress that can be climbed on foot or reached by car, and which then offers a magnificent view onto the town.

The Festung itself is best seen from the Alte Main Brücke, an old stone bridge over the Main river, with baroque figures on either sides. A drink or meal can be enjoyed in the adjoining Brückenbäck, a light-drenched café overlooking the river. Slightly outside and with a view on Würzburg lies the Schützenhof, a pleasant beer garden that offers beer, wine and regional cuisine.

There is a tangy taste at times, and that stems from its people. The Franconians are on occasion not completely cordial and may emit a slightly grumpy and resentful note, but it is one that you could also find in other parts of Germany, albeit in different variations. It is strange that such a nice place would not leave its people more content.

But the Franconian way of softly moaning is quickly diluted by the large amount of young students from all around the country. Being a university town definitely has its advantages. And as with any work of art and any good meal, it is the combination that does it.

Water, sky, some green and a few historic buildings. That's the taste.

Water, sky, some green and a few historic buildings. That’s the taste.

Some lakes to see near the sea

Up in the North of Germany, close to the Baltic Sea and spreading over the two federal states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, is a green, loosely populated area covered with small and medium-sized lakes. The Germans call them ‘Seen’, which could be slightly confusing for the English-speaking, as a sea is called ‘Meer’.

From West to East, the most well-known lakes are the Plöner See, the Ratzeburger See, the Schaalsee, the Schweriner See and the Müritz. Bordering on these are often large nature reserves and some sweet little cities, though these are maybe not quite as quaint as more southwards in Germany.

As the area along the lakes is mostly flat, going for extensive bike tours is definitely an option. Because even though the people there call it their own ‘Schweiz’, or Switzerland, due to the softly flowing hills, that is a bit on an exaggeration.

Peace and tranquility, unless you are set on doing some heavy paddling

Peace and tranquility, unless you are set on doing some heavy paddling

Roaming the German countryside

One of the nice things in Germany is the almost total accessibility of nature. You can basically go anywhere you like. Take your car along a small road, park it on the curb and start walking along a field or into a hilly wood, for as long as you want.

This is somewhat different from other countries like England, where private property, high walls and fences often stop you from roaming freely and limit you to a few public footpaths and of course to the wonderful coastal path. The coast-line in Germany is nowhere near as long and as pleasant as this, but there still are some nice walks along the Baltic Sea.

And then there are the many lakes, some in the North and some in the far South, most markedly the large Bodensee and the Chiemsee, with the wonderful Alps nearby. Very inviting are the big rivers like Rhein, Main, Mosel and Donau, always with a path close to the bank for a day-long walk or a bicycle tour, often leading you from one historic village to the next.

The only thing to remember is where you parked your car.

This green footpath is near a city. But it looks like in the countryside.

This green footpath is near a city. But it looks like in the countryside.

On the beauty of German cities

When foreigners talk of German cities, they often think of Heidelberg, Berlin and Munich. While I generally agree on the beauty of Heidelberg and the vibrance of Berlin, I often think the hype around Munich is overdone and down to apt self-marketing. But it is possible I feel that way because I once lived in Munich and am happy not to live there anymore.

Anyway, of those foreigners visiting Germany, few usually plan on going to the smaller, but nonetheless lively cities like Würzburg, Bamberg, Tübingen, Koblenz, Regensburg, Freiburg and Passau, or the bigger ones like Hamburg and Dresden.

Which is a shame, as all these cities have a great deal to offer to anyone. All are bustling with student life and culture, all have one or several rivers flowing through them, all have, even through the bombings of WWII, retained or rebuilt many of their charming residential houses and impressive churches. Trees, green and parks are everywhere.

Dozens of cafés along the winding roads and pedestrian-zones in Germany invite you to take a rest, slurp a hot or cold drink and watch the people go by.

Really, Germany is quite beautiful in many places.

An evening view onto beautiful Würzburg. The dots on the U are intentional.

An evening view onto beautiful Würzburg. The dots on the U are intentional.

About the unusually cold and wet German weather

It is above all the English that we Germans would associate with talk about the weather. This year, however, things are a bit different. It seems as if the last five months, somewhere from January right up to now, May 2013, have been filled with cold, wet, cloudy and dreary weather, with the occasional snow at the beginning of the year.

Since then, there have only been a few single sunny days with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius, and otherwise mostly below 12 degrees. Which is somewhere around the temperature you would be putting away your winter coats and getting out the light jackets. So any jokes we Germans may in the past have made about other nations’ cloudy skies and protective clothing have long since ebbed off. Instead, we are busy talking about this unjustness of nature, and complaining, which we seem quite good at.

What remains is a nation desperately hoping for some good weather to come and stay. Including blue skies, sunny days and warm evenings.

These sheep quickly adapted to the unusually cold weather by growing long fur

These sheep quickly adapted to the unusually cold weather by growing long fur