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German States In A Nutshell, Part 2

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Here it is, the much anticipated part two of my “German Federal States In A Nutshell.” There’s a lot of history, culture, and economics in each of Germany’s states. Isn’t it much easier to break it all down?

OK, OK, maybe I didn’t add every little nuance into all of them, they are snippets after all. ;-)

As a reminder, here’s Part 1 of German States.

Where did I leave off? Oh yeah…

Lower Saxony

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times — Lower Saxony is best enjoyed by bicycle. All the better to see all this agricultural landscape. Whatever mode of transportation you’re using to see this state that includes Hanover, Göttingen, and Wolfsburg, will work all the same.

You’ll certainly eat good, there’s everything from potatoes to sugar beets, and wheat that are grown around here.

Take that, Schleswig-Holstein, MeckPomm, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Hesse, and North Rhine-Westphalia. Wow, would you believe that all those places border Lower Saxony? Yeah, me either.

North Rhine-Westphalia

Eighteen million people live within this most populated state, if you’d believe it. Not so hard to understand when you’ve got cities like Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Aachen, and Cologne — as well as lots of medieval architecture, half-timbered houses, and UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered throughout its many villages and towns.

Cologne is a big favorite. It’s got an annual film festival, a huge Carnival season (November to February), and the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. If you want a picture — stand far back, its towers are 157 meters high (oh, and it took over 600 years to complete!).


This is a predominantly Catholic state that borders Baden-Württemberg, Saarland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. No wonder they appreciate the great wines that come straight from this region.

Viticulture might be big business here, but visiting charming cities like Trier, Speyer, Mainz, and Worms are also a must-see.


The Saarland is Germany’s smallest state, which also borders France (as well as Luxembourg and the Rhineland-Palatinate). French is widely spoken here; and you’ll find cities like Saarlouis, Neunkirchen, Saarbrücken, and Sankt Wendel.


No, this isn’t the land of the Saxons of the Germanic Tribes, but where you’ll be when you’re visiting Leipzig, Dresden, Zwickau, and Chemnitz. It’s also a wine region, has mountains, and castles. Sadly it isn’t known for being a top spot for tourists to Germany, though you’d miss out big time not to spend some time here too!

Besides, did you know that recent excavations have found 29 million year old fossils?

Hmm, maybe more people will come to visit from now on? :-)


Saxony-Anhalt is proud of its rustic Harz Mountains, Martin Luther, and the Romanesque Route that winds its way through this state.

Consequently, you’ll want to pay a visit to Magdeburg, Wittenberg, and Halle.


Bordering the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, this state is home to one of the most famous nude beaches in the country — on the Island of Sylt, if you’re wondering.

It’s also where you’ll find the annual Cabbage Festival (September), hear Low German, North Frisian, and Danish all spoken in the same place. Try a delightful dish known as Rote Grütze made with custard and berries (take your pick — strawberries, raspberries, currants, whatever, it’s yummy).


This is the last of Germany’s federal states — but certainly not the least. Known as Thüringen in German, Thuringia was once home to Martin Luther, since he went to school in Erfurt. Erfurt’s also where you find the country’s oldest synagogue (11th century), the Rennsteig (a gorgeous hiking trail), and great cities like Eisenach and Weimar.

Wouldn’t be the ultimate dream trip to visit all of Germany’s states? Don’t you wish you had that kind of time? Maybe I should get out from behind the computer — and travel more, huh? ;-)

German States In A Nutshell, Part 1

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The fact that Germany has sixteen federal states it might be hard to keep track of what’s what, and where’s where. Sure it would be nice to visit the Bavarian Alps then shoot over to chill out on the North Sea coast, but considering they’re nowhere near each other — you’ve got a lot of ground to cover between them.

Ya get what I’m talking about? Good thing I’m here to help you understand each of Germany’s states, and their unique culture.

Oh wait, this is only Part 1 — so here are the first eight.


Some of Germany’s most famous cities are located within this state; Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and Freiburg to name a few. This is also a famous wine producing region, as well as where you’ll find the Black Forest and the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, Lake Constance, and a huge Oktoberfest that’s second only to Munich’s.


Yeah, speaking of Munich, Bavaria is where you’ll find this beer partying town that attracts millions of visitors for this September festival. But, beer isn’t its only attraction (shocked, considering this is where the German Purity Laws for beer started).

The Bavarian Alps dramatic landscape is extraordinary. No wonder some 12 million people live in this state that borders not only Lake Constance, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Thuringia, and Saxony — but also the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland.

Geography aside, Bavaria’s home to the Franconian Wine Region, has delicious Weisswurst to eat, and your chance to see folks dressed in lederhosen and the traditional dirndl.


Yes, I’m fully aware that Berlin is Germany’s capital city, though it’s also a federal state (totally surrounded by Brandenburg). I’m still not sure how the city has managed to have over 700 hotels, 135 million visitors a year, over 150 museums, and some of the liveliest nightlife — when over a third of it is covered by parks, gardens, lakes, and forests. What a unique mix!


This state doesn’t include Berlin, mind you (wait, didn’t I just say that in the paragraph above). Brandenburg’s capital is Potsdam, but with countless parks, lakes, national parks (including the Spree Forest) you’ll have a heckava excellent time hiking or bicycling around this part of the country.


Yet another state that’s also a city — and Bremen also includes Bremerhaven. The city of Bremen has been a free city for centuries (its Roland statue from 1404 proves it), and its Marktplatz is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Bremerhaven is a port town that’s a perfect setting for the German Maritime Museum. The weather’s great during the summer — where temperatures rarely (if ever) get above 30° C or 85° F. Quite cool if you’ve ever spent the summer in the European South. ;-)


Germay’s second largest city seems to have an even better climate than Bremerhaven (average summer highs are only in the 20s/70s); and has a cityscape that’s got to be seen to be believed. It’s a gay-friendly city with an opera house, almost 4 dozen theaters, and 60 museums.

While you’re here try the local Birnen, Bohnen und Speck — a dish made from pears, beans, and bacon. After a day of mudflat hiking at the Wadden Sea National Park, you’re bound to be starving.


Inasmuch as Brandenburg is a nature lovers dream destination, Hesse could rival it in a heartbeat. Yeah, this might be where you’ll find cities like the cosmopolitan Frankfurt am Main, academic Darmstadt, and medieval Kassel — I’d pretty much say the Westerwald, Taunus Mountains, and the Vogelsberg are the real showstoppers.

Just one thing: you better behave yourself while your here; Hesse is the only state in Germany that still has the death penalty — YIKES!

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

Bordering Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is Germany’s least populated federal state. Doesn’t that sound great when you want to get away from the masses? Hey, with over 280 nature reserves and 14 national parks — there ain’t no room for people, I guess. ;-)

Just kidding, but this state that’s got Chalk Cliffs, borders the Baltic Sea, and over a thousand megalithic monuments is often not given the respect it truly deserves.

Don’t worry, MeckPomm, as you’re lovely called… I’ll be right here on this blog to sing your praises — just as soon as I can tear myself away from your chalky cliffs, OK?

Stay tuned for Part 2 (next week). There’s so much more in store. :-)

It’s Spargelzeit — Asparagus Time!

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The months of April, May, and June are an awesome time to find yourself in a number of German towns. I should say eat yourself silly in a number of German towns. All because of the Spargel, or asparagus to the English speaking readers out there.

Now I’ve said time and time again, this veggie really doesn’t get the respect it deserves. And most people just think of these green stalks served under Hollandaise sauce. Uh, they ain’t never showed up at a rustic German restaurant deadsmack in the middle of the King’s Vegetable Season.

Whether you serve or eat asparagus, it’s a very versatile veggie (and really healthy chocked full of potassium, folic acid, and some B vitamins) that can show up in a number of dishes.

A Couple Of Asparagus Recipe Ideas

A dish called Spargel-Nudelsalat mit Einern is a yummy pasta salad dish made with asparagus (hello!) and eggs.

Eggs show up again in the scrumptious Spargelsalat Vinaigrette recipe, thanks to

For something a bit more hearty, try Kartoffelauflauf mit Spargel (Asparagus Cassarole) that’s got (besides asparagus) potatoes, ham, and creme fraiche.

Asparagus Tips

Because in Germany we eat an average of over 70,000 tons of asparagus a year (amazing since the country only grows just over 55,000 tons) we sure do know how to cook it. As if the recipes I just mentioned above didn’t prove that. So if you’re going to try making it at home here are a few tips.

Never cook asparagus in an aluminum pot; always cook in salted water with butter; and to check if what you’re buying is fresh—squeeze the end to see if any “juice” comes out. If it doesn’t, it’s not fresh.

Asparagus Hot Spots

Asparagus is so popular it’s no wonder there are quite a few festivals to the veggie. Schwetzingen holds theirs on the 1st weekend of May, Bruchsal is two weeks later, and Graben-Neudorf has theirs the same month, too.

Great, another way to eat great German dishes. Plus, it’s nice to be home—I’m from Schwetzingen! :-)

Thank You To Our US And UK Friends

Friday, January 27th, 2012

I don’t believe it. After more than sixty-something years there will be a reduced number of U.S. and U.K. military personnel in Germany. Not that we have totally minded you being here, it’s just… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let me see if I can make sense out of this — since you have to go all the way back to May 8, 1945. At the end of World War II, Germany was carved up into pieces by the Allies — the United States being one of them.

To this very day American military presences are still maintained in Germany, albeit not in the regard they once did back in the late 1940’s. And thanks to the U.S. Government trying to “cut the fat” from its budget during its war in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re about to reduce their presences in two of their stations.

For most people, these two are pretty hard to find or guess (that is, if you’re not in the military). Let’s see…

Ever heard of the town of Grafenwöhr? What about Baumholder, anyone?

See? Too bad, they’re pretty awesome — and Elvis Presley was stationed in Grafenwöhr when he was there.

Yes, I’m aware that nothing is written in stone yet, but since three-quarters of the country’s brigades are stationed in Germany, someone’s got to go.

A German/American alliance is nothing new, BTW. It were the Prussians who helped a newly formed United States of America during the American Revolution in the late 18th century against the Brits.

The thank-you letter to Prussian officer, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, from George Washington over at Hohenzollern Castle kind of says it all, BTW.

Oh yeah, speaking of the Brits, we’re grateful for their presence too. But, they too are pulling out some of their troops over the next few years; and will be totally gone by the end of this decade.

Throughout the decades we’ve suffered together, prospered together, and grown united together. So, it is only fitting that we Germans extend a heart-felt THANK YOU to our British and American friends — whether serving now, or in the past.

I know that many of you fell in love with Germany, our culture, and the peaceful live you enjoyed here. Well, it is peaceful because of YOU!

Fall In Love With The Hamburg Ballet

Monday, December 12th, 2011

A good friend of mine doesn’t remember the day that she fell in love with the ballet. But, she thinks watching Mikhail Baryshinikov dance in the 1985 film, White Nights, had something to do with it.

Her love of the dance means she doesn’t care where she sees it (New York, Paris, London); all she knows is she wants to go.

So, if you’re like her, and you’re going to be in Hamburg, why not check out this upcoming season’s fantastic ballets? A truly cultured activity for a truly cultured city, if I do say so myself.

Here’s just a few of the ballets playing at the Hamburg Ballet:

Nutcracker (Dec 14, 15, 23 (2 shows), 28, and 29, 2011)

Peter Tchaikovsky will forever be remembered as the composer for this Christmas ballet extravaganza, where a Sugar Plum Fairy and a Nutcracker come to life. Besides Scrooge, this is a Christmas Season must-see. Don’t worry if you don’t make this year’s performances—there’s always next year.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jan 14, 20; May 16, 18, 19, 27; Jun 20, 2012)

A classic ballet (choreographed by none other than Balanchine himself) based on a classic comedy by William Shakespeare. Graceful is always the best adjective to describe one of the best ballets ever.

Death in Venice (March 6 & 9, 2012)

This isn’t your typical ballet by any stretch of the imagination. It’s based on Thomas Mann’s novella about a writer with writer’s block who heads off to the beach in search of inspiration. What he finds is a boy that captures his… uh, imagination.

A Streetcar Named Desire (April 18, 23, and 27, 2012)

Choreographed by John Neumeier, there’s no Marlon Brando screaming “Stella” in this ballet based on the Tennessee Williams play. Even so, the tragic story of Blanche transcends any media format.

The Little Mermaid (Apr 21, 25, 28, May 9, 12, Jun 22)

John Neumeier does his own adaptation of Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. This ain’t no Disney version, that’s for sure. The “underwater” scenes are truly dramatic for us landlubbers.

In case you’re not a fan of ballet, or never seen one before—we do recommend watching Mr. Baryshinikov in White Knights or The Turning Point (with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine)—it did it for my friend.

And if you’re interested, here’s the calendar of the Hamburg Ballet.

Helgoland — Broken Or Not?

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Germany, again, is looking at reunification; but it’s not what you might think. This is about the tiny, one square kilometer island of Helgoland (which is found in the North Sea, about 70km off the coast of mainland Germany).

Wait, that’s one island. Do they plan on being reunited with the mainland? That’s a heck of a long bridge.

No, nothing like that. German officials are looking to connect Helgoland with its neighboring island (which is also part of Helgoland), which it was once connected to back in the 18th century.

A nasty North Sea storm washed away the only land bridge connecting the two islands. Now three hundred years later, they very well might be together again.

So, why the sudden (as if 300 years is “sudden”) vote to reconnect? Simply put, tourism.

Detractors say that might not be the answer. More than a quarter of a million people come to Helgoland as a day trip for its unspoiled beauty. By connecting to its former appendage (oh, that would be island, sorry) there would be more room to build more hotels so that more people could spend the night.

I guess they’re afraid Helgoland would turn into a tourist trap. Oh, I’m so torn on this one, but it’s not up to me. The fate of the Helgoland islands is in the hands of the 1,200 people that call this place home.

Make that a couple more, ’cause I think some of my dear readers want to live there; and not because the average temperature in the dead of summer is only in the 60s. OK, that might just have something to do with it.

Psst, allergy sufferers — it’s been said that Helgoland has virtually no allergens. Ahh, can’t you already feel the sinus relief?

It won’t matter too much if the people of Helgoland vote to connect (or not) to the other island. Helgoland has prospered just fine the way it is. Remember, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Oh, wait! Helgoland was broken. So I guess they do have to fix it, huh?

Frankfurt’s Business Focus Has A Soft Side

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The smart eyes look to Frankfurt this month. ;-)

Most people will be looking at Southern Germany right now, with the big Canstatter Wasen in Stuttgart and the opening of Oktoberfest in Munich (as mentioned in the G-ZINE). However, if you are looking to visit Germany this month, you may want to include Frankfurt am Main on your itinerary.

Frankfurt has quite a business reputation — we Germans sometimes refer to it as Bank-furt or even die heimliche Haupstadt, our secret capital. Yet underneath that fine patina of high commerce, there is much more to than meets the eye.

One element that makes Frankfurt very inviting is that it is not actually very big. Only about 660,000 people live here, which allows Frankfurt to maintain a small town feel that surprises many visitors. For all its fancy skyscrapers — we call the skyline here Mainhattan, naturally — there is a tight-knit community under all that steel and glass.

Wandering down the Zeil, one of Frankfurt’s main shopping avenues, you will find that you can be warmly greeted just as though you were in a smaller town. Sit out in the square in front of the Römer, and you might think you’d slipped back into a medieval village.

You can get even more of a feel for the historic side of Frankfurt riding on the Ebbelwei Express. It’s an old tram car and a bit kitschy, but the rides are cheap at 6 euros and the tickets include a salt biscuit snack and some of the region’s famous Apfelwein or apple juice if you like (hence its name Ebbelwei, Frankfurt’s slang for Apfelwein).

To properly end a day out in Frankfurt, you have to go out for a decent meal. It’s a good thing locals like to work hard all day, or they’d never burn off the calories from the more than 3,000 Frankfurt restaurants. Executive Travel Magazine’s July issue named Gargantua as one of the best restaurants in the country, which of course you will have to test for yourself!

September is also a time of year when the weather in Frankfurt is very good. Why fight the crowds elsewhere?

Come to an easily explored and historically inviting destination of Germany this month to experience Frankfurt’s softer side for yourself.


Tour Munich By Classic Car

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Germany offers many unique driving experiences for visitors, from the Porsche test track to the opportunity to cruise the Autobahn. As a lover of German cars, then, how could I not share this latest driving adventure opportunity with you?

Of course, to be technically accurate, you won’t be doing any driving. No, no — not with these cars! These are classic BMW Cabriolets which are being temporarily pressed into service as tour vehicles for those wishing to have a special trip around Munich

You will definitely notice them as they tool around the city, driven by professional drivers, thank you! After all, these are BMW 326 and 335 Cabriolets that date back to the 1930’s, with a 502 Cabriolet from the 1950’s and a 3200 CS Cabriolet also available as options. Their unique and highly polished shape stands out against more modern cars.

As a guest, you can ride in the back of these open air classic to see Munich between now and October 2010. That’s it. After that, these classic cars will be retired back to their home in the BMW Museum.

Tours of the city actually start and end at the BMW Museum, stopping by a number of BMW attractions in the city as well as cruising the ring road and other local sites before returning. The registration for the tours is through the information desk at the museum (+49-1802-118822) and you are advised to register well in advance.

The tours are 90 euros per person, and the experience lasts about three hours. Though this may seem expensive for a chauffeured tour, remember that the euro (alas!) is at four year lows, so this special BMW experience is more affordable to overseas guests than locals (again, alas!).

Germany is going to be beautiful this summer after all the moisture this winter, and southern Germany is truly lovely. Why fight the average tourist in the street to see Munich, when you can tour in style?


Have You Taken A Swim In Berlin’s Bathtub?

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

With the summer heat still lingering, it’s the perfect time to go for a swim. And what better place to go than Berlin’s Bathtub?

Of course, Berlin’s Bathtub isn’t actually in Berlin, so don’t go looking for it there. To see this wonder, you need to head north for the day. Preferably for the weekend, or even a week!

Berlin’s Bathtub is the colloquial name for the island resort town of Usedom. It nestles on the border between Germany and Poland, with crisp white sands stretching out into the Baltic Sea.

When you arrive, you will naturally notice the sands. There are 42 km (30 miles) of white sand beaches, so it’s a little hard not to see them. And yet… what’s that sound? When the wind comes in off the ocean, the fine white sand rubs together in its own symphony.

People hearing these singing sands have likened the sound to an orchestra of tiny natural violins. It’s beautiful, but hard to describe. You’ll just have to go and see it for yourself, and the sands will be grateful to have you back.

The sands have been getting a bit ignored over the last few decades. The area has been settled since Neolithic times, and the royal families of Poland, Russia, and Prussia used to come here for retreats. Yet Sylt Island nearby was the place turned into a recreational mecca.

The end result for you is that Usedom’s villas, spas, and royal villages have become a special insider’s secret. Beautiful and relatively affordable, the sand and beach attractions are crowded but not to the extent one might think. In shoulder seasons, you can get especially good deals on hotels and beachfront apartment rentals.

Listening to the sands and soaking up the sun is but one way to pass the time here. There are all kinds of water sports on offer, as well as a booming spa culture in Amber and Imperial flavors.

However, if you just want to appreciate the view and relax, there is an 8 km (5 miles) promenade along the beach that is perfect for a morning or evening stroll to watch the sun over the ocean.


Berlin’s Super Secret Supper Club

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Getting in to Berlin and its most secretive supper club takes a bit of finesse and forward planning. You can’t just show up and hope you can wait in line. You’ve going to need to reserve ahead and hope that you make the cut.

It’s not that this restaurant is exclusive — in fact, it’s not a restaurant at all. It’s the home of a master chef in Berlin who prefers to remain nameless. Going as “The Shy Chef,” this culinary gem decided that the best way to share her amazing food is in the privacy of a real home, and started putting on dinners in early 2009.

Up to 6 people each evening of operation will be sent the location of the dinner. Space is limited, and the club is quite often booked out for a month in advance.

It’s a home in the Kreuzburg district, in a building that’s more than 100 years old. When you get to the location, you’re in on the secret spot, but so far not one of the guests has spilled the beans, so you’d better believe this blog won’t either!

The menu varies and is tailored to meet any dietary restrictions of the guests for the evening. In terms of specific dishes, you’ll be getting at least 5 courses, including a dessert. The Shy Chef’s Blog is known to shop for organic local fare. Your meal will be a unique taste of real German cooking with real German ingredients, served together with carefully selected wines and beers.

It’s certainly understated compared to some of Berlin’s trendier options, but if you want a rare insider experience this is certainly one to try for while you are in Berlin. Some of the past guests have indicated the meal is worth a trip to Berlin all by itself — but you’ll have to be the judge of that! ;-)

You can make your reservation by emailing The Shy Chef through her blog. Dinners are available mainly on Friday and Saturday nights, with some Sundays and Thursdays depending on the month.

As an underground supper club a suggested donation of 50 Euro per person to offset costs is suggested, but no official bill will be presented. After all, how can you price an experience this unusually good?

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