Germany: A Europe break that's cooler than you think

Germany: A Europe break that's cooler than you think

Germany is very hip and sexy. So says Klaus Lohmann, the German National Tourist Office’s tourism director for the UK and Ireland.

“As well as designers like Lagerfeld and Jil Sander, German brands include Adidas and Hugo Boss, while Hamburg and Berlin are hubs for musicians and other creative minds. We want British travellers to see what a creative and innovative place Germany is.”

It was with those words ringing in my ears that I set off on one of the GNTO’s media trips to see for myself, ready to party, get arty and be inspired by contemporary Deutschland.

Hanover

After flying BMI to Hanover, we headed straight for the main station and hopped on an east-bound train for Wolfsburg. It’s home to Autostadt, Volkswagen’s theme park.

As both a car factory and a futuristic mini city, Autostadt is dedicated to the worship of slick cars past and present. Glass pavilions house exhibitions of VW brands including Lamborghini and Audi.

The Discovery Tour of the Car Tower is a must. It contains 20 storeys of cars ready for collection. A glass lift ride replicates how the cars are moved up and down the building and also gives you a panoramic view of Autostadt.  

Neighbouring attraction Phaeno is just as high-tech. An arty gallery showcases scientific phenomena, such as how a tornado is formed. The whimsical, interactive exhibits trick your senses and are totally addictive.

Of course, no town is complete without some retail therapy, and the Wolfsburg Designer Outlets didn’t disappoint, giving shoppers up to 70% off big-name brands.

Hamburg

From Hanover we took the train to Hamburg, the city where the Beatles lived for two years. The Fab Four found fame here and local musician Stefanie Hempel offers a tour of their old haunts.

We meet her on the Reeperbahn, the notorious main drag of Hamburg’s famous nightclub quarter. There are throngs of people ready to party, neon signs light up the sky and a cacophony of music thuds from clubs and bars.

We follow Stefanie and her guitar around, stopping to sing Beatles songs outside venues where the boys would have sung the same, and huddle in towards her as she recounts salacious stories about the Liverpool lads. Her tour gets us in the mood to hit the bars and check out a host of up-and-coming bands. Hempel’s Beatles tour can be booked by agents and is commissionable.

From indie to classical, Hamburg is music central. The next day we took a tour of the Elbphilharmonie’s construction site. This giant glass concert hall at the heart Hamburg’s harbour area is being designed to resemble a wave by the same architects who created London’s Tate Modern.

Champions of the project say it will become as iconic as the Sydney Opera House. Our accommodation Hotel Gastwerk was just as cool. A former warehouse it has a quirky industrial-meets-boutique feel.

Beatles memorabilia, Hamburg

Berlin

Germany’s funky, inventive capital was a fitting finale to our voyage of discovery. From writing paper to jacket spuds, Berliners turn everything into an art form.

Wandering the side streets around Rosenthaler Strasse in Berlin Mitte district we found independent stationers, cafes, boutiques, perfumeries, lingerie stores and gift shops run by entrepreneurs whose products were as beautiful and bespoke as their window displays. There wasn’t a chain store in sight.

Continuing with the shopping theme we headed to the Mauerpark (Wall park) flea market. Innumerable stalls sell everything from military jackets to trombones in an area of Berlin where the wall formerly divided East and West.
 
For dinner we signed up for a Gastro Rallye tour. The brainchild of Henrik Tidefjard, you dine at a selection of the town’s best eateries for your budget. Our Turkish-style pizza starters were followed by Italian seafood mains and a trio of chocolate desserts at a glam Spanish place to finish. And the best thing? It’s commissionable for travel agents.

Tidefjard and his team of guides also host insider tours to the city’s nightlife, offering a short cut to getting the best out of bustling Berlin on a short break. We bopped until we dropped back at our contemporary pad, the Weinmeister hotel, where the rooms have regal, Alice in Wonderland-style furnishings. 

Cool events in 2011


Women’s World Cup: June 26-July 17 - See the stars of the women’s game battle it out for the top trophy at venues across Germany.
 
Summerjam Festival: July 1-3 - Europe’s biggest reggae, world and dancehall music bash takes place in Cologne. Acts include Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley.
 
Gay Pride Hamburg: July 30-August 7 - A week of events culminates with a street parade followed by an all-night party.
 
Hanse Sail Rostock: August 11-14 - Hundreds of traditional sailing ships head for this Baltic Sea regatta. Watch them sail, take a trip onboard and enjoy the Saturday firework display.

Festival of Light Berlin: October 12-23 - The capital’s answer to our Blackpool Illuminations sees landmarks, historic monuments, streets, squares and buildings adorned by arty light installations, projections, lasers and neon. 

More ideas

Take an F1 racing car for a spin on Germany’s number one circuit, the Nürburgring, near Cologne, where the likes of Schumacher and Alonso have competed.
 
Go surfing on the Eisbach river in Munich. This man-made waterway features a constant metre-high wave which is used by river surfers.

People-watch on a North Sea Coast beach from the comfort of a strandkorb, the German equivalent of Florida’s wicker beach cabanas.

Bargain-hunt on Dusseldorf’s Koe Shopping Mile, a favourite haunt of model Claudia Schiffer.

Visit in 2012 when the town of Kassel will host documenta 13, the world’s largest exhibition of contemporary art.

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