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TAKE ME THERE
You might wonder, how much of Germany can I really see in 10 days? I’m here to tell you, more than you think.
I created a personalized itinerary for my family’s first ever trip to Germany and you’d be amazed at how much we squeezed in, while still managing to have a pretty flexible schedule.
Flash back to Christmas 2018.
My parents visited us over Christmas week. My husband and I made a special dinner reservation at a local German restaurant, knowing that they love German cuisine. During dinner I presented them with an extra gift that hadn’t been under the tree; a Germany travel book.
We told them we wanted to take them with us to Europe. They had never been, so we offered to do all the planning to make it less intimidating and stressful for them. We knew my sister was pregnant at the time, so we decided we wouldn’t go until autumn of 2020.
Fast forward 2.5 years.
We all know why we didn’t go in 2020 as planned. We spent all 2021 wondering if the trip would actually happen, so when it was confirmed that we could go, nothing was going to stop us.
The Covid-19 entry requirements for vaccinated Americans were straightforward. After completing a few online forms we were good to go.
We stayed in Potsdamer Platz, where the Berlin Wall used to be. After Germany’s reunification, it was an empty void until it started to develop hotels, a mall, and the Sony Center, to name a few. It was a great, central location. We could easily walk to key monuments like the Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Reichstag Building, and more. Naturally, we also visited a Berlin classic, Checkpoint Charlie.
With some of the main tourist sites completed, we moved on to museums. Topography of Terror, which documents in incredible detail how Hitler rose to power, was chilling to visit. It is located on the site of the now mostly demolished Secret State Police Office. We also stopped at the German Spy Museum, which is full of fascinating artifacts and history. Great for both adults and kids alike. Personally, I found the female spy gear especially fantastic. Everything from cameras in bras to guns in lipstick tubes and handbags.
And of course, we ate great food – Currywurst anyone? – and drank fantastic beer and schnapps. We wandered through beautiful Tiergarten park to Cafe am Neuen See. There we enjoyed tasty thin-crust pizzas and local beer in their outdoor biergarten, nestled under the trees and by a pond you could take boats out on.
We dined at a Bavarian-style restaurant in the Sony Center, Lindenbrau. Upon arrival, we were directed to what I can only describe as the Bavaria Room. It was like being transported to the Alps. There were windows with videos playing images of goats in a barn and hikers walking by on rolling hills with the mountains in the background. It was all an idyllic backdrop to a delicious meal. At one point we started to notice the outdoor videos start to get cloudy, followed by some faint water sounds, and then thunder off in the distance. We thought, “oh, that’s neat, the video is having a thunderstorm,” until suddenly the lights above us started flickering and went dark. We were cracking up with laughter as we experienced this “storm” inside the restaurant. It lasted a minute or so, entertaining the tables of children nearby. We finished the meal with apple strudel and made-in-house schnapps. I got the hazelnut and my parents got berry. My mom tried mine and liked it so much she ordered a second round!
After Berlin, we picked up a rental car (an Audi A4 wagon, a very nice ride btw) and started to work our way south. We started in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, a special request by my dad. There we visited the Schlosskirche, or Castle Church, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the entrance doors in 1517. The city was bigger than I expected and full of historic architecture and a picture-perfect main square. And we had a fabulous lunch at Brauhaus Wittenberg in their beautiful courtyard.
We continued our drive through three small towns that my dad’s ancestors had emigrated from in the late 1880s. Two of them are small industry towns, but the last one was merely the length of one street. It happened to be next to a lake that was populated with people enjoying the last days of summer.
Finally we arrived at our next base destination, Nuremberg. From there, we took a day trip to Bamberg. It is a Franconian river town with its old town structures dating back to between the 11th and 19th centuries. Its architecture greatly influenced that of the rest of Germany.
Back in Nuremberg, we enjoyed dinner at Literaturhaus. We were so impressed with the food that we returned for brunch the next morning. I would highly recommend their 3-course brunch special, but be prepared, it is a lot of food! We also explored a tiny replica medieval village in Nuremberg. We were pressed for time to move on to our next destination, so we didn’t see much more of this city. However, there are many options for all types of travelers. It is well-known for its Christmas market, as well as being the location of the post-World War II Nuremberg trials.
After an hour in the car – the speed limitless section of the Autobahn is fun in case you were wondering – we reached Rothenburg ob der Tauber. What a delight! Had we known how much we would enjoy this little city, we would have stayed longer.
We visited the German Christmas Museum and shop, which included a section dedicated to Krampus, which made my husband’s day. I picked up a simple ornament for our Christmas tree, but was especially drawn to the German Christmas Pyramids. They are so pretty and there are many styles and sizes to choose from.
We joined the Night Watchman’s evening walk through town and were not disappointed. Our guide was fantastic and a knowledgeable storyteller. We learned a lot about the city in only an hour, including a fact that I found especially interesting. The city of 6,000 residents was thriving until it was invaded in the late 13th century. After that the city fell into poverty and because they could not afford to modernize, that is why the city is so well-preserved today.
You can see a photo above captioned “Rothenburg Gate ‘Man Hole'”. This was the tiny door in the gate for latecomers back into the city at night. They didn’t open the gate door after dark because it would put the whole city at risk to invaders. So those who were tardy had to squeeze through the tiny door, or man hole.
Lastly, we visited the Criminal Museum, which I would highly recommend. They have quite the collection of medieval tools for punishment and torture. Some notable favorites were the many types of shame masks, most of which were for gossiping, as well as the iron maiden and drunk barrel.
After Rothenburg, we stopped in Dinkelsbuhl, just one of many small towns on the Romantic Road.
We arrived in Hohenschwangau in the evening, but with just enough light to see the stunning Neuschwanstein castle perched up on the mountainside surrounded by forest, overlooking the Pollat river below. After learning that the so-called “Mad King Ludwig” was not so mad but more of a visionary that the people of that time couldn’t understand, it’s easy to see why he selected this location for his castle.
I honestly thought visiting this castle might be an overrated experience, but in all honesty, I absolutely loved it. That may have been due to it being less crowded than normal due to the pandemic. We stayed just below the castle and could view it from our hotel’s front driveway. And our rooms looked out on the Hohenschwangau castle. Like living in a fairytale! We took the carriage from the base of the mountain, followed by a 10-15 minute walk to the castle entrance. You hardly notice the uphill walk because the scenery and views are so beautiful.
The castle tour was about 30 minutes, and in our opinion, the perfect amount of time. You cannot take pictures inside, but you can expect some extravagant rooms and decorations. For example, a fabricated cave room and the room with hundreds of swans. The castle was never completed as Ludwig died about six months after moving in. Upon his death it was immediately turned into a museum.
After leaving Neuschwanstein we started our drive to Zugspitze, the Top of Germany. We were minding our own business following the GPS, and suddenly noticed our route was going to include a stop at border control. We panicked a little because we had no intention of leaving Germany. Pulling over to assess and zoom in on the map, we discovered we already had left Germany and were, in fact, in Austria! What?? We continued driving and passed a glittering blue lake at the base of the Alps. I wish we hadn’t been in a rush to get to Zugspitze before it closed, because I wanted photos of the lake so badly. As for border control, it turned out that there simply isn’t any between Germany and Austria at the moment, at least in that area. So it was smooth sailing to Zugspitze from there.
We made it up the mountain in the nick of time, and had the entire cable car to ourselves for the ascent. The views were breathtaking and sometimes a bit scary. I have an irrational fear of dropping my phone from crazy heights, so I was careful to grip mine tightly when I was near the edge of the platform to take photos. Despite a few stomach drops while riding the cable car, it was awe-inspiring traveling up the side of the mountain. Such a jaw-dropping feat of engineering.
After Zugspitze we made our way to our final destination of the trip – Munich. While there, we enjoyed a food and culture walking tour with a wonderful guide, who introduced us to the best doughnuts on the planet. If you find yourself in Munich you need to try them at Schmalznudel – Cafe Frischhut. Do yourself a favor and get one of everything in the front window, you won’t be disappointed.
The BMW Welt and Museum were must-see items for my husband, and they did not disappoint. I’ve been a MINI owner for almost 15 years and they had an entire section in Welt dedicated to MINI, which made my heart happy. My husband was in heaven. He spotted a couple of his favorite new BMW models in the Welt, and then found his dream car, a 1989 BMW M3 in the museum. The museum is incredibly well done, even if you’re not a die-hard BMW fanatic, and it should definitely be on your Munich list.
We rounded out our vacation with visits to a couple beer halls, eating some fantastic Bavarian style food and drinking at least a half liter of beer a day. On our last night we had a short professional photo session. Our fabulous photographer, Gloria, showed us parts of Munich we never would have seen on our own. The most interesting being the man-made dam for river surfing that was created for the 1972 Olympics. Who knew?
We packed SO MUCH into just 10 days. And the best part is there’s still so much of Germany to explore. If we leave a country wanting a follow up trip to see more, we know it was a great vacation.
If you’re ready to have your own German adventure, the Off On Vacation team is just an email away to help make it happen. Prost!
Post by Off On Vacation Travel Advisor, Becky Olson