This week I share interviews and insights from my recent trip exploring Northern Germany. Germany isn’t only castles and pretzels and in the North we find a completely different but no less interesting part of the country.
Bremen, Bremerhaven, Juist and Hamburg – these are just some of the many spots around Northern Germany that many travelers may not know a lot about, but should.
I very quickly learned that people from Bremen are extremely proud of being from Bremen, and probably rightly so. The smallest state in Germany, this former Hanseatic League city has always existed in its own special orbit, depending on no one else and flourishing in spite of the many odds against them. Nearly completely destroyed during WWII, the city has once again proven what it means to be Bremen-proud and as I discovered on a day of exploration around town, the spirit of Bremen is indeed something very different but also very special.
With a long history as a trade port, it was from these wharves that more than 7 million people left Europe to start a new life. Many of them sailed to Canada and the United States, and today an incredible museum dedicated to this history stands on that very same place – the German Emigration Center. That’s also why I was in Bremerhaven, long curious to visit this incredible museum and to learn more about this massive migration of peoples that forever changed the world.
Bremerhaven is one of those cities that I didn’t know a lot about, but which quickly became a personal favorite place to visit. In addition to world-class institutions, there are many other reasons to visit and enjoy one’s time there from being out on the water, to the vibrant culinary scene or just for the simple pleasure of enjoying a new place. It’s also so close to Bremen, that it just makes sense to combine the two cities and to see a side of Germany that may not get as much attention as places like Munich or Berlin, but which are just as much fun to explore.
There’s an excellent chance that you’ve never heard of Juist Island. There’s no reason to feel guilty about that though, unless you’re German it’s not a well-known place. That’s one reason of many why I wanted to visit after having seen a photo of Germany’s incredible islands a few years ago. The East Frisian Islands are a chain of islands in the North Sea, just off the Coast of Lower Saxony in Germany. Seven of these islands are inhabited, including the 11-mile long island of Juist. On one side is the North Sea and the other is the UNESCO-protected Wadden Sea, These unique conditions have created a small spit of land that really is an oddly located paradise.
Hamburg is one of Europe’s great cities that for some reason still stays off the radar of many tourists, and I’m not sure why. It’s easy to reach, it’s fun to explore and is completely unlike most other cities in Germany. I recently returned from my fourth visit to the city and each time I’ve learned to appreciate it even more. One not to miss spot though is the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Listed as one entry, the Speicherstadt and the adjacent Kontorhaus district show off the architectural prowess of Hamburg in both the 19th and early 20th centuries. I particularly love the Speicherstadt, which seems plucked out of someone’s steampunk fantasies. Hamburg has long been an important port city, fueling the imperial ambitions of many a leader. At the heart of this commercial success was the turn of the century Warehouse District, nearly a mile long it’s the largest timber-pile founded warehouse district in the world. More than just a utilitarian storage area, the district was constructed with design and grace in mind. Small little alcoves and ornamentation can be found everywhere, an Easter egg hunt for the curious. The nearby buildings of the Kontorhaus district also reward the curious. Exemplifying the best of Art Deco design, these office buildings were created between the 1920s-40s and not only show off the beautiful design of the era, but also speak to the rapid growth of the city’s commercial side during the time period. When put together, wandering around both neighborhoods is a fun way to spend some time in Hamburg.