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First-timers to Germany may consider Berlin or Munich, but this country has many experiential destinations. “Historic Highlights of Germany” promotes 17 cities significant to Germany's chronology, bringing much of the past to the present.
Four of them make for a multi-stop trip via the Deutsche Bahn. Here's what to know about each location.
Established as a settlement by Charlemagne, Osnabrück was a major trading post as part of the Hanseatic League. Also nicknamed the “City of Peace,” Osnabrück was one of two cities in Germany’s Westphalia region where negotiations happened to end the Thirty Years’ War.
Inside Osnabrück’s (Rathaus) town hall, at the old town’s Markt, the Peace Hall has a portrait gallery of the delegates in these talks. The building's exterior has impressive details. Its entrance door has a handle adorned with a dove and is engraved with the German word for peace, “friede,” and 1648, the last year of the war. A statue of Charlemagne is positioned above, alongside ones of eight other rulers.
While in the old town, walk by the Romanesque St. Peter’s Cathedral, gabled townhouses and half-timbered homes, the Heger Tor gate and the Gothic church, Marienkirche.
The Felix Nussbaum Haus honors the Osnabrück-born Jewish painter Felix Nussbaum who perished in the Holocaust. The museum, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and an extension of the Cultural History Museum, shows Nussbaum’s paintings before World War II and while in hiding before being captured by the Nazis.
For dining, the Weinkrüger is a traditional German restaurant serving large lunches and dinners. Cafes are common throughout Osnabrück; among them, Café Sophies prepares classic German cakes amid their coffee selection. Fontanella is a popular ice cream parlor, and Große Straße is a main shopping street.
Where to stay: Romantik Hotel Walhalla
Münster’s side of the peace negotiations for ending the Thirty Years’ War occurred at their historic town hall; the “Hall of Peace” showcases the room where their negotiations happened. This Gothic building is located within Münster’s Prinzipalmarkt, a thoroughfare aligned with gabled houses now occupied by upscale stores and cafes.
Prinzipalmarkt leads to St Lambert’s Church, which is known for two lengthy traditions. Three iron baskets hang from its tower, as a reminder of the public execution of those who led the Münster rebellion. Then, a tower keeper looks over the city at night and blows a horn from different directions from the tower and at certain time increments.
As Germany’s friendliest city for cyclists, Münster has a system of bike paths and parking stations. Among them, the car-free Promenade is a green belt around the city center, sharing space with pedestrians and passing by where city fortifications once stood.
Altes Gasthaus Leve, an inn dating back to 1607, keeps Westphalian cuisine (a regional gastronomy involving hearty meals from eggs, ham and sausages, stews, vegetable medleys and pumpernickel) on the table. Similar dishes are served at Pinkus Müller, a family-based brewery established in 1816 that still produces a variety of beers; some comply with Germany’s beer purity law.
The Wochenmarkt operates on Wednesdays and Saturdays on the Domplatz, located in front of the Münster Cathedral, or St. Paulus Dom. Vendors at this impressive farmers' market sell mustards, spices, baked goods, honey, breads, meats, flowers and seasonal produce.
The Kunstmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster features the Spanish artist’s portraits and prints alongside temporary exhibitions of other artists, while the LWL Museum für Kunst und Kultur holds art from the Middle Ages to modern day. Stadtmuseum Münster tells of the city's chronology through model displays.
Where to stay: Feldmann Hotel & Restaurant
Through the discovery of its hot springs, Aachen was founded by the Romans as a resort destination, yet Charlemagne, as the Holy Roman Emperor, made the city his royal residence. He is buried at Aachen Cathedral. This World UNESCO Heritage site is also noted for its cupola and octagon and was where many German kings were crowned.
Tours of the cathedral are available, but also visit the Aachen Cathedral Treasury. It stores silver and gold jeweled relics and other artifacts relating to Charlemagne or medieval church art. Rathaus Aachen, the Gothic-Baroque style town hall, was a seat of power and a coronation site.
Elisenbrunnen, a neoclassical pavilion, draws water from the hot springs (be careful if touching), but experience the benefits of the springs firsthand at Carolus Thermen Bad Aachen’s indoor and outdoor thermal pools. Meanwhile, an archaeological site at the park Elisengarten shows layers of settlements in Aachen, starting with Roman times.
Aachen is known for Printen, a spicy firm and dark-colored gingerbread; buy some from one of Nobis Printen’s bakeries. Taste a slice of reisfladen, a rice pudding cake at Café van den Daele, or order a dessert with coffee at Aachener Café Haus or Leni Liebt Kaffee. At Postwagen, a circa 1902 wooden restaurant, try the Aachen-style sauerbraten (a pot roast).
Where to stay: Aquis Grana Cityhotel
Located on the Rhine River, Bonn was the capital city for West Germany, from 1949 to 1990, and is the hometown of two cultural icons: Ludwig van Beethoven and the Haribo candy company.
The Beethoven-Haus Bonn is the birthplace of the famous composer and pianist and highlights his life and compositions. Displayed objects include his hearing aids and handwritten sheet music and his portrait by German painter Joseph Karl Stieler.
Bonn’s native son is also honored at Beethovenfest, happening each fall with concerts at various locations in Bonn and the surrounding region. A regional self-guided walking tour tells a lot about this musical man through 22 information stations. Bonn’s half of this route is “BTHVN-STORY,” pointing out places and people citywide who influenced the artist in his youth.
Bonn’s “Museum Mile” includes five of its city’s museums plus a collective festival in early June. The Kunstmuseum Bonn exhibits contemporary works, concentrating on Rhenish Expressionists and German art from after 1945. The Haus der Geschichte shows Germany from the end of World War II up through its West and East Germany division.
The Haribo Store near Bonn’s Hofgarten park is a delightful candy shop stocked with HARIBO and MAOAM gummy and marshmallow products. Bonn University Botanic Gardens have been maintained for academic study for two centuries and visitors can see their collection. Or you can opt to take a side trip to Drachenburg Castle, a palace-style villa south of the city accessible by foot or a cable car.
Where to stay: Hotel Deutsches Haus Bonn