Berlin, Capital City
Berlin was the capital of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich before being divided after World War II. The must-visit Reichstag (parliament building) was reconstructed with a special glass dome after reunification. From the dome, you can see directly down into the parliament chambers below—a symbol of government transparency. The iconic East German TV tower, a symbol of political power, also makes a great stop. The Checkpoint Charlie museum details accounts of people escaping the GDR. The new Topography of Terror exhibit hall, another must-see, is a rich source of information on the Nazi regime.
Dresden's Church of Our Lady is a masterpiece of baroque architecture. Completed in 1743, the magnificent domed church was destroyed as a result of Allied bombing in February 1945. In 2005, the church was rebuilt from the original rubble, thanks entirely to private donations.
Heidelberg's immense ruined fortress is a prime example of Gothic and Renaissance styles. It inspired the 19th-century Romantic writers, especially the poet Goethe, who admired its decay amidst the beauty of the Neckar Valley.
Jüdisches Museum, Berlin
Under the Nazis, at least 6 million Jews, along with homosexuals, the disabled, Gypsies, and political and religious dissidents, were rounded up and sent to slave labor and death camps. Berlin's Jewish Museum, a riveting, angular building designed by Daniel Libeskind, documents Jewish life in Germany and confronts the scars of World War II.
Köln's breathtaking cathedral, one of Germany's best-known monuments, is the first thing that greets you when you step out of the train station. The Gothic marvel took more than 600 years to build.
For 12 days at the end of September and into early October, Munich hosts the world's largest beer bonanza. Originally, the festival celebrated the marriage of Therese von Sachsen to Ludwig I in 1810. It soon morphed into a yearly festival, one that now welcomes more than 6 million visitors and serves more than 5 million liters of beer.
Walt Disney modeled the castle in Sleeping Beauty and later the Disneyland castle itself on Neuschwanstein. "Mad" King Ludwig II's creation is best admired from the heights of the Marienbrücke, a delicate-looking bridge over a deep, narrow gorge.
Roman Ruins, Trier
Founded in 16 BC as Augusta Treverorum, Trier is home to impressive, well-preserved Roman ruins. Visit the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), thermal baths, and the amphitheater, where you can still see gladiators battle it out.
Weimar: Goethe, Schiller, Bauhaus
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Weimar was home to such German luminaries as Goethe and Schiller, whose homes are now museums. The Bauhaus movement, which gave rise to much of modern architecture and design, was also born here—as you'll learn on a visit to the Bauhaus Museum Weimar.
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