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In progressive Berlin, the old buildings of Mitte gracefully coexist with the modern Reichstag. Don't miss top historical sights like the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz.
Munich was almost completely destroyed in two world wars, yet it's managed to recreate much of its folkloric, Bavarian past. Oktoberfest is legendary, but you can visit the Hofbrauhaus any time of year for an immense beer. Olympiapark, the site of the 1972 games, is not to be missed (you can skate on the Olympic ice rink and swim in the pool). On a somber note, take time to visit the concentration camp at Dachau—it's an intense, yet unforgettable, glimpse into the not-too-distant horrors of the Holocaust.
Second only to Berlin in size and population, the city of Hamburg is home to one of the biggest harbours in Europe. A stroll along its many waterways and canals illustrates why it has been called the "Venice of the North." Don't miss a trip to the local fish market (Fischmarkt), the Merchants District (marked by its imposing red-brick architecture), a fine dining experience along the river or a night out in the university quarter. And did we mention the Reeperbahn (red light district)? It's quite famous for its… red lights.
There are 2,000 years of history in Cologne, and visitors here will find everything from Roman towers to Gothic churches to fine examples of modern architecture. Cologne has a variety of museums, too—check out the Museum of Applied Art, the Museum Ludwig and, if you have a sweet tooth, the Chocolate Museum. Be forewarned, though—the gift shop at the latter will utterly ruin your diet.
On the banks of the lovely Elbe River, the German city of Dresden is lush and green, filled with forests and gardens and parks. The city is rich with cultural and artistic history; the great operatic composer Wilhelm Wagner debuted a number of works here in the 1800s and, today, an independent light opera company keeps the classical art form modern and fresh. Culture vultures will love the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and Grünes Gewölbe museums, and architecture buffs will salivate over the mélange of styles reflected in the cityscape.
Many people travel through Frankfurt for business, as it's a major transportation hub and an industrial and financial metropolis. Of course we know that business travellers hate to have any fun on the road (wink), but it's worth lingering in Frankfurt if you can. The 2,000-year-old city has much to offer: skyscrapers, the Main River, a famous opera house, thriving theatre district, zoo, pedestrian shopping street, parks, scores of bars and dance clubs, and more than 50 museums.
The capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Dusseldorf is a regional economic powerhouse straddling the banks of the Rhine River. Altstadt is not just Dusseldorf's lovely old town, but also where the city's nightlife is based and where Altbier, its native dark beer, is plentiful. Dusselforfians take their beer seriously. Königsallee (Ko to the locals), Dusseldorf's famous shopping street, has many high-end stores. And the Museum Kunst Palast has one of the Rhineland's best art collections.
With half a million people, Nuremberg is Bavaria's second largest city. While its history dates to the 11th century, Nuremberg is most often linked to the 20th century (specifically World War II). It first served as the site of many pre-war Nazi rallies, then was nearly levelled by Allied bombing, then was the site of the famous post-war Nuremberg Trials. The city has much to offer today's visitors, including the rebuilt Nuremberg Castle and the world-famous gingerbread at Hauptmarkt. Hansel and Gretel would have loved this place.
Surrounded by one of Germany's largest wine-growing regions, Stuttgart beckons cultural junkies with its acclaimed ballet, opera and philharmonic, while car fans get revved up over the Mercedes Benz Museum. There's more green space than urban sprawl in the festival-friendly city, home to Europe's largest combined zoo and botanic garden, the Wilhelma. The Württembergisches Landesmuseum, in one of the city's oldest structures, traces the area's history from the Stone Age. Buses or metro provide handy transport.
It’s always hard to fill the shoes of someone who used to do your job very well. If you’re the choirmaster at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, guess whose shoes you have to fill? Bach’s. (No pressure.) Leipzig is closely connected to classical music—Wagner was born here, and Mendelssohn established a conservatory here in 1843. If you’re more of a melancholy, contemporary type, visit during the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, billed as the world’s largest "dark" (Goth, industrial, punk, etc.) music festival.