Germany

Germany

Germany and its visitors are reaping the rewards of unity. Huge investments in infrastructure and services are not only erasing the Cold War dividing lines, but scars caused by World War II are also finally disappearing.

In real terms, this means that travelers are likely to move around the country faster, dine better and experience newer attractions, such as the Reichstag’s glass dome. A lot has changed, yet chances are that repeat visitors will still find the things they always liked: the restaurant serving huge helpings of sauerbraten or the biergarten with liter upon liter of lager and wheat beer.

Once you stop looking at Germany strictly in terms of east and west, you’ll start to see it as the Germans do: as regions sharply defined by dialect, food, traditions and history. For the best perspective, sample as many regions as possible.

Booming Berlin, now the No. 1 tourist magnet, is the clearest benefactor of reunification. Visitors to the cultural centers of Dresden, Leipzig and Weimar in eastern Germany will find improved amenities there as well. The north has the delightful old seafaring cities of Hamburg and Bremen.

Along the Rhine and Moselle rivers are picturesque castles and steep, terraced vineyards. The Grimm Brothers collected the tales they heard in a trail of villages from Hanau to Bremen. In the south are snowcapped Alps, the alluring Black Forest, Munich, and Bavaria’s boisterous beer halls and rococo palaces and churches.

Although it has plenty of fairy-tale sights and picturesque scenery that is reminiscent of medieval times, Germany is without a doubt a postindustrial, multicultural country with all the inherent advantages and conflicts. Reunification has been a huge social and economic undertaking, and it comes on top of an already heavy and, at times, troubling history. Travelers to Germany will probably not be affected, but on the other hand, visitors shouldn’t expect all parts of the country, at all times, to be an Oktoberfest.

Geography

Germany shares a border with nine countries, more than any other European nation. Internally, it’s divided into 16bundeslander (provinces or states). Its only coastlines are in the north, along the North and Baltic seas. In the south are mostly foothills and mountains: the Alps in the far south and the Erzgebirge in the southeast. The central part of the country is also spotted with several smaller mountain ranges. The northern third of the country is mostly a plain.

Rivers are also distinctive features. The main ones are the Rhine, which flows northward in the western part of the country; the Danube, which begins as a trickle in the southwest and becomes a real river farther east; the Elbe, which flows through Dresden in the southeast and into the North Sea near Hamburg; and the Oder and Neisse, which together form the eastern border with Poland.

If the country were a clockface, Berlin would be at 2, Dresden 3, Munich 6, Frankfurt 9, Cologne 10 and Hamburg 12.