Germany is a veritable treasure trove of historical sites that you can go and discover. Its history stretches far beyond what may be associated with the country’s modern past, right back to the prehistoric age.
If you’re planning a trip to Germany, don’t forget to visit these 10 outstanding UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
1. Prehistoric Pile Dwellings
The Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps is a major archaeological site that stretches over the borders of Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. It consists of 111 small, individual sites of prehistoric pile-dwellings, or stilt house settlements, that were constructed between about 5000 and 500 B.C.E. on the edges of lakes, rivers and wetlands.
At Lake Constance in Germany, you’ll find the Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen (Stilt House Museum), an open-air archaeological museum that consists of reconstructed pile dwellings and some of the artifacts found during excavations.
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While only some of the sites have been excavated, evidence of prehistoric life has given archaeologists a lot of insight into how the Neolithic and Bronze Age settlers in Alpine Europe lived. The pile dwellings and excavations also give some suggestions as to how communities interacted with their environment, and how they survived in the harsh surroundings.
2. Old Town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof
Regensburg is one of those cities that wears its history on its sleeve. It boasts traces from various eras, stretching as far back as the Roman Empire. Called the “town of emperors and kings,” this Bavarian city houses 1,500 listed buildings, most of which fall into the area known as the “Old Town with Stadsamhof.”
Here, you’ll find French Gothic Cathedrals, ancient or medieval squares, patrician towers and lots of medieval architecture. The Old-Bridge, for example, dates from the 12th Century, but it’s just as sturdy as it’s always been! Among the rich testimonies to the city’s history, you can find many traces of the upheavals caused by religion, as Regensburg was one of the centers of the Holy Roman Empire that steadily turned toward Protestantism.
3. Town Hall of Bremen
This remarkable Gothic structure is situated in the medieval city of Bremen, which can be found on the river Weser in north-west Germany. It was built in the early 15th Century, when Bremen became part of the Hanseatic League, and later refurbished in the “Weser Renaissance”-style during the 17th Century. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the building and its accompanying statue are “outstanding representations of civic autonomy and sovereignty, as these developed in the Holy Roman Empire in Europe.”
The statue of Roland, the protector of the city, is located in the center of the old market square, which is right in front of the town hall. Roland was a paladin of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, and the hero of the Battle of the Roncevaux Pass. The town hall is placed between two churches: the Dom (cathedral church of St Peter) is located on the east side and the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) on the west. Across the market is the Schütting, the seat of the ancient merchant guilds.
4. Muskauer Park
This peaceful park has quite an impressive history to match its stunning location. Located along the Neisse River and straddling the border between Poland and Germany, this park was created by Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau in 1815 to go with his Schloss Muskau residence. Pückler-Muskau became known not only for his lineage, but also for his amazing landscape gardening talent.
The park encompasses 559.9 acres and features a reconstructed castle, bridges and an arboretum. Pückler created an integrated landscape framework, which extends into the town of Muskau. Green passages formed urban parks that framed the areas for development, and the town became a design component in a Utopian landscape.
The structure of the Muskauer Park is focused on the New Castle, which was reconstructed by Pückler in the 1860s according to the designs of the Prussian architect, Schinkel. A network of paths radiates out from the castle.
5. Rhine Valley
Civilization seems to run along rivers. Just like civilization sprung up on the banks of the Nile in Egypt, the Rhine Valley, a 65-km stretch of beautiful scenery stocked with castles, historic towns and illustrious vineyards, is a testament to how human development was etched from dramatic and varied natural landscapes.
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And, just like the ancient Nile in Egypt, this river is intimately associated with its country’s sense of self. It has inspired Germany’s age-old legends and mythic heroes, and continues to exercise a considerable influence on the poets, artists and authors of this age.
The Middle Rhine Valley was not only a vital source of water, but also an essential strategic location for trade and battle. Located in a stretch between Bingen, Rüdesheim and Koblenz, it acted as a transport artery that ensured the prosperity of its sixty small towns and its extensive terraced vineyards. Some of the most attractive parts of the Rhine Valley are its old medieval castles, which dot the riverbanks and cliffs in a foreboding reminder of when its trade had to be vigilantly defended.
6. Monastic Island of Reichenau
The Island of Reichenau on Lake Constance houses a preserved Benedictine monastery. The Monastery was founded in 724, and since then has exercised a remarkable influence on the landscape and the German people.
At this site, you can stroll along the churches of St Mary and Marcus, St Peter and St Paul, and St George, which will take you through a panoramic tour of early medieval monastic architecture. These churches were built between the 9th and 11th Centuries, and house important artistic wall paintings and illuminations that bear witness to the talents of its medieval inhabitants.
7. Wartburg Castle
The feudal Wartburg Castle, which blends spectacularly into its forest environment, is a perfect example of a medieval castle. Despite centuries of restorations and renovations, Wartburg Castle retains many of the important feudal aspects that it sported in its military and seigneurial heyday. One of the many important historical events that took place here was the exile of Martin Luther, during which he translated the New Testament into German.
The Castle of Wartburg can be reached via a staggering 180 m climb up a forest slope. From this, you can get a sense of its strategic and military importance, but it is only once you get to the castle itself that you can appreciate its value as a powerful symbol for German history and unity.
The construction of the castle is attributed to Count Ludwig der Springer. The first steps in its construction were taken in 1067. Before long it became one of the key points in the early years of Ludovician sovereignty.
8. Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin
Potsdam, the former royal seat of Prussia, is home to a stunning array of palaces and gardens. Its complex of palaces and parks stretches over 500 ha and encompasses 150 buildings, which were all constructed between 1730 and 1916. The palaces were constructed in the baroque style, which should tell you that you’re in for a sumptuous architectural treat.
This expansive UNESCO World Heritage site extends into the district of Berlin-Zehlendorf, with the palaces and parks lining the banks of the River Havel and Lake Glienicke forming part of the impressive grounds.
The castle and the park offer new models that greatly influenced the development of the monumental arts and the organization of space east of the Oder.
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9. Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust
Once you have experienced the baroque wonders of Potsdam, move on to the Rococo splendors of the Augustusburg Castle and the Falkenlust hunting lodge, which are located in Brühl, North Rhine-Westphalia. The Augustusburg castle served as the sumptuous residence of the prince-archbishops of Cologne, while Falkenlust hunting lodge was built so that the prince-archbishops could enjoy a spot of falconry in style.
Built during the 18th Century, Augustusburg and Falkenlust present the first important reproductions of the Rococo style in Germany. For more than a century, they served as models for most of the princely courts. As the Residence of Würzburg, the castles and gardens are outstanding examples of the large princely residence of the 18th century.
10. Church of Wies
Miraculously preserved in the beautiful setting of an Alpine valley, the Church of Wies, which was constructed between 1745 and 1754, is a masterpiece of Bavarian Rococo. Architect Dominikus Zimmermann successfully imbued the building with a sense of exuberance and joy, which is expressed in the colorful architectural details.