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History in the Making: Travel in Germany

Fresh ideas from the worlds of fashion, design, architecture and cuisine in an increasingly popular tourist destination
by Constanze Kleis

In its special edition Best in Travel 2010 “Lonely Planet”, the cult Australian travel guide, lists Germany in second place of countries to have visited. On account of its great diversity and ability to change – and because “Germany is still a country where you can witness history in the making”, particularly in Berlin. There are several other good reasons why a visit is worthwhile: the country’s modern approach, its openness, the quality of life, the excellent value for money, the multi-national diversity and the creativity with which Germany both renews and preserves its cultural identity. Nowadays a laissez-faire attitude and a liberal sense of curiosity are evident almost everywhere.

For example in nutrition. Of course you can still enjoy heavy regional cuisine, the hearty characteristics of the different landscapes: Roast pork with dumplings from Bavaria or ribs and sauerkraut from Hesse. Yet several new influences have also made their mark on German cuisine and Germans now have the most international range of food in Europe: According to a survey conducted by the Allensbach Institute more than fifty percent of all Germans chose foreign cuisine when eating out, primarily Italian, Chinese or Greek.

Another trend is towards healthy eating. Organic supermarkets offer a blend of what is becoming increasingly important to Germans: Enjoyment and responsibility, lifestyle and a clear conscience.

The Riesling miracle

Since the beginning of the millennium German Riesling wine has been enjoying a Renaissance – on the international stage as well. The world over, it is now a standard item in many top restaurants. Riesling has earned the enthusiasm of wine experts for the “German wine miracle” thanks to its lightness and sparkling character, characteristics that are the result of the particular climatic conditions and soil: because the German wine-growing regions are among the most northerly in the world. The long period of vegetation and comparatively moderate temperatures in summer make wines from Germany filigree and keep their alcohol content low. Different soil types and vines such as Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner also play their part in giving German wines a reputation for being remarkably varied. The Pinot Gris is also becoming increasingly important.

Of German wine production, 65 percent is white and 35 percent red. The Württemberg and Ahr wine growing regions are particularly well-known for their red wine. The new generation of vintners in the 13 German wine-growing regions, concentrating as they do on quality rather than quantity, has also played its part in the success story. 200 wine estates together formed the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates. With the eagle and grape seal of quality they vouch for outstanding wines from the most renowned German wine estates.

Destination Germany

Germany is becoming increasingly popular as a travel destination: In 2009 the German National Tourist Board recorded 54.8 million overnights by foreign guests from the North Sea to the Alps. Despite the economic crisis Germany succeeded in maintaining its high level of tourism and in comparison with other countries was even able to increase its share of the international market. Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne are the most popular cities with international visitors. Business travelers in particular value Germany as a destination. With an 11 percent market share of all international business trips Germany is the market leader in business tourism worldwide.

Most visitors to Germany come from other European countries, the USA and Asia. With regard to individual states, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg are the preferred destinations.

In addition to historical sights, top-quality concert series, art exhibitions, theater performances as well as major international sports events, not to mention street festivals and atmospheric Christmas markets are just a few of the attractions that bring the visitors flocking. The Germans love to celebrate, and never miss an opportunity to do so. Many festivals such as Munich’s renowned Oktoberfest (which in 2010 celebrates its 200th birthday), Christopher Street Day in Cologne, the Carnival of the Cultures in Berlin, Fastnacht in Mainz and Carnival in Cologne have long become an international synonym for high spirits and a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Whereas most foreign visitors are drawn to the big cities, Germans themselves tend to visit smaller places and rural regions in their home country: The coasts of the North and Baltic Seas, the Black Forest and Lake Constance are the most popular vacation destinations. Germany boasts no less than 14 national parks, 101 nature parks and 15 biosphere reserves. However, for active holiday makers too coastlines, lakes, as well as low and high mountain ranges are all becoming increasingly important. There are all sorts of opportunities available: There are as many as nine European long distance trails stretching for 9,700 kilometers throughout the country and a total of 190,000 kilometers of signposted walks. And for cyclists there are 50,000 kilometers of track on which to discover the country.

In fine shape – fashion and design

High fashion by German designers is a firm feature on the international catwalks. For decades now designers Karl Lagerfeld, who was born in Hamburg and is the creative mind behind the French haute couture company Chanel, and Wolfgang Joop, who is nowadays enjoying success with his Wunderkind Couture label, have been global players. Of the younger generation Bernhard Willhelm, Markus Lupfer, Stephan Schneider and Daniela and Annette Felder, for example, are enjoying succees from Paris, London, and Antwerp to New York.

In Germany Berlin has emerged as the place where the fashion scene sets trends: Twice a year the world of fashion meets there at the Berlin Fashion Week and the streetwear trade fair Bread & Butter, with around 700 fashion labels putting up stiff competition for fashion centers such as London and Paris. The German fashion designers play with identities and traditions and since reunification have developed an independent, self-confident style of its own. Their fashion also has many facets – from fresh and wacky, elegant and purist to colorful, poetic designs. In everyday life, Germans tend to focus more on the down-to-earth. In addition to functional business attire they tend to prefer casual sportswear, such as Boss and Strenesse by Gabriele Strehle. Though headquartered in southern Germany, both labels have long been well established in international markets. Great value is placed on creativity and individuality, both of which are more important to fashion-conscious Germans than status symbols. German fashion companies were some of the first to adopt “green fashion” and place importannce on sustainability and fair trade.

German product design has a reputation for creating carefully devised, straightforward functional products. Design made in Germany – from Bulthaup kitchens to Braun razors – is held in high regard in the international arena. Companies such as furniture manufacturers Wilk¬hahn and Vitra still lead the way in terms of style, as do Lamy for writing implements and Erco for luminaires. The traditions of Bauhaus in the 1920s and the Ulm College in the 1950s are still highly regarded, but in the meantime a new generation has made a name for itself. It includes Konstantin Grcic, who was born in 1965 and is one of the most innovative young designers. Born in Munich, he accords totally banal everyday objects an unfamiliar touch of poetry. The newcomers from “Studio Vertijet” in Halle, Steffen Kroll and Kirsten Hoppert, also blend playful and analytical design elements in their work. In 2010 the textile designer Elisa Strozyk won the first award presented to up-and-coming designers by the German Design Prize.

Architecture

The architectural scene in Germany has several regional centers, but since reunification it has also certainly focused on Berlin. In the capital, world-class architecture can be experienced at close quarters: Whether Lord Norman Foster, who converted the former Reichstag building into the new German parliament, Renzo Piano, Daniel Libeskind, I. M. Pei or Rem Koolhaas – the list of international architects who have made their mark on the face of Berlin in the 21st century is long. Vice versa, German architecture companies such as von Gerkan, Marg und Partner and Albert Speer & Partner also enjoy international success. Sustainable building, in other words architecture which consumes as little as possible or even no energy at all, is playing an ever greater role. This is a topic which architects from Germany such as Stefan Behnisch, Christoph Ingenhoven, Werner Sobek and the duo Louisa Hutton and Matthias Sauerbruch addressed early on, and in which they have acquired expertsie that is in demand worldwide. Also attracting attention is Graft, a trio of architects from Berlin that combines the avant-garde and ecology – as in the futuristic project “Bird Island“, which is under construction in Malaysia.

by Constanze Kleis