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Germany: Selling UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers


GermanyNow is the time to step up your familiarity with Germany, as the German National Tourist Board ( teams up with the German Commission for UNESCO for a 2014 campaign advertising their 38 UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are the springboard for promoting cultural tourism to Germany, and familiarity with the range and scope of these sites will help you steer clients  - whatever their interests -  to the most memorable experiences.

The 38 sites selected by UNESCO for their “cultural and natural heritage ...considered to be of outstanding value to humanity” cover all periods of history, from the fossil site at the Messel Pit in Hesse and prehistoric pile dwellings in the Alps to Bauhaus sites in Weimar and Dessau, and Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. 

Although clients will be unlikely to tour all 38, a selection of UNESCO sites could make the perfect framework for a trip that includes seeing some of Europe’s most iconic images: castles, cathedrals, royal palaces, streets of medieval buildings and Roman remains. Add to that the scenes of great historic events, people and movements, such as the Hanseatic League cities on the Baltic coast, Frederick the Great’s palaces in Potsdam, and the church in Wittenberg where Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses that began the Protestant Reformation.

Important to note when planning an itinerary is the extent of each site. Some, like Bavaria’s lovely Wieskirche pilgrimage church, can be seen independently, but other multi-faceted sites could take a day or longer to see.   

Potsdam and Berlin

The Palaces and Parks of Potsdam ( alone -- the UNESCO site combines them with those of Berlin -- take at least a day. Germany’s finest example of Rococo, Sanssouci Palace was based on a plan sketched by Frederick the Great himself. Although small compared to other royal palaces, it is richly decorated and overlooks some of Europe’s most beautiful terraced formal gardens. Next to Sanssouci, the Bildergalerie houses Frederick II’s collection of paintings (open to visitors) that includes works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens and Carravaggio. 

While Frederick loved the smaller Sanssouci, at the far end of his park he built the 200-room Neues Palais in 1769, a more impressive palace for entertaining guests. Clients will want a full tour here to see the royal apartments, Grottensaal -- an enormous reception room decorated in stones and shells, and Marble Hall, where every surface of floors, walls and ceiling is covered in marble. Between the palaces stretches a vast park with gardens designed for strolling and a gold encrusted Chinese Pavilion built in 1763. Suggest that clients stop for lunch or cakes at the fanciful Drachenhaus Cafe above the gardens. Reserve rooms around the corner from the palace gate at the uber-friendly Steigenberger Hotel Sanssouci (

While touring the palaces and gardens in Berlin, clients may want to add two more UNESCO sites. The Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, built 1910-1933, are an outstanding example of the building reform movement for low-income housing through new urban designs. Walter Gropius was among its architects, and the work influenced the development of housing worldwide. The five museums of Museumsinsel (Museum Island), built between 1824 and 1930, show the evolution of museum design, each organically connected with the art it displays.

Baltic Coast

Almost any region of Germany invites exploring via its UNESCO sites, and clients intent on seeing the palaces of Berlin and Potsdam could easily combine them with the two sites that include three beautiful Hanseatic cities on the Baltic coast. Lübeck merits a stop even for those with no interest in the history and architecture that won its designation. Narrow lanes lined with boutiques and galleries invite shoppers, and its most famous product - Lübeck Marzipan - brings foodies to two-century-old Cafe Niederegger ( Near the city’s iconic tower gate is the outstanding Lübeck Museum of Theatre Puppets, a rambling historical treasure house that will fascinate even those with no interest in puppets (

The second UNESCO site combines Stralsund and Wismar, both major 14th- and 15th-century trading centers of the Hanseatic League and filled with characteristic gabled architecture ( Wismar adds one of the most magnificent of the region’s distinctive brick churches, St. Nicholas, along with a picturesque waterfront at Alten Hafen. Suggest clients join locals for lunch of fish sandwiches sold right from the boats, and quaff beer at Brauhaus am Lohberg, open for more than 550 years. BoatsWismarra, an authentic replica of a Hansa trading ship, offer cruises on the Baltic. Hotel Alter Speicher (, just off the market square, is a perfect base for exploring the old city; the tourist office can arrange guides.

Stralsund’s compact old town mixes shops and boutiques with brick Gothic churches and merchants’ houses. One of these is now Wulflamstuben, a fine-dining restaurant where you can reserve clients a table overlooking the market square (

Cologne & the Rhine Valley

Perhaps the best known of all Germany’s cathedrals is Cologne’s, its tall towers rising majestically over the main square and within a short walk of the landing for Rhine cruise boats. Begun in 1248, construction continued over seven centuries, and unlike most such long building spans, kept closely to the original plans, giving it a unity of medieval Gothic style and techniques. Its stained-glass windows are the largest set of 14th-century windows surviving in Europe. Tombs of archbishops predate the present church, dating back to 976; the high altar, carved-oak choir stalls and painted choir screens all date from the Middle Ages.

Nearby Augustusburg Castle, residence of the prince-archbishops of Cologne, and the Falkenlust hunting lodge form one UNESCO site representing some of the earliest Rococo architecture in Germany. Aachen Cathedral, the first German site to be inscribed by UNESCO back in 1978, began construction about 800 under the Emperor Charlemagne, and was greatly enlarged in the Middle Ages. These sites combine well with three farther south.

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, cited as one of the world’s “oldest and most magnificent cultural landscapes” includes the stretch of river from Koblenz to Rüdesheim. Castles look down from steep terraced vineyards, and timbered towns line each bank - all best seen from the river itself. Book clients a cruise with K-D (, at least through the most scenic portion past legendary Loreley, with a return by train or boat.

From Koblenz (, a charming old city where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet, it’s a scenic cruise or train ride (reserved in advance, to Trier, where an astonishing eight Roman and earlier sites combine in one UNESCO designation. Mercure Hotel Trier Porta Nigra ( overlooks the impressive Roman city gate in the city center ( Nearby in Saarbrücken, Völklingen Ironworks preserves gigantic blast furnaces and an early-20th-century sloping ore lift at the world’s only surviving smelting works from the height of the iron and steel industry

UNESCO Sites for Special Interests

Clients interested in history are not the only ones who will want to visit Germany’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Along with Völklingen Ironworks, several others provide a close look at industry and engineering. The early-20th-century Fagus Factory complex in Alfeld, Lower Saxony, designed by Walter Gropius, is a landmark in modern industrial design. Mines of Rammelsberg and Upper Harz Water Management System combine to show how water was used for extracting ore as early as the Middle Ages by Cistercian monks, a system developed and expanded until the 19th century. Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen demonstrates
coal extraction.

Those interested in religious sites will enjoy touring the various Martin Luther memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg, as well as the Monastic Island of Reichenau on Lake Constance. Founded in 724, it shows early monastic architecture as well as the spiritual, intellectual and artistic influence of monasteries. While clients are so close to the Black Forest, be sure to include a stopover of at least one night in this beautiful region, perhaps at the traditional Gasthaus Blume Schnellinger in Haslach (

Fans of architecture are spoiled for choice among Germany’s UNESCO sites, which cover all periods through Modernism. Along with several cathedrals, the Hanseatic towns, Classical Weimar and the Bauhaus sites, are entire medieval town centers, including Bamberg and the old town of Regensburg . A trading center from the 9th century, Regensburg is filled with 2,000 years of structures representing ancient Roman, Romanesque and Gothic buildings, but its 11th- to 13th-century architecture gives the old town its character with tall buildings, towers, narrow lanes and fortifications. 

In short, UNESCO sites represent almost a full spectrum of Germany’s attractions, and can form the theme of trips in all seasons. For a full list with links, visit

All areas of Germany are served from the US by Lufthansa ( and Air Berlin ( Cities are connected by frequent trains ( Reserve rental cars (commissionable) through Auto Europe ( for pickup at airports or cities throughout Germany.



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