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Berlin is an edgy city, from its fashion to its architecture to its charged political history. The Berlin Wall is a sobering reminder of the hyper-charged postwar atmosphere, and yet the graffiti art that now covers its remnants has become symbolic of social progress. Check out the Weltzeituhr (world time) Clock, topped by a model of the solar system, then turn back time by dining at the historic Zur Letzten Instanz, a 16th century restaurant that was frequented by Napoleon and Beethoven.
Munich exudes Bavarian charm. Beer fanatics should head immediately to the Hofbräuhaus, a hops heaven that’s been churning out the good stuff since 1589. The drinking is downright legendary during Oktoberfest, a celebration of local beers and German specialty foods. Emulate world-class athletes at the Olympiapark, where skating on the Olympic ice rink will make you feel like a champion. The promenade of Marienplatz is perfect for people watching and gawking at the Glockenspiele of City Hall.
Second only to Berlin in size and population, the city of Hamburg is home to one of the biggest harbors 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.
There’s plenty to see and do in this 2,000-year-old German city. The gothic Saint Bartholomeus Cathedral is a perseverant structure, having been destroyed and rebuilt twice since its 14th century construction. Catch a screening at the German Film Museum, stroll the exhibit halls of one of Frankfurt’s many galleries, or climb to the top of the Main Tower for sweeping 360-degree views of the city.
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 leveled 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 auto 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 zoo and botanic garden combo, the Wilhelma. The WÂrttembergisches Landesmuseum, in one of the city's oldest structures, traces area history from the Stone Age. Buses or subway 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.