Northern Germany

Three federal states – Lower Saxony and the city-states of Hamburg and Bremen – occupy a huge swathe of northern Germany. Lower Saxony’s capital, Hanover, has splendid architecture and fine museums. Hamburg and Bremen were wealthy Hanseatic trading towns, and today their ports still play an important role in city life. The region’s other main attractions are the well- preserved medieval towns of Münster, in North Rhine-Westphalia, and Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein.



Münster’s main sights of interest are located in the Altstadt, the historic heart of the city. The imposing Gothic Rathaus (Town Hall), carefully restored following damage during World War II, dates from the late 12th century. In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed here, ending the Thirty Years’ War. Münster’s great cathedral, the Dom St. Paulus, on Domplatz, was built in 1225–65. Its best-known treasure is the astronomical clock (1540). Also on the square is the Westfälisches Landesmuseum, specializing in Gothic art. Nearby, the Lambertikirche (1375–1450) is a fine example of the hall churches typical of Westphalia. West of the center stands the Residenzschloss. Built in 1767–87, the splendid Baroque palace, now the headquarters of Münster’s university overlooks pleasant gardens.


Hanover (Hannover) is the capital of Lower Saxony, and for more than a century, from 1714 to 1837, shared a succession of rulers with Britain. Heavily bombed during World War II, the city has been largely rebuilt. Among the city’s finest landmarks are the grand Opernhaus (Opera House), built in Neoclassical style in 1845–57, and, on Tramm-platz, the Neues Rathaus (Town Hall), which dates from 1901–13 and combines Neo-Gothic and Secessionist detail. The latter’s massive central dome offers fine views of the city. On Marktplatz, in the old town, are many restored, 15th-century, half-timbered houses, as well as the Markt-kirche St. Georg und St. Jacobus with its 14th-century nave and fine Gothic altar. One of Europe’s best museums of modern art, the Sprengel- Museum holds works by Munch, Chagall, Picasso, and Christo. Also worth visiting is the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, whose picture gallery has German medieval and Renaissance paintings, Dutch and Flemish works by Rubens, Rembrandt, and van Dyck, and 19th- and 20th-century German art. West of the city center, the Herrenhäuser Gärten are among the most beautiful Baroque gardens in Germany.


A member of the Hanseatic League from 1358, in the Middle Ages, Bremen was a thriving seaport, trading in grain, wine, and salt. Today, the independent city-state still prospers from its port, Germany’s second-largest. Bremen’s Rathaus (Town Hall), on Marktplatz, was built in 1405–10 and boasts a fine Renaissance facade, added to the original Gothic structure 200 years later. Opposite is the 11th-century Romanesque Dom, which contains some fine bas-reliefs. In Marktplatz itself stand a tall statue of Charlemagne’s knight Roland (1404) and a sculpture of the Musicians of Bremen (1953), recalling the Grimm fairy tale. Two museums of note are the Kunsthalle, with European art dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, and the Focke Museum, a museum of local history and decorative arts.


For many years, Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, was a leading member of the Hanseatic League and an independent trading town. In 1945, it became a city-state of the Federal Republic. Hamburg sustained considerable damage during World War II, and little of the old town remains. The ruined tower of the Neo-Gothic Nikolaikirche serves as a monument to the tragic consequences of war. Nearby, the Jakobikirche (1340) has been rebuilt in its original style. Inside is a massive 17th-century Baroque organ by Arp Schnitger. Another fine church is the Baroque Michaeliskirche, whose 132 m (433 ft) tower gives splendid views of the city. Hamburg’s Neo-Renaissance town hall, on the Rathausmarkt, is the fifth in the city’s history. Just north of it is a large recreational lake, the Binnenalster. Also nearby, the prestigious Kunsthalle traces the history of European art from medieval times to the 20th century. The section devoted to the 19th-century German Romantics is especially good. The best-known example of the city’s collection of Expressionist buildings is Fritz Höger’s Chilehaus (1922–4) in Kontorhausviertel. Hamburg is the second-largest port in Europe after Rotterdam, and a tour is highly recommended. There are two museum ships moored here: the freighter Cap San Diego and the sailing boat Rickmer Rickmers (1896).


The most important town in the Baltic basin at the end of the Middle Ages, Lübeck is known for its wealth of superb medieval architecture. The city’s 13th-century Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) boasts the highest vaulted brick nave in the world. A short walk away, the turreted Rathaus (Town Hall) dates from 1226 and is a fine example of Lübeck’s distinctive Gothic brick architecture. The Gothic Dom (Cathedral) was begun in 1173. Nearby, the St. Annen-Museum has historical artifacts dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Another famous monument is the Holstentor (1466–78), the western gateway to the city. The Buddenbrookhaus is a museum devoted to the great writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann, whose family lived here in 1841–91.