Western Germany

Famed for its excellent wines and the festivities of Cologne’s annual carnival, Western Germany is the country’s wealthiest and most heavily industrialized region. The Ruhr district still harbors enormous industrial potential, while Frankfurt am Main is Germany’s largest financial center. The region is also rich in tourist attractions – visitors are drawn to the romantic castles which line the Rhine and Mosel valleys, to Cologne with its majestic twin-towered cathedral, the spa town of Aachen, the museums of Frankfurt and Kassel, and the imposing Romanesque cathedrals of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz.



One of Germany’s oldest towns, Trier was founded in 17 BC as Augusta Treverorum, supposedly by Emperor Augustus himself. Thanks to its eventful Roman past, it preserves some of the most impressive Roman antiquities outside of Rome. In the 5th century, the town had 70,000 inhabitants but was conquered and destroyed by Germanic tribes, never returning to its former importance. Today, Trier attracts visitors for its picturesque river views, its combination of ancient Roman buildings and local charm, and for its wine. It is also the birthplace of Karl Marx, with an important exhibition on the history of communism.


This German state, bordered by Luxembourg and France, was long disputed between France and Germany but has now been firmly integrated into the Federal Republic. Almost forgotten are its coal and steel industries, which declined in the 1960s and 70s. The region has seen a turbulent history – it was ruled in turn by Celts, Romans, and Franks. In the 17th century, on the order of Louis XIV, Vauban built the town-fortress of Saarlouis. Saarbrücken, an 18th-century town, is famous for its Baroque architecture, mostly created by Friedrich Joachim Stengel.


The Mosel river, 338 miles long, is one of the longest tributaries of the Rhine. The Mosel valley between Trier and Koblenz, where the Mosel flows into the Rhine, is one of the most beautiful parts of Germany. On both sides of the river, romantic castles tower over endless vineyards, where excellent white grapes are grown – both are typical features of the charming landscape.


The “German Wine Route” starts in Bockenheim and ends in Schweigen, near the Alsatian town of Weißenburg. The tour suggested here includes the most interesting sections of this route. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Germany, where visitors will encounter aspects of German and European historical and cultural heritage at every step, set among the picturesque scenery of the endless vineyards covering the sundrenched slopes of the Pfälzer Wald.


The town, which grew out of the Roman military camp Moguntiacum established in 39 BC, is today the capital of the Rhineland-Palatinate. Mainz is the home of an important German television station (ZDF). It is also the main center of trade for the popular Rhine wines. Its splendid late-Romanesque cathedral symbolizes the power of the Kurfürsten, the prince-electors, who used to crown German kings. Indisputably the town’s most famous son is Johannes Gutenberg – the inventor of printing. The Gutenberg Museum, which opened in 1900, shows a reconstruction of the master’s workshop from 1450.


The greatest attraction of Mainz is its superb St Martin cathedral, gleaming red in the sunshine. Together with those of Speyer and Worms, it is one of the only three Romanesque imperial cathedrals to have survived almost intact to this day. Its basic framework was laid out in 1081– 1137 and 1183–1239, but its oldest parts date from the early 11th century, with the Gothic side chapels added during the 13th and 14th centuries. Although neither the Gothic altars nor the magnificent choir screen has survived to this day, it is still possible to see the large group of bishops’ monuments from the 13th to the 19th century.


The Celts called it Renos, the Romans Rhenus, while to Germanic tribes it was the Rhein, or Vater Rhein (“Father Rhine”), as it is known today. The source of this mighty, 825-mile long river is in Switzerland, from where it flows through or past Liechtenstein, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, yet the Germans regard it as “their” river. The Rhine is steeped in many legends – it was into this river that Hagen von Tronje, faithful follower of King Gunther and slayer of Siegfried, threw the treasure of the Nibelungs, and Lohengrin’s swan is said to appear near the town of Kleve (see p393) to this day.


The name which the Romans gave to their camp in 9 BC – castellum apud confluentes, meaning the “camp at the confluence” – reflects the town’s strategic importance, for it is here that the Mosel flows into the Rhine. From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, Koblenz was the seat of the powerful archbishop-electors of Trier. It was also the birthplace of Prince von Metternich, the 19th-century Austrian statesman. Today it is a modern metropolis which attracts many visitors and is the main center of the region’s cultural life.


A true masterpiece of German and European Romanesque architecture, the Maria Laach Abbey stands next to the Laacher See, a lake formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. Its construction started in 1093 at the behest of Heinrich II, who also lies buried here. Building continued from 1093 until 1220. Until secularization in 1802, the Abbey was the home of the Benedictines. Since 1892 the church has once again been resounding with Gregorian chants, which are sung here several times a day.


The cultural, scientific, and commercial center of northern Hesse, Kassel suffered severe damage during World War II due to the armaments industries based here, and much of the town has been rebuilt in the functional 1950s style. Today, Kassel has become synonymous with one of the most important shows of contemporary art – documenta – held here every five years (the 13th documenta is scheduled for 2022). The town is equally famous for its outstanding collection of European art, housed in the splendid Schloß Wilhelms höhe, as well as for its parks and gardens, especially the large forest-park adjoining the castle.


The Waldecker Land, situated west of Kassel, was once an independent county and later, until 1929, a free state within the German Reich. Today this region, with its Eder-Stausee (reservoir), is one of the most attractive tourist regions in Germany. The wooded hills provide a perfect setting for long rambles, the roads and tracks are ideally suited for cycling tours and the rivers and lakes permit visitors to practice a wide variety of watersports.


Frankfurt, nicknamed “Mainhattan” and “Chicago am Main” because of its skyscrapers, is one of the main economic and cultural centers of both Germany and Europe. The headquarters of many major banks and newspaper publishers are based here, including those of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Europe’s most influential newspapers. The city’s International Book Fair is the world’s largest event of its kind. Goethe was born in Frankfurt, and the JohannWolfgangGoetheUniversität is one of Germany’s most famous universities. The city also boasts magnificent art collections.


The founder of this excellent museum, banker Johann Friedrich Städel, left his art collection to the town in 1815. Since then, the museum has grown through acquisitions and donations, and now contains many masterpieces from seven centuries of European art. It moved to a Neo-Renaissance building in 1878, on the picturesque “museum embankment” by the Main. In the 1920s it acquired the Hohenzollern collection from Sigmaringen. The museum has undergone renovation and new buildings have been constructed, including a subterranean exhibition hall for contemporary art.


Münster and its surroundings were already inhabited in Roman times, but its history proper started in the 9th century, with the establishment of a bishopric. Town status was granted in 1137, and in the 13th-century Münster joined the Hanseatic League. In 1648 the Westphalian Peace Treaty was signed here, ending the Thirty Years’ War. Münster’s Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (1773) is one of Germany’s largest universities. World War II saw 90 percent of the old town laid to ruins, but most of it has now been rebuilt.


The region stretching in a narrow strip to the north of Münster is the land of horses and Wasserburgen (moated castles). The castles were surrounded by moats or built on islands to give their owners protection in the surrounding lowlands. Almost 50 Wasserburgen have survived, some converted into residences. Not all are open to visitors as most remain to this day in the hands of the family of the original owners. The best way to tour the flat Münsterland region is by car or bicycle.


Düsseldorf, the administrative capital of North-Rhine-Westphalia, received its municipal rights in 1288. From the late 14th century it was the capital of the Duchy of Berg and from 1614 that of the Palatine. The town owes much to Duke Johann Wilhelm, who lived here in 1690–1716. One of the most important industrial and cultural centers in the Rhine Valley, this European metropolis has a renowned university, superb museums and theatres, and, as the German capital of fashion, many excellent shops.


The original palace of Charlemagne in Aachen did not survive; of his vast construction, only the Pfalzkapelle (palatine chapel) remains. Modeled on the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, it was built by Odo von Metz in 786–800. In the mid-14th century a front tower was added, and in the years 1355–1414, a new presbytery was built. Side chapels were added later, and in the 17th century, the central section was covered by a dome.


Originally founded by the Romans, Cologne (Köln) is one of the oldest towns in Germany. The Franks ruled the town from the end of the 5th century, and Charlemagne raised its status to that of an archbishopric. Cologne has remained a powerful ecclesiastical center – it boasts 12 Romanesque churches as well as the famous Gothic cathedral. In the Middle Ages, the city also played a significant role in the Hanseatic League. Present-day Cologne is known for its trade fairs and as an important center for art and culture, with excellent museums, historic buildings, and art galleries. The highest number of visitors today come for the five days preceding Ash Wednesday, to watch the grand carnival processions.


The most famous Gothic structure in Germany, the Kölner Dom is also unusually complex, whether in terms of its splendor, its size, or even simply the date of its construction. The foundation stone was laid on 15 August 1248, the presbytery consecrated in 1322. The cathedral was built gradually until around 1520. It then remained unfinished until the 19th century, when Romanticists revived interest in it. The building was finally completed in 1842–80, according to the rediscovered, original Gothic designs.


This museum was named after Ferdinand Franz Wallraf, who bequeathed his art collection to the city in 1824, and Johann Heinrich Richartz, who funded the first building. Medieval and early modern paintings (1250 to 1550) form the core of the collection. There are also works by Rubens and Rembrandt, as well as examples from Impressionism, Realism, and Symbolism. In 2001 the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum moved to a new building, incorporating many new works from the collection of Gérard Corboud.


Bonn was founded by the Romans in 11 BC and flourished thanks to the archbishops of Cologne. It gained fame because of Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born here in 1770, and Robert Schumann, who spent the final years of his life here. The world heard of Bonn when, on 10 May 1949, it was elevated to the status of the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. When parliament decided in 1991 to make Berlin the capital of the newly unified country, Bonn was deprived of its role, although six ministries stayed on.


The museum is housed in the Baroque 18th-century house where the composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born and lived until the age of 22. There is a large and impressive collection of memorabilia from his life.