» View our vacations to Germany
Though the story of Germany includes centuries-old tribal settlements, the reign of Charlemagne, and the rise of imperialism, its more recent history—including the wars of the 20th century and the aftermath—has had the largest cultural and psychological influence on the country.
Germany’s capital, Berlin, is city completely transformed by the 20th century. Divided at the end of World War II, blockaded by the Soviets during the Cold War, driven apart by a cruel grey wall, Berlin was finally returned to its present, united form by the sledgehammers of freedom fighters. However, the city’s divided history has led to a truly unique collection of architectural styles. The Reichstag, site of the final defense of the Third Reich, was rebuilt after World War II and now features an enormous glass sphere, emphasizing the transparency and openness of the new Germany.
Nearby Potsdam also played an important role in shaping the post-war world. Stalin, Truman, and Churchill met here to determine how to deal with a defeated Germany, and the city’s Glienicke Bridge became known as the “Bridge of Spies” during the Cold War, as the superpowers used its midpoint as a place to exchange captured agents.
Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, was devastated by Allied bombings during the World War II. Today, however, this northern port is a thriving business and cultural center, hearkening back to its past as an important free trading center during the Middle Ages.
Another notable cultural center is Dresden, a mecca for Germany’s artists, whose complete destruction was catalogued in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Following the war, Dresden was rebuilt from the ground up. Today, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), whose ruins stood as a stark reminder of the war, has been totally reconstructed, incorporating the charred bricks of the original structure as a tribute to its past. Since reconstruction, Dresden has, for the most part, returned to its place as one of Europe’s major cultural leaders.
Nuremburg has similarly been intrinsically connected to World War II in the minds of many visitors. While this city is now known for being the site of major Nazi activity during the war—and the high-profile trials that followed—this politically important city has actually been at the center of world politics for centuries, dating back to its position as the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Though Allied bombing destroyed much of its medieval city center, the city has been largely rebuilt, once again a hub of trade and culture in Germany.
Meanwhile, Munich is a convenient location from which to explore scenic Bavaria, Germany. Its German name, München, derives from the German word for “monks,” a nod the Benedictine monks who founded this city. The third-largest city in Germany, after Hamburg and Berlin, Munich prides itself on being a Weltdorf (world village), where an international stream of visitors comes to explore its museums, shop its high-fashion boutiques, and revel in its seemingly contradictory Gemütlichkeit (coziness).