What location in Germany could be more significant as travel destination? Hard to say, as a journey to Germany offers an almost infinite number of possibilities considering the country’s size (it covers an area of 357,121.41 square kilometers) and its many attractive towns and regions and even more fascinating natural sights.
Germany is undoubtedly most famous for its green lands, as you can find forests everywhere, even sheltered inside cities. At the same time, German medieval castles are a sight for sore eyes, could not be missed during a trip here either. Despite tricky weather in Germany, beaches on the North Sea or Baltic Sea coasts could be real travel and leisure destinations. We decided this time to present touristic Germany sort of down under, to give you some hints and information on the country’s forests and sea sights.
A forest-conscious country
Above all, Germany is a land of forests. A third of this densely populated industrial country is covered by woodland. There is 11.1 million hectares or almost 43,000 square miles of it – an area that has remained constant since the beginning of the 16th century. Density populated urban and industrial regions are interspersed with great islands of green, whether it be the Black Forest or the Harz, the Fichtel Mountain Range, the Thuringian or Palatinate Forest. The largest continuously forested area in Central Europe is the Bavarian Forest, which furthermore links up with the Bohemian Forest in the Czech Republic. This is also where you will find Germany’s largest national park, covering an area of over 12,000 hectares (46 square miles). It too merges with the Czech national park across the common border. Together they form the largest forest reserve in Central Europe.
At least 60 percent of German forests are covered by conifers, particularly spruce and pine. But among the deciduous trees it is not the once so highly praised “German oak” that holds first place, but the beech. Extensive beech forests, where the sunlight plays between the smooth, silver-grey trunks, are among Germany’s most beautiful landscapes. In the spring of 2011, UNESCO awarded World Natural Heritage status to five near-natural German beech forests full of gigantic old trees. These forests cover approx. 4,400 hectares (17 square miles). One of them is the 600-hectare (2.3-square-mile) Grumsin Forest in the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve just an hour’s drive north of Berlin in the south of the rural district of Uckermark. Visiting the Grumsin Forest is almost like time travel: you really notice that the Ice Age has left its mark here as you hike through a craggy terrain of hills and hollows. It could hardly have been better protected from clearance over the centuries, with bogs, ponds and lakes between the trees – a natural monument of wood and water. But it is not so pleasant for humans here all year round: mosquitoes attack the wayfarer as if to make sure that the reserve’s recent UNESCO fame doesn’t attract too many visitors.
The Germans are probably so forest-conscious because they use the “green lung” extensively for recreation and sport. According to a survey, 50 percent of people in Germany spend time in the forest at least once every two weeks. Whether it’s jogging, hiking or strolling, they seek relaxation here from the hectic daily grind. What scientists would refer to the unique forest climate, they simply call “getting some fresh air”: protection against sun and noise, a pleasant level of humidity and much more.
Moreover, the forest is an important economic factor. Forestry and timber are among the largest sectors of the German economy. A headcount of about 1.2 million and an annual turnover of 170 billion euros are astonishing figures. Germany is among the most densely wooded countries in Europe. Every second, the trees here produce the equivalent of a wooden cube with an edge length of 1.55 metres. German forests are not overused, and growth exceeds the harvest, so that reserves are still available for wood-based power generation.
The North Sea, the Baltic Sea and lakes invite you to swim and sunbathe. The North Sea coast of Germany is not just a great place to swim, sail or sunbathing, but also invites visitors to great walks across the mudflats or Watt, which shelters various animals and plants. Each of the German North Sea and Baltic islands is unique – and a small world of its own. These islands within their own country are at the top of Germans’ list of dream destinations. There is hardly anything as incredibly quiet as Sylt’s Wadden Sea, or as romantic as Rügen’s tree-lined avenues and Usedom’s spruce forests. There are superlatives wherever you look: endless beaches, noble seaside-resort architecture, the earthiness of low, thatched cottages and the hard-edged character of the islanders. Not to mention the incredibly clean air. Germany has more than 70 of these islands.
The most beautifully named is probably a tiny island called Liebes (“Darling” or “Dear One”). It’s in the Baltic between the islands of Rügen and Ummanz, uninhabited, 1,000 metres long, a maximum of 200 metres wide, and only 1.5 metres high. Not exactly perfect dimensions for an island. Especially since the competition is so big – literally. At the top of the list is the Baltic island of Rügen, which weighs in at 926 square kilometres and 1.3 million visitors a year.
It’s followed by Usedom, Fehmarn and Sylt. With its illustrious list of celebrity visitors – starlets, stars and VIPs from the spheres of culture and politics– and its high property prices, Sylt is known as the “it girl” among the German islands. Sylt, Germany’s northernmost island, is dubbed the “Queen of the North Sea” and often makes the headlines because of its prominent visitors. But there is room for everyone to find a pleasant spot on almost 40 kilometres of sandy beaches. For instance, at the section of the beach called Buhne 16 at the seaside resort of Kampen. This is where theCEO can be found sunbathing next to the plumber, the extended family next to the top model.
By contrast, the North Sea island of Juist with the “most beautiful sandbank in the world”, is not the best place for posing, because – being almost car-free – you can’t nonchalantly roll up in your Porsche. It’s so decelerated here that even the horses are restricted to walking pace.
Hiddensee – the only true island in the ?Baltic because it really is only accessible ?by boat – is also car-free. In the 1920s, great minds like Albert Einstein and Gerhart Hauptmann used to come here to get over their mainland stress. A motivation which – alongside the excellent connections ?between the mainland and the island – brings hundreds of thousands onto the islands. Today, fishing is no longer the main source of income, but tourism. And the islands are increasing espousing an environmental awareness in their endeavours to help visitors find their way back to the essential things of life – and, of course, find their way back to the islands.
For the most part, the flora and fauna are looked after in an exemplary manner. Take the Baltic island of Vilm. In the old GDR days it was reserved as an exclusive vacation destination for government ministers. Today, Vilm is a biosphere reserve offering unique plants and animals – and only 30 people are allowed to visit per day.
Baltic Sea’s Bay of Lübeck is famous amongst sailing fans, especially because of the Travemünde Week which is the world’s second largest sailing ship event. But whether or not the wind is blowing, the wonderful beaches in Scharbeutz or Timmendorf, Grömitz and Pelzerhaken are still just as attractive. In fact the beach at Sierksdorf is a perfect dream for romantics who love coastal cliffs and nostalgic thatched cottages.
The choice of beaches on Germany’s sunniest island Usedom in the Baltic Sea is simply a matter of personal taste. The 45-kilometre-long beach with its wonderfully fine sand offers plenty of room for all of the sunseekers. And with a little bit of luck you might even discover a piece of amber on the beach – the “gold of the Baltic Sea”.
Wadden Sea, the second German natural site on the World Heritage List
The action of the tides along the North Sea coast of Germany and the Netherlands has created a unique natural landscape, the Wadden Sea.
The Wadden Sea is also an unique habitat and the world’s largest ecosystem of this kind. An area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres is home to exceptional species diversity with roughly 10,000 animals, plants and microorganisms – lugworms, grey seals, cockles and seagrass. Every year ten to twelve million migratory birds rest in the Wadden Sea on their way from South Africa to Siberia or Canada and search for food in the mudflats.
Black silt, salty air, white sand dunes – and colourful wicker beach chairs: Wadden Sea is not only an ecological treasure trove, but also a popular tourist destination.