Cultural Study Tour: Experience Germany Differently!


A walk or boat ride along the Spree River offers views of Berlin's varied riverside architecture, including the Paul Löbe building and the Marie Elisabeth Lüders building. (photo: Gregory Han)

Berlin’s edgy and artistic reputation often precedes any first time visitor’s trip to the German capital, either tainting or painting expectations, depending upon who you’ve spoken with. And no doubt, Berlin’s nightlife and avant garde scenes remain as vibrant as ever, ready to reward nearly any curiosity with an intensity found nowhere else. But Berlin is also an UNESCO City of Design, with its storied hedonistic appetites matched by the city’s glorious palette of design and architecture spanning the Baroque to the Bauhaus, with a little Postmodern and Brutalist thrown in for good measure.

With just under 3.5 million people calling Berlin home – the second most populous city in the European Union – the city is wonderfully diverse and also is recognized as one of the greatest contemporary art destinations in the world. In fact, it can be hard to tell where the galleries end and the city begins, with the graffiti-embellished streets and walls operating as a continuation of the population’s throbbing creative output.

It’s not a city for the faint of heart, nor for those who tread lightly across the fragments of change (though the city shares its darker past as both reminder and warning). But for anyone seeking the exciting, Berlin will most definitely not disappoint.

2019 mark[ed] the 100th year since Berlin architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus Art School in 1919, making it an ideal time to visit Berlin (and the rest of Germany, where additional celebrations and events honoring the Bauhaus are scheduled). Berlin is preparing a variety of events and celebrations for the Bauhaus Centenary, including an Opening Festival event in January and a finale/homecoming of the international exhibition titled, Bauhaus Imaginista.

Architecture buffs note: six housing estates in Berlin have been added to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, including the Hufeisensiedlung, the city’s first large-scale housing estate designed by the avant-garde architecture collective, “Der Ring.” It joins the Weiße Sadt (White City), the Schillerpark Estate, the garden city Falkenberg, and the residential city Carl Legien as UNESCO-World Heritage sites.

(from Design Milk Travels to… Berlin | 09.27.18. by Gregory Han)

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An eyesore to some, a symbol of freedom to others: learn about the tumultuous history of the ‘Rote Flora’ cultural centre on Schulterblatt. (photo: Jessica Mintelowsky)

NO one tells you how pretty Hamburg is. That’s because so few people mention Hamburg in the first place. American tourists and businesspeople gravitate toward other German cities: Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt. And so Hamburg, bigger than all but Berlin, remains a bit of a mystery, poised to become a thrilling discovery. Did you know about the lake? It’s smack dab in the city center and skirted by regal buildings, a postcard-ready tableau if there ever was one. And the canals? They lattice the part of the city nearest the Elbe River, allowing Hamburg to joust with Stockholm, Amsterdam and Bruges for informal rights to call itself the Venice of northern Europe. Hamburg in winter is cold and often gray. No getting around that. But the indoors migration of many Hamburg residents gives the city a quiet and peace.

(from 36 Hours: Hamburg, Germany | by Frank Bruni JAN. 19, 2012)

Hamburg is famous for it's alternative/counter culture. Here are just a few of the more infamous sites:

Rote Flora Cultural Centre
An eyesore to some, a symbol of freedom to others: learn about the tumultuous history of the ‘Rote Flora’ cultural centre on Schulterblatt.

The former Floratheater, with its political banners and graffitied facade, is sure to catch your eye during a stroll down Schulterblatt, Sternschanze’s lively main street. In 1989 ? a century after its grand opening ? the building was squatted by local residents and leftist-autonomous groups, and has been known as the ‘Rote Flora’ cultural centre ever since.

The Rote Flora continues to function as a cultural and political centre, albeit a controversial one. It is a venue for donation-based concerts and lectures, the Antifa-Café, Vokü (lit. Folks Kitchen) and political actions. In addition, the activists established a self-repair bicycle and motorbike workshop and an alcoholism self-help group. Rote Flora also provides the ‘Archiv der Sozialen Bewegungen’: an archive about the history of social movements that is open to the public on Mondays. …The Rote Flora and its surroundings are often the starting point for leftist-autonomous demonstrations and protests. The notorious 1st May parades are especially known to lead to confrontations with the police.

Gängeviertel Quarter
Gängeviertel, once a living quarter with narrow and winding streets, is today a proud creative space for music, exhibitions and art.

The history of the quirky Gängeviertel (lit: alleyway quarter) goes back to the 19th century, when the city's workers lived in timber houses in the myriad of alleys. After a cholera epidemic, the government began the process of tearing down the houses with dubious hygienic conditions. Since then, Gängeviertel has been threatened with destruction several times. Today, the area is listed by UNESCO as an example of cultural diversity, and is cited as a success story of the Right to the City initiative.

For years, the buildings and houses in Gängeviertel were left empty. But when an investor's project threatened to demolish the buildings in 2009, the site was occupied in an attempt to preserve this piece of history. After several protests by a group of dedicated Hamburg activists and artists, the decision was made to keep and renovate the buildings, instead of selling them on. Gängeviertel began to hosts events such as film screenings, sketch sessions, as well as live music and bands. Today it prides itself on being a cultural artistic space for all of Hamburg — both young and old. 

For those looking to relax and admire the Gängeviertel's impressive street art, including a new mural by the ‘Low Bros,’ there are a few cafes dotted around, including Nasch, which has a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan options. Alternatively, give your bike a little TLC in the Raum für Fahrradkultur — which is not just a bike workshop, but also a cafe, library, kitchen and bar. 

Schanzenviertel Hip Hotspot
Schanzenviertel attracts visitors with boutiques, bars, restaurants, cafés, a quirky vibe and alternative nightlife.

Schanzenviertel (lit. redoubt quarter) is located southwest of Schanzenpark. The name refers to the former fortifications outside of the city that protected Hamburg from the advances of Danish troops in 1686. Previously, the area was divided between the districts of Altona, Mitte and Eimsbüttel until it became it became its own quarter under administrative supervision of Altona in 2008.

Without a doubt, Sternschanze is the counter-cultural centre of the city. Here, you can browse through independent record stores and boutiques or enjoy the cosy cafés, lively pubs and bars around the Schulterblatt street. The area is especially popular among young locals, who will gladly leave the Reeperbahn to the tourists.     

Historically a distinctly working-class neighbourhood, the last decades brought about gentrification during which many of the buildings were renovated. Simultaneously, rent in the area sharply increased and many of the original residents moved out. Rote Flora, a former theatre turned autonomous youth centre and squat since 1989, functions as a symbol of the area's strong alternative scene and is now known for its wide array of political and cultural events.  

The Schanzenpark with its green areas is a popular meeting place for the young and old alike. The Schanzenturm (Schanzen tower) is the undisputed eye-catcher of the park. It was finished in 1910 and served as Europe’s biggest water tower until 1961. In 2005, the 60-metres-tall building was reconstructed into a hotel.


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LüBECK: a northern city of beauty and intellect

Breite Straße Luebeck, Germany (photo: Andreas Geick, wikimedia commons)

Lübeck, the Queen of all the Hanseatic cities, was founded in 1143 as ‘the first western city on the Baltic coast.’ Today, its appearance is still characterised by a medieval ambience and by cultural and historical attractions, such as the Holsten Gate, that hark back to Lübeck’s glorious past as a free imperial and Hanseatic city.

Over the centuries, Lübeck’s name has stood for freedom, justice and prosperity. Lübeck law was, for its time, a progressive set of land and maritime regulations and inspired the establishment of over 100 towns near to the Baltic Sea, paving the way for the Hanseatic League’s dramatic rise to become the biggest trading power of its age. Its undisputed capital was Lübeck, one of the most illustrious early seats of global trade. Surrounded by water, the old town with its seven towers and five principal churches brings to life 1,000 years of history and has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. And rightly so, because the Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and neo-classical buildings, narrow lanes and streets, churches and abbeys, merchants' houses and fortifications come together to form a remarkable whole.

A jewel of brick-Gothic architecture, the Church of St. Mary is Lübeck’s finest sacred building, a model for around 70 other churches around the Baltic and of great architectural merit thanks to the highest brick-vaulted roof in the world. It sits in splendour at the highest point of the old town, right opposite its modern counterpart, the MuK music and congress hall. Lübeck’s largest hall, the MuK is the main venue for the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and serves as an international congress centre, philharmonic concert hall and municipal venue. Another of the Muk’s striking features besides its modern architecture is the group of figures known as Die Fremden (the strangers) found on the roof of the hall. This sculpture by Thomas Schütte was created for the documenta art exhibition and symbolises all those who leave their home and have to make a new life in an unfamiliar place.

Other significant buildings in the old town are the ensemble around the town hall, the castle abbey, Koberg – a district that has remained unchanged since the late 13th century – with the Church of St. James, the Hospital of the Holy Ghost and the buildings between Glockengiesserstrasse and Aegidienstrasse, the grand old patrician town houses between St. Peter’s Church and the cathedral, of course the famous Holsten Gate, which is the city’s most famous landmark, and the salt warehouses on the western banks of the Trave river.

Medieval Lübeck is a fascinating place for a stroll, especially as it has plenty of modern attractions as well. When the sun goes down, the numerous pubs, restaurants, bars, clubs and discos come to life and even usually shy and retiring locals let their hair down. Maybe even Günter Grass, who along with Thomas Mann and Willy Brandt is one of the three Nobel laureates associated with Lübeck. The Forum for Literature and Fine Arts, known as the Günter Grass House, contains a permanent exhibition of his art and illustrates the close connections between literature and art in his works. The Forum also has a garden with sculptures by Grass, an archive, a library and a shop.

Just behind the Forum is the Willy Brandt House, which opened in 2007 as a museum and memorial dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former German Chancellor. Also situated in Lübeck's old town, the Heinrich and Thomas Mann Centre has provided an insight into Thomas Mann’s famous novel about the decline of the Buddenbrooks family and explored the life and works of the illustrious literary brothers since 1993. All three museums – and the city itself – look forward to welcoming you, even those of you who aren’t Nobel laureates. What's really important is that you taste and pay homage to the city's speciality: Lübeck marzipan, which has been the sweetest temptation for as long as there have been almonds.

(from Germany Travel)

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