Germany emerged from the coronavirus lockdown and a freakishly prolonged period of near perfect weather at the same time. The irony of being liberated from months in Berlin to find the weather had turned wildly unpredictable was not lost on us. Still, we had a car, a plan and the road to Bavaria was beckoning. We left Berlin under a blue sky and arrived in Nuremberg under a blue sky. Our luck lasted barely 36 hours. On our second night we ran into our hotel moments before a massive thunderstorm hit. The rain was still pouring 18 hours later.
A look at the weather forecast for the next week was all it took to realise the weather gods were toying with us. Storms were sweeping across the region with little sign of let up. For one crazy moment the idea of driving over the Alps to Northern Italy was contemplated, before wiser heads decided that was ridiculous. The weather map left us one alternative, follow the sun north, through Lower Saxony, around Berlin and onwards to the Baltic Coast of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
We could have saved ourselves 800 km of driving had we done that in the first place, but at least the autobahn doesn’t have tolls. Thankfully we got enough of a taste of Bavaria to be planning a return trip. Nuremberg, today known worldwide for its associations with the Nazis and the post-war Nuremberg Trials, and the gloriously ancient Rothenburg ob der Tauber really did whet our appetite to explore deeper into this historic region.
Germany is a large place and we planned a couple of stops on the way to Rugen, a lovely island on the Baltic Sea. We spent a damp morning in Nuremberg exploring the Germanisches National Museum, one of its world-class museums, before checking out the place where the Nuremberg Trials took place. Afterwards we headed north passing through Thuringia and into Lower Saxony to arrive in the quite extraordinary town of Celle, home to a palace and over 400 timber-framed buildings.
It’s easy to imagine Germany as irrevocably damaged by the cataclysmic destruction of the Second World War. Even in places where post-war reconstruction took care to reproduce the historic centres of towns, the effect is only partial. Yet places like Celle and our next stop, the historic salt producing town of Lüneburg, were completely bypassed by the war. Either they were militarily insignificant or, as the Allies advanced into Germany, not defended by the German army.
That’s something to be grateful for because both are wonderful examples of ancient German trading centres. Admittedly, we found Celle a bit low rent, but Lüneburg was a revelation and worthy of a longer visit. Plus, we were finally able to try the ‘celebrated’ dish of spaghetti ice cream (don’t ask) at a pavement table overlooked by ancient gabled houses. It took several hours pounding the streets to burn those calories off, but it revealed a beautifully preserved medieval town.
It was tempting to head to Hamburg or Bremen from here, but we’ve been locked up in a city for months and were desperate to go somewhere rural and on the coast. Our next stop was gorgeous Hanseatic port city, Stralsund, which had a disappointing aquarium but was rich in history and seafood. Normally it would be deluged with Berliners, but many people had yet to emerge from lockdown and we had a couple of days quietly wandering its cobbled streets before heading to Rügen.
Rügen is legend amongst my colleagues, and I imagine many Berliners, as a rural retreat from city life. Mention the name and eyes soften, and memories of past visits or plans to visit will soon be recalled. I can see why. There’s something intrinsically relaxing about being on the coast, and the rural roads lined with blood-red poppies and multitudes of other wild flowers, small villages and coastal ports make this a place to which we’ll definitely return.