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Berlin

The might and scope of Prussian achievement is manifest in Berlin, one of the world's most fascinating and troubling cities. Of strategic importance since it first straddled the Spree River in the 13th century, Berlin never hogged centre stage quite like it did this century. This is the heart of Germany, its stoic beat echoing through grand public buildings, glorious museums and theatres, and its urbane restaurants, bustling pubs and raucous nightclubs. Today, the city, restored as the nation's capital, is the focus of the mammoth project of reunification and readings of Germany's mood are taken most accurately here.Berlin is a good city to explore on foot. Take time to stroll from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate along Unter den Linden. The nearby Kulturforum is a cluster of museums and concert halls on the south-eastern side of Tiergarten that can take days to explore.

 
Frankfurt

Frankfurt on the Main (so-called to distinguish it from Frankfurt on the Oder) is the financial and geographical centre of western Germany. Its inhabitants produce a disproportionately large part of Germany's wealth, and over 10% of the city's taxes are devoted to culture; here you'll find the richest collection of museums in the country. The Städel Museum surely has more great art than is fair, with a world-class collection of works by artists from the Renaissance to the 20th century. The Museum of Modern Art also houses a magnificent collection. Frankfurt's music scene is lively and the jazz is of especially high quality. Frankfurt is also notable for its local poison, a deceptively strong sort of cider called Ebbelweï. There are about 1500 trains a day passing through Frankfurt so you can basically get here from anywhere and get anywhere from here. An hour north of Frankfurt is the charming town of Marburg, a bustling university town with a happening cafe scene and a raucous pub culture that spills onto the cobbled streets at night.

 
Lübeck

Lübeck in Germany's northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, is a glorious medieval town that's earned its place on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Although it's easily accessible from Hamburg, Lübeck is off the main tourist trails and can be a quiet alternative to the more spectacular attractions further south. The altstadt (old town) was heavily bombed in WWII but has been sensitively rebuilt and the town's stately charm is apparent today. Cheapish accommodation is plentiful and there is a good variety of moderately-priced restaurants. Lübeck is home to the delightful Marionettentheater (Puppet Theatre), which shouldn't be missed. There's a stark reminder of the war inside the Marienkirche. A bombing raid brought the church bells crashing to the stone floor and the townspeople have left the bell fragments in place, with a small sign saying: 'A protest against war and violence'.

 
Munich

Scratch the beer-bloated, sausage-stretched belly of Munich and you'll find a city as cosmopolitan as anywhere in Europe. From the dizzying elegance of its grand boulevards to the oompah dance that waits at the bottom of the fifth stein, Munich residents have figured out how to enjoy life. A heady agglomeration of sophistication and abandon, the city is compact and manageable, cramming in more theatres than anywhere else in Germany, a wealth of fine museums and a number of graceful gardens. Oh, and a couple of thousand beer halls.Don't miss the Deutsches Museum, the world's largest science and technology expo, which has heaps of hands-on activities and fascinating demonstrations of human endeavour, from mining to star gazing. The Englischer Garten is one of the largest city parks in Europe, and no, you're not imagining it, the business burghers you saw at the bank earlier in the day are now sunbathing nude on the manicured lawns!If it's all a bit much seeing where that Black Forest Cake has gone, there are heaps of day excursions possible from Munich: the Bavarian Alps are visible and beckoning on a clear day, the Romantic Road links picturesque villages such as Rothenburg ob der Tauberin western Bavaria and, for a sombre trip, the Dachau concentration camp lies north-west of the city. Munich is a major transport hub.

 
Rhine Valley

The Rhine's most evocative scenery lies between Mainz and Koblenz. Here you'll find dramatic landscapes with fertile vineyards clinging to steep hills, numerous imposing castles and dreamy wine villages. Every little village has at least one wine festival per year, with the most famous being the Rhine in Flames series of festivals, when water, lighting and fireworks are combined to spectacular effect. Try to visit the Rhine Valley in early spring or late autumn when the crowds have gone. The best way to see the valley is by boat.A little further north of Koblenz is Cologne with its magnificent Dom and its soaring twin spires. But there's much more to this city than just the Dom. South of Mainz is Heidelberg with its superb castle.

 
Weimar

Best known abroad as the birthplace of the ill-fated Weimar Republic, this small city is a cultural pilgrimage site for Germans. It was the epicentre of the country's Age of Enlightenment and home to such intellectual and creative giants as Goethe, Bach, Schiller, Liszt, Nietzsche, Kandinsky and Klee, to name a few. Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus School, the cornerstone of modern architecture, here in 1919. The Bauhaus Museum chronicles this group and their work, but the only Weimar building constructed in the style is the Haus am Horn. The town really belongs to Goethe, with the Goethe Nationalmuseum and two of his former residences open to fans of the German genius. Because of its historical significance, Weimar has received particularly large handouts for the restoration of its many fine buildings and was named European Capital of Culture for 1999. The dark side of this city of light lies only 10km (6mi) away; the ghostly ruins of the Buchenwald concentration camp, which provide haunting evidence of the terrors of the Nazi regime.


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