Germany only became a country in 1871, yet no nation has had a greater impact on the face of Europe. Megan McCormick and Justine Shapiro set out on a journey to look beyond thestereotypes and seek out the real Germany.
Megan begins her journey in Berlin. After World War II, Germany was divided into 2 countries: the Communist DDR in the East and the Federal Republic in the West. The most potent symbol of that division was the Berlin Wall which, until re-unification in 1989, ran right through the city.
Megan sees one of the last remaining sections of Wall, checking out how the city’s expansive new building programme and modern architecture is transforming the city into a European capital fit for the 21st century. After joining comedian Fatih Cevikkollu to visit the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg, known for its dense population of ethnic Turks, by far the city’s biggest ethnic minority group, she takes a tour of the city’s World War II sites, such as the location of Hitler’s Bunker, where the fascist dictator, who planned the extermination of an entire ethnic group, the Jews, committed suicide at the end of the war.
Whilst Megan stays in an eclectic, hip hotel in the capital, Justine starts her journey in rural Lower Saxony, spending the night in a ‘hay hotel’ near the village of Langeloh –accommodation where you literally sleep on a bed of hay! Justine continues to the island of Sylt, a vast sandbar that juts out into the North Sea.
Incredible beaches and spas have made it a popular retreat for Germany’s rich and famous but its main claim to fame is as the German birthplace of modern nudism in the 1920s. Justine strips off and joins the naturists hanging out on the beach.
Megan then drives south in an open-top car along the ‘Romantic Road‘, which takes her through some of the prettiest and most historic towns in Bavaria, including Dinkelsbuhl, where she witnesses the colourful ‘Kinderzeche‘, or Children’s Festival.
Justine, meanwhile, catches the Intercity express to in the Bavarian state capital of Munich, where she enjoys a very different kind of festival – Oktoberfest. She finds work as a barmaid at the festival, helping hand out the 6 million litres of beer which are poured down the throats of revellers at the world’s most famous beer festival.
Megan visits the extraordinary, fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle, built by ‘mad’ King Ludwig of Bavaria, the grandson of the king who started Oktoberfest. Mad Ludwig was so-called because of his bizarre behaviour, decadent lifestyle, and a 20-year spending spree, which almost bankrupted Bavaria – government officials conspired to have him declared legally insane and had him forceably removed from the castle in the middle of the night.
Just a few miles from Neuschwanstein is Oberammergau, one of the most beautiful towns in the German Alps. When the plague struck in 1633, the inhabitants of Oberammergau vowedthat if God spared their town, they would perform a Passion play about the death and resurrection of Christ every ten years. The inhabitants have remained true to their word, and more than half of the town’s 5,000 population are involved in this once in a decade event. Justine meets with Jesus during his lunch break and learns what it’s like to take part in the extraordinary event which is witnessed by half a million people.
Megan heads on to Friedrichshafen on the shores of Lake Constance, to fly in a Zeppelin, before heading on to Duisburg in the Ruhr Valley. The old industrial heartland of Germany is changing rapidly, and many former factories have now been closed down. Megan visits one old steel mill which has been inventively reborn as an adventure climbing centre.
Justine travels on to Berchtesgaden, close to the border with Austria. This was Hitler’s mountain retreat, and although many wartime buildings have been torn down in an effort toerase the memory of Nazism, Justine meets up with a historian who shows her around what’s left of the site, including the Nazi museum which aims to educate people about the horrors of the regime.
Whilst Justine ends her trip with a mountain climbing expedition up the spectacular Mount Jenner, just outside Berchtesgarten, Megan ends her trip with a riotous and uninhibited party at the Love Parade, Germany’s premier techno festival, as it makes its boisterous way through the streets of Dortmund in the Ruhr Valley.
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