Many members of the Kaisers-lautern Military Community have found temporary or even permanent homes in one of the many villages and towns surrounding Kaiserslautern in the heart of Rheinland-Pfalz. You may already be familiar with your immediate vicinity, but there is much more to explore and experience at your “home away from home”.
State of the Art is a series introducing Germany as a whole, but also highlighting an individual state or “Bundesland” every month.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, East and West Germany reunited in 1990. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) included the states of Rheinland-Pfalz, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Hessen, Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein, the City States of Bremen, Hamburg as well as West Berlin, in its geographically isolated location. The small state of Saarland remained under French government until 1957.
The states of Brandenburg, Thüringen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Sachsen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern belonged to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with East Berlin as its capital.
Since reunification Berlin has been the capital again and seat of the Federal Parliament (Bundestag) and the representative body of the states (Bundesrat). Olaf Scholz of the majority Social Democratic Party (SPD) is the elected Federal Chancellor.
According to a 2022 census, Germany’s population has increased to 84 million inhabitants. This includes about one million Ukrainian refugees, making up the largest group of foreigners in the country, followed by Syrians with 750,000 people.
This month our journey will lead us to the state of Niedersachsen and the City State of Bremen.
Hold your horses
Niedersachsen calls itself a state with far-sighted vision. It is the second largest state with a population of eight million and a size of 47,709 square kilometers. Stephan Weil of the Social Democratic Party is the Minister President and has been in office since February 2013.
Niedersachsen has a diverse landscape with extensive green pastures, rolling hills and a 600-km-long coastline along the North and the Baltic Seas. The Harz mountain range is the highest in northern Germany. As depicted on its coat of arms, it is also a land of horses.
There are more than 220,000 horses in the state with equestrian businesses, countless studs, farms that offer horse-back vacations, race and trotting tracks, dressage arenas and betting businesses. Many companies produce equipment and veterinary care makes up a substantial part of the revenue. Several famous German trotting and dressage riders, among them Olympic medal winners, come from the state.
Elaborate gardens and Hochdeutsch
Hannover is the capital of the state and the largest city with 534,000 inhabitants. There is a large number of German dialects, but the residents of Hannover are known to speak the purest German of all, Hochdeutsch (high German) which a German speaker can detect in a split second.
Hannover is famed for its elegant gardens from the days of the Imperial Electors and Kings of Hanover. The Great Garden in a Baroque French style was laid out by Electress Sophia of Hanover in the 17th century. It has a palace with sculptures, fountains, a maze, an orangery and a stage for musical performances. Further gardens are the Berggarten, a world leading botanical garden and Georgengarten in an English style.
Its two town halls are well worth a visit. The old town hall, built in the 15th century, is in Northern German red brick Gothic style. The new town hall, which was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, is in a theatrical historic style and resembles more of a palace than an administrative building. Large parts are open to the public with models depicting Hannover at different periods in history. An elevator takes visitors to a 100-meter-high platform for a spectacular view over the city.
A visit to the “Altstadt” is also worthwhile in the Kröpcke shopping district with its famous clock. There are several interesting art museums, the Landesmuseum invites you to a world tour and you can try out a career as airline pilot in a simulator at the “Erlebniswelt Hannover Airport.” Fans of miniature landscapes may enjoy the Playmobil museum. The Expo 2000 took place in Hannover and several trade fairs and technological displays are held annually. The Maschsee, a popular recreation area, offers a maritime atmosphere and is venue for a festival every summer, while an international fireworks competition is scheduled in 2023. For a safari in the middle of Europe, located within Germany’s largest heather park Lüneburger Heide, check out the Serengeti Park with 1,500 animals such as lions, giraffes, rhinos and more, visit https://www.lueneburger-heide.de or for more discoveries https://www.visit-hannover.com/en
City of the Lion
Braunschweig, the “city of the lion” is the second largest city with 248,000 inhabitants. Its origins date back to the 9th century and under Heinrich der Löwe the city quickly developed into a mighty and influential business metropolitan. A statue of a mighty lion is located at the castle square in the historic district. Today the region around Braunschweig is a significant European location for science and research centers and recently a total 9.5% of the German gross domestic product was invested in research. It is also home to the atomic clock which precisely measures time up to a split second, with a one second deviation in one million years.
The surrounding area is famous for its horse races called “Fahnenjagen,” best translated to “chasing flags.” The objective is for riders to gallop up to a rope with a ring hanging from it and to snatch the ring with a long pole. In various rounds the rings get smaller and the rider with the most points is crowned the “König/in” (king/queen) for a year. Visit: https://www.braunschweig.de/english.
Cruise ships in the middle of nowhere?
Papenburg is an enchanting small city along the Ems River in the western part of the state. Its medieval city center along canals aligned with fisher boats will charm visitors with a surprisingly maritime atmosphere.
It is best known for its shipping industry and has one of the largest wharfs in the world, specialized in building large cruise ships. The Meyer Werft has constructed ships such as the “Disney Wish” and a new LNG powered ship of a German cruise line left the docks last year. Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch the 16-deck ships make their way down the shallow and narrow Ems River to sail the seven seas. Don’t miss out on an exciting tour of the wharf: https://www.meyerwerft.de/en/visitors.
Travelling further west in the state we will reach in a unique area called Ostfriesland (East Frisia). Germans sometimes joke about the somewhat “different” personality of the inhabitants there, who have a regional language of their own. A regular German speaker cannot understand “Plattdeutsch,” basically a wild mixture of German, English, Dutch and otherwise unknown. Words such as “Fehn” (a swampy area) or “Siel” (a small water inlet) are not part of regular German. Ostfriesland is located south of the German bight in the North Sea and is a land of swamps, canals, historic windmills and dikes. It is popular for beach vacations and part of the National Reserve “Wattenmeer” (Wadden Sea).
The Wattenmeer is a 11,500 square kilometer nature protected area that stretches up to Denmark along the west coast. Due to the extreme tide, up to three meters of water draw back during low tide and set free an amazing undersea world with crabs, worms and an array of plants. Wandering in the Watt is very popular, but should always be done with a guide, as many a wanderer has drifted out to sea or stranded on a sandbank when the strong tide unexpectedly rolled in.
Charming fisher village Gretsiel has become a popular tourist spot. Quaint shops sell maritime fashion and souvenirs, restaurants and kiosks offer “Krabbenbrötchen” (shrimp sandwich) or Ostfriesentee, a specialty tea in the region. The town is lined with red brick houses, a small port and shrimp trawlers. The cities of Emden and Leer are also well worth a visit and the first German LNG (liquid gas) terminal was recently opened in Wilhelmshaven.
There are seven islands called “oggs” with white beaches strung like a pearl necklace along the German Bight. Ferries will take you to the islands, some of them are car-free and great for hiking and biking over the dunes, while nostalgic trains transport visitors to the small towns. The word “ogg” is also a part of the Plattdeutsch language and means “island.” “Moin!” is a practical way of saying “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “good evening” and can be used anywhere in northern Germany. For details, see, https://ostfriesische-inseln.de.
Hanseatic Bremen and its town musicians
The “Freie Hansestadt Bremen” (Free Hanseatic City of Bremen) is Germany’s smallest state and completely embedded in the State of Niedersachsen. It is merely comprised of the two cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven, geographically separated by a small stretch of Niedersachsen in between.
Unlike other German states, Bremen does not have a “Landtag” (state parliament) but rather a Senate, made up of 100 senators. The head of state is Andreas Bovenschulte, entitled President of the Senate and Mayor of Bremen, and has been in office since 2019.
The complete state has a size of 400 square kilometers and a total population of 569,000. The special Hanseatic status is based on the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns developed in the 12th century. Port cities awarded a Hanseatic status held special market rights and brought wealth, prosperity and prestige in the following centuries. Other Hanseatic cities are Hamburg, Lübeck and Rostock along the Baltic Sea.
Bremen is well known for the story of its musicians, based on the fairytale by the Brothers Grimm published in 1819. Meanwhile the animals have become symbolic on their own and pedestrian lights in the city depict the four figures.
The story tells of an old donkey who can no longer carry heavy loads and is set to be sold. Therefore, he runs away and decides to become a town musician. Along the way he encounters an old dog, a weary cat and a rooster that can barely crow. On their journey through the woods, they discover a house full of robbers, scare them out by making a horrible ruckus as “musicians” and sit down at the richly set table. They enjoy it so much that they decide to stay. The story is symbolic of the lives of the simple folk of the time, old and no longer useful servants and exhausted maids, who spent their lives serving the rich.
The “Altstadt” in Bremen with its medieval guild houses and a statue of the four, is definitely a point of interest. Legend has it, if you touch the leg of the donkey, you get a wish. The Schnoorviertel is the oldest city section with cobble stone alleys and unique shops. The Schlachte in the heart of the city is located directly along the Weser River. As a former port it now houses a multitude of restaurants, bars and pubs as well as beer gardens during the summer. Boat tours along the Weser River are a popular pastime and a night in a hotel ship may be an exciting adventure. For more inspiration visit: https://www.bremen.de/tourismus.
A voyage to the New World
Speaking of ports, the first documentation of an early settlement in “Lehe” (now a city section) dates back to 1275. But, unlike most German cities, Bremerhaven is a young city and was officially founded in 1827 about 65 km north of Bremen near the mouth of the Weser River. With waves of emigrants heading to the New World, the passenger port in Bremen became too small to handle the masses. A new port was built in 1854 and eventually developed into the largest emigrant port in Europe, known as Columbus Kai.
Today the joint port, both in Bremen and Bremerhaven, is the second largest in Germany after Hamburg. It has eight individual terminals, including a cargo port, a cruise ship terminal, a fishing terminal and the automobile terminal with a gigantic parking lot, where 95,000 cars can be parked for further handling. Bremerhaven may also ring a bell as most vehicles and household goods shipped from the United States reach their destination there. A total of 69.7 million tons of goods were handled in the year 2022, reaching an almost pre-pandemic level.
Bremerhaven itself is not the most picturesque city, but it holds a treasure chest full of cultural heritage, history and climate in its “Hafenwelten” (harbor worlds). The “Deutsches Auswandererhaus” (German Emigration Center) has historical records and ship manifests for over a century of emigration. Over 7.2 million people boarded ships to the New World in the 19th and 20th centuries. At the museum you can embark on a journey through time and experience an astonishing interactive museum or trace your roots in the genealogy section. https://www.dah-bremerhaven.de/en/experience.
Another venue to tour the world is the “Klimahaus” (Climate house), which offers an exciting adventure under the slogan “nine places, five continents, one planet.” It is a mixture between a science center and a theme park and takes you on a tour though different climate zones, countries and continents along the eighth longitude. https://www.klimahaus-bremerhaven.de/en.
The old harbor is full of historic ships, the “Schifffahrtmuseum” also has vessels, such as the “Bremer Kogge“ built in 1380. The “Zoo am Meer” features sea animals and a stroll along the dike with impressive cranes, cargo and cruise ships in the distance and a view of the enchanting Pingel lighthouse may round off your stay. You can also hop on a harbor cruise with a fresh salty breeze. For detailed information about Bremerhaven, also see https://www.kaiserslauternamerican.com/hafenwelten-in-bremerhaven/.