30 reasons why the British secretly love Germany

Telegraph Travel
We're flocking to Germany in record numbers - Dieter Meyrl Trenkermhlstrae 8 a 84508 Burgkirchen Germany www. (Dieter Meyrl Trenkermhlstrae 8 a 84508 Burgkirchen Germany www. (Photographer) - [None]

Britons don't seem to shout too much about trips to Germany, but we're flocking there in record numbers. According to the most recent figures from the German National Tourist Office (GNTO), 5.9m overnight stays were made by UK holidaymakers in 2018 – up five per cent on the previous year. Indeed, ONS data suggests it is our sixth favourite holiday destination, ahead of Portugal, Greece and Turkey – all of which, arguably, receive far more plaudits. 

What's behind Germany's growing popularity? The GNTO points to the country's "sheer choice and variety of holidays", from stays in "picture-box" villages to hiking breaks through its 16 national parks and along its "bracing coastline". But there are many more factors besides. Here are 30 fine reasons to skip the Med and discover Germany this summer. 

1. It has its own answer to Norfolk

Looking for a beach holiday but don't want to be overwhelmed by heat? Try the Meck-Pomm region (or, more formally, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). It's like a German version of Norfolk: vast, lightly populated, and with an enormous seascape. Baltic winds can be bracing: hence those splendid strandkorb chairs (and wind breaks), beaches range from remote and shingly to popular and sandy, while there are two Unesco-listed medieval ports - Wismar and Stralsund - to occupy rainy days. 

A strandkorb beach chair Credit: GETTY

2. There's a chic little island

There is a touch of Martha’s Vineyard about Sylt (pronounced Zoolt), the largest and most northern of Germany’s Frisian Islands, essentially a long sandbar attached to the mainland by a causeway crossed by train, but it is also irrefutably German.

Three hours by train from Hamburg, Sylt has a Gulf Stream-enhanced microclimate that brings lovely warm summers, 25 miles of windswept sandy beaches on its west coast (wind surfers flock here), tranquil coastal mudflats to the east, and vast sand dunes (they cover 33 per cent of the island) and heathlands to the north. It has been attracting a mix of artists, nature lovers and those ordered by their doctors to breathe in the restorative air since the 19th century. 

Lovely Sylt Credit: GETTY

3. Its capital offers culture, clubbing and currywurst

Our expert Paul Sullivan writes: "Berlin has busied itself since the fall of its infamous Wall with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe. It is a hub for hedonists, hipsters and history buffs alike – one that truly offers something for everyone. Its slew of art spaces, notoriously tolerant nightlife and burgeoning start-up scene grab the headlines most regularly, but the city is also a welcoming destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces, sparkling lakes and a generally child-friendly infrastructure."

Read his guide to spending 48 hours in the city

4. But there are lesser-known cities too

Like Leipzig. "This former powerhouse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is now the country’s fastest-growing city, an urban work in progress, where old factories and warehouses are being repurposed as art galleries and exhibition spaces and a young, dynamic workforce throngs its stylish cocktail bars at night," explains Tina Walsh, writing for Telegraph Travel. "That’s not to say it has forgotten its cultured past: from Bach to Wagner, Leipzig was a magnet for famous composers and played an important part in the modern art scene during the Weimar Republic."

5. They’ve got a phrase for everything

The German language might be tricky to master, but it is packed with wonderful phrases. Our favourites? “Backpfeifengesicht” (literally “cheek whistle face”, meaning a face that’s begging to be slapped), “Kummerspeck” (“grief bacon”, the fat gained through eating comfort food), and “Arschgeige” (“Arse violin”, or a heavy insult). 

6. And some truly brilliant words

Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften, Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän and rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz are terrifyingly real – but you will never hear them in conversation, and even Germans find them funny or ridiculous (as they do with other aspects of their language).

More useful are the German language's hilariously literal words, especially those for animals: a skunk is a “stink animal” (“Stinktier”); a sloth is a lazy animal (“Faultier”); and a small dog is a foot horn (“Fusshupe”). A slug, meanwhile, is simply a naked snail (“Nacktschnecke”).

7. There's the “Mad” King’s fairytale castles

So extreme (and expensive) was “Mad” King Ludwig’s passion for building fairytale castles in extraordinary locations that in the end he was declared insane (and drowned in mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter). But his magnificent legacy lives on, most famously at Neuschwanstein, but also in the magnificent palaces of Herrenchiemsee (Lake Chiemsee) and the Linderhof (near Oberammergau).

Neuschwanstein Credit: GETTY

8. They invented the Christmas market

Sizzling sausages, Glühwein and gingerbread... But just as the British pub cannot be reproduced abroad, so the British version of the German Christmas market is rather ersatz. Nothing beats the real thing. Although our France expert Anthony Peregrine is not a fan...

9. We’re secretly jealous of their sun-lounger-nabbing abilities

Why else would we obsess about it like we do?

10. And their body confidence

For a nation that sometimes finds it difficult to bare its soul, the German people are surprisingly relaxed when it comes to baring their bodies. 

Paul Sullivan explains: "Freikörperkultur – usually shortened to the acronym FKK and translated as Free Body Culture – has a long and established history in the country. It began in the late 19th century as part of the Lebensreform (“life reform”) movement, a kind of quasi-hippy ensemble of lifestyle trends intended to improve health that were, to some extent, impressively ahead of their time: raw and organic food, alternative medicines, water cures, a disavowal of booze, tobacco and vaccines... and public nudity.

"The movement made quick progress throughout the land: the first Freikörperkultur club was founded in Essen, in 1898; a dedicated nude beach was established on the north German island of Sylt, in 1920; in 1926, the aptly named Adolf Koch opened a school of nudity in Berlin, which promoted naked sports alongside sexual hygiene. The Nazis frowned upon it all, of course, but after the war it reemerged in both East and West."

The German penchant for nudity began in the late 19th century Credit: GETTY

11. You can drive as fast as you want on the autobahn

Vorsprung durch Technik is another German cliché, but those cars are pretty good. Audi’s advertising slogan needs no introduction, but this is also the country of the BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes. There are excellent museums to das Auto and all its works in Wolfsburg (VW) and Stuttgart (Porsche and Mercedes-Benz). But by far the best way to experience this aspect of German culture is to hire a (German) car and hit the speed-limit-free autobahn.

12. They turn their disused airports into wildlife sanctuaries

As Jasper Winn discovered during a visit for Telegraph Travel, Berlin is an unlikely paradise for birders, with Tempelhof Airport, closed in 2008 and now a city park, a good spot for sightings. "For half a day we hiked around the abandoned runways and scrubby wastelands," he said. "Now a community park, it was key to the American airlift that broke the 1948-49 Russian blockade, when more than 200,000 flights brought in everything - from food to coal to cars - needed to keep West Berlin running. There were still wings in the air as we walked. Ignoring cyclists, joggers and in-line skaters below, a squadron of crows dog-fought with a juvenile buzzard, while meadow pipits and skylarks sprang high into the blue sky. Higher still there was a honking fanfare from a flock of migrating cranes arrow-heading north."

13. There's the beer – and Oktoberfest

Munich is by no means the only place to consume Germany’s many excellent light, dark and wheat beers. Most regions have their own special brews – in Cologne (famed for its Gothic cathedral, carnival and an unusually carefree approach to life), the favoured tipple is Kölsch, a clear beer with a bright, straw-yellow hue; in Bamberg (a beautifully preserved medieval Bavarian city), the taste is more for richly textured, smoked beers. Every town and city worth its salt has a beer cellar or two in which to retreat in winter, while in summer the German beer garden is the place to clink glasses.

Oktoberfest in Munich Credit: GETTY

14. Its musical heritage topped only by our own

Its rich musical heritage (Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Wagner) is maintained in the form of annual festivals in locations such as Bayreuth and Schleswig-Holstein and some of the finest opera houses and concert halls in the world. Then there's Kraftwerk and Rammstein...

15. It's packed with weird museums

Bach not your thing? There is an onion museum in Weimar, a gnome museum on the fringes of the Thuringian Forest, and a museum in Berlin dedicated to currywurst. 

16. There are soaring mountains and wonderful lakes

In addition to its industrial heartlands and cities, Germany is also a country of great mountains – the Alps of course but also lesser-known ranges such as the Harz in the north – and some wonderful lakes. Our favourites include Lake Constance (where Germany, Austria and Switzerland all meet), the Fünfseenland (five-lake-region) just to the south of Munich – and the lesser-trumpeted northern lake district of Meck-Pomm.

Take a steam train across the Harz mountains Credit: GETTY

17. Its railways work

Telegraph Travel's Chris Moss recently toured Germany by rail – and found its services far superior to Britain's. "Only one train was late – by a few minutes," he said. "All coaches were warm, all except one had heaps of space. All the staff were friendly, bilingual (at least), and helpful. Announcements were kept to a minimum. Food and drink were above satisfactory; and on one steaming bowl of chilli was delivered directly to my seat." 

18. There's fine wine

Do not be put off by sweet wines with confusing names – or dim and distant memories of Liebfraumilch: Germany produces excellent reds and whites. Sip and slurp as you cycle through the Mosel River vineyards (romantic-germany.info), or even ride a Segway through Stuttgart’s vineyards (stuttgart-tourist.de/en).

German vines Credit: GETTY

19. It has incredible forests

Its deep, dark, mysterious forests explain why this is the birthplace of the fairytale. The best, the Black Forest, can be easily explored from Freiburg, a pretty medieval city served by EasyJet and BA. 

A track in the Black Forest Credit: GETTY

20. There are 300 types of bread – and a lot of sausage

German cuisine often gets a bad press – unfairly, given the huge regional variations and the growing number of Michelin-starred restaurants, especially in the south-west. But no-one could deny their extraordinary variation and rich creativity in baking, from dark rye to richly seeded and wholegrain breads and, of course, pretzels (very good with all those beers) and Schrippen, white rolls ideal for containing those huge bratwurst sausages.

21. Pub are open late

Many bars operate flexible policies with regards to opening hours, meaning they close when the last punter is ready to leave - rather than forcing everyone onto the street soon after 11pm.

22. It has a 24-hour metro

While Londoners waited until 2016 for a 24-hour Tube network (and only on selected lines at weekends), Berlin's has been running smoothly since 2003.

23. It's heaven for kebab lovers

Thanks to the country's large Turkish community, fantastic kebabs are available around the clock - perfect post-clubbing fare complemented by the still cheap-as-chips bottles of German beer available from kiosks.

24. It's the land of Dachshunds

The canine hipster accessory par excellence. 

25. They built paradise in an aircraft hanger

Europe’s most surprising summer destination is perhaps a gigantic hangar on a Nazi-built airfield about 30 miles outside of Berlin.

Germany’s answer to both Centre Parcs and a Maldivian paradise, the year-round Tropical Islands holiday resort is housed in one of the largest buildings on the planet and boasts no rain, a constant air temperature of 26C, and a humidity of 60 per cent; more akin to a mild day in the Philippines than a field in Brandenburg.

Germany’s answer to both Centre Parcs and a Maldivian paradise Credit: Bernhard Ludewig

26. It has the world's narrowest street

Spreuerhofstraße, in the town of Reutlingen, is a shade over 12 inches at its narrowest and just 19.7 inches at its widest, making it the world's narrowest alley.

27. The Rhine is stunning

A river cruise from Cologne to Rudesheim captures the beauty of the scenic Middle Rhine region, encountering dramatic castles, cliffs and fortresses and quaint wine villages and towns.

28. So too is Hamburg's new concert hall

It took a painstaking 16 years to construct, came in way over budget and was the cause of some serious Teutonic angst, but the transformation of Hamburg’s ugly duckling – the Elbphilharmonie concert hall – into a dazzling new venue in 2017 provided a remarkable new reason to visit the city. 

29. You can mix Cold War history and nature

The Elbe-Brandenburg River Landscape Biosphere Reserve, along the River Elbe in Brandenburg, was once part of the Iron Curtain. There are still GDR watch towers there, but now it's a protected area which incorporates the river floodplains.

30. And visit the world's best nightclub

That's what they say about Berghain. But don't ask us, we didn't get in...

Are you a Germanophile? What do you like best about the country? We want to hear from you in the comments section below.