When I say, “Germany,” what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?
Beer? Sausage? Lederhosen?
Yeah, yeah. That’s what I thought you’d say.
Despite being a modern political giant which has undeniably shaped the course of human history, Germany’s international reputation often reduces it to funny traditional costumes and heavy drinking.
If you are planning a trip to Germany, there are tons of diverse, must-see sites to add to your itinerary!
I promise that while visiting these travel destinations you will have plenty of chances to enjoy finely-brewed ales and huge plates of meat.
When you’re learning German in-country or studying it at home, regional vocabulary will help you learn about the culture of German while you study language. You’ll come across some amazing opportunities to learn new vocabulary that you might not see in your standard textbook. Whether you’re planning a trip to one of Deutschland’s largest cities, or just learning about the country’s culture and history, this list of city-specific vocab will introduce you to some exciting German words.
Before you leave, make sure you brush up on your travel vocab so you’ll know how to navigate the country. After arriving and setting off on your adventure, don’t get too bogged down with grammar and vocab – give yourself plenty of time to explore the delicious traditional cuisine of each region!
Top 20 Places in Germany You’ve Got to Visit
First, we’re going to start with all that Berlin has to offer.
1. die Hauptstadt – capital city
Not only is Berlin Germany’s largest city (almost 3.5 million people), and its own state, it’s also the nation’s capital. Berlin is located in the north-east of Germany, relatively close to Polen (Poland).
2. der Bundestag – German parliament
As the capital, Berlin is the seat of the German parliament. Tourists in Berlin are allowed to visit the Bundestag. It’s now located in the historic Reichstag building, which used to house the German Empire’s Imperial Diet (an earlier parliament, known as Reichstag in German). The newly renovated Reichstag building features a huge dome looking out over the entire city.
3. die Berliner Mauer – the Berlin Wall
The Berliner Mauer is also sometimes referred to simply as die Mauer, which means “wall” in German. The Berlin Wall still remains preserved in a one-kilometer stretch, known as the East Side Gallery, alongside Berlin’s River Spree. A 160-kilometer path for cyclists and walkers, known as der Mauerweg (the Berlin Wall Trail), still runs along the former borders of West Berlin.
4. das Brandenburger Tor – the Brandenburg Gate
This famous arch in the city center overlooks the leafy street known as Unter den Linden (literally: Under the Lindens). A magnet for tourists, you’ll often find this area full of people fotografieren (taking photos).
5. der Tiergarten – Zoo / Literally: Animal Garden
In German, das Tier is an animal. So this large, tree-filled park in Berlin-Mitte (centeral Berlin; Mitte means “middle”) is literally named “Animal Garden.” Ein Tiergarten might refer to a zoo or a zoological garden. However, the name of this Berlin park is actually derived from the fact that it used to a hunting ground! You won’t find a zoo in the Tiergarten, but the nearby Zoologischer Garten (Zoological Garden) houses one.
6. Schloss Charlottenburg – Charlottenburg Palace
As you’ll definitely learn if you travel around Germany, where these buildings are abundant, das Schloss indicates a castle, palace, or mansion. The 17th-century Schloss Charlottenburg is located in the affluent west-side Bezirk (borough) of Charlottenburg, and features a large and beautiful Garten which visitors can wander, free of charge.
7. der Fernsehturm – the TV Tower
Built in 1969 in Alexanderplatz by the East German government, the Fernsehturm still towers over the rest of Berlin. Fernseh refers to television (a TV = das Fernsehen), while der Turm is a tower. For a fee, you can ride to the top of the Fernsehturm’s globe to look out over the rest of the city.
8. der Plattenbau – industrialized, pre-fabricated apartment block
This word does not translate into English because it refers to a specifically German (and Eastern Bloc) style of building. In fact, you may hear people using the word Plattenbau in English to talk about this type of architecture. Platte refers to a slab, while Bau refers to construction. Popular especially in East Germany, Plattenbauten were built frequently from the 1960’s onward. Made of large, pre-fab concrete slabs, Plattenbauten were easy and cost-effective to construct, and were designed to combat Germany’s housing crisis after wartime bombing destroyed many homes. Plattenbauten can still be seen in some East Berlin areas.
Now, we’re going to make another stop on the tour and view München, which you may know as Munich.
9. Bayern – Bavaria
Just like München itself, the name of Munich’s province isn’t the same in English as it is in German. You’ve probably heard of Bavaria, a large southern province bordering on die Schweiz (Switzerland), die Tschechische Republik (the Czech Republic), and Österreich (Austria). Bayern is the German name for this area. It’s typically a more conservative part of Germany, with different Traditionen (traditions) from the north.
10. Oktoberfest – October Festival
Held every year in München for sixteen days, Oktoberfest attracts millions of visitors. It has been happening since 1810, and features various specialties of German food and, of course, lots of Biere (beers). Oktoberfest is held at the Theresienwiese, a large field (die Wiese = meadow) in Munich.
11. das Rathaus-Glockenspiel – the Town Hall Chimes
Das Rathaus is a town hall (der Rat is advice), while das Glockenspiel refers to chimes. (Not exactly the same as English, where a glockenspiel is a percussion instrument composed of a set of keys.) Munich’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel is a well-known tourist attraction located at the city’s Marienplatz. At certain times daily, it chimes, and small figurines re-enact historical scenes from the 16th century.
12. die Frauenkirche (Full name: Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau) – Cathedral of Our Dear Lady
In German, eine Kirche is a church or chapel. Die Frauenkirche is considered to be a symbol of Munich. It features a tall tower offering excellent views of the city and die Alpen (the Alps). This church is also known for its mysterious Teufelstritt, or “Devil’s Footstep” (der Teufel is the devil; ein Tritt is a footstep). A black mark near the entrance, resembling a footprint, is said to be the mark of where the devil stood looking at the church. Various legends surround this footprint—supposedly, the angry devil caused a harsh wind to blow around the church, which continues even to this day.
13. Englischer Garten – English Garden
Munich’s Englischer Garten is one of the largest urban parks in the world—it’s even bigger than Central Park! It contains various Biergärten (Beer gardens), and even a nudist area. In German, a nudist can be referred to as ein Nudist, or ein FKKler—FFK stands for Freikörperkultur, which means “free body culture.” May be useful to know if you ever find yourself trying to strike up a conversation with ein FKKler in the Englischer Garten.
Now that we’ve been to Belin and Munich, let’s turn to Hamburg.
14. Fischmarkt – Fish Market
Every Sunday morning, since as far back as 1703, this large market has been selling far more than just fish! Various foods, Antiquitäten (antiques), and more can be bought at Hamburg’s Fischmarkt, which is usually full of both tourists and Schnäppchenjäger (das Schnäppchen is a bargain, while der Jäger is a hunter—this scary-sounding word refers simply to bargain hunters).
15. Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis – Saint Michael’s Church
Generally referred to simply as Michel, this Lutheran church with its tall bronze spire is known as ein Wahrzeichen (landmark) of Hamburg. It offers an excellent view out over the city, as well as der Hafen (the port) and even die Landschaft (the countryside).
16. der Speicherstadt – Warehouse City
Hamburg’s Speicherstadt is truly a unique landmark. Built in the late 19th century, it’s the world’s largest integrated complex of warehouses (die Speicher). It can be toured by water, via the network of small canals that connect the so-called Stadt. At night, Lichtkunst (light art) illuminates the brick walls of the Speicherstadt.
17. Reeperbahn – the most famous street in Hamburg
This street gets its name from the old German word for ship’s rope, which was Reep, as the nearby area used to be produce ropes for Hamburg’s harbor. Today, the Reeperbahn is a vibrant nightlife street, offering a variety of clubs and entertainment, and bordering Hamburg’s red light district. The Beatles played an early show at the Reeperbahn’s Club Indra, and a Beatles Museum is now located in the area. If you’re looking for a night out in Hamburg, this is definitely the place to go.
One more place you simply can’t leave Germany without visiting is Frankfurt Am Main (Frankfurt On the River Main).
18. der Römerberg – Roman Mountain
The historic center of Frankfurt’s Altstadt (old city) has existed since the Middle Ages. It’s home to many fairs, festivals, and also the famous Römer, Frankfurt’s government building since the 15th century. City councilors still meet here. The area was partially destroyed in the Second World War, but careful restoration has allowed Frankfurt’s Römerberg to remain a beautiful historic site, and well worth a visit.
19. Goethe Haus und Goethe Museum – Geothe’s House and Museum
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pronounced roughly like “gurh-tuh”) was an important German writer. In Frankfurt, the house where he was born still stands. For any fans of Goethe, or of literature in general, this is a cool opportunity to see the place where a famous writer came into the world—and in any case, it’s an interesting historical house. The Goethe Museum (Museum is the same word in German and English!) exhibits a collection of relevant Kunst (art) from Goethe’s time, and should interest even those who aren’t Goethe readers.
20. Alte Oper – Old Opera
Frankfurt’s Alte Oper is worth seeing simply because of its story. The historic building, financed by Frankfurt citizens in the late 19th century, was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War. The Alte Oper stood in ruins for some time until eine Burgerinitiative (citizen’s initiative—ein Burger is a citizen) raised money to restore it in the 1980s. Today, Frankfurt’s opera has a modern, new building, but the Alte Oper still offers a program of various concerts.
So, what do you think? Getting excited about traveling to Germany? Well, this was just a jumping-off point! Note down your favorite sites to visit and do some more background research on regional vocabulary, traditions, festivals, and food before taking off. While making friends in Germany, you’ll be surprised how happy people are when foreigners take a serious interest in their hometown. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to dig deeper into German language and culture!
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