10 famous German composers that made musical history

Are you in need of some new (or old) music to listen to while teleworking? Do you need some relaxing classical music for a slow summer car ride? We’ve got you covered!

Many of the world’s greatest musical geniuses called Germany their home. From Bach to Beethoven, these composers moved the world with their works.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Born in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He is celebrated for his Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor and a number of other instrumental masterpieces.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Born in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist in the period between the Classical and Romantic eras. He spent his childhood in Germany, where he was taught by his father – Johann van Beethoven and later by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. At the age of 21, he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he began studying under Joseph Haydn. Some of his most influential works include Symphony No. 5 and 9, Piano Sonata No. 29, Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto No. 4.

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

One of the leading musicians of the Romantic period is Johannes Brahms, a virtuoso pianist who was born in Hamburg before spending his adult years in Vienna, Austria, where he composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ and voice and chorus. He is sometimes grouped together with Bach and Beethoven as one of the “Three B’s”. Brahms is best known for his four symphonies and his Violin Concerto.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor in the Romantic period. Some of his most famous works include the overture and music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio Elijah, The Hebrides, the Violin Concerto and his String Octet.

George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in former Brandenburg-Prussia. He was a Baroque composer who spent his early years in Germany and his later years in Britain. Some of his greatest compositions include Messiah, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Richard Georg Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss was born in Munich and grew up to become a talented German Romantic composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of his early success came from his tone poems. One of his famous works – inspired by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – was called Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Another famous was is Don Juan.

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

Born in Leipzig, Richard Wagner grew up to become one of Germany’s most famous composers. Although he had many talents, he is best known for his operas. Some of his major works include The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, Lohegrin, Tristan and Isolde, Parsifal and The Ring of the Nibelung.

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

Born in Zwickau, Robert Schumann became a widely regarded German composer of the Romantic era. He initially studied law but left that field for a career as a virtuoso pianist. However, a hand injury left him unable to fulfill that career, and Schumann turned his focus to composing.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767)

Born in Magdeburg, Georg Philipp Telemann was a German composer of the late Baroque period. During his youth, he rebelled against his family’s wishes in order to study music. He is almost completely self taught. His most famous pieces were his church compositions ranging from small cantatas to larger works for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Hans Zimmer (1957 – )

One modern-day German composer is Hans Zimmer. Born in Frankfurt, Zimmer has composed scores for more than 150 different films. Some of his most famous works include scores for The Lion King, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Intersteller, Gladiator, Crimson Tide, Inception, Dunkirk and the Dark Knight trilogy. Of course, his works are quite different from those of Beethoven – but we still love them!

Of course, there are many more composers we could add to this list! Who would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy 

Germany’s most frightening lake: the Schrecksee

High up in the German Alps is a lake so eerie that it’s known as the Schrecksee (“fright lake”).  With an elevation of 5,949 feet, the Schrecksee is Germany’s highest alpine lake – and it’s often covered in fog.

While some might consider it spooky, others would call it beautiful: the Schrecksee has a mystical feel to it.

© colourbox

Located in the Swabian region of Allgäu, the natural lake lies in the Alps — but getting there is no easy feat. Hiking up to the Schrecksee takes about seven to eight hours round-trip, on average. The views, however, are worth the effort: the Austrian border is located only about 1,000 feet away and hikers can peer over to Germany’s neighbor from the Schrecksee.

© colourbox

Those wanting to cool off can swim in the lake — but with temperatures around 55 degrees in the summer, few find the desire to do so.

Today, the Schrecksee remains a lesser-known travel destination in Germany, perhaps due to the difficulty in reaching it. But for those with a sense of adventure and motivation for a long hike, the Schrecksee is well worth the journey! And it’s also a great place to practice social distancing. Just make sure to start your hike early enough to make it back down before sunset.

©colourbox

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Can you fit through the world’s narrowest street?

Where is the world’s narrowest street?

Some might guess Venice. But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the narrowest street is located in the town of Reutlingen, Germany.

© dpa / picture alliance

The Spreuerhofstraße is located between two closely linked buildings. This street is on average 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) wide, and just 31 centimeters (12.2 inches) wide at its narrowest point.

Although some may be inclined to call this an alleyway, the people of Reutlingen insist that it is in fact a street, since it is located on municipal land.

Let’s take a look at how this passageway became an official street:

© dpa / picture alliance

In 1727, the city was being reconstructed after a massive city-wide fire destroyed many parts of Reutlingen. In 1820, an administrator in the city’s town hall decided to elevate this gap between two houses into a street. It is wide enough for the average person to walk through, which is one of the prerequisites for the classification of a street. For a long time, Spreuerhofstraße did not receive much attention. But once the Guinness Book of World Records gave the street its title in 2007, tourists started flocking to Reutlingen to see it. But before you start planning a future trip, keep in mind that this street is not particularly long or attractive and we would only recommend going there if you are in the area already! It is also not a great place to practice social distancing, considering how little room there is in the alleyway.

Only time will tell how long this street will remain; one of the 18th century houses is already leaning into it, making it even smaller. It may soon be too small to be considered a street at all!

© Nicole Glass

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Wittenberg: A personal tour through Luther Country

In this week’s virtual travel series, Konstantin Tesch from the German Embassy tells us about his great-grandparents’ home, Wittenberg. This picturesque city along the River Elbe is one you don’t want to miss – especially if you love history!

The city of Wittenberg has a special meaning for me, as it is my second home. Although I was born and grew up in Berlin, during the holidays I visited my great-grandparents who lived near the city of Wittenberg almost every year. My great-grandmother still lives there today and she will be 97 this year!

An aerial view of Wittenberg. © dpa / picture alliance

Wittenberg is located in eastern Saxony-Anhalt, on the banks of the River Elbe. The first thing you can see from the distance is the time-honored castle church, at the gates of which Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) is said to have posted his 95 theses on October 31, 1517, with which he initiated the Reformations. The division of Christianity into Catholic and Protestant churches began in Wittenberg.

For this reason, October 31st is also called Reformation Day (Reformationstag) in Germany and is a public holiday in most federal states.

Martin Luther also lived and worked in Wittenberg. Even today you can visit the so-called Luther House, where the reformer is said to have been enlightened by the Reformation change. His closest ally and co-founder of the Reformation Philipp Melanchthon (1497 – 1560) also lived in Wittenberg and his house (in a reconstructed form) can  be visited today, too. Luther an Melanchthon are buried side by side in the castle church and there are two large statues of Luther and Melanchthon on the market square in Wittenberg.

The Lutherhaus. © dpa / picture alliance

The painters Lucas Cranach Elder (1472 – 1553) and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515 – 1586) lived in Wittenberg at about the same time as Luther and Melanchthon. Both were important Renaissance painters. The so-called Cranach-Hof houses the premises of their old studio. Cranach the Younger is buried in the town church of Wittenberg, which is also clearly visible from afar with its double towers.

The so-called Luther wedding (Luthers Hochzeit) takes place every summer. The Luther wedding is a big city festival in honor of the wedding of Martin Luther with his wife Katharina von Bora in 1525. At the Luther wedding, people dress up in medieval costumes and frolic in the medieval flair of the historic city center. Everywhere there are stalls with handicrafts and souvenirs in the medieval style. Everyone is waiting for the big parade, where representatives of all the surrounding villages and their associations gather and disguise themselves as Lutheran people to walk through the two main streets of the city.

The annual Luther Wedding celebration. © dpa / picture alliance

In the past years I have visited the city again and again. My family tree can be traced back to the 17th century and many of my ancestors lived in the villages around Wittenberg. The city is not only a historical gem, but for me it is also a place of family and wonderful memories.

By Konstantin Tesch, German Embassy

10 reasons I love Bonn

In this week’s virtual travel series, German diplomat Niels von Redecker shares 10 reasons why he loves his hometown Bonn. From architecture to history to culture and natural beauty, this city on the Rhine is one that everyone should experience at least once!

Sweet childhood memories

Like the smell of licorice on the hockey playgrounds in Dottendorf, a southern part of town, right opposite of the original Haribo factory.

© dpa / picture alliance

Rheinufer

An endless promenade along both sides of the river Rhine – perfect for hour-long runs, skates or bike rides.

© dpa / picture alliance

Rhine in flames

Year by year, this is the biggest event on the Middle Rhine – spectacular bonfires, reflections and echoes!

© dpa / picture alliance

Continue reading “10 reasons I love Bonn”

Memories of a family trip to Coburg leads to broader connections

In our latest travel series, German Embassy diplomats and staff share experiences and information about their German hometowns. Today, Eva Santorini shares her memory of her visit to Coburg, Germany.

As my thoughts turn to my interests – travel and history – during these twilight zone COVID-19 days, I recall family trips to Europe to visit relatives. Transatlantic travel at the time was more complicated and expensive than it is now, so I met my grandparents only a few times and instead became a prolific letter writer at a young age. After World War II, my mother’s parents had resettled in a small scenic German town called Coburg in Oberfranken in northern Bavaria, a town first mentioned in historical records in 1054.

I was thrilled to meet my Oma und Opa for the first time when I was six years old, and the memories of that trip will remain with me forever. The small town sported small tidy streets of cobblestone radiating from the Marktplatz where small shops and cafes beckoned to visitors. My favorite memories are of the Coburger Würstchen, a long thin sausage whose delicious smoked flavor I can almost conjure up now, even after being a years-long vegetarian, and the small store under my grandparents’ apartment where we bought sweets.

The “Veste Coburg,” first mentioned in a document from 1225, dominates the town and is accessible on a long winding path that leads to its imposing entrance. Another sight I recall was the statue of the town’s most famous citizen, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (formal name: Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, 1819–1861) who married Queen Victoria in 1840.

The Veste Coburg is one of the most well-preserved medieval fortresses in Germany.

Now fast forward: that little girl grew up to become interested in world history. Join me in making the leap from seeing the statue of Prince Albert in Coburg and forging that personal but profound connection to the larger historical picture and the larger-than-life figures of World War I.

After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria found comfort in her large family which by then included 42 grandchildren. It is from these descendants that we learn of interesting and extremely convoluted relationships which had resulted from the intermarriage within Europe’s royal houses.

Three grandchildren of the royal couple became European rulers. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and the former German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine – later known as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and wife of Tsar Nicholas II, were first cousins. It was so much more troubling, then, that as the sound of the war machine grew louder in 1914, these cousins found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict.

Queen Victoria surrounded by family on her 75th birthday in 1894. Seated, second row (l to r): Kaiser Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria, Kaiserin Friedrich. Standing behind them: the future Tsar Nicholas II and his future wife, the Kaiser’s cousin, Princess Alix von Hessen.

Just before the “guns of August” sparked the beginning of the Great War, it is said that Tsar Nicholas implored his cousin, King George V for protection and requested exile in Great Britain. Sadly no protection was granted and the rest is, truly, history.

The visits to Coburg to see my grandparents left me with many vivid and happy memories. But they also fostered a curiosity that reaches far beyond those innocent childhood memories. Perhaps you have been fortunate to make a strong family connection during a visit to Germany. What are your memories? What struck you?

By Eva Santorini, German Embassy

The history of April Fool’s Day in Germany

Where did April Fool’s originate?

April Fool’s is a tradition celebrated widely in both the US and Germany. Although it is unclear exactly how and why this day of jokes originated, there is plenty of evidence that Germans (along with other Europeans) were already playing tricks on each other back in the Middle Ages!

Long before the Internet, Germans were celebrating April 1 the old-fashioned way. On April 1, 1530, a meeting was allegedly scheduled for lawmakers in Augsburg, who were told that they were gathering to unify the state’s coinage. When people heard of the meeting, they began trading their currency to make a profit from the change. However, the meeting never took place, the law was not enacted, and everyone who showed up – as well as those who traded their currency – were mocked as fools.

April Fool’s pranks continued over the years in Germany, and newspaper publishers soon jumped on the bandwagon. According to legend, one German newspaper published an April Fool’s article in 1774, claiming that it was possible to breed chickens in different colors by painting the coop that the hen lived in. A newspaper article from April 1, 1789 claimed that hail the size of pigeon eggs had fallen in Berlin. On April 1, 1923, a Berlin newspaper reported that Egyptian mummies had been found in the city’s underground railway station.

As technology developed, so did April Fool’s pranks. On April 1, 1926, German magazine Echo Continental announced the development of a new triple-decker bus for the city of Berlin, complete with an edited picture that served as “proof” of the development. Although this year is not a time for pranking, we still wanted to share the history with you so you can start thinking about how you will prank your coworkers in 2021.

5 secret German castles you probably never heard of

Germany is known for its many majestic castles and palaces. But even those who don’t go out of their way to visit one may stumble across the ruins of a medieval castle: Germany has over 20,000 castles, some of which are well-known attractions and others that lay isolated in ruins in the countryside.

The most famous castle is, of course, Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was built in the Bavarian hillside in the late 1800s. Walt Disney’s castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein, and the site is known worldwide for its magical appearance. It is Germany’s most-visited castle, bringing in over 1.3 million tourists per year.

But Germany also has plenty of smaller, lesser-known castles and palaces that are hidden throughout all of its 16 states. Although this is not a time for travel, we wanted to give you a visual tour of some of these hidden places. Here are just a few:

1) Hohenbaden Old Castle, Baden-Württemberg

Hidden in the Black Forest encircling Baden-Baden is the Hohenbaden Old Castle, which has origins dating back to the 12th century. This castle fell into disuse and was destroyed by a fire in the 16th century, but its ruins make it an attractive destination in the Black Forest today.

2) Werdenfels Castle, Bavaria

The ruins of Werdenfels Castle are located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria. Little is known about this castle’s origins, but it was most likely built in the 12th or 13th century. It served as an administrative and judicial center for some time, but by the 17th century it was deteriorating. The ruins were privately bought in 1822 and restoration of the castle began in 1986. Today, visitors can hike up a nature trail to see the castle ruins for themselves.

3) Castle Neuleiningen, Rhineland-Palatinate

The Castle Neuleiningen is a castle ruin that was built on the edge of the Palatinate Forest and destroyed by the French in 1690 during the War of the Palatine Succession. Today, the castle is sometimes used for open-air concerts and festivals. The observation tower has spectacular views of the Upper Rhine Valley.

4) Lichtenstein Castle, Baden-Württemberg

The Lichtenstein Castle was built relatively recently; it was constructed in the 1840s by German patriot Wilhelm Hauff who was inspired by the historical novel and fairy-tale Lichtenstein, which takes place in a majestic castle. Although the region had been home to many castles, most of these were in ruins by the 19th century, so Hauff commissioned the construction of a new one. The Lichtenstein Castle was damaged during World War II, but has since been restored and is open to the public for tours. This castle is not well-known among international tourists.

5) Schloss Drachenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia

Some castles are historic ruins; others are modern residences. Schloss Drachenburg is more of the latter; this majestic palace was built as a private residence in the 1880s. It stands on a hill on the Rhine near the city of Bonn. Baron Stephan von Sarter, a wealthy broker and banker, had originally planned to live in the castle but ultimately moved to Paris, where he lived out the rest of his days.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

9 Germans of African descent who changed the world

In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 10 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Steffi Jones

Steffi Jones is inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame. © dpa / picture alliance

Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.

Haddaway

© dpa / picture alliance

We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.

Isaac Bonga

© dpa / picture alliance

Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.

Continue reading “9 Germans of African descent who changed the world”

7 facts most Americans don’t know about Berlin – How many do you know?

Juten Tach! (“Guten Tag!”)

Are you an expert on Berlin? Think you know everything there is to know about Germany’s capital city? A large portion of Berlin’s population are transplants from other regions of Germany and other nations, so there’s a lot of competition for knowing all there is to know about this dynamic, bustling city.

Because so many Americans already know so much about Berlin, we decided to compile a list of almost unknown facts, or things so obscure they might not be known by even Americans who’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Berlin. The goal here is to challenge even the most ardent fan. How many of these facts do you already know? Count them up, and we’ll rate your score at the end!

As they say in Berlin, “Ran an die Buletten!” (“Let’s go!”)

We’ll get you started with an easy one…

1. Did you know Berlin has an aquarium with an elevator?

The DomAquarée in Berlin is the “largest free standing cylindrical aquarium in the world”.

With thousands of fish and unique flora and fauna, a ride through its middle is a must!

The 82 ft tall AquaDom at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Berlin is home to nearly 2,600 fish of 56 different species. About  264,172 gallons of water fill the cylindrical tank in the hotel lobby.

The aquarium was constructed in 2004 at a cost of 13 million Euros. And upkeep is not cheap: back when the tank had only 1,500 fish, they required 18 lbs of fish food per day – and this number has surely risen.

In order to get a better 360 view of the fish in the AquaDom, visitors can take a transparent elevator up through the inside of the tank!

Ok, that one was pretty easy. Let’s turn up the heat!

Continue reading “7 facts most Americans don’t know about Berlin – How many do you know?”