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

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

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?”

The history of skiing in Germany

Are you passionate about skiing or snowboarding? Well, so are Germans! In fact, Germany has more skiers than any other country in Europe, with more than 14.6 million Germans partaking in the sport.

But where did this winter sport originate?

Archeological research suggests that ski-like objects date back to 6000 BC, used primarily as tools to cross frozen wetlands and marshes in the wintertime. But recreational skiing is a much more recent activity.

In the 1700s, the Norwegian army held competitions where soldiers would learn how to shoot while skiing. Those races were the precursors to skiing as an Olympic sport. And it didn’t take long for it to spread through Europe. Downhill skiing gained popularity in the 1800s and in 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France and featured cross-country skiing.

©dpa / picture alliance

In 1936, downhill skiing was included for the first time in the Winter Olympics, held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Soon thereafter, people began constructing chair lifts and ski resorts, which caused recreational skiing to grow in popularity – especially in the 1950s and 60s.

Today, Germany has about 700 ski resorts, 1,384 ski lifts and 864 miles of slopes, making it a perfect wintertime destination for ski lovers. Many of these lie in the mountainous state of Bavaria. One popular ski town is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which lies near Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze (elevation: 9,718 ft). The Rhön Mountains feature gentler slopes ideal for beginners, while the picturesque Black Forest has about 200 ski lifts that allow winter sports enthusiasts to experience a change of scenery.

While Bavaria contains the biggest ski resort, the Black Forest contains the oldest: Germany’s first ski tow was built in the Black Forest, and Germany’s oldest ski club was formed there in 1985.

But other regions of Germany – including the Ore Mountains in Saxony – also have their share of winter sports destinations.

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Berlin has a museum dedicated to currywurst. We’re not joking.

© dpa / picture-alliance

If you’ve ever been to Germany, you surely know about Germans’ love for currywurst!

In fact, Germans love currywurst so much that they even have a museum dedicated to it.

The Currywurst Museum, located in downtown Berlin, is dedicated to the popular sausage dish, presenting everything from the history of the currywurst to its presence in film, TV and music. The interactive museum also features exhibits such as spice sniffing stations, a sausage sofa, ketchup-bottle-shaped audio stations and virtual currywurst-making stations.

Located right near Checkpoint Charlie, the Currywurst Museum is an unusual and entertaining addition to any Berlin trip – especially with kids!

But how did this strange museum come into being?

© dpa / picture-alliance

The museum opened its doors in August 2009 – 60 years after the invention of the currywurst. This popular German sausage was created by Berlin resident Herta Heuwer in 1949. Back then, Germany was suffering the aftermath of World War II and there was a shortage of food. So Heuwer experimented: she got a hold of some ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers and added these ingredients to a traditional German Bratwurst. She then began to sell this newly invented currywurst at a stand near Checkpoint Charlie. Her creation was a hit, and she eventually reached a point where she was selling up to 10,000 currywurst sausages a week.

The founder of the Currywurst Museum, Martin Loewer, realized how important this food item became in Germany and created the museum to acknowledge its impact. The museum currently receives about 350,000 visitors per year.

© dpa / picture-alliance
© dpa / picture-alliance

This map shows the German-born German population in the USA in 1870

*Before the actually blog post, it should be stated from the outset that we are dealing with raw numbers here, not percentages* Ok, let’s get into it!

All yee German-born, step right up and be gezählt (counted)!

The practice of taking a head-count of the population of a nation dates back to ancient Egypt. It helps governments know if they’re growing, shrinking, where to send government services (or soldiers 😮 ), and it’s just kind of nifty information to have!

The US follows this tradition. The very first US census of 1790 occurred while the ink was still drying on the US Constitution. President Washington was a year into his first term, and Congress wanted to make sure they knew “the aggregate amount of each description of persons”. While it was a highly imperfect system, it started a practice that has lasted through the life of the nation.

One such census occurred in 1870. Well, it actually went all the way in 1871, but that’s not such a critical detail! As you can see in the old map below, the Census Bureau had a particular interest in the presence of an ever-increasing segment of the population: Germans!

© Wikimedia Commons

A few German immigrants made it over for the Jamestown colony, and the largest and earliest German settlers went to Pennsylvania. The number of Germans really picked up in the 19th century, exceeding any other group. And that can be seen on our map today, which shows the raw number of German-born people in each state, according to the 9th Census in 1870.

Here’s a table of the data from the census, and below it, our map. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to follow us @GermanyinUSA for more content about the links between Germany and the USA!

By William Fox, German Embassy

This map shows you every single German island we could find. What did we miss?

When you think of Germany, you probably think of the typical stuff like beer, lederhosen, the Berlin Wall, trains, etc. But after looking at this map, you should also think of ocean islands!

It’s weird, isn’t it? We usually associate a smattering of near-coast islands with nations like Greece, Italy, or Japan. But Germany has its fair share as well! Have a look:

  1. Borkum
  2. Kachelotplate
  3. Memmert
  4. Juist
  5. Norderney
  6. Baltrum
  7. Langeoog
  8. Spiekeroog
  9. Insel Lütje Hörn
  10. Wangerooge
  11. Langlütjen II
  12. Minsener Oog
  13. Mellum
  14. Heligoland & Helgoland-Düne
  15. Nigerhörn
  16. Neuwerk
  17. Trischen
  18. Südfall
  19. Nordstrandischmoor
  20. Hooge
  21. Gröde
  22. Oland
  23. Föhr
  24. Sylt
  25. Norddorf
  26. Nordmarsch-Langeneß
  27. Japsand (sand)
  28. Norderoogsand (sand)
  29. Hallig Süderoog
  30. Pellworm 
  31. Fehmarn
  32. Walfisch
  33. Insel Poel
  34. Insel Langenwerder
  35. Ummanz
  36. Großer Werder
  37. Bock
  38. Hiddensee
  39. Greifswalder Oie
  40. Ruden
  41. Usedom (Eastern half is Poland)
  42. Insel Vilm
  43. Rügen

Continue reading “This map shows you every single German island we could find. What did we miss?”

6 unique summer traditions in Germany

Germans love to spend time outside in the summer. While many Germans enjoy traveling abroad, others choose to explore their own country. From beaches in the north to picturesque mountains in the south, Germany has it all! If you want to act like a local, this is how you can spend your time when the temperatures begin to soar.

Head to an Eiscafe… and order a Spaghettieis!

If you’ve ever been to Germany in the summertime, you might have noticed the many different Eisdiele (ice cream parlos) or Eiscafes. Germans love to get together over a refreshing bowl of ice cream when it’s hot outside. In fact, there are over 3,300 ice cream shops in Germany! While gelato might hit the spot, a more unique option is a cool bowl of Spaghettieis – a German style of ice cream that literally looks like a bowl of spaghetti. We promise you, it still tastes like ice cream!

©dpa / picture alliance

Beat the heat and go Wasserwandern

Wasserwandern translates to “water hiking”. This means leaving behind solid ground to go explore Germany’s many waterways by canoe or kayak. Wasserwandern is particularly popular in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which is known as the “land of a thousand lakes”. Formed tens of thousands of years ago during the Ice Age, these lakes are home to a number of endangered species and make the perfect summertime getaway for nature enthusiasts. So pack a waterproof bag and explore Germany’s many rivers and lakes on boat!

©dpa / picture alliance

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Here’s a map with all 26 Berlins we could find in the USA

“Ich bin ein Berliner!” (“I am a Berliner!”) said John F. Kennedy during his visit to Berlin in 1963. As it turns out, he’s not the only American that can make this claim.

According to the German-American Heritage Museum, German speakers began arriving in North America in the 1600’s. Today, around 15% of Americans have German ancestry, according to the Census Bureau. That’s roughly 45 million people! Their ancestors made it to every corner of the continent, bringing with them their hopes, dreams, food, culture, language, and yes, names!

Though French and Spanish names are more common, several cities and towns in America have German names. From Anaheim, California to New Braunfels, Texas and Schaumburg, Illinois, German immigrants were eager to stamp their new home with a bit of German pizazz.

However, not all founders were so creative (see: Germantown, Tennessee). Maybe that’s why there are so many Berlins in the USA! Type “Berlin” into Google Maps, and you might find Berlin, Georgia before Berlin, Germany. In fact, there are approximately 26 Berlins spread across the 50 states! Here’s a map with all of them we could find.

There are concentrations of Berlins in the Northeast and Midwest, and a few scattered to the South, like Berlin, Texas, and the West, like Berlin, Nevada. It must be because of the large number of German immigrants that went those directions over hundreds of years.

It’s important to note that some of these lovely Berlins are unincorporated or extinct towns. Berlin, Nevada is actually a ghost town! But several Berlins are thriving! For example, Berlin, Connecticut has 20,000 people. Not bad!

Do you live in one of these Berlins? Ever visited? If you do, tweet us @GermanyinUSA! We can’t wait to see what you find!

By William Fox, German Embassy

5 summertime destinations in Berlin

Berlin is a lively city with vibrant nightlife and countless daytime activities. With summer around the corner, here are 5 awesome ways to spend the season’s most beautiful days!

1) Soak in the Badeschiff

When the sun comes out and the temperatures heat up, head over to Berlin’s Badeschiff (“bathing ship”) to enjoy the day on the Spree. This swimming pool floats in the River Spree – and the views of the city are fantastic! Plus, it’s next to a riverside beach where you can sip on a cocktail and soak up the sun.

© dpa / picture-alliance

2) Have a drink at the Club der Visionaere

The Club der Visionaere is a picturesque summertime spot between Kreuzberg and Treptower Park. It is a club along the water that hosts live electronic music concerts at night. Weeping willows surround the terrace, making it a beautiful venue to spend a summertime evening with friends.

© dpa / picture-alliance

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