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Northern Germany – experience a myriad of marvels
August 30, 2018, 4:55 pm

Head to Germany's north because you love the water. From the posh pleasures of Sylt in the west, to the fabled Baltic heritage of historic towns like Lübeck, Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald. Here, you can sense the legacy of the Hanseatic League in beautiful old quarters created with iconic black and red bricks.

Even inland there is water. Mecklenburg's lakes are a maze of places to paddle. But really, most visitors will be happiest right at the edge of the sea. There are beaches everywhere, and while the temperatures aren't tropical, the drama of the sea crashing onto the white sand is irresistible.

Then there's Hamburg, a city with a love of life that ignites its fabled clubs, where proximity to the water has brought the city both wealth and vigor through the centuries. It's well on its way to being one of Europe's coolest cities. Here are some of the top experiences you can have in Northern Germany.

Stralsund:  Stralsund was once the second-most important member of the Hanseatic League, after Lübeck, and its square gables interspersed with Gothic turrets, ornate portals and vaulted arches make it one of the leading examples of Backsteingotik (classic red-brick Gothic gabled architecture) in northern Germany. This vibrant city's historic cobbled streets and many attractions make it an unmissable stop in the region.

Marienkirche: You will need divine inspiration to guess the number of bricks used to build the massive 14th-century Marienkirche, a superb example of north German red-brick construction. There are 206 stone or brick stairs and 143 wooden stairs up the tower for a sweeping view of the town, with its lovely red-tiled roofs, and Rügen Island. The ornate 17th-century organ is a stunner.

Mahnmal St-Nikolai:  St Nikolai church was the world’s tallest building from 1874 to 1876, and it remains Hamburg’s second-tallest structure (after the TV tower). Mostly destroyed in WWII, it is now called Mahnmal St-Nikolai. You can take a glass lift up to a 76.3m-high viewing platform inside the surviving spire for views of Hamburg's center, put into context of the wartime destruction. The crypt houses an unflinching underground exhibit on the horrors of war.

The museum's exhibition focuses on three events in World War II: the German bombing of Coventry in 1940; the German destruction of Warsaw and Operation Gomorrha; and the combined British and American bombing of Hamburg over three days and nights in 1943 that killed 35,000 and incinerated much of the center.

Schloss & Gardens: Gothic and Renaissance turrets, Slavic onion domes, Ottoman features and terracotta Hanseatic step gables are among the mishmash of architectural styles that make up Schwerin’s inimitable Schloss, which is crowned by a gleaming golden dome. Nowadays the Schloss earns its keep as the state’s parliament building.

Crossing the causeway south from the palace-surrounding Burggarten brings you to the baroque Schlossgarten (Palace Garden), intersected by several canals.

Schwerin derives its name from a Slavic castle known as Zuarin (Animal Pasture) that was formerly on the site, and which was first mentioned in AD 973. In a niche over the main gate, the statue of Niklot depicts a Slavic prince, who was defeated by Heinrich der Löwe in 1160.

Inside the palace’s opulently furnished rooms, highlights include a huge collection of Meissen porcelain and richly colored stained-glass windows in the Schlosskirche.

The Burggarten most notably features a wonderful orangerie overlooking the water, with a conservatory restaurant and terrace cafe (open May to October). A handful of statues, a grotto and lookout points are also here.

Elbphilharmonie:  One of the most Europe's most exciting recent architectural creations. A squat brown-brick former warehouse at the far west of HafenCity was the base for the architecturally bold Elbphilharmonie, a major concert hall and performance space, not to mention architectural icon. Pritzker Prize–winning Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron were responsible for the design, which captivates with details like 1096 individually curved glass panes.

Enter via Europe's longest and really rather beautiful escalator up to the Plaza, from where you can emerge onto the wrap-around balcony for terrific city and harbor views in all directions. And make sure you return for a live performance.

Nikolaikirche: This masterpiece of medieval architecture dates to 1270 and is modeled on Lübeck's Marienkirche. Its interior is redolent with color and is filled with art treasures. The main altar (1708), designed by the baroque master Andreas Schlüter, shows the eye of God flanked by cherubs and capped by a depiction of the Last Supper. The main portal of is reached via an entrance off the Alter Markt.

Also worth a closer look are the sculpturally rich high altar (1470), 6.7m wide and 4.2m tall, showing Jesus' entire life, and, behind the altar, a 1394-built (but no longer operational) astronomical clock.

Holstentor: Built in 1464 and looking so settled-in that it appears to sag, Lübeck’s charming red-brick city gate is a national icon. Its twin pointed cylindrical towers, leaning together across the stepped gable that joins them, captivated Andy Warhol (his print is in the St Annen Museum), and have graced postcards, paintings, posters and marzipan souvenirs. Discover this and more inside the Museum Holstentor, which sheds light on the history of the gate and on Lübeck's medieval mercantile glory days. The Latin inscription on the west face ‘concordia domi foris pax’ means ‘harmony at home and peace abroad’.

Coastal Mecklenburg – Western Pomerania:  This spectacular stretch of the Baltic coast is certainly one of Europe's better-kept secrets. But Germans know better and flock in summer to its dazzling clean, white sand and glittering seas.
Hotspots during the all-too-brief beach-going season include three leafy resort islands: sprawling, villa-lined Rügen; car-free Hiddensee; and Usedom (which Germany shares with Poland). Warnemünde, the seaside resort near Rostock, is another sandy hotspot – when it's hot. For natural drama, the cliffs of Jasmund National Park are stunning.
Stralsund is the prize town of the region, combining seaside charms with beautiful, old architecture. Other highlights include the gracious university town of Greifswald, which retains some exquisite medieval architecture, as does Wismar.

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