Here is a quick report from my recent “back door” travels in Germany. “Back doors” means visiting destinations are that less touristy, more authentic, usually less expensive, and hopefully as incredible as major tourist sites.
On this trip, I have decided to explore central Germany because it is the mid-point between Berlin and Frankfurt and/or Munich. This region has beautiful landscapes and lots of castles (= at least 191 of Germany’s 300+) and monasteries and palaces and fortresses. I usually drive through this region on my way between major German cities. Three years ago, I discovered by first castle in this region. Last year, we added this region to our Christmas Markets tour. This time, I wanted to find more castles and picturesque small cities and villages. The name of this region is Thuringia.
Here is the list (with web links; some are only in German) of my new “back door” discoveries:
(1) Muhlhausen – imperial town going back to the Holy Roman Empire times.
(2) Schmalkaden – picturesque medieval town with the Wilhelmsburg castle.
(4) Altenburg – walled 12th century old city with incredible 17th century palace/castle Altenburg.
(5) Eisenach – the city of Bach and location of 12th century Wartburg Castle overlooking the town (Luther translated the Bible into German here)
(6) Rudolfstadt – fully restored old town with massive castle overlooking the city.
(7) Torgau – incredible old town with 14th century Castle Hartenfels that played major role in Reformation as well as the place town where American and Soviet forces met for the first time; symbolic of the end of the WW2.
(8) Castle Kochberg – small countryside park and 18th Century castle.
(9) Upper Castle Kranichfeld – a true “back door” discovery; I found this fully restored 15th century castle on theta of the hill on my way to Rudolstadt. I had the castle all to myself; I was the only person there for the midday tea, on Saturday!
Lessons Learnt: This region was a part of the former East Germany, so it was off limits to tourism until 1990s. Driving is the best way to explore Thuringia and her small villages, scenic vistas and valleys, and historic building and monuments related to the medieval times, the Reformation and the Cold War. For many this region is the cradle of German culture and identity. I have discovered that Thuringia has “porcelain route” (with 25 factories and 10 museums devoted to this 200 years-old craft!) and is home to Germany’s favorite sons: Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach. One thing is for sure about this region: even during busy summer season you will not find tourist crowds like in Bavaria or Berlin or the Castle Neuschwanstein. You might even have a village or a castle all to yourself!
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