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Germany Highlights Regional Traditions

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe and Stillman Rogers

Whether it’s fairy-tale castles or Bavarian beer fests, cuckoo clocks or a celebration steeped in centuries of history, Germany is rich in local traditions that your clients can be a part of. And the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) will be supporting your efforts as you plan trips that include these time-honored folk festivals, Christmas markets, regional dishes, traditional dress, handcrafts, music and culture. Based on surveys showing that a region’s traditions and history are among the top criteria international visitors consider when choosing a vacation destination, the GNTB has put the Traditions and Customs theme at the center of its 2015 global sales and marketing activities.

“Traditions and customs are an integral part of Germany’s appeal as a cultural destination, while also being key facets of the core Destination Germany brand,” says Petra Hedorfer, Chief Executive Officer of the GNTB. “The idea of our themed campaign for 2015 is to make travelers more aware of this.” Germany’s advertising for 2015 will support travel agents by spotlighting regional traditions and customs that are still alive and well in Germany today.

The campaign will highlight three aspects: culinary, living traditions and Germany’s arts and craft heritage. Not only does each region have its own traditional dishes and treats (think Black Forest cherry cake and Lubeck marzipan) but throughout Germany local crops, wines and specialties are celebrated in festivals and harvest events. These and other festivals, from local funfairs, parades and carnivals to famous cultural and theater events, reflect living traditions, with regional costumes and dance usually playing an important part. The third key theme of the campaign, arts and crafts, will draw visitors to music festivals, local artisans and craft villages such as the woodcarving center of Oberammergau and glass artists in the Danube Valley.

The 2015 emphasis on uniquely German culture and traditions is a natural extension of the GNTO’s 2014 campaign, in which they highlight scenic routes such as the Romantic Road, Alpine Road and Fairytale Road.

These designated scenic routes crisscross Germany and even link it with similar sights in neighboring countries. Themes, like the itineraries themselves, range in size and scope, from megaliths to asparagus (two separate routes follow this springtime harvest that’s celebrated with festivals and special menus). While the themes provide the thread tying the attractions together, each route has a lot more to offer and each follows roads also chosen for their beautiful scenery. Half-timbered houses, cheese, cabbages and kings all have easy-to-follow signposted routes you can plan for your clients. Easy ways for clients to explore Germany at their own pace by car, motorbike or even bicycle, more than 150 scenic routes show visitors different perspectives of Germany’s regions.

The routes take your clients out of cities and into the countryside, bringing them closer to local life. In smaller towns and more rural areas they will find themselves engaging in the German traditions and customs that are the focus of the GNTO’s 2015 campaign.

Favorite Itineraries
The first of Germany’s routes was established more than 60 years ago and it’s still a favorite. The Romantic Road travels more than 200 miles, from Würzburg to Füssen, through timber-framed Medieval villages, past magnificent stately homes and palaces and into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, ending up at King Ludwig’s famous fairytale castles. One of these, Neuschwanstein, is Germany’s number one tourist attraction. From May until late autumn, The Romantic Road comes alive with historic festivals featuring traditional music, costumes, entertainment, local food and beer. (

Almost twice as long, and traveling through Germany’s most spectacular mountain scenery, the German Alpine Road is a full-surround experience from Lake Constance to Berchtesgaden, in the heart of the Bavarian Alps. You can promise your clients several hundred peaks, 21 mountain lakes, and 25 castles, palaces and abbeys as they drive through Alpine villages with onion-domed churches and join local life at beer gardens and traditional inns. (

The Castle Road will satisfy any client’s castle cravings with a trip into the Middle Ages, following emperors, kings and princes and knights at 70 castles, palaces and stately homes from Mannheim to Prague, in the Czech Republic. Between these castles perched on their pinnacles are medieval towns and abbeys brought to life with ancient markets, festivals and period-costumed performances in authentic surroundings. Arrange stops for a ghost tour or to dine at a medieval banquet, and remember that this is a perfect family itinerary with plenty of activities for kids.

No kid -- and few adults -- could resist the lure of the Myth and Fairytale Road in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region, in Germany’s far north. Known for its 1,000 lakes, its parks and nature reserves and the chalk cliffs and white beaches along the beautiful Baltic coast, the region is seldom visited by American travelers. Towns like Schwerin, with its magnificent brick church and breathtaking castle, are off the beaten path and filled with myths, fairy tales, ghosts and elves.

Along the same coast, the Gothic Brick Architecture Road leads through Germany’s beautiful and historic Hanseatic cities and along the coast of neighboring Poland. For centuries, Europe’s medieval trade was dominated by the Hanseatic League merchants, and their characteristic brick architecture characterizes these cities along the Baltic coast even today. So tall are the brick churches and their towering spires that they served as navigational landmarks for medieval sailors. (

In Germany’s southwest, the Black Forest is famed for its traditional foods and for making cuckoo clocks, a craft followed on the German Clock Road. The route winds through deep valleys and along rolling ridges, through dense forests and little villages, past waterfalls and vineyards as it seeks clock-making workshops, clock-face painting studios and even the world’s biggest cuckoo clock, in Triberg. Suggest that clients stop to explore the region’s colorful costumes at the outstanding Schwarzwälder Trachtenmuseum (Black Forest Traditions Museum) in Haslach, and sample Black Forest hams, hearty local breads, cherry cake or the wines and famous distilled fruit and berry drinks of Gengenbach. This post-card-perfect medieval town is on the Badische Weinstrasse, a 100-mile route through the Black Forest, one of several wine roads in Germany. (,

Another itinerary your clients interested in traditional handcrafts will enjoy is the 150-mile Glass Route from Europe’s lead crystal capital to beautiful Passau, on the Danube River. The glass museum here displays more than 15,000 pieces representing all styles and eras, and along the route are studios and workshops where visitors can watch glass artists at work and visit showrooms of well-known glassworks.

Festivals and Markets
Whatever the subject, these scenic routes are a good way for your clients to join in the local life. At any time of year they are likely to find a festival in progress somewhere, and no region has more than fun-loving Bavaria, where they are an integral part of local culture. Best known is Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it’s only one of a long schedule of events that often transform entire towns into festival grounds and always include food, beer and wine.

In late June the Mariahilfbergfest in Amberg commemorates the end of the plague in 1634, and still has a religious aspect. At Bavaria’s oldest children’s festival, Tänzelfest in Kaufbeuren, the entire town becomes a historical set for performances by more than 1,700 costumed children. The August Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing lasts 11 days, fueled by 55 food stalls and 700,000 litres of beer. Volkach’s Weinfest in August is the largest of several celebrating the Franconian wine regions along the River Main. (

Throughout December in Bavaria and the rest of Germany, Christmas markets fill village and city squares with holiday foods, decorations, music and bright lights. Munich alone has close to a dozen Christkindlmarkts, which range from a select group of fine craftsmen in the courtyard of the Residenz palace to the full-fledged Tollwood Fesival, complete with its own beer halls and stage shows.   

Almost any December itinerary you plan will include a town or city with at least one Christmas market, but for clients intent on sampling several, suggest an all-inclusive luxury river trip with Scenic Cruises. These range from the one-week Rhine cruise visiting markets in Cologne, Bamberg and Rothenberg to a 15-day journey between Budapest and Amsterdam with Christmas markets in those three German cities, plus Würzburg and Nurnberg. (

Even clients intent on enjoying the rural and small-town traditions along these routes will want to spend some time in at least one of Germany’s vibrant cities, which have their own traditions and customs. They will probably arrive and depart from one of the city airports; Munich, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Berlin and Frankfurt all have direct flights from the US. In Munich, the airport itself is an attraction, with its own brewery and beer garden, a shopping plaza with guaranteed downtown store prices, sports competitions - perhaps polo or even surfing - and the airport’s own Christmas Market in December. (

In planning where to go and what to see, you and your clients might want to refer to the GNTO’s newly updated app featuring Germany’s 100 top attractions. Clients will find places here to pique their interest, and you’ll get ideas for attractions to weave into their itineraries. See the list online at the GNTB’s website: