Northern Germany’s Cultural Riches

Written by  Monique Burns

EUROPE Germany
With a long list of musicians, composers and artists, Germany has influenced Europe’s cultural scene for centuries. These days, Northern Germany commands the spotlight. Hamburg, one of the world’s fastest-growing ports, opened the stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall. In Lübeck—celebrating its 30th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—museums honor Nobel Prize-winning novelists Thomas Mann and Günter Grass. In Berlin, the capital, art-lovers flock to scores of galleries, including the newly opened Museum Barberini in Potsdam.

Germany’s artistic riches are accessible to all, especially families eager to introduce youngsters to the glories of Western civilization. Moderately priced City Cards offer free travel on metro, bus and ferry lines plus discounted admission to attractions. Museum Passes provide entry to dozens of institutions for one low price. During the annual “Long Night of Museums,” a single ticket opens doors to more than 50 cultural sites in Hamburg.
For mobility challenged visitors, subways, trains and buses, plus museums and concert halls, offer barrier-free travel. Germany’s commitment to “Smart Luxury” also insures excellent hotels and restaurants at affordable prices. Once you’ve had your fill of culture, enjoy a wealth of family-friendly attractions, including cruises along Northern Germany’s Elbe, Trave and Spree rivers.

Hamburg residents are justly proud of their big beautiful port on the River Elbe, the setting for music-filled events including the 829th Port Birthday (, May 10-13, 2018. The new Elbphilharmonie ( concert hall is yet another reason to be proud.
Designed by Herzog & de Meuron of Basel, Switzerland, with acoustics by Yasushisa Toyota, who tweaked Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Elbphilharmonie features a wave-like glass roof soaring above an historic brick warehouse. Open to the public, the Plaza has a restaurant, a Störtebeker brewpub, a 244-room Westin hotel and a wraparound observation deck.
Order tickets online for concerts geared to all ages. Great Britain’s four-year-old Prince George recently enjoyed a children’s concert with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. With three resident orchestras, and a hundred amateur ensembles and choirs, Hamburg stages dozens of other musical events.

In summer, catch an open-air Hamburg Symphony Orchestra ( concert in the Rathaus, or City Hall, courtyard. A recent concert, “Von Paris nach Prag,” featured “Hot Sonate, Opus 70,” with classical-saxophone solos, written by the brilliant Prague-born, German-Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff who perished in a Nazi concentration camp.
In the Neustadt’s Composers Quarter (, discover a small museum devoted to native son Johannes Brahms, famed 19th-century Romantic composer, plus three interconnected museums dedicated to Georg Philipp Telemann, the city’s Music Director for 46 years, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach who succeeded Telemann and lesser-known composer Johann Adolf Hasse.
Come March 2018, the quarter welcomes two museums dedicated to German-Jewish virtuosos. One honors Hamburg-born composer Felix Mendelssohn and his sister, pianist-composer Fanny Hensel, grandchildren of 18th-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. The other recognizes Viennese composer Gustav Mahler, conductor of Hamburg’s Stadttheater, now the Hamburg State Opera (

Minutes away is 17th-century St. Michael’s Church ( Known for its lofty observation deck, “The Michel” regularly hosts concerts on its five organs. A plaque also honors Johannes Brahms, baptized there in May 1833, and Music Directors Telemann, and C.P.E. Bach, who is buried in the crypt.
Modern Hamburg has been a laboratory for everything from pop, rock and jazz to hip-hop and electronic music. After the 1968 premiere of Cats, Hamburg quickly became the world’s third-biggest city for musicals after London and New York.
Also in the 60s, The Beatles played 300 gigs in clubs near St. Pauli’s Reeperbahn. On Hempel’s Beatles Tour (www.hempels-mu discover their haunts as Stefanie Hempel plays their hits on her little black ukulele. Come September, the Reeperbahn Festival ( offers live music in 70 venues.
Jazz aficionados can enjoy clubs like Birdland, Cascadas and Golem. The Überjazz Festival ( arrives in November, and the Elbjazz Festival ( takes the spotlight, June 1 and 2, 2018.
Before leaving town, hop aboard a Barkassen-Meyer ( sightseeing cruise along the River Elbe, perhaps Hamburg’s greatest masterpiece.

A 45-minute train ride northeast of Hamburg is Lübeck. “Queen of the Hanseatic League,” the small but mighty city celebrates its 30th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. Explore the city’s illustrious past at the high-tech European Hansemuseum (, opened in 2015.
Lübeck’s other big claim to fame is its literary heritage. In the island-like Old Town—surrounded by the River Trave—the white, baroque Buddenbrookhaus ( honors native son Thomas Mann, whose novels include Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. Mann’s first work, Buddenbrooks, focusing on a Northern German mercantile family, was published in 1901 and won the 1929 Nobel Prize.
Conceived as a walk-in novel, Buddenbrookhaus has several 19th-century style rooms. The exhibit, “What A Family!” traces the lives of Mann’s seven children, many of them writers, including Erika, who wrote anti-Nazi manifestos and travelogues, Klaus, a novelist and drama critic, and Golo, an historian.
Steps away, St. Mary’s brick vault, the world’s highest, soars 126 feet heavenward. A church plaque honors the great Johann Sebastian Bach who, in 1705, walked 200 miles from Leipzig to Lübeck to study at the feet of church organist Dieterich Buxtehude. Lübeck’s ongoing virtuosity is displayed during the May Brahms Festival ( and two-month Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (

There’s culinary artistry at nearby Café Niederegger (, marzipan-maker since 1806. Buy the almond-infused treat, learn about it in the museum, and sample any of 21 scrumptious cakes, including marzipan-covered Nusstorte.
Several blocks west, Günter Grass Haus (, with its sculpture-filled garden, honors the Danzig-born writer who spent his last 20 years in Lübeck and won the 1999 Nobel Prize for “frolicsome black fables” like The Tin Drum. Novelist, playwright and poet, Grass was also a sculptor and graphic artist. Alongside manuscripts and letters, intricate pen-and-ink drawings detail the artist’s greatest obsessions: food, sex and politics. Exhibits also recall his Berlin Wall protests and other activism.
Steps away, Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus ( showcases works by 19th-century landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich, German-Jewish Impressionist Max Liebermann, and Norwegian modernist Edvard Munch, one-time Lübeck resident. There’s more artistry at the nearby Schiffergesellschaft (, or Seafarers’ Guild, serving seafood in a 16th-century brick building decorated with finely crafted ship models.
February brings the Lübeck Night of Theaters (, including magic shows at the Zaubertheater (, and marionette shows at the Figurentheater Lübeck (, Kobalt Figurentheater ( and Lübecker Wasser Marionetten Theater (
In August, Lübecker Museumsnacht ( offers entry to 30 locales, including the marionette-filled TheaterFigurenMuseum (www.theaterfiguren That same month, the riverside Duckstein Festival ( combines classical, jazz and blues shows, theater performances and art exhibits.

Since German Reunification in 1990, the capital of Berlin has welcomed thousands of contemporary artists and scores of new galleries. In nearby Potsdam, part of the Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Region, the new Museum Barberini is yet another outstanding showcase.
The BerlinWelcome Card ( provides free transportation on the city’s bus, train and metro lines plus discounted museum admission while the Museum Pass BERLIN ( offers three days’ admission to over 30 institutions. In August, the Long Night of Museums ( provides entry to 80 cultural sites with one ticket.
On Museum Island (, in the River Spree, the Neues Museum, reopened after a brilliant restoration by British architect David Chipperfield, is a fitting venue for Berlin’s prized Egyptian collection, including the incomparable Bust of Nefertiti.
Next door, the Alte Nationalgalerie, showcasing 19th-century works, has an entire room devoted to Berlin-born Impressionist Max Liebermann. Also here: the Altes Museum, Bode Museum and Pergamon Museum.
For contemporary art-lovers, Go Art! Berlin ( can arrange tours of the former Jewish neighborhood, the Scheunenviertel, or Barn District, as well as Potsdamer Strasse, and Kreuzberg, home to the Berlinische Galerie (, with colorful German Expressionist works, and the zigzag-shaped Jewish Museum ( designed by Jewish-American architect Daniel Libeskind.

In Berlin’s City West, across from art-filled Charlottenburg Palace (, the recently expanded Museum Berggruen ( is a treasure trove of Picassos, Klees, Matisses and Giacomettis amassed by Berlin-born, German-Jewish art dealer Heinz Berggruen.
The Helmut Newton Foundation Museum for Photography (, also in City West, mounts provocative works by the Berlin-born fashion photographer who captured long-legged models in all manner of dress (and undress).
In the Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Region, Potsdam, site of Sanssouci Palace (, welcomes the new Museum Barberini ( Established by Prof. Dr. Hasso Plattner, founder of the software company SAP, the Barberini showcases modern masterpieces, including works from the former East Germany.
Not far away, the Max Liebermann Villa ( is a five-minute walk from the House of the Wannsee Conference ( where Nazis discussed the Holocaust’s “Final Solution.” His work labeled “degenerate,” Liebermann died in 1935, and his wife, Martha, committed suicide before being deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Today, the villa is again surrounded by lush gardens stretching down to Lake Wannsee and adorned with Liebermann’s joyful flower-filled landscapes.

For accommodations with artistic flair, consider:
Reichshof, Hamburg: Steps from Central Station, this Art Deco landmark—part of Hilton’s CURIO Collection—boasts 278 modern rooms, an elegant restaurant, two stylish bars and a spa.
The Fontenay, Hamburg: Opening October 15 on the Alster Lake, the hotel will offer 131 über-deluxe rooms, a gourmet restaurant, an infinity pool and spa, and a spectacular rooftop deck.
Hotel Anno 1216, Lübeck: In a 13th-century brick mansion, this riverside boutique hotel has 11 rooms decorated with fine-art photographs from Galerie an der Mauer in St. Anne’s Museum Quarter.
Lux 11, Berlin: Near Alexanderplatz, enjoy 72 chic rooms, a patisserie, and two restaurants: Prince for Asian specialties and Milchbar for drinks and organic snacks.
Orania.Berlin, Berlin: New to artsy Kreuzberg, Orania offers 41 luxurious rooms, a 24-hour gym, a gourmet restaurant and stylish bar—plus classical, jazz and electronic-music concerts.
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