Germany's historic cities attract travelers from around the world, and small German towns, such as Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, also get their fair share of attention. What many visitors to Munich, Berlin and Heidelberg may not realize is that Germany is filled with delightful towns that tour buses never visit. Why not include one of these "undiscovered" German towns on your next itinerary?
Amberg lies in Germany's Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz) region, which is in the northern part of Bavaria (Bayern). This area's history and culture are distinct, even though the Upper Palatinate, along with Franconia (Franken), make up the modern German state of Bavaria
. Amberg is 41 miles east of Nürnberg and 42 miles north of Regensburg. If you visit, you'll discover an agreeable town with plenty of historic buildings. Parts of the town wall, first built in 1326, are still standing. You can also see the Old Fortress ("Alte Veste"), the Electoral Palace and Armory ("Kurfürstliches Schloss und Zeughaus") and several old churches. On Saturdays, the tower of Saint Martin's Church opens for tours at 11:45 A. M., offering splendid views of the entire town. Many tourist activities, such as beer tours and boat rides on the Vils River, are available from May through October only, but the City Theater offers year-round concerts and the Air Museum ("Luftmusem"), located in the former Royal Chapel and council chamber building, the Klösterl, is open afternoons throughout the year. As its name suggests, the museum is dedicated to the theme of air. Whenever you go, save time for both a walk along the river and a quiet meal in one of Amberg's many restaurants.
Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg
Photo © Nancy Parode. Licensed to About.com.
The small town with the long name is actually two towns tied together into a single administrative district. As you might guess from its name, Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg is a spa town ("Bad" means "bath" in German). Many popular treatments are available, including radon
-brine therapy, a thermal brine movement pool, open-air baths, mud packs and even archery therapy. If spending a day at the spa isn't your idea of fun, why not pay a visit to the Stone Sculpture Museum and outdoor Stone Sculpture Park, the brainchildren of famed local sculptors Wolfgang Kubach and Anna Kubach-Wilmsen? You can also visit local wineries; Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg lies in the heart of the Nahe wine region. Several local wineries offer tours and tastings.
Photo © Nancy Parode. Licensed to About.com.
Annweiler am Trifels, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate ("Rheinland-Pfalz"), is the state's second-oldest free town (Speyer is older). The history of Annweiler is intertwined with that of Trifels Castle, which sits atop a nearby mountain. King Richard I of England ("The Lionheart") was imprisoned in Trifels Castle from 1193 to 1194. According to legend, Richard the Lionheart's minstrel, Blondel, went from castle to castle in Germany, singing loudly, hoping his master would recognize his voice. When he reached Trifels Castle, the imprisoned king sang in response to Blondel's tune. King Richard was eventually ransomed and returned to England; this much is fact, although the story of Blondel is most likely a fanciful tale. Today, Trifels Castle is open to the public; highlights include replicas of the crown jewels and an exhibit detailing the history of the castle. The views from Trifels Castle are spectacular, too. The forest surrounding the castle is a popular hiking destination. In Annweiler itself, you'll find a museum dedicated to the history of Trifels Castle, a picturesque Town Hall Square ("Rathausplatz") and several old streets and half-timbered buildings. The city also owns a large urban forest, which is professionally managed.
See it now: Trifels Castle Photo Tour
Speyer, while well-known as a tourist destination by Germans, is often bypassed by visitors from abroad. This lovely city, best known for its cathedral, is also home to the SchPIRA Museum, which opened in 2010, 72 years after the infamous Kristallnacht, or "Night of Broken Glass," during which the Nazis persecuted Jews in Speyer and throughout Germay. The SchPIRA Museum's collection includes artifacts from Speyer's synagogue, ritual baths and Jewish cemetery. The Technical Museum Speyer ("Technik Museum Speyer") is a must-see; this eclectic museum features a Russian Buran space shuttle, antique fire engines, locomotives, a Lufthansa Boeing 747 aircraft, vintage automobiles and musical instruments.
See it now: Speyer Pictures
Mettlach, in Germany's Saarland, near the French border, is a true "company town," hosting Villeroy & Boch since 1809, so it's no surprise that this quiet town is dedicated to ceramics, past and present. Villeroy & Boch's headquarters building, a former Benedictine abbey, dominates the town's historic center. If you visit, you can tour the Ceramics Museum and learn about the history of Villeroy & Boch at the Keravision complex. You can also shop for souvenirs (and for yourself) at the Villeroy & Boch outlet store. If you are uninterested in pretty china, take a look at the ruins of Montclair Castle ("Burg-Montclair"), built atop a Celtic stronghold and rebuilt in the early 15th century, or rent a bicycle and explore one of the region's biking trails.