For travelers, Germany has two personas: the kitschy quaint town filled with gable-roofed houses and the edgy underground chic Berlin.
From the outside, it can really feel like you have to choose between overdone sightseeing trips to Bavaria or fast-paced benders in the capital, where there’s so much to do by night that it’s easy to never to even see the light of day … unless of course you catch the sunrise on the way home from the club. Little do most tourists know, Germany is actually quite a cool and colorful place with its fair share of nuance.
Here are six genuinely hip cities to visit beyond Berlin.
No doubt, Hamburg is one of Germany’s hippest cities, yet it is still a fairly underrated gem on the American tourism scene. With its sprawling street art and graffiti, beachy bars and cafes along the river Elbe, and striking architectural features like the Chilehaus, it is absolutely worth visiting.
For the artistic ones among you, the avant-garde Schanzenviertel is probably the hippest quarter of the city. Behind colorful facades lie quirky cool shops and vibrant pubs. By night, definitely explore the bustling and gritty St. Pauli, Hamburg’s Red Light district. Don’t worry; it’s substantially less gimmicky than the one in Amsterdam. Skip the table dancing and the bar Indra made famous by the Beatles and head to the upscale Herzblut instead.
Located just a short train ride away, Leipzig is like Berlin’s baby cousin. It has a solid underground club and electronic music scene of its own, and an interesting Soviet Era past to boot. Now it is regarded as one of the most livable cities in Germany, and for travelers, this translates to mean that it’s affordable, easy to get around, and full of interesting young people. The Oper Leipzig perfectly embodies the old GDR aesthetic, erected in gray hues of blocky symmetry.
After the sun goes down, check out the Distillery, the city’s oldest nightclub. To access this venue, partygoers have to know how to approach its unassuming façade and –hopefully — gain the approval of the doorman waiting at the threshold. Making the effort is worth it, though, because inside there are multiple floors specializing in different varieties of techno and electronica.
Germans definitely have a reputation for being a nation of logical, rule-driven individuals. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but if you go to Cologne, you can forget all about this boring preoccupation.
The city is known largely for its hedonistic, erotic Carnival, which comes right before the start of advent. Find parades of people in flamboyant costumes —think bulky German beefcakes dressed like Vegas showgirls — and of course, plenty of drinking, dancing, and eating. While you’re there, it’s also worth immersing yourself in Cologne’s world-renowned art scene. Contemporary galleries like Galerie Gisela Capitain are arguably even rival their twin branches in Berlin.
As any Vonnegut enthusiast could tell you, most of Dresden was obliterated thanks to heavy bombing during World War II. The city has since been rebuilt to modern proportions, and while it may not be as sprawling as the Hauptstadt, it certainly packs its own punch in terms of cool.
Dresden also has a history with the infamous GDR, and following the fall of the Soviet Union, a similar creative culture emerged thanks to low rents and lots of vacant space. To get the most out of the city all you have to do is wander the streets of the Neustadt district where a host of bars, restaurants, galleries, and other venues await. For a taste of the city’s bohemian flair there’s no better place than Katy’s Garage, dowsed in several sprawling stories’ worth of graffiti.
Düsseldorf has long been known as ‘Germany’s answer to Milan.’ It is the fashion capital of the country and the ideal place to peruse high-end boutiques and bask in innumerable beautiful pieces of clothing, jewelry, and art spanning across both sides of the Rhine.
Visiting the K21 Museum of Modern Art is a must, and for the shopping, head to the splendorous Königsallee. Düsseldor’s urban center is also replete with cutting-edge architecture. Many quirky and impressive buildings run along the city’s riverside promenade. The warped white chromatic Gehry buildings will speak for themselves, but for something a bit more obscure, seek out the colorful climbing Flossis figures or the clock forest in Südpark.
Frankfurt am Main
Germany has one of the strongest economies in the world, and Frankfurt am Main is the powerhouse that keeps things cruising forward. Here, you can walk between rows of dazzling skyscrapers and bask in the prestige of this economic hotspot. It is a common destination for business travelers thanks to the many trade fairs held here throughout the year, but there is plenty to do in terms of leisure no matter what the reason for travel.
What makes this city truly unique is the contrast between its capitalistic prowess and the quaint old-school charm that has persisted alongside it. When the industrial chic vibes of the Banking District leave you feeling the need to loosen your tie, chill out by cozying up in the Old City, where it’s possible to unwind in one of the many medieval style wine bars and chow down on some authentic German grub.
About the author:
Lily Cichanowicz is an American freelance writer and journalist currently based in Berlin. In the form of cultural analysis, her writing is a critical exploration of everything from the personal to the political, and her aim is to share the insights she has with readers.
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