With this article, the #CitybreakGermany campaign comes to a close for my part. But fear not – other bloggers have take up the mantle and will continue to provide a mass of new material using the same hashtag so keep following!
For the record, my trip was sponsored by the German National Tourist Office for the Nordic region but also assure you that all opinions are my own, as they always are. That’s what makes them my opinions, right?
We had a few hours on Saturday morning to explore Celle before it was time to check out of the hotel and hop on the train to Hannover.
I had been to the city years ago while inter railing but didn’t remember much about it. Indeed, mentioning “Hannover” to most people, including myself, was unlikely to result in much enthusiasm or excitement. Things have definitely changed, so read on to discover why Hannover turned out to be the biggest surprise of the entire trip and a city I really need to get back to. Soon…
Hannover is the capital and largest city of the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) with a population of just over half a million. Situated on the River Leine, Hannover is Germany’s thirteenth largest city.
A quick aside about spelling – the traditional English version is “Hanover” with one n – which is still used for the historical House of Hanover – but the German spelling (with a double n) is becoming increasingly popular in English and is the one I prefer too.
Hannover is a major trade fair centre, with CeBIT being the most well-known of its annual shows. In the year 2000, Hannover was the venue for the Expo 2000 world fair, and the expansion of the fair site for this event made it the largest in the world.
The city is a major crossroads for both railway lines and highways – it’s almost inevitable you will pass through if you are travelling from east to west or north to south.
The history of Hannover began in medieval times with a settlement on the eastern bank of the Leine. Due to its position as mentioned above, Hannover grew from a village to a sizeable town in the 13th century.
It was the Leine that led to further growth at this time as overland transport was not easy. With a river connection to to the Hanseatic League city of Bremen, and being a mid-point for east-west mule traffic, Hannover became a gateway to the Rhine, Ruhr and Saar river valleys as well as overland traffic avoiding the Harz Mountains between the Netherlands and Saxony or Thuringia.
The city wall went up in the 14th century, as did the main churches. Trade in iron and silver increased Hannover’s importance.
In 1636 George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, moved his residence to Hannover. The principality was upgraded to the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg and its electors would later become monarchs of Great Britain (and from 1801, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland). The first of these was George I Louis, who acceded to the British throne in 1714. The last British monarch who ruled in Hannover was William IV.
In 1815 the electorate was elevated to the Kingdom of Hannover at the Congress of Vienna. The capital grew to include the western bank of the Leine and has since grown considerably.
In 1827, the personal union of the United Kingdom and Hannover came to an ended because William IV’s heir in the United Kingdom was female – a certain Queen Victoria. Hannover could be inherited only by male heirs. Thus, Hannover passed to William IV’s brother, Ernest Augustufs, and remained a kingdom until 1866, when it was annexed by Prussia during the Austro-Prussian war.
The city became the capital of the Prussian Province of Hannover. After the annexation, the people of Hannover generally opposed the Prussian government.
Yet the new connection with Prussia gave a boost to business. The introduction of free trade promoted economic growth, and led to a recovery in the city’s fortunes and rapid growth in its population.
The 20th century brought its own problems for the whole of Germany. After 1937 the Lord Mayor and the state commissioners of Hannover were all members of the Nazi party. At this time Hannover had a large Jewish population and one incident in particular shaped history.
In October 1938, 484 Jews of Polish origin were expelled from Hannover to Poland, including the Grynszpan family. However, Poland refused to accept them, leaving them stranded at the border with thousands of other Polish-Jewish deportees. The Polish Red Cross and Jewish welfare organisations only provided food on an intermittent basis.
The Gryszpan’s son Herschel was in Paris at the time. When he learned of what was happening, he drove to the German embassy in Paris and shot the German diplomat Eduard Ernst vom Rath, who died shortly afterwards.
The Nazis took this act as a pretext to stage a nationwide pogrom known as Kristallnacht. It was in Hannover on 9 November 1938 that the synagogue was set on fire by the Nazis.
In the years that followed some 2,400 people were deported from Hannover – and very few survived. Seven concentration camps were constructed in Hannover and many Jews from the city were imprisoned here. Records show that approximately 4,800 Jews were living in Hannover in 1938, yet fewer than 100 remained when troops of the United States Army arrived on 10 April 1945 to occupy Hannover at the end of the war.
As an important transportation hub and industrial city, Hannover was a major target for strategic bombing during World War II. Residential areas were also targeted, and more than 6,000 civilians were killed by the Allied bombing raids. More than 90% of the city center was destroyed in a total of 88 bombing raids.
Hannover was in the British zone of occupation of Germany, and became part of the new state of Lower Saxony in 1946.
Today Hannover is a Vice-President City of Mayors for Peace, an international mayoral organisation mobilising cities and citizens worldwide to abolish and eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2020.
So now you are up to speed with its history, let me tell you what we discovered about Hannover in 2016.
Upon arrival at the main station we only had to cross the square to find our hotel for the night, the Grand Hotel Mussmann. The hotel was as much of a pleasant surprise as the city itself – we were expecting a run-of-the-mill business place but found much more – I’ll get back to this at the end of the article.
With the luxury of both time to freshen up and unpack and explore on our own for a couple of hours, I followed my now-ingrained tactic of finding a brewery and a bite to eat. I did’t have to go far, either…
Now truth be told, as in most German towns and cities there aren’t that many microbreweries in Hannover. Yet. Also as in most Germany towns and cities, things are finally changing for the better.
Anyway, this is without a doubt the most well-known microbrewery in town and has been in business since 1986.
In some ways this place has a bit of a split personality – during the day it’s frequented most by beer lovers and you’ll not exactly have a problem finding a place to sit inside its cavernous interior or on one of the tables on the pavement outside (weather permitting).
You can also sign up for a tour of the brewery.
All the beer they brew here uses organic ingredients and I can certainly vouch for the excellent weissbier. I was hungry by the time I was half way through my first so ordered a Currywurst mit Pommes, which was actually the best I’ve ever had outside of Berlin.
You’ll recall that I said the place has a split personality? The experience in the evening is somewhat different, from all accounts – it’s a major hit with tour groups, stag parties and the like with live music every night and perhaps less of a place to savour the beer in peace.
For me it was a perfect lunchtime stop and given the warm weather it was also good to sit outside and watch people enjoying their Saturday in central Hannover.
It was then time to meet up with Laura and our guide for the afternoon and evening, Elke back at the hotel lobby.
Elke started our tour right outside the hotel by explaining something I had noticed on the pavement as I walked around earlier – a painted red line…
The Thin Red Line (or The Red Thread, as they actually call it)
How’s this for a neat idea? (Note that Elke wasted no time in explaining that Hannover had copied the concept from another city so as not to try to take credit for its invention.)
The Red Thread is a 4200 metre long trail that snakes through the city centre so that sightseers can follow the route and then check the accompanying guide book to learn about each of the stops on the way. There are also a couple of offshoots (the green and blue threads) if you want to divert and explore other nearby areas of interest.
We didn’t follow it this time as we had our very own guide but it certainly is a good way to show off the sights of a city.
Instead we walked round the block from the hotel and past the impressive Opera House to check out one of Hannover’s best known places – the Kröpcke Clock.
Kröpcke is a name you will see and hear often in Hannover. The story goes back to an old cafe run by a certain Wilhelm Kröpcke. It became so well known that it gave its name to the entire town square on which it was located. The original cafe was a victim of the war, a second version was a victim of the new underground system and a third version opened in 1976.
A year later, a replica of the Kröpcke Clock from 1885 was installed and since became one of the city’s favourite places to meet. It is also said that you can find anything you might want to buy within 400 metres of Kröpcke and that may well be true – central Hannover is definitely a shopper’s paradise.
Our next stop was a more sombre reminder of the destruction caused by air raids during World War II. The Aegidienkirche was one of the biggest of its kind in Hannover and the place where the reformation began in the city.
In 1943 bombs destroyed the church apart from the outer walls and parts of the tower. The ruin is now a memorial site for victims of war and violence.
The Peace Bell was added in 1985 and presented to Hannover by its twin city of Hiroshima. It is rung each year on August 6 in remembrance of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.
Otherwise the church bells ring out here four times a day at five minutes past the hour – so as not to be drowned out by other church bells.
Walking a few blocks brought us to the spectacular New Town Hall, one of the city’s most famous landmarks. The area around the New Town Hall is often used for events, and on this occasion a cultural fair was taking place.
Representatives from Hannover’s countless immigrant communities made the most of their chance to show off their home countries and their culture.
I’ve always liked the way Germans are curious about other cultures and this was amply demonstrated by the huge crowds present here.
Tuareg pottery in Northern Germany? It looks like it…
There was plenty of food and drink on offer too – including a mini beer festival, which was nice.
After a sample or two (perhaps three?) we headed inside the building itself.
A series of models depicts the city at various stages of its history.
It’s clear just how much it has grown over the years.
I couldn’t even fit the modern one into the frame 🙂
You should also look up, as this combination of Neo-Classical and Baroque design is quite something.
I also ought to point out that the whole area here was originally marshland – so to enable the construction of this enormous building some 6026 wooden piles were sunk into the swampy ground. It worked, and the New Town Hall was officially opened in 1913.
Perhaps the best reason to visit the New Town Hall, though, is to take the lift and stairs up to the viewing platform in the dome gallery. The lift shaft has a 17 degree angle and provides a unique experience – and the views are of course amazing from 43 metres up. On a clear day you can see as far as the Harz Mountains from the top.
You can see the journey up the tower as well as the rest of our tour around Hannover in the video here:
If you don’t have a head for heights there is still plenty to see at the New Town Hall, not to mention in its surroundings…
Planned as part of the construction of the New Town Hall, the Maschpark is a beautiful place to stroll and relax right in the city centre. The lake is at its heart but there are many bays and tree-lined paths through the woods and flowerbeds.
Indeed it’s very easy to forget you are in the middle of a bustling metropolis as you wander through the gardens and make your way to the Maschsee. But there are a couple of places worth stopping en route…
Hannover State Museum
The biggest museum in Lower Saxony, Hannover State Museum first opened its doors 150 years ago and is currently under redevelopment. The five collections are being arranged into three different “worlds”, with the natural world already completed and ethnology and art to come. We didn’t have time to visit but it certainly sounds like one of the more interesting museums of its kind.
You can’t miss this unique building on the corner across the road from the lake – it is actually more of an art gallery than a museum, built to house the Sprengel collection of 20th and 21st century artworks. You can view almost all of Niki de Sainte Phalle’s output here – and artist of great significance to Hannover and one to whom we will return later in this article.
This 78 hectare body of water provides a multitude of leisure opportunities to those living in – or visiting – Hannover. Some 2.4 km long and up to 530 metres wide, it is also just a couple of metres deep; and completely artificial. It was created in 1934 under the auspices of the Nazi party, but based on plans that had been drawn up many years before.
Today you can take a cruise in the summer, swim at the lido on the south bank, hire a boat or simply walk its banks and stop at one of the cafes and restaurants for refreshments.
But that’s not all – every year Hannover throws an epic music party called the Maschsee Lake Festival. A three-week(!) long open-air celebration of music from around the world with hundreds on performances on scores of stages, there is truly something for everyone here.
By all accounts Hannover takes on a Mediterranean atmosphere with long summer evenings and culinary delights to enjoy along with the sounds. The weather has been consistently good too, allowing visitors to dance to their hearts content both during the day and after nightfall.
After walking along the lakeside we hopped on a tram to head for Linden – an area which has been labelled the “coolest part of town” just a few minutes ride out of the city centre.
I am often a little wary of labels like this, as “coolness” is a bit of a vague term, but here we made the best discover of the whole #CitybreakGermany trip…
Lets get one thing straight – Linden is not a district of Hannover. At least, that’s what the locals will tell you. They see Hannover as an extension of Linden. Whilst this is mostly a symptom of area patriotism, as well as a nod to history when Linden was indeed separate, there is no denying that the contrast between the street life here and that in the centre of Hannover is striking.
The place to start is the long street of Limmerstrasse. Here, and in the surrounding area, I felt like I had been transported back to Kreuzberg in Berlin in the early 1990s – you know, when Berlin really was cool. Because as any real Berlin aficionado will tell you, it was better before. They told me that in 1990, and I tell people that in 2016. And it’s true. But Kreuzberg (SO36) was really something in 1990, before the hipsters ruined it.
And that’s what Linden reminded me of most – cool independent stores, bars and cheap, quality but unpretentious restaurants between banks, kiosks, supermarkets and ancient clothing stores. Young alternative types (but few, if any plaid shirts and coiffured beards) mixed with workers, pensioners, immigrants and yes, a few drunks. All life is here – and long may it last.
Our first port of call was this laundromat and bar combo.
This type of establishment no longer has the “wow” factor as it seems most cities have them, but Waschweiber seemed very popular and has a good reputation for its coffee and snacks as well as its washing machines.
Waschweiber, Limmerstr.1 (Passage z. Fössestr. 2), 30451 Hannover
Then it was time to Limmer.
Limmerstrasse itself has given rise to a new German verb – “Limmern”. “To Limmer” entails buying a beer (and often a bag of sweets) from one of the countless old-school kiosks where you buy from the street window and then walk and drink along the road, stopping to chat with friends, grab a bite to eat or replenish your beer supply.
The authorities have no problem with this practice and it works just fine – it’s like a Linden version of the Italian “passeggiata”. We of course did the same, and were hooked.
Francesca & Fratelli
We stopped here for a pizza to take with us on our travels as Elke had a particular picnic spot in mind. There is always a queue for the take-out counter and the tables are always full – at least on Saturday nights. And there’s a reason for this – they make superb pizza here for a very reasonable price.
By the time we left Limmerstrasse to take the tram back to our hotel the street was full of life on this hot summer night. Linden is an area that deserves proper exploration, and I am planning to return to Hannover with this as my main aim. Watch this space, but in the meantime, go and check it out for yourself. Move over Berlin, Hannover is here…
The next morning we met our second guide, Regina, who would be taking us to the Royal Gardens at Herrenhausen before we left for home.
We took the underground train to get there, our first time on the system in Hannover. It is a modern, clean and highly efficient way to get around the city and the stations have some nice design touches too.
Herrenhausen Gardens are Hannover’s most famous attraction – the site includes a museum, the gardens themselves as well as a “Grotto” containing modern art – the latter being the highlight for us and an unexpected find at such an historic place.
When we arrived the first sight we witnessed was this hedgehog trying to avoid the ticket booth.
But the first main section is the “Great Garden”.
This is the most important baroque garden in Europe and contains immaculately designed flowerbeds, sculptures and creatively clipped hedges.
There are plenty of water features, too including the Great Fountain that rises to a height of 70 metres and these cascades on a slightly smaller scale.
Niki de Saint Phalle Grotto
Be prepared for something completely different as you enter the fantastically colourful world of Niki de Saint Phalle.
The world-famous artist paid her final tribute to the people of Hannover which made her an honorary citizen in the year 2000.
Using a kaleidoscope of mirrors, coloured glass and pebbles, the works on show here are quite incredible.
Check out the video posted earlier in this article for a more detailed look at the Grotto.
Guides in period costume end a special air to tours of the grounds.
Herrenhausen is also home to a number of events throughout the year, from performances in the Garden Theatre to International Firework Competition in the summer months.
We had only one night in Hannover but spent it in style and comfort at the Grand Hotel Mussmann.
I was surprised just how modern and appealing the room was, as I had been expecting an anonymous business hotel.
I especially like the tiles and design of the bathroom area.
As you would expect, everything you may need was provided.
The shower cubicle held a secret – when the water is turned on you can enjoy classical music and a light show while you scrub 🙂
Here’s a video of the room before I forget:
The working area was spacious and comfortable, too.
That leather armchair was just as luxurious as it looks, too…
My room looked out over the courtyard, but the hotel had decorated the area well.
The rooms are themed and have names rather than numbers – mine was based on part of Herrenhausen Gardens, hence the picture on the ceiling.
Breakfast was excellent too, with a good selection of hot and cold dishes as well as fresh fruit, juices and coffee.
I would definitely recommend this hotel for visitors wanting a central location – especially those arriving by train. If you fly in to Hannover airport you can travel into town by rail too and will end up right across the road from the Grand Hotel Mussmann.
So, my time in Hannover – and indeed Germany – was up on this occasion. It had been an eye-opening trip, with three great city break destinations all with a unique appeal. I had enjoyed all three, but first on my list for my return to Lower Saxony is going to be Hannover – I need to Limmer once more!