Like many parts of Europe, Germany is a photographer's playground. Fairy tale
castles, festive beer halls, engaging and sophisticated cities, all presented and
maintained by an open and friendly people. You'll have no trouble finding things
to point your camera at.
In September of 2002 I spent a few weeks traveling through the southwestern
and Bavarian regions of Germany. My trip started with a non-stop flight from Los
Angeles to Frankfurt via Lufthansa Airlines. Traveling with my wife and a few
others, our plan was to explore and photograph the Rhine Valley, the Romantic
Road, and then spend a few days in Munich before moving on to Austria.
Planning Your Time
As with any travel destination, you can zip through trying to cram as much as
possible into the shortest amount of time, or you can meander your way along,
stopping at whatever looks interesting to you. We did a little bit of both. For
example, we spent two days exploring the Rhine Valley, most of it by boat, and we
felt this gave us a good overview of the area. But we could have stayed much
longer and visited many of the cliff-top castles that tower above the Rhine.
Driving the Romantic Road, we took more time and made several stops at the
touristy, but scenic towns along the way. In Munich, our three-day stay was a bit
too short, and parts of it seemed rushed.
With that in mind, a good itinerary would be:
2 nights in the Rhine Valley.
3-4 nights traveling along the Romantic Road.
4 nights in Munich.
If you personally find one area more interesting than the other, you can
pretty easily add or subtract nights and still get most of the sites in. Driving
distances are fairly short, so lingering longer than expected in any town won't
put you far behind.
The Rhine Valley
If you're coming
from the USA, most flights will arrive in Frankfurt. You'll want to rent a car.
This will provide you with the most flexibility as much of Germany's charm lies
in the smaller towns and villages a bit off the autobahn. Driving to the
northwest from Frankfurt, it's about a 60 minute trip to the Rhine Valley. Our
destination was the small town of Rudesheim, situated on the banks of the Rhine
River. Rudesheim makes a good base for exploring the valley, and the river
itself. You'll have a choice to make; either drive the valley at your leisure, or
take a Rhine River cruise. We opted for the cruise.
Floating leisurely along the Rhine is indeed relaxing, but it's not really the
best way to photograph the area. You're just too far away to capture any of the
detail of the castles that tower above the river, or hike around the vineyards in
the rolling hills. So it's best to pick one or two towns and stop for a few
hours. The boats run continuously up and down the river, so with some planning
you can choose your stops. The Rhine itself is a very busy shipping route, and
you'll pass quite an assortment of vessels as you cruise.
How far should you go? According to the guide books, the most scenic leg of
the Rhine is between Rudesheim and St. Goar, traveling north. This takes about
two hours for each direction. A good plan is to start from Rudesheim and cruise
all the way to St. Goar, disembark for some lunch an exploration, re-board the
boat and either go back to Rudesheim, or get off at Bacharach and take the train
back to Rudesheim.
If the boat doesn't interest you, hourly trains make the run between all of
the towns along the river. Or, if you've got more time, bicycles looked like a
great way to explore the area as it's mostly flat terrain. In general, the Rhine
Valley is set up for tourism. Boat and train schedules are posted in most shops
In Rudesheim, I suggest taking the 2-person cable car up to the Niederwald
Monument, which sits high above the river and affords a great view of the
Rudesheim vineyard and the Rhine River itself. Try to go in the late afternoon
for the better light.
In the evening, there's no shortage of fantastic beer and wine gardens serving
the local wines. Many German restaurants are set up sort of community style. Most
have large tables which are shared by different parties. Don't be surprised to
find yourself dining with a German family. It's a great way to experience the
German lifestyle. Here are some Rhine snapshots.
The Romantic Road
southeast from the Rhine Valley you can follow the signs along the autobahn and
easily reach the Romantic Road (RR). This stretch of road passes several towns
and villages leftover from medieval times. Probably two of the most popular are
Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuhl. If you're coming from Frankfurt or the Rhine Valley,
plan to spend a night in Rothenburg.
Again, I suggest a car for exploring this area. But if driving is not your
thing, regular trains and buses service much of the Romantic Road. If you do
drive, it's only about a two hour drive from the Rhine Valley to Rothenburg, and
that's allowing extra time for getting lost along the way. We arrived in
Rothenburg in the late afternoon, miraculously found our hotel, and set off to
explore the town.
place you'll probably want to head for is the Market Square in the center of
town. From here you can visit the TI (Tourist Information Center), have lunch or
dinner, or book yourself on the Night Watchman's tour. You'll also want to visit
St. Jakob's church, and the Medieval Crime and Punishment museum. One other
highlight in Rothenburg is to "Walk the Wall", referring to the ancient wall that
surrounds most of the town. It will be the least crowded in the morning. If
you've taken the Night Watchman's tour, you'll have already covered a portion of
it. But in the morning, you'll get some great views of the Rothenburg
You can also pick up some good Rothenburg history by booking a horse and buggy
ride, or by employing a private guide, both of which are readily available in
From Rothenburg, it just a short drive south to the smaller town of
Dinkelsbuhl. There's not really much to tell about Dinkelsbuhl. It's a somewhat
smaller version of Rothenburg, but definitely worth a stop. I happened to visit
during the annual Stadtfest. Here are some snapshots.
There are a few more smaller towns along the Romantic Road...Augsburg comes to
mind, as well as the larger Wurzburg. But after visiting Rothenburg and
Dinkelsbuhl the others seem redundant. Not that they lack any charm of their own,
but it's a good idea save your time and venture further south into the castle
area of the RR. You'll want to aim for Fussen. This is another good town to act
as a base and spend the night. To beat the crowds at the famous Neuschwanstein
Castle, it's wise to get there early.
The Neuschwanstein Castle area
of Bavaria is more or less the end of the Romantic Road. If you're going at the
peak tourist times during the summer, you'll need reservations to tour the
Castles. If you don't have reservations, an early arrival gets you a better
chance of gaining entrance without too much of a wait. In any case, the price of
your ticket gets you into two Castles...Neuschwantstein and Hohenschwangau, which
was King Ludwig's boyhood home.
You have your choice of hiking up to the Castles (a somewhat steep climb), or
you can take a horse & buggy or the shuttle bus. They are both easy to find
near the ticket booth. Walking gives you the opportunity to photograph the
Castles from different angles. Your ticket gets you into Hohenschwangau first
followed by Neuschanwanstein. Be sure to be on time for your tours. The punctual
Germans have a beautifully timed system, and they adhere to it. After you finish
your tours, be sure to hike up to the Marienbrucke (Mary's Bridge) for a distant
view of Neuschwanstein. On the way back down to the ticket booth area, take a
detour, buy a beer and a sausage, and relax a bit at the very scenic Alpsee
If you have the time after visiting the Castle area head west from Fussen in
the direction of Lake Constance, which borders Austria and Switzerland. You can
get some good shots at the small harbor in Lindau and in the Austrian hills above
bit north and east from the Romantic Road area takes you to Munich, home of the
Oktoberfest. Of course, we just happened to be in town for this yearly beer
fest...along with a few hundred thousand other fun seekers. The Oktoberfest runs
for 16 days from the last week in September until the first week of October. The
size and scope of this festival has to be experienced in person. It's estimated
that over a million gallons of beer are served. I did my best to add to this
total but could only manage a few quarts, along with a few giant pretzels,
countless sausages, delicious rumpsteak and giant pork knuckles.
If you do visit Munich during the Oktoberfest, I don't have to remind you to
reserve rooms well in advance. And expect to pay a premium for even a modest
room. Don't even attempt to drive your car near the festival. Munich has a great
subway system with stops right at the fairgrounds.
Of course, Munich is not all beer and
pretzels. For a taste of the historic side of Munich head for the Marienplatz.
Enjoy some coffee or hot chocolate in the shadow of the Glockenspiel. Visit St.
Michael's Church and the 5-century old Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady),
recognizable by it's twin onion domes.
The Marienplatz is easy to find from any subway station, with a stop emerging
right in the square. Subway stations are marked with a "U" for U-bahn, or "S" for
S-bahn, the S-bahn being a commuter train service. You'll also be a few blocks
away from the Hofbrau House, famous for their beer-sloshing chorus line and
Omp-pah bands. This area of town is loosely referred to as the Pedestrian Zone.
You'll find street performers, good street food featuring sausages of all types
(watch out for the super hot mustard), and for those who are interested in
shopping, lots of great shops. In the evening, it's pretty lively in this area
with lots happening on the street. So bring your fast film and a tripod. I found
that a small Bogen table-top model works well. Here's a few random Marienplatz
If you've had too
much of a good time in Munich you can cast some gloom on your trip with a visit
to nearby Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp built in 1933. I won't go
into any of the particulars on visiting Dachau, Philip Greenspun has already
written a piece about it here.
To get to Dachau from Munich it's about a 45-minute trip. Take the
S-bahn...S-2...in the direction of Peterhausen and get off at the Dachau stop.
Transfer to the #724 or #726 bus waiting outside the train station. The bus will
drop you off across the street from the camp. Return to Munich the same way.
Like most cities in Europe, Munich has a fine soccer team. We had the
opportunity to see Munich's F.C. Bayern team in action. If you can fit in a game,
it makes for some great photo opps of the local fans. Soccer matches are held at
the Olympic Stadium built for the 1972 Olympics. You can reach the stadium from
the Marienplatz by taking the U-3 subway line and getting off at the
Olympia-Zentrum stop. Here are a few shots.
Final Notes & Links
Of course there's much more to do and see in Germany. This small guide just
scratches the surface. From Munich, we traveled on to Austria. But if you wanted to end
your trip here, it's a short drive or train ride back to Frankfurt for a flight
back home. And Munich has an international airport as well if that is your
As far as photo equipment goes, bring what you're comfortable with. I tend to
favor wide angle and normal lenses. My longest lens for the trip was a 100mm.
Film is readily available all over, as well as processing. I shot Fuji Provia F
100 for the entire trip, plus a small amount of Ilford XP-2 in my Olympus Stylus Epic. I saw a few
signs prohibiting tripods, but it varies depending on what site you're visiting.
I was refused a hand check of my film at the Frankfurt airport.
Some good travel information can be found at the Fodor's European discussion
boards at http://www.fodors.com/. For travel
guides, I've always liked the Rick Steves Books at http://www.ricksteves.com/. They're easy to
follow and get to the point.