Wunderbar! The best of Germany

Germany became the first European team to win a World Cup held in the Americas with a 1-0 victory over Argentina in the final last night - thanks to a dramatic last gasp winner from Mario Götze - and deservedly so. Joachim "Jogi" Löw’s side were without a doubt the best team in the tournament. But it’s not just football that Germany is good at: Deutschland is also a top travel destination. Here's a few of our favourite German hotspots

Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate

Make no mistake, Berlin is a gritty - as opposed to pretty -  city but for history buffs, Germany’s cool capital can’t be beaten. As a first port of call, The Brandenburg Gate, the city’s symbol, is as good a place to start as any. The famous gate, once a backdrop for presidential speeches (it was here that former US President Ronald Reagan declared in 1987: "Mr Gorbachev – tear down this wall!") and now the setting for New Year’s Eve parties, Pink Floyd concerts and soccer games will transport you back to high school history lessons more than any other landmark. Adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate stands the sobering Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Reflect on this gruesome period in Tiergaten – Berlin’s largest park where you’ll discover war memorials and victory statues  - before continuing your cultural odyssey over at The Reichstag. Germany’s parliament building received a major face lift after reunification, with a glass dome now perched atop its roof. Designed by Lord Norman Foster, it affords panoramic views of Berlin and pleasingly entry is free (but do go early or late to avoid the long queues). Ticked off The Reichstag? Head east along the elegant Unter den Linden – a grand boulevard that recalls the glory days of royal Prussia – until you arrive at Alexanderplatz. Known to locals as 'Alex', the former heart of East Berlin is a showcase of socialist architecture of which the Fernsehturm TV Tower (Germany’s tallest structure at 368m) is perhaps the most prominent feature. Elsewhere in what was East Berlin, learn more about the Jewish history of Germany in Kruezberg at the architectural marvel (it’s shaped like a shattered Star of David) that is the Jewish Museum before taking in the East Side Gallery which, at 1.3km, is the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin wall. Seized upon by artists in the weeks following its collapse, this section of the wall (adorned with some 100 or so distinctive revolutionary images) continues to characterise the freedom and collective nature of the German capital.

Berlin Wall

Two other Berlin boroughs worth visiting are Schoneberg – where John F Kennedy made his rousing, morale boosting “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech back in 1963 – and west Charlottenburg, home to the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 1936 Games.

Brandenburg Brandenburg’s big headliner grabber maybe Berlin but the rest of the region has plenty to recommend too: the state’s small towns, churches and series of low hills serve as a welcome antidote to the hustle and bustle of Berlin’s bewildering array of bars, museums and modern buildings. Potsdam – with its fabulous fountains, follies, palaces and gardens – is a particular standout. Most people associate Potsdam with the aftermath of the Second World War: Potsdam’s Schloss Celcilienhof is where the victorious Allies arrived on 2 August 1945 to work out details of the division of Germany and Europe. The city, whose beautiful baroque buildings were badly damaged during the war following a bombing raid in April 1945, was assigned to the Soviet zone and effectively closed to the west when the Berlin Wall went up overnight in 1961. Today you can still sections of the wall near the Glienicke Bridge.

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The Bridge of Spies, as reporters referred to it, is where the United States and Soviet Union exchanged agents and prisoners no fewer than four times during the Cold War. Today the bridge is a beautiful vantage point affording jaw dropping views of Schlosspark Glienicke (castle grounds), Babelsberg Castle and Park as well as the Sacrower Heilandskirche (church of the Saviour).

Cecilienhof Palace is also worth checking out – if only for the fact that this is where the Potsdam Conference (the final big ‘big three’ meeting between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain about the future of Germany) was held at the end of the Second World War. But if you’re after a holiday not a history lesson, make a beeline for the buzzing Dutch quarter – teeming as it is with trendy shops and cafes.

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Or check out charming towns such as Wolfshagen and Wittenberg – both within easy reach of the  bright lights of Berlin. A word of warning: locals don’t speak much English in these ‘off the radar’ destinations but regardless you’ll be warmly welcomed by residents. Indeed one of the unsung pleasures of a visit to Brandenburg is the chance to meet its people. Rightly or wrongly there’s a stereotype surrounding Germans – they’re invariably portrayed as staid and serious – but, in Brandenburg, Just About Travel was struck by how warm, friendly and, shock horror, funny (our guide Michael was an absolute hoot) the locals are.

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The Rhine Valley Rudesheim - situated in the romantic Rhine Valley (one of Germany’s biggest and most prestigious wine producing regions) - is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world. This is Hansel and Gretel territory, in short the Germany of your imagination: think fairy-tale castles, cobbled alleyways and steep yet spectacular vineyards. An arresting view of the vine clad hillsides is guaranteed from the chairlift up to the Niederwalk Monument: a giant statue commemorating the 19th century reunification of Germany.

Another  sight worth seeking out is the surreal Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum: a mansion housing a collection of remarkable self playing instruments including hurdy-gurdies, organs and a magical musical chair that plays a tune whenever someone sits on it! At night Drosselgrasse – a long, narrow alley leading up from the river – comes alive. It’s a cacophony of shop keepers, food sellers and some surprisingly classy souvenir shops (you’ll want a trinket or two to remind you of your stay). On a balmy summer’s evening, locals and tourists alike love to hang out here in one of the olde worlde taverns, sipping wine or the calorific but to die for Rudesheim coffee (hot coffee and warmed Abrasch brandy topped with a generous dollop of sweetened whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate flakes), soaking up the sunshine and scenery.

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More German joviality can be found in neighbouring Assmannshausen. Rudesheim’s sister settlement  looks like the landscape of a dream and not the kind of place where you’ll find a pumping party scene but, believe Just About Time: that’s what you’ll get in the backstreet bars.  You’re guaranteed a lively night for sure though of course this is not the real reason to visit Assmannshausen: you go for the half timbered houses and the breath-taking backdrop of the Mauseturm (Mouse Tower) which was originally used to collect river tolls from an islet in the river before being  destroyed by the French in 1688.

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Tempting though it might be to stay in Rudesheim and Assmannshausen sampling the outstanding local wines, it’s worth venturing by boat to Bingen (the gateway to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley’ UNESCO World Heritage Site’). This quaint town is celebrated as the home of the popular saint Hildegard, for its gorgeous gardens and grassy riverbanks and amazing array of cafes in which to recharge, relax and escape the rat race.