Two World Wars
and … both started and then lost by Germany. And as if that wasn't enough, Germany was also at the very pivotal hub of the Cold War
, i.e. it could have been the main "battlefield" for a potential Third World War
Add to that the crimes of the Nazis
(esp. the Holocaust
– the biggest crime against humanity ever perpetrated), and later those of the communist
regime in East Germany (GDR
) since the end of WWII
until 1989, including the deadliest stretch of the "Iron Curtain
" (esp. the Berlin Wall
). And wow, what a pack of dark history there has been in just this one country. No wonder, then, that Germany offers by far the widest range of dark tourism sites anywhere in the world.
All in all, Germany covers nearly all of the various categories of dark tourism
, and many better than anywhere else. First place has to go to Berlin
, the country's capital, and in terms of dark tourism surely the capital of the planet, such is the vast number and broad range of individual sites in this generally fascinating city. In many ways almost the whole country is indeed represented here.
But there's so much more elsewhere too. So here we go – below is a list of all the dark sites covered on this website. The list looks overwhelmingly long – so instead of an alphabetical list, the following places are ordered roughly by location, from North to South, first in the West then in the East. (It's also recommended to check the general listings by category
– many related sites of the same type but scattered all over Germany will be grouped together there). All sites along the former GDR
border are listed here under East (even if they are strictly speaking located on western soil):
(The list could been even longer – and it surely will get longer. There are several places already on my, as it were, "waiting list", sites that I first have to do more research on. But many of these, and more I don't yet even know about, are bound to get featured here in the future as well.)
Despite all its dark history, modern Germany has come out rather well – and has things to show for it: not least the "peaceful revolution" in the East which brought down the GDR
, which was a decisive component in the fall of the entire Eastern Bloc
and led to the end of the Cold War
. Before that, West Germany (with a little help from the USA
, of course) performed a miraculous economic recovery since 1945 – but also in sociological, political and cultural terms the country has come a very long way indeed since its darkest days.
It wasn't always a smooth development, and especially coming to terms with the dark past has naturally laid on Germany's shoulders heavier than on most other countries'. In fact, the German language has a word for this (other languages lack this, as a single concept): it's "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" – usually, clumsily, translated as 'dealing with' or 'coming to terms with the past' (those expressions don't capture the whole concept though).
West Germany's "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" had a slow start, since in the first decades after WWII
past wasn't as properly dealt with as should have been the case and much was swept under the rug (that too with a little help from the USA
, despite the initial attempts at denazification, but once the Cold War
was fully on, that took a back seat). However, over the past few decades Germany admirably caught up in its efforts of "Vergangenheistbewältigung". As regards the GDR
past, much work still needs to be done, but here too, a lot has already been achieved.
The last 15-20 years or so have seen a particular rush in such efforts – and today Germany boasts more modern, state-of-the-art memorial museums related to dark history than any other country … and yet more are in the making.
This development has especially affected sites of former Nazi concentration camps
extremely well. Many of these sites had hitherto been rather neglected (esp. in the East) and/or the commemoration was rather slanted and inadequate. That has changed. Today many of Germany's memorial museums are world-class in quality too.
Not all dark sites in Germany are memorial museums or historical relics pertaining to past dark days. There are also dark places, of very different kinds, in Germany of a contemporary nature – to name just one (unusual) example: nowhere else are there more and larger lignite strip mining pits than in Germany. And these create (at least temporarily) almost apocalyptic moonscapes/deserts where they've eaten away the land. These huge and bizarrely grim places also have a great allure for those interested in the environmentally darker sides of today's Germany.
Even if the long list of dark tourism sites above may suggest it, Germany is not all doom and gloom. Far from it. Despite all the dark history that my home country (see about
) has gone through (and subjected the world to), Germany today is a smashing country, really – and that includes travel-wise.
It's fun and friendly too. And not just since the 2006 football world cup, by the way (another hint for the Brits, here!). Today, Germany is a modern, open society, less industrious than the cliché has it, perhaps, but still fairly efficient, though not necessarily in that stern, disciplined and humourless way that yet another cliché makes it out to be. The old belief that Germans have no sense of humour has never been further from the truth than these days. Comedy is omnipresent and big business – on all levels of quality, from cringingly poor to absolutely brilliant … but you'd need to know German to get it, of course.
As for travel: getting into and around in Germany is usually fairly easy. All means of transport are highly developed. Frankfurt has one of the world's busiest airports, and it is only one of several international airports, supplemented by many regional smaller ones, some used especially by budget airlines.
The rail system in Germany may not be flawless, and has certainly suffered from line closures and generally from the negative side-effects of privatization, but it's still pretty good. Especially for travelling between larger cities it's the perfect way of getting around in the country.
The road system in Germany is as famous as it is infamous. Major roads are very good almost everywhere, and navigating is generally quite easy.
But when it comes to driving on Germany's "Autobahn", i.e. 'motorways', things can get a bit scary for foreigners not used to them: this is primarily so because some stretches of German motorways there are no speed limits whatsoever! Racing fans may find this a cool opportunity, but for most sensible drivers it can be positively scary to experience those flashy sports cars and big sedans either swooshing past you in a flash or worse still: suddenly appearing behind you as if out of nowhere when you're in the fast lane. Then these drivers also have the annoying habit of keeping a mere two yards or so distance (even at 100 miles an hour or more) while flashing their headlights angrily at you. If this happens to you (and it will), try not to be intimidated. Keep your cool and clear the way for the racing bullies in a controlled manner without risking any hectic manoeuvres. After all it's them who are bullying you and it's them who are out to do the risky driving. But to avoid such situations, you should adjust your rear-mirror observation. Look further behind you than you would at home. Don't assume that if you have a couple of hundred yards clear space behind you in the fast lane that's enough for you to overtake safely. A car doing 160 mph closes such a gap in no time and will then have to break sharply if you block its way by doing maybe only 80 mph (and this will further infuriate the typically reckless speedster). If you see one closing in at what seems like Mach 2 speed (those flashing headlights are often a warning from afar), try to stay clear out of the way until they've darted past you. It's not just for your safety. As another travel writer once put it in a similar context: you also shouldn't get in the way of Darwinian natural selection … Off the motorway, esp. in cities, driving habits in Germany are nowhere near as bad.
As for potential language problems. Don't worry. Communication in English is normally not a problem in Germany, as most people have at least a halfway decent grasp of the language (through schooling with its early emphasis on foreign languages in ways that Britain or the US couldn't begin to dream of). In the East, and esp. amongst the not so young that may still be a little different (for historical reasons, of course: in the GDR
, it was rather Russian that was the first foreign language taught), but it's changing.
In fact, too much so for some. You'll see so much English in advertising and services that you may almost forget you're still in Germany. Purists in Germany complain about an alleged cultural loss due to this trend – but for the foreign traveller it has undoubtedly positive effects. On trains, and even on inner city public transport, it is now quite common to hear announcements made in English too. And tourist sites have adapted to that kind of internationalism too, usually providing English translations alongside the original German. It has to be said, though, that this does not yet include many of the smaller, more obscure dark sites listed here, but even some of these at least make an effort such as providing short leaflets in English.
In culinary terms, Germany doesn't have the best reputation (at last, a cliché we have in common with Britain
– albeit an unjustifiably bad one). German cuisine is primarily known for huge portions of meat, esp. pork. And that cliché is pretty close to the truth in many parts of Germany. So semi-vegetarians such as myself (see food & drink
) do encounter restrictions. That said, though, some of the regional specialities, beyond the ubiquitous sausages or hunks of dead pig, can be surprisingly interesting in some parts of the country. Naturally, I personally favour the fishier northern varieties of German cuisine, but I've also made cool and unusual discoveries in the south and east. I won't give away what my very favourite German speciality is, though … as I'd rather like it to remain a secret undiscovered by mass marketing, and rather enjoy it as a super-special treat whenever I am in the right corner of Germany to get it … Otherwise, at least the big cities also offer a wide array of ethnic cuisines – which also goes to show how international Germany has become …
- Germany 1 - Hanseatisch nordisch
- Germany 2 - Bayrisch südlich
- Germany 3 - der Berg ruft
- Germany 4 - Bauwerk
- Germany 5 - Fachwerk
- Germany 6 - Ampelmännchen
- Germany 7 - Stolpersteine
- Germany 8 - Scham und Elend
- Germany 9 - wasserdichter Dichter