November 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. Explore some of former East Germany’s most scenic cities by train.
Although it’s been 30 years since the Iron Curtain came down, former East Germany is still often overlooked compared to its once wealthier western counterparts. While austerity and segregation used to define the former communist-controlled GDR (German Democratic Republic) cities, they have reclaimed their former selves, offering visitors endless historic, artistic and cultural treasures. Here are some of our top choices for delving deeper into both historic and contemporary aspects of former East Germany.
Potsdam is a UNESCO World Heritage city full of parks, palaces and rich culture. It’s here that the 1945 Potsdam Conference took place, the meeting that decided Germany’s post-war fate, and it’s also home to the famous Glienicke Bridge, or “Bridge of Spies,” as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s eponymous thriller. Travel from Berlin to Potsdam in just 17 mins.
Leipzig was a key city in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Peaceful Revolution of Germany. Regular peaceful protests against the GDR began in Leipzig in 1983, known as the Monday Demonstrations. By the end of 1989, more than 100,000 Leipzigers were gathering to protest each week. Today Leipzig is defined by its beautiful historic architecture and its hip, creative vibe, sometimes even being called “the new Berlin.” Travel from Berlin to Leipzig in 1 hr 12 mins.
The Allied bombings of Dresden in 1945 all but wiped it off the map. Today, seeing the city’s beautiful skyline of domes, palaces and stately buildings, it’s hard to imagine the kind of destruction Dresden rose from. Although the city’s reconstruction was slow during the Cold War years, today Dresden stands almost entirely rebuilt, its 18th century baroque buildings standing tall once more. The city offers much in the way of culture, from opera and ballet at the stunning Semperoper to the historic Grünes Gewölbe museum. Travel from Berlin to Dresden in 2 hrs 7 mins.
Wernigerode is a lively, beautiful town located on the northern edge of Harz National Park. The area once formed the Iron Curtain between between East and West Germany, but has since been redefined as a greenbelt, where natural beauty has replaced the no man’s land of minefields and watchtowers. Catch the narrow-gauge steam train, Harzquerbahn, from Wernigerode to the Brocken, northern Germany’s tallest peak (buy tickets locally). Travel from Berlin to Wernigerode in 3 hrs 8 min.
Schwerin is a city fit for a fairytale. Surrounded by lakes and with a 14th century castle as its centerpiece, it is one of Germany’s most picturesque northern cities. Wander around the Schelfstadtquarter for waterfront views and charming boutiques and explore the appropriately named Engestrasse (Narrow Street) to see the city’s oldest half-timbered house dating back to 1698. Travel from Berlin to Schwerin in 1 hr 50 mins.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, you may enjoy our articles on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Rhine Valley rail trip.
Image credits top to bottom: Arches of historical Dresden iStock ©Vladimir Vinogradov, Potsdam by Guillén Pérez reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons 2.0 Licence, Leipzig iStock ©TommL, Dresden with Frauenkirche iStock ©Nikada, Half-timbered houses iStock ©senorcampesino, Schwerin Castle iStock ©hsvrs
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