Northern Germany is a subtle place and a taste that needs to be acquired.
States: Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), Schleswig Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen. Mostly flat or gently undulating, most of the scenery of northern Germany is a continuation of the Netherlands, in a landscape of rich farmland carved up by canals and rivers, with big skies and big cattle and handsome brick-built farmhouses. Expanses of waterlogged moorland (around Worpswede) and heathery heath (Luneberg) are common, but this is primarily very productive agricultural land, and fruit trees prosper in Alte Land, close to Hamburg, the largest orchard area in Europe.
The North has Germany’s North Sea coastline, a place to savour the salt-laden breeze and the smoked fish, to bathe in mud for the sake of your complexion, and to island-hop along the Frisian archipelago. The latter are traditional family resorts in summer, while the island of Helgoland is trying to establish itself as an all-year spa. Also on the coast are Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven, port/resorts with history, particularly when it comes to the little-told stories of European emigration to the US.
More millionaires than any other German city
The North’s biggest urbanisation is Hamburg, usually considered as the most British of German cities, with waterways to rival Venice, a massive port at its heart, and more millionaires than any other German city. Famous for its Reeperbahn, once Europe’s sauciest mile but now host to more mainstream entertainment, Hamburg’s warehouse waterfront HafenCity is currently being revitalised on a massive, creative scale.
The North’s second cities are Bremen, a low key and liveable place and location for a Grimm fairytale, and Hanover, an administrative and urban centre which was much damaged in World War II. East of Hanover is Wolfsberg, a city created by the giant Volkswagen factory, and now with an excellent visitor centre.
Beyond Hamburg, the North goes right up the neck of Germany past the collar of the Kiel Canal, Europe’s Panama, which links the North Sea to the Baltic. After Kiel it blends, almost seamlessly, with Denmark, with the sandy island of Sylt, popular with families and the northern jet-set, as an afterthought attached to the neck’s west coast.
In the other direction it descends down towards the centre of Germany, reaching the fringes of the surprisingly-wild Harz Mountains, high enough for a limited amount of winter skiing, which not so long ago had a foot in both halves of the once-divided nation. And talking of divides, if you keep on heading south of the Harz you’ll eventually cross the so-called White Sausage Equator; the people of the north like their sausage meat pink or brown, but for the people of the South, anything goes. Every nation, it seems, has some kind of north-south divide.