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On a trip to the north of German I made a stopover in Hannover. I arrived mid-morning, left my luggage in a locker and went out onto the Ernst-August-Platz (Platz = square) in front of the Central Station with the enormous statue of King Ernst August (1771-1851, the fifth son and eighth child of George III and also Queen Victoria's uncle) on horseback. The spot under the horse's tail is a famous meeting point for the Hannoveraners. A glance back at the station is worthwhile. It's a pompous and imposing building in the Neo-Renaissance style. When it was rebuilt after the bomb raids in 1943, it was done in this style so that it now looks older than it really is. It's a busy station with lots of shops, there can't be much you can't get there. It's a befitting entry to the capital of the Land Lower Saxony and a city of more than half a million inhabitants.
Crossing the Ernst-August-Platz slightly to the left one comes to the Tourist Information Office where friendly women hand out brochures. Hannover has a Red Thread (4.200 m long) running through the city connecting the most important sights, a good thing I haven't seen in any other German city. The city map with the Red Thread is free, a brochure with detailed information on the sights costs 3 Euro.
About 100 m away from the Tourist Information Office is the Kröpcke, the central square of Hannover, its heart so-to-speak. I was puzzled when I got there. I think I stood there open-mouthed and gaping, because a man approached me asking if he could help. I told him that I couldn't believe that this ugly place was dear to the Hannoveraners. A dangerous remark, he could have been a fierce local patriot, but I couldn't help myself. He agreed with my judgement, however, and even apologised! As in so many German cities and towns post-war architecture is of indescribable ugliness. The buildings are more or less only concrete boxes. He pointed out the Opera which stands in the vicinity. It was completely destroyed inside but the facade remained and was restored in the original style. This looked much better. I have nothing against modern architecture, on the contrary, but the post-war style seems to be no style at all.
The Red Thread led me along the Georgstraße, a boulevard with nice and expensive shops on one side, to the Aegidienkirche (Kirche = church). It was bombed at the end of the war and has been kept as a ruin ever since, without roof and windows. It serves as a monument now. I like the idea. The next sight was the New Town Hall, a grandiose and majestic building with an enormous dome. As the ground is swampy, it was erected upon 6026 beech-tree piles. It was opened in 1913, is the seat of the mayor and houses scale models of Hannover through the ages. At the back of the building is the restaurant Gartensaal (Garden Hall) overlooking an idyllic pond surrounded by a park in the English style.
An elderly man watched me taking pictures and accosted me with the hint from where the view was best. I don't like such pieces of advice but we started talking. I told him that I intended to walk to the Maschsee (See = lake) [thus leaving the Red Thread] of which I already knew that it was an artificial one created in the flood meadows surrounding the river Leine. "Adolf built it," he said. I didn't know that. Of course, Adolf didn't built it but had it built. I asked him why and what for. He told me that it was one of the work-creation programmes of the Third Reich. Before we parted, I asked him if it was far from the Maschsee to the old quarter of the city which I also wanted to see. He denied this and pointed in the general direction I'd have to take. Then he said, "Haarmann lived there, too. Do you know about him?" He was clearly disappointed when I nodded, he would have liked to tell me the story.
Fritz Haarmann was a serial killer who was executed in 1924 for sodomising and killing 24 young men by biting their throats. Strangely, he's entered folklore. Three film were made featuring the man and his crimes, books and articles were written. "In 2007, the Hannover Tourism Board caused controversy by including Haarmann in its cartoon-style advertising calendar, along with other well-known people from the city. The calendar became a best-seller, and the initial print run of 20,000 calendars was expected to run out in November 2007, rather than lasting through Christmas as planned." (Wikipedia). And then there is the song sung to the tune of a well-known operetta. "(rough translation) Wait, wait a while, soon Haarmann will come to you, too. With his small chopper to make mincemeat of you. From the eyes he makes aspic, from the bottom he makes lard, from the intestines sausages and the rest he throws away." In 1961 a Dixiland version of the song was the No 1 hit in the charts for several weeks. Sick humour is a British thing? Think again!
The Maschsee is about 0.3 sq miles large and an ideal place for all kinds of water sports. And this within walking distance of the city! If I lived in Hannover, I could often be found there, I'm sure. No water sports for me in the short time I had on that day, though, but a visit to the Sprengel Museum which is alongside the Maschsee. I had already heard good things about it and found wonderful artefacts of the 20th century there. Many great names all aficionados know. The museum has a good restaurant (not cheap) with a terrace overlooking the lake. Unfortunately there's a busy street between the museum and the lake, but I enjoyed sitting and eating there nevertheless.
Surprisingly, the day was blazing hot, a rarity for the north of Germany. So I treated myself to taxi ride to the Old Town Hall behind which the so-called old quarter of the city can be found. Also largely destroyed during the war it was rebuilt in what is called North German Brick Gothic. It's quite picturesque and serves as an attractive background for photos of couples coming out of the registrar's office which is located inside. Some steps further on is the Marktplatz (Market Square) with the Marktkirche. One look inside and it's clear that it is a Protestant church with its severe strictness or strict severity. Both expressions fit.
The old quarter is a sad affair in my opinion. It's tiny, one could say it's condensed in the Kramerstraße with its pubs, restaurants and boutiques. After the bombing raids there was almost nothing left and what we see now is very touristy.
Another friendly man (I only met friendly, talkative people who were keen on enlightening me on their city) told me that I had come too early. The following day (30th June) the Schützenfest would begin, the biggest of the world. The dictionary gives these translations: 'fair featuring shooting matches' or 'marksmen's funfair' which means nothing to the uninitiated. Read what Wikipedia has to say: "The highlight of this funfair is the 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) long Parade of the Marksmen with more than 10.000 participants from Germany and all over the world, among them around 5.000 marksmen, more than 100 bands (playing oompah music) and more than 60 wagons, carriages and big festival vehicles. More than 1,5 million people visit this funfair every year. The landmark of the funfair is the 60-metre (200 ft) tall Steiger Ferris wheel which can carry 420 people in its 42 passenger cabins." No need to go to the Oktoberfest in Munich any more now that you know this!
My last destination were the three Nanas by the late French artist Niki de Saint Phalle standing beside the river Leine (which is more a brook than a river). These are gigantic female figures with distorted bodies painted in loud colours and child-like patterns. They seem frozen in some kind of dance only they know the music of. They make every onlooker smile. I was disappointed to see them standing forlornly between the river and a busy street. I had just been to an exhibition of artefacts by Niki de Saint Phalle and know how positive their impact can be if they're presented in the right surroundings. First they were a shock for conservative Hannoveraners, now they're one of the landmarks.
Time was up and I returned to the Central Station to continue my journey. I was content with the day, I hadn't imagined to see so much and so many things I liked. There was no time for Herrenhausen, the baroque castle and garden. Maybe next time.
Although I am enthusiastic recycler and cyclist, I will be the first to admit that I contribute to more than my fare share of airplane emissions. I know I should unsubscribe to all the airline mailing lists that land in my inbox but I just can't find the willpower to do that. Every time a new one arrives I have to click through to find out what bargains I might be missing and this is how we found ourselves booking flights to the city of Hannover with the German airline TUI fly.
Digging out the Lonely Planet guide to Germany I wasn't much enlightened - lots of concrete, some fine museums, beautiful and historic gardens. Hannover was heavily bombed during World War Two and, although the centre is dominated by a post-war concrete shopping centre, a section of the Old Town as well as some of the most interesting and attractive public buildings were rebuilt as closely to the original designs as possible. I asked two German friends their opinions of Hannover and neither was very positive; I was determined to prove them wrong.
Our hotel was on the Klagesmarkt, a short walk from the heart of the city via the red light area (we never saw any prostitutes on the street but there are a good handful of strip joints and sex shops) and the Old Town. As it was early on Saturday morning we skipped the red light area and proceeded directly to the Old Town. The reconstruction of these narrows streets is impressive and although they are new the painted houses have a lot of character. They are mainly four storeyed houses and painted so many different colours they really reminded me of the houses depicted in fairytale illustrations. These streets are full of little boutiques, cafes and restaurants. It's a pedestrianised area so it's a pleasant place to stroll.
We moved further into the town and came across the post-war shopping area. It is, like so many cities destroyed in the war, a concrete monster but it did strike me that the streets were wide and there were plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by. The main stretch 'Bahnhofstrasse' is a pedestrianised street on two levels ; the lower level is called the 'Passarelle' and has some interesting cheaper shops. It runs from Hauptbahnhof - the main train station - which is an on Ernst-August Platz to Kroepke which is the city's main square. There is a large branch of Moevenpick with lots of outdoor seating where Hannoverians like to stop for coffee (or beer) and huge slabs of strawberry cake. Georgstrasse runs across Kroepke; in one direction, leading to the opera house, you'll find the most exclusive (and of course expensive) stores in Hannover and in the other direction you'll find lost of department stores. The posh side is a favourite place for Hannoverians to walk on a Sunday afternoon and this is known as the 'Schorsenbummel' (my favourite German verb 'bummeln' means to stroll). We did this the next day before taking at seat in the sun at Moevenpick feeling very Hannoverian indeed.
We found the tourist information office opposite the station on Ernst-August Platz and booked tickets for the city tour that afternoon. With a couple of hours to spare we made our way back through the Old Town and towards the river where a huge flea market was in full swing. There was a good mixture of stalls, some selling kitsch 1970s glassware and ceramics, others selling coins, postcards and medals. There was furniture old and new, gorgeous chandeliers and vintage clothing. The flea market crosses over the bridge and lines both banks of the river but on the southern side you'll find one of Hannover's more contentious sights - the 'Nanas'. The 'Nanas' are a series of brightly coloured sculptures of stylised voluptuous ladies that can be found in several places in the city but I think the ones here by the river are the best presented. They were created by French-born artist Niki de-Saint Phalle and the first one appeared in 1965. At first they were the target of much derision but like many famous pieces of public art they are now regarded fondly by the citizens of Hannover and the artist became the first (and only I believe) person to become an honorary citizen of Hannover. Every gift shop in Hannover has miniature Nanas for sale and many shops simply feature them as a permanent fixture in their window displays. I am set on the idea of going back to Hannover to spot all of them!
Back at Ernst-August Platz we joined the bus for the city tour. The guide spoke both German and English but I am sorry to say that the Germans spoke loudly whenever the guide was giving the English commentary and from our seats near the rear of the bus we found it difficult to hear. Fortunately I was able to translate most of the German commentary otherwise we would have missed a great many interesting points.
Although Hannover proudly boasts a 'red line' walking tour where visitors follow a red line painted on the pavement (for which a guidebook can be purchased from the tourist office) we decided to take the bus tour because the weather was poor and because the price included entry to the Herrenhauser gardens. The tour lasted over two hours and took in all the major places of interest throughout the city with three points (including the gardens) when we got off the bus. This included the New Town Hall (built in 1913) where we were shown some models of how the city changed over the centuries, and the Old Town where we were able to learn more about some of the buildings we had seen that morning.
There were several parts of the tour that particularly interested me. The first was a busy road that was actually once a canal and the impressive buildings that line it were the offices of shipping agents. Another was the Sculpture Mile which runs from the regional parliament building to the Herrenhauser Gardens which is punctuated with all kinds of striking sculptures. In fact Hannover is a city that is teeming with outdoor art; there was even a competition to come up with one off designs for individual bus stops!
At Herrenhauser we left the bus and were given the choice to look around independently or to follow the guide (which most people chose to do). There are several very impressive gardens but we visited the Baroque Garden which was designed by Sophia, Princess Palatine of the Rhine, who was Electress of Hannover from 1692 to 1714. There are formal flower beds, a delightful outdoor theatre where the cast change costumes behind privet hedges and an exquisite orangerie garden with criss-crossing gravel paths which is a popular spot for wedding photographs. The entire site is vast and I would certainly make a point of coming back to see more on a future visit. The bus tour stop was interesting but gave only a glimpse of what there is to see.
On our second day we visited the Adventure Zoo (which I have reviewed already on this site) and then the Maschsee which is an artificial lake created in the 1930s from flood meadows. Of course, it's highly popular with water sports enthusiasts but it also attracts walkers and cyclists as it has about 6 Kilometres of paths around it. It has an outdoor swimming area and should I visit again in summer I will be sure to pack my swimming gear. The less energetic can enjoy the water from the comfort of a boat - either cruising or rowing.
We spent Saturday evening away from the city centre, deciding to explore a more residential area in the other direction. This proved to be a good move because we discovered a part of town that has lots of cosy bars, some of them quite quirky and individual. It seemed to be a part of town with lots of immigrants and young people so it was a fun place to watch some European Championship football along with some Swedish guys, some Greeks and lots of Turks (and plenty of Germans of course). We had wanted to find somewhere to eat traditional German food but the place we had headed for had closed at six (if only we had read the leaflet properly) and so we ate at an Indian restaurant close to our hotel. The following day we ate a late lunch at a small restaurant in the Old Town where the food was delicious and reasonably priced. I was excited to find that the white asparagus so popular in Europe was still being served (I had eaten some in Austria in May and was dying to eat more) and nearly every traditional restaurant was promoting a special asparagus season menu. Overall Hannover has a huge choice of restaurants and you'll find all cuisines represented. Germany is of course 'beer country' and Hannover is no different to the rest of the country. There are several microbreweries to try but most places serve Herrenhäuser Pilsener and to blend in you should ask for a 'Herry'.
You will probably have guessed by now that I am keen to go back to Hannover. I felt that there is still so much to see but it also appears to be a good base to explore the rest of Lower Saxony and there are some historic towns in the region I would like to visit. I found Hannover a visually attractive city against my preconceptions; the public art really does make it an exciting and vibrant place. It makes me cross to hear people grumble about money being spent on such projects and Hannover should be held up as an example of the difference art can make. For a rebuilt city there is so much to do outdoors but we didn't even visit any of the museums and there are several that appeal to me. Finally I found that Hannover wasn't as expensive as I had anticipated and that there were lots of ways to save money. An all day travel card is particularly good value.
For a weekend getaway or as a base for a longer trip I fully recommend Hannover. This is merely the first instalment!
We flew to Hannover from Newcastle Airport with TUI Fly. This airline also flies to Hannover from Manchester. BMI fly from Heathrow to Hannover while Lufthansa operate between Hannover and a number of British cities.
I lived in Hannover for my year abroad during my German couse at university, and found it a great place to live. Since my time there (96-97) the city has been spruced up a great deal as the EXPO has come to town - the Hauptbahnhof has been totally renovated and now boasts modern shops and facilities, and the tram and underground network has been extended to cover most outlying districts. Most importantly, there is now a direct connection to the airport, where there only ever used to be a slow bus link. Essentially, Hannover still offers a surprising amount for the casual traveller to enjoy. There is a large shopping centre, stretching from the Hauptbahnhof, round Kröpcke square and the imposing Opera House, down to the remnants of the old town (Hannover was severely affected in the Allied air raids during WW2 but part of the Altstadt was painstakingly rebuilt), and the old town in particular offers many a bar and restaurant where you can enjoy good food and drink (try Uwe's Hannen Faß or Schateke for good beer and reasonably-priced food). The town hall buildings and the Maschsee, a vast artificial lake that freezes solid in winter are well worth a visit, as are the Herrenhäuser Gardens to the north of the city centre (also easily reached on the tram). The old royal palace there was destroyed in the bombing but the ceremonial gardens and fountains remain and are in good condition, ideal to wander round for a relaxing day in the sun. You can happily spend a day wandering round the shops and the old town in Hannover, and then there are plenty of options when it comes to nightlife - try Finnegans Wake (the obligatory Irish pub, in fact there are 4 of them in Hannover!), Henry J Beans bar/diner, and the Osho (Baggy) nightclub by the station. All in all this is a bustling city with much to offer.
Hanover (German: Hannover), on the river Leine, is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Germany. With a population of 548,617 (1 January 2007) the city is a major center of northern Germany, known for hosting annual commercial expositions such as the Hanover Fair and the CeBIT. In 2000, Hanover hosted the world fair Expo 2000. The Hanover fairground, due to numerous extensions especially for the Expo 2000, is the largest in the world. Hanover also has regional importance because of its university and medical school, its international airport and its large zoo (Hanover Zoo).