Travel in Germany: Discover centuries of riches in unmissable Ulm

It used to be said that ‘coins from Ulm rule the whole world’. If you don’t believe that, just take a look at the Ulmer Münster, whose spire completely dominates the city.

Travel in Germany: Discover centuries of riches in unmissable Ulm
The sun sets at the cathedral in Ulm. Photo: DPA

Rather than being funded by the church, or a particular noble, this tallest church in the world was funded by the merchants and traders of the city, as a demonstration of their wealth and power. 

Visible from all over the city, it would be remiss of us not to first mention the towering Gothic masterpiece that is the Ulmer Münster.

Begun in the late middle ages, it wasn’t actually completed until the 19th century. Despite the delay, the spire has remained the tallest in the world for centuries, and is still a major drawcard for those with no fear of heights.

The city of Ulm and the Münster by night. Photo: DPA

For those of us who feel more secure at ground level, the church interior is crammed with statues, wall paintings and other glorious works stretching from the 15th to 20th centuries. Don’t miss the stunning painting over the altar and chancel, showing the Day of Judgement in all its dramatic glory.

While you’re in the church precinct, also make sure to check out the Valentinskapelle, built by the wealthy Rembold family as a funerary chapel.

Over the years it has served as a wine cellar, food store and air raid shelter, yet it still retains some wonderful medieval artworks, and is currently used by the Russian Orthodox community. 

Established near the confluence of the Blau, Iller and Danube rivers, in what is today the state of Baden-Württemberg, Ulm was always going to be an important centre of trade – rivers being the highways of the medieval world. It was granted status as a ‘Free Imperial City’ in the 12th century, by Frederick Barbarossa. Proximity to mining regions also made it a natural site for the minting of coins, and this is where the wealth of the city would truly be established. 

Other than the Münster, other traces of the city’s wealth are clearly visible throughout the city. In fact, the city’s delineation into distinct quarters make for fascinating historical exploration. 

Mostly highly recommended is the Fischerviertel. While it is named for the fishermen who plied their trade along the rivers, this was also the city’s manufacturing hub. Many fachwerk, or half-timbered houses still exist, including the Schiefes Haus, or ‘Crooked House’.

As the name suggests, the building has warped over the years, possibly due to its proximity to the River Blau, and makes for some great photography.  If you’re not fussy about your right angles, you can also stay there! Close by is the Ulmer Münz, the city’s former mint during the 17th century. Today it’s a cafe serving local specialities. 

Ulm is an intensely historic city, and this is perhaps best explored, once you’ve done the Munster and the Fischerviertel, by visiting the Ulm Museum, that contains not only exhibitions about the development of the city, but also artwork, and archaeological finds from the area.

A view of Ulm and its new Berblinger Tower. Photo: DPA

The prize possession of the museum is the ‘Löwenmensch’, the oldest anthropomorphic representation in existence, depicting a lion with the body of a man. It’s estimated to be 40,000 years old and is carved from mammoth tusk.

To this day, conservation efforts are still adding small pieces to the statuette, to show what it looked like when first carved.

Ulm is well worth a day or two of your time, with plenty to offer those who seek a glance of Germany’s historical riches. From a minster, to a mint, to men carved from mammoth tusks, visitors won’t go away unsatisfied. 


Münsterplatz 21, 89073 Ulm

Münsterplatz, 89073 Ulm

Schwörhausgasse 6, 89073 Ulm

Schwörhausgasse 4/1, 89073 Ulm

Marktpl. 9, 89073 Ulm

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Travel: Six reasons why the Spreewald near Berlin is worth visiting

Situated only a 45 Minute train ride from Berlin, this lush UNESCO Biosphere reserve and cultural gem transports visitors to another world.

Travel: Six reasons why the Spreewald near Berlin is worth visiting
Tourists canoeing through the scenic Spreewald. Photo: DPA

Around Germany, the colloquial verb herumgurken (pickle around) has the meaning of traveling around and around when lost.

While I was equipped with a map, the word still seemed the most fitting way to sum up my time in the Spreewald, known not only for its vast pickle production, but also stunning nature and culture to discover by bike, foot or – especially – canoe.

READ ALSO: Travel in Germany: 10 must-see places within reach of Berlin

Here are six reasons it’s worth a visit, whether as a Tagesausflug (day-trip) from Berlin or a week-long adventure.

1. Pickle paradise 

The pickle harvest in Kasel-Golzig in the Spreewald on July 17th. Photo: DPA

Known for some 50 percent of the production across Germany, Spreewalders take pride in their pickles. In the three days I was there, it felt like I sampled every sort of gourmet Gurken delicacy there is, from creamy Gurkensuppe (served both chilled and warm in the summer), Gurkenaustrich (spread) and a surprisingly good Gurken and raspberry Radler

Tucked into the forest, the town of Burg even offers Gurkeneis if you fancy the summer sweet with a green tint. 

2. The Sorbian language 

People going for a Gondola ride in Lehde. Photo: DPA

You might mistake the text under German signs around the area for Polish or Czech. Yet it’s actually Sorbian, an official minority language of Germany spoken by over 60,000 people. 

Many of them live in the Spreewald, and the little village of Lehne – a two kilometre walk or cycle from the old town in Lübbenau  – pays tribute to their way of life and language, including an open-air museum that gives a glimpse of how the Wends (as they are known locally) lived in the 19th century. 

3. Bunte Biodiversity 

Otters are often spotted swimming in the Spreewald. Photo: DPA

With its more than 5,000 species of animals, Spreewald is so rich in biodiversity that the 475 square metre area was given the title of an UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1991.

One particularly striking species are the white storks, which are often spotted perched atop large nests they’ve created on large protected pillars. The species is critically endangered elsewhere in Germany. 

The Spreewald can also at times feel like the tropics with colourful animals and amphibians like the fire-bellied toad and over 900 species of Schmetterlinge (butterflies).

4. Rural charm

It felt like we were much further from Berlin as we hiked past Hütte (cottages) with thatched roofs and cozy country stores with local products that closed at 2 pm each day. From Lübben, we hiked along a 14-kilometre riverside trail to Schlepzig, known for both its Bauermuseum (farm museum) and Brauerei with locally brewed beer.

5. Water Wanderung

A true streaming service: a postal woman delivers mail by water at the start of the Post's canoe delivery season on May 14th. Photo: DPA

With 1,500 kilometers of waterways, one of the best ways to explore the Spreewald is by water. The area is so-well connected by water that even mailmen and women from the Deutsche Post pragmatically paddle from home to home to deliver post.

We had a sporty Sunday, leaving Lübben at 9:30 am and paddling 14 kilometres to Lübbenau, just in time to a devour a hearty lunch of potatoes and Quark cheese with linseed oil, a Spreewald specialty, at a beer garden affixed to the side of the river. We then headed back for another adventure, as small waves formed amid the windy afternoon weather. 

Families of swans, cranes and ducks joined the journey at times, unfazed by their human companions. 

If you're looking for a more leisurely journey, all sorts of canoes, kayaks and other boats can be rented by the hour, or you can sit back in a Venice-style Gondola as a host in tradition garb guides you through the landscapes.

6. Official bike trail

Bike riders in the Spreewald town of Leipe. Photo: DPA

Distinctly marked by yellow signs of a cycling pickle, the Gurkenradweg forms 260 kilometres of scenic trails that lead through the forest, starting in Lübben and leading to Cottbus, the heart of Brandenburg’s Sorbian-speaking community. Bridges break up the journey (and sometimes, this being Germany, construction projects as well.)

If you’re timid about trekking longer distances, most bike rental shops also offer daily e-bike rentals for around €25 a day. Just be advised, especially in the summer months, to reserve bikes at least a week in advance.