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Five ways to make the most of Germany this winter

The sparkling lights of the Christmas markets may be behind us, but for those still chasing an escape, Germany still has plenty to offer. Here are five ideas for a cosy getaway this winter.

Schloss Neuschwanstein in the snow.
Schloss Neuschwanstein in the snow. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Hiking trails, wine tours, dipping in crystalline lakes… summer in Germany can be a truly magical time. But when the weather turns cooler, there’s no need to go chasing the sun elsewhere.

In fact, we’re convinced that after a weekend surrounded by jaw-dropping peaks or medieval castles dusted in snow, even the hardiest summer fans will embrace the romance of Germany in winter.

Need some more convincing? Then here are a few ideas to get you started. 

Get an adrenaline rush in the mountains 

This may seem like an obvious one, but no list of seasonal holidays in Germany would be complete without mentioning winter sports. Several of the country’s high-altitude regions get reliable snowfall and dazzling blue skies in the colder months, making it a paradise for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing. 

If you’re the competitive type, you can’t beat a trip to the unmissable Zugspitze in Bavaria. Germany’s highest mountain is home to the country’s only glacier skiing area, not to mention 20km of pristine slopes from which you can enjoy panoramic views across the alps. With its consistently good weather conditions, it also offers the longest ski season in the country that runs from November to May each year.

The charming resort town of Garmisch-Patenkirchen, which nestles below it, is an ideal place to stay in order to get an early start on the slopes each day. 

All of that said, bigger doesn’t necessarily have to meant better. Less well-known to internationals – but no less charming – are the smaller-scale resorts in Saxony and the Harz Mountains.

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Saxony’s most famous winter sports destination is its highest mountain, Fichtelberg, which is a favourite for residents of Berlin and other eastern German states for its relaxed, unpretentious vibe.

Not too far away, the Harz region offers another budget-friendly alternative for casual skiers and snowboarders in the winter months. Just be sure to check ahead to make sure the conditions are right, as snow can be a little less reliable than it is on the highest peak.  

The ski lift rises up from Oberwiesenthal towards the peak of Fichtelberg

The ski lift rises up from Oberwiesenthal towards the peak of Fichtelberg, Saxony’s highest mountain. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb | Wolfgang_Thieme

Unwind in a thermal spa 

After months of bracing against the cold on grey and stormy days, many of us are in need of some pure relaxation. If that sounds like you, why not organise a short pampering break at a thermal spa with a friend or someone you love? This type of spa often uses extremes of heat and cold to pummel the senses and leave you feeling exhilarated and aglow. You’ll experience underground caverns with steam rooms and ice fountains, palatial halls with hot tubs and spa treatments, and everything in between. 

With saunas occupying such a prominent place in Germany culture, you’re bound to find some incredible thermal spas whereever you are, but here are a few options. 

If you’re in western Germany, the Claudius Therme thermal bath in Cologne is delightfully opulent with a dazzling view of the starry night sky as you soak in the bubbling waters. Or head to nearby Aachen where you can bathe like a Roman Emperor in classically themed surroundings at Carolus Thermen

READ ALSO: The one way to beat the January blues in each German state

If windswept vistas and sprawling seas are more your thing, then book a winter wellness break on one of the East Frisian Islands in the far north of Germany. Though known more as summer and spring destinations, a stroll along the coastline of a tiny island on a frosty morning can be an utterly unforgettable experience.

And with the pleasure-seekers giving way to the wellness crowd in winter, it could be the ideal place to rejuvenate both the body and mind while keeping your eyes peeled for glimpses of the northern lights. 

Marvel at snow-capped castles

OK, we know it’s something of a cliche, but there’s a reason that Germany is associated so strongly with its fairytale castles. Just take a trip to the famous Mosel Valley, near the Luxembourg border, and you’ll see endless soaring turrets dotted along the river, often erected by medieval kings hoping to take a cut of the travelling merchants’ profits.

One of the most breathtaking of these is Reichsburg Cochem, a stunning medieval castle that towers above the quaint villages and vineyards surrounding it. Though you will have to huff and puff your way up a steep hill to get there, intrepid visitors are easily rewarded by panoramic views of the valley and delicious local food and wine at the restaurant. If you want to be truly transported back in time, turn up on a Friday or Saturday for the ‘Knight’s Feast’, where you’ll enjoy a tour of the castle followed by a hearty banquet, minstrels, maidens and even some medieval punishments. 

View from Schloss Neuschwanstein over Forggensee and Schwangau

View from Schloss Neuschwanstein over Forggensee and Schwangau. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb | Karl-Josef_Hildenbrand

Of course, no mention of German castles would be complete without paying lip-service to the rightfully renowned Schloss Neuschwanstein. As many people know, Ludwig II’s masterpiece of romantic architecture was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s logo – and if you see it surrounded in snow, it truly is a fairytale experience.

For the best access to the castle, there are several cosy guesthouses in the village of Schwangau below, nestled along the banks of the Forggensee. And if Neuschwanstein isn’t quite enough, you can also see its smaller (but no less charming) cousin – Hohenschwangau Castle – which Ludwig II used as his summer residence. Both are a mere stone’s throw from Schwangau. 

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Wander in a winter wonderland 

While you may associate hiking with the height of summer, there are some absolutely enchanting destinations for winter treks in Germany. One of the most famous of these is the Hochschwarzwald, or High Black Forest, which offers countless trails along frozen lakes and through snow-dusted pine forests. Families with children will enjoy the easy-peasy Roßbergrundweg, which circles the Roßberg mountain near Breitnau. Lasting just under an hour, hikers will rewarded with some breathtaking alpine views before settling down with a hot chocolate and some hearty Black Forest fare. 

Other adventurous types might enjoy a guided walk, such as the fun-filled “Bi-athalon” tour, which culminates in shooting training at the Nordic Sports Centre in Notschrei, or the atmospheric hike by moonlight from Todtnauberg. 

Explore Germany’s cultural heritage

While Germany is a prime destination for anyone who loves braving the elements and the great outdoors, winter can also be a wonderful time for gentler city trips that offer a chance to delve into the country’s rich cultural and historic heritage.

If you want to hit the proverbial cultural jackpot, you can’t do any better than organising a weekend trip to Weimar in Thuringia. As the centre of the Wiemar Republic and the birthplace of classical humanism, walking through this charming city feels like ticking off a who’s-who of all the most prominent literary and cultural figures in German history. 

Goethe and Schiller monument

Goethe and Schiller break social distancing regulations in Wiemar, Thuringia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Soeren Stache

Literature lovers in particular will adore a visit to one of Goethe’s former residences, which is now home the National Goethe Museum. But it doesn’t stop there: Goethe’s compatriot Friedrich von Schiller was also a resident here, and you can find a museum dedicated to him as well as a famous monument of both of them together in the centre of the town, along with the Goethe and Schiller archives.

Beyond literature, you’ll also find the Bauhaus Museum and a museum dedicated to composer Franz Lizst, who lived and taught in Weimar for a time. 

If historic, chocolate-box cities are more your thing, then look no further than the UNESCO World Heritage cities of Heidelberg or Lübeck. From its prestigious university to the famous Philosopher’s Way, Heidelberg has inspired countless poets and thinkers, from Hegel to Mark Twain. Meanwhile, the heart of the former Hanseatic Empire, Lübeck, is a true gem of the north that’s believed to be the birthplace of marzipan. Walking through its quaint cobbled streets, you may stumble across the Buddenbrookhaus which, as the name suggests, was once the residence of Thomas Mann. 

READ ALSO: 10 German books you have to read before you die

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PROPERTY

German North Sea islands see soaring property prices

Property prices in Germany's North Sea islands are soaring, a new report shows. It's leading to local tensions and plans for tougher rules on holiday accommodation.

German North Sea islands see soaring property prices

The North Frisian Islands, with Sylt in the lead, are seeing a huge spike in property prices, according to the latest Coastal Report published by the Von Poll estate agency.

According to the report, average asking prices on the Schleswig-Holstein islands that lie in the North Sea climbed by 17.1 percent to €14,115 per square metre within a year in the first quarter of 2022.

This equates to an average price of around €425,000 for a 30-square-metre apartment, or a whopping €1,411,500 for 100 square metres.

Meanwhile, in Lower Saxony’s East Frisian islands, which include Norderney, Juist and Borkum, there was a price jump of 5.7 percent to €8,206 per square metre. Despite the increase on this group of North Sea islands, properties there are 42 percent cheaper than the North Frisian islands.

“Demand from buyers remains high on the North Sea coast,” said Von Poll Managing Director Daniel Ritter.

The biggest price driver among the islands is Sylt, where it now costs a whopping €18,740 per square metre for an average house, 21.7 percent more than a year earlier. 

People looking to buy on Sylt can now expect to shell out around €560,00 for a 30 square-metre flat and an average of €1,874,000 for an 100 square-metre property.

Thanks to its sandy beaches, the island of Sylt is one of Germany’s best known domestic tourist destinations. Sylt hit the headlines last week because of fears it will become overrun with tourists due to the introduction of the €9 transport ticket. 

READ ALSO: What is Sylt and why is it terrified of Germany’s €9 holidaymakers?

“Sylt is as sought-after as ever,” said Martin Weiß, the Von Poll office manager who is based in Sylt. “However, the supply has been reduced to about a third and that causes prices to spiral upwards.”

The district of Nordfriesland, which includes Sylt, Föhr,  Amrum, as well as Sankt Peter-Ording, was named the most expensive district in Germany by Postbank in its property atlas published at the end of March – with an average price per square metre of €7,977 (2021).

The list of the 10 most expensive districts otherwise includes counties from the Munich area, and from the holiday areas of the Alpine foothills.

Sylt mulls stricter rules for holiday accommodation

The high prices and scarce supply have been leading to social tensions. Many native islanders, who can no longer afford to live on the islands, have already been forced to move to the mainland and commute to the isles for work, according to local reports.

The German Social Association (Sozialverband Deutschland, SoVD) warned back in 2016 of Sylt becoming a place that only rich people can afford to live on.  

Sylt has been described as the “German Hamptons” in reference to the area north of New York City that is frequented by the wealthy and famous. 

However, locals are trying to fight back. The municipality of Sylt, for instance, recently put together an accommodation plan. The report, which was presented last week, concluded that the amount of misused living space in Sylt is already far too high, and that the island is too full. Now stricter rules are being discussed which could mean that people are no longer allowed to launch new holiday homes. 

READ ALSO: How soaring property prices are out of reach for German buyers

According to Von Poll, prospective buyers for real estate on the North Sea islands come from all over Germany, and given the price level, they are increasingly expanding their search radius.

Therefore, the asking prices on the mainland also rose strongly. Property prices spiked by 22.8 percent to €2,544 per square metre and by 22 percent to €2,489 in the East Frisian districts of Wittmund and Aurich.

But this is topped by the North Frisian mainland and the district of Dithmarschen, where prices have risen by an average of 26.2 percent to €2,657 and by 27.6 percent to €2,353 per square metre respectively. Compared to the first quarter of 2021, prices have also risen significantly in Cuxhaven, a seaside town in Lower Saxony. 

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