Historical and Delicious Routes Through Eastern Germany
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, emerging from a world of black and white, Eastern Germany, has been transformed into a Technicolor version of its former self. While relatively unknown to those outside of the country, the cities of Erfurt, Potsdam, and Rostock have been transformed into vibrant tourist hot spots that rival many of its big city cousins.
First stop is Erfurt, a 2.5 hour ride from the Frankfurt Airport aboard the high-speed ICE train. Located in the state of Thuringia, Erfurt’s roots go back more than 1,270 years. Its centralized location along major trade roots made it an important trading hub during the middle ages.
This is a walking city with winding cobblestone streets, beautiful restored architecture, coffee houses, bakeries, and even a large, multi-story shopping mall. You can have your choice of food options including Italian, Chinese, and Mediterranean. But, also try the local food. The Zum Goldenen Schwan, for instance, was built in the 12th century and is one of the oldest places in Erfurt. Today, they are microbrewery serving hand-made beers and serves traditional fare.
December is actually an ideal month for a visit because Germany’s Christmas markets are in full swing. Booths festooned with colorful lights are seemingly around every corner. The largest of these is located below the massive St. Mary’s Cathedral that towers over the city. More than 200 vendors sell everything from handicrafts to grilled bratwurst to candy coated nuts.
I hoped back on the train and after making a couple of connections, arrived in Potsdam, the small, elegant little sister of Berlin. This is a refined city with 22 palaces and villas built in a variety of styles including Italian, French, Dutch and Russian. It seems that back in the 18th Century Frederick the Great had a penchant for the finer things in life. He sent out his architects all over Europe and the result was some grand buildings that you will find here in Potsdam.
Similar to Erfurt, the city didn’t escape its previous domination by the Soviet Union. In fact, at one time there were 60,000 soldiers living here in barracks. One area was controlled exclusively by the KGB during the cold war where they occupied 110 homes, making more of a military garrison than residential city.
There are three distinct quarters (Dutch, French and Russian) where you can find traditional architecture as well as a variety of retails shops and restaurants. During December the order of the month is fun and there are no less than five Christmas markets in town with the largest one running an entire kilometer. This retail area is crammed with thousands of happy locals and tourists sharing some hot Gluhwein and eating just about every type of fast food you can imagine. They even had a few people serving up Chinese noodles, of all things. Coffee houses and restaurants are also in abundance. Many serve coffee and indulgent pastries and cakes layered with whipped cream.