German cities – typically German?
Whether it's the capital city of Berlin with its vibrant arts and music scene, Munich, the cosmopolitan city with heart that prides itself on its Oktoberfest and proverbial Bavarian conviviality, or the Roman city of Cologne with its cathedral and carnival – German cities have a lot to offer.
Alongside Berlin, Munich and Cologne, Hamburg is Germany’s fourth largest city with a million inhabitants. Overall there are currently 77 German cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants (status as of 2014). They are spread across all 16 federal states, but some 28 of them are concentrated in North Rhine-Westphalia alone.
German cities are not only high in number but highly diverse: Hamburg is considered to be the most attractive city, Hanover the loudest, while Halle an der Saale has the most green spaces – but there is one thing that cannot be said of any of them: they are not ‘typically German’. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Germany has only been a nation state for less than 150 years and so the various regions were influenced in very different ways before.
The three German cities presented below are located almost exactly 600 kilometres apart at various ends of the Federal Republic. They are also the most popular amongst ERASMUS students.
Berlin – capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, art and music
With the palaces and gardens of Potsdam and Berlin, the Museum Island and the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, Germany’s capital city has three of the 39 German monuments that have made it onto the UNESCO Global Heritage List until 2014.
Berlin is a cosmopolitan city populated by many nationalities (around 15 percent foreigners without a German passport, nearly 30 percent with a migration background), as can be seen, for example, in its very vibrant music and art scene, but also in events such as the Carnival of Cultures.
This metropolitan city has 160 square kilometres of urban forest, 40 square kilometres of parks and green spaces and 54 square kilometres of water areas, making it one of the greenest cities in Germany. And yet rental and living costs are low in Berlin in comparison to other German cities.
Deutsche Welle: Berlin – The Museum Island World Heritage Site
Munich – a cosmopolitan city with heart
The name Munich is derived from an old High German word meaning ‘by the monks’. It’s no coincidence that this metropolis is known worldwide for its beers, because in olden times brewing was a right reserved for monasteries. During Lent, monks were forbidden to eat solid food and so, to get through the Lent period sin free, they drank their nutritious barley beverage. Munich’s oldest brewery was founded in 1328 by the Augustine Order and, as one of the last-remaining private breweries, produces Munich's best-loved beer. People like to equate the Oktoberfest, the most famous public festival in the world, with beer on draught, but in fact beer was not permitted here until 1880, that’s some 70 years after the first ‘Wiesn’ – as it’s called locally – took place.
With its 18 lakes, 2 rivers and many streams throughout the city area, almost 16 percent green space, 15 percent agriculture plus a good 4 percent of forest, Munich has lot to offer in terms of recreational areas. On a clear day in Munich, an elevated standpoint offers a direct view of the largest leisure park in Europe: the Alps.
An economic powerhouse, especially in the high-tech and service sectors, Munich has a low level of unemployment but, on the other hand, the highest rental costs in Germany. Approximately 25 percent foreigners and the many tourists make Munich a cosmopolitan city.
Deutsche Welle: Munich – Bavarian city with tradition
Cologne – one of the oldest German cities
Cologne was founded as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (CCAA) by the Romans in the year 50 AD. There are several other German cities that evolved from a colonia of the Roman Empire (Xanten, Trier, Augsburg), but they are all substantially smaller than Cologne.
In the High Middle Ages, when Berlin was not even mentioned in any documents and Munich was still an aspiring provincial city with a right to hold a market and mint coins, Cologne had 40,000 inhabitants, making it the largest city in the German-speaking world.
Cologne has been the seat of the Archbishop since the 8th century, a fact that gave the city its cathedral landmark which is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Construction was started in 1248 and only completed in 1880. The 650 years it took to build the cathedral also helped shape the Rhineland mentality, which is based on such pieces of wisdom as ‘Et kütt wie et kütt’ (whatever will be, will be) or ‘Jede Jeck es anders’ (everyone is different / live and let live).
Every year during the Cologne Carnival – the so-called fifth season of the year that goes from 11 November to Ash Wednesday in February or March – the Rhineland mentality is paraded to the world and welcomes anyone who wants to join in.
Deutsche Welle: Cologne – Ancient City on the Rhine
Alumni on German cities
Ipshita Banerji from India talks about Berlin:
‘Berlin’s matchless museums not only gave me crash course in history, but also left a deep impression on how much Germans cared about knowledge and culture.’
Alumni portrait of Ipshita Banerji
Sivan Levy from Israel talks about Munich:
‘For me, Munich is like my second home. It feels like home too. The German word for cosy – gemütlich – is the best way to describe it. It's a city that feels like a village.’
Sivan Levy’s statement in the Community group ‘Favourite places in Germany’
Ekaterina Kharkova from Russia talks about Cologne:
‘On the very first day of my internship at an auditing firm in Cologne, Carnival Week began. (...) So I put on a costume, too, and celebrated along with everyone else. Carnival music, Cologne beer, and an unbeatably friendly atmosphere created a very special feeling.’
Ekaterina Kharkova’s statement as ‘Alumna of the Week’
Discussion about German cities
We are interested to hear what personal ties you have with German cities. Have you lived in one of the above cities? Is there something typical about German cities after all? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!