Go Ahead Groups Account Manager Angus Beaton is a self-described “history nerd” who fell in love with Vienna while in college. “I love European history, and I wanted to take my time in Vienna. So the three-night Vienna extension on my Historic Germany: Berlin to Bavaria tour made perfect sense, and it was definitely a highlight of my trip.” But before he could indulge in Vienna’s famous sachertorte (“the best slice of cake I’ve ever had”) Angus would discover the culture of Germany both past and present.
Angus’ first stop was Berlin, a “ridiculously big city that doesn’t really have a downtown. It’s divided into twelve boroughs, each of which is subdivided into neighborhoods. Sort of like New York, no one in Berlin really refers to himself as a ‘Berliner.’ Instead, they refer to themselves as residents of their neighborhood, the same way some New Yorkers refer to themselves as Brooklynites.” Like many visitors to the German capital, Angus was impressed by the city’s broad avenues and immaculate public spaces. “It’s very Prussian, very organized, but there’s also a sense of community. One night, I was waiting at a crosswalk when I realized there weren’t any cars coming. I stepped into the street, and this guy next to me says, ‘Wait.’ He looks like a punk, dressed in a leather vest with metal studs, spiked hair, anarchist decals—and he’s telling me to obey traffic laws. In Berlin, even the anarchists wait for the light to turn.”
Berlin was largely destroyed in World War II, so the city is sparkling new with the exception of landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate. Angus’ next stop, Dresden, was one of the few cities to endure a worse fate than Berlin in that war. But like Berlin, Dresden is an emergent city at once in touch with its past and looking toward the future. “Berlin’s a really big, busy city, and Dresden was a huge change. It’s a city of young families, and there’s an anonymous benefactor who donates millions every year to the city’s ongoing reconstruction after World War II.”
Next, Angus visited Bamberg, a city that escaped aerial bombardment in World War II and whose Old Town is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “I loved Bamberg. The Old Town is what you see in a postcard. It felt more authentically German than any other city we visited.” Angus stayed just a stone’s throw from Bamberg’s Old Town and its 1,000-year-old cathedral, but when he stepped out of his hotel, he faced a dilemma. “The Old Town was right across the street, but there were also two breweries about a block down, and they were amazing. Bamberg’s known for brewing rauchbier, which involves smoking the hops over an open fire. It’s really a distinct taste, and if you find yourself in Bamberg, you have to try it.”
Angus’ beer tour of Bavaria continued in his next destination, Munich, home of the famous Hofbräuhaus. “Munich is a beautiful city, and our guided sightseeing tour arrived at the Glockenspiel just as it began to play. While we were here, I got to join our optional excursions to Dachau and Neuschwanstein, which was a real study in contrasts. Dachau is quiet, solemn, and it was raining when we were there which only heightened the mood. Neuschwanstein, on the other hand, was this celebration of German romanticism. On our way to and from the castle, we drove on switchback roads that gave us some amazing views of the valley below. It was definitely a highlight of the tour for me.”
As some travelers boarded their flights at Munich Airport, Angus crossed the Austrian border on his way to Vienna. When he arrived, he decided not to join our optional excursions in favor of exploring the city’s palaces, museums and cafes on his own. “Vienna was why I went on this tour, and it was far and away my favorite part of the trip. We had fantastic weather the entire time we were there, I got to see works by Klimt and Bauhaus architecture, and I spent almost a whole afternoon just wandering the Ringstraße.”
Then, Angus went in search of Vienna’s best-known pastry. “Some people say that a sachertorte served anywhere but the Hotel Sacher isn’t really a sachertorte, and it’s so rich you have to taste it to believe it… but I liked the Demel torte better.” The rivalry between the Demel bakery (where the sachertorte recipe was perfected) and the Hotel Sacher (where it gained international renown) has raged since at least the 1930s, with both sides claiming that theirs is the one true sachertorte. But whether you visit the Hotel Sacher or the Demel bakery, Angus highly recommends that you enjoy your cake in a Viennese cafe. “Viennese coffee is stronger than anything I’ve ever tasted. Coffee was brought to Austria by the Ottoman Turks, and their preference for robust brews came with them. Sitting in a cafe with a cup of coffee, a sachertorte and watching the world pass by the window was a dream come true.”
Have you ever been to Germany or Austria? What did you think?