Efficiency. Innovation. Modernity. Germany is widely considered the home of all things shiny, new and organised. But there is a lot more to the country than the hipster neighbourhoods of East Berlin, the beer gardens of Munich or Hamburg’s red light district.
Just over eight percent of Germany’s 80 million inhabitants live in its three biggest cities, so understanding the country properly requires a lot more exploring than those run-of-the-mill pit stops. The key to any country’s heart lies away from the urban areas – it’s hidden away in the countryside, which is why I’ve decided to dedicate a whole post to a few of the cute German towns you’ve never heard of.
But with a country that size, you could spend weeks running around like a headless chicken without figuring out where to start. What you really need is a car and a plan. Luckily for both of us, I’ve got the latter (the car is on you until I rule the the world – then you can have a sleek environmentally-friendly hovercraft in a colour of your choosing).
The easiest way to explore a new place is following a clearly marked path and I’ve found the perfect one! It’s called the Huguenot and Waldensian trail and it runs for 1,600 kilometres from the south of France and the Piedmont valleys in present-day Italy up through Switzerland to Germany.
Aside from being lined by villages that look like they were cut out from a children’s story book, the trail holds a lot of historic significance. In October 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which effectively labelled all Protestants heretics. This led to around a quarter of a million Huguenots leaving the Dauphiné region in the south of France and seeking exile in other protestant countries on the continent – Switzerland and Germany in particular. Two years later something very similar happened to the Waldensians, who ended up leaving their native Piedmont valleys and seeking out places where tolerance and solidarity won over ignorance and lack of respect for their right to religious freedom.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing but in the end the Huguenots and Waldensians were able to build a new home in villages along the trail. Despite the mistreatment they experienced they never fully let go off their homeland, preserving French as their main language and keeping largely to themselves. Many people living in the area are still proud of their heritage although the only way of distinguishing them from the region’s original inhabitants now are their vaguely French-sounding surnames.
I see you’re getting impatient. How is all this talk of 17th century French refugees relevant to your incredible journey of exploring the real Germany? Where are all those cute German towns I promised you? Don’t worry, I haven’t been wasting your time with historical facts for no reason. The thing is – welcoming immigrants with (semi-open) arms is a big part of German past, present and future.
It happens all across Europe but – as of 2014 – Germany is actually the second most popular migration destination in the world, right after the United States. Every one in three migrants within Europe now moves to Germany in search of work! This is why walking along this historic trail remains topical more than 300 years after the Huguenots and Waldensians chose it as their escape route.
With all the unemployment, poverty and even human rights abuse happening in countries around Europe, it’s important to remind ourselves of what this continent is built on. Tolerance, freedom and solidarity – these are the notions that bind us together as one big European family. In learning about the strive of these 17th century French refugees, I learnt a great deal about Germany itself… and it made me fall deeper in love with this majestic country!
If you’ve read this far, you’re definitely ready for (and very deserving of) the exciting part – I’m going to keep it brief and introduce you to seven exceptionally cute German towns I came across on the Huguenot and Waldensian trail…
OberderdingenOberderdingen is the perfect place to start your road trip along the Huguenot and Waldensian trail. The first of my seven cute German towns lies about an hour’s drive from Stuttgart, which has an airport with great international connections – easy peasy! Oberdingen is in the middle of the wine-growing region of Stromberg-Heckengäu, which makes it a great place to stay in overnight and enjoy all the local delicacies. I stayed at Hotel Lindner, which has a great restaurant downstairs – perfect for having a beer or three.
KnittlingenHave you ever heard of Faust? You know, the successful scholar who makes a pact with the devil and trades his soul for a life of bottomless knowledge and pleasure. Even if you’re not familiar with the name Faust, you probably know at least one story inspired by him – like “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov or “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde (which just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time). What you may not know is that the fictional character of Faust was likely inspired by a real person. His name was Dr Johann Georg Faust and he was born here, in Knittlingen. The town has an entire museum dedicated to this Renaissance alchemist and astrologer – you should pay it a visit for a pretty magical experience.
MaulbronnMaulbronn is home to one of the best preserved medieval monasteries in Europe – the aptly named Maulbronn Monastery, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. The monastery complex is surrounded by lush fields and the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), so it’s a perfect place to do a little hiking! After you return from your trek, don’t forget to try Maultaschen – a delicious local pasta dish. Legend has it that these ravioli-resembling, meat-filled parcels were invented by the Cistercian monks of Maulbronn Monastery to disguise meat from the all-seeing eye of their God. To this day, the locals jokingly refer to the dish as Herrgottsbescheißerle which roughly translates as “God’s little bullshitters”.
CalwCalw is the birthplace of Nobel-winning author Hermann Hesse and it’s as beautiful as his prose! “Between Bremen and Naples, between Vienna and Singapore, I have seen many beautiful cities,” he wrote. “But the most beautiful city of them all which I know is Calw on the Nagold river, a small old Swabian town by the Black Forest.” That’s right – more beautiful than Vienna and Singapore, according to a Nobel prize winner. That has to count for something!
PinacheA tiny town with just over 1,000 inhabitants, Pinache has truly retained its Waldensian character. It boasts the oldest Waldensian church in Germany dating back to 1721, as well as a small but very informative Waldensian museum. The village also has a restaurant called “Gasthaus Kelter Pinache” serving delicious Waldensian dishes, like meat stew with cherries or baked potatoes with cheese and mushrooms. Even its name is Waldensian – the refugees named their new settlements after their hometowns and Pinache is one of the few that retained its French moniker.
NeuhengstettMuch like Pinache, Neuhengstett will not impress you with its size. Much like Pinache, Neuhengstett also has an adorable Waldensian museum that makes you feel like you’ve just travelled back in time. But there is another, perhaps more surprising, attraction in this town. It’s “Die Rosengärtnerei” – a large rose garden centre selling almost two hundred different types of sweet-smelling roses, as well as a delicious rose-flavoured champagne which I am drinking in the photo above. A perfect place to recharge your batteries and smell the roses, both literally and metaphorically speaking.
SingenThe industrial city of Singen might not seem charming enough to warrant a visit, but it’s all about the beautiful nature around it. Nestled at the foot of the extinct volcano of Hohentwiel and a short drive from the impossibly blue waters of Lake Constance, its surroundings are pretty magical and just beg to be explored. Singen is also just across the border from Switzerland which is home to many more cute towns along the Huguenot and Waldensian trail. Odds are you have never seriously considered visiting Schaffhausen or Lenzberg, but they are well worth your time. But that, my friend, is a story for another post…
Have you ever heard of any of these small adorable towns? If so, I apologise for the slightly
condescending title! If not, would you consider visiting any of these places? Are there
any other cute German towns you have visited and would highly recommend?
Disclaimer: This post was brought to you as a result of the Visit Europe blog trip, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the European Travel Commission. As always, I maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site.