Germany is becoming increasingly popular with tourists from abroad, with art and music events topping their reasons to come. Here's why you should also consider a trip to Germany in 2015.
"Forty-three percent of overnight visitors in Berlin last year were international visitors - the highest proportion ever," according to Katharina Zierenberg from Visit Berlin. Considering the German capital's ample historical monuments, fascinating guided tours and unique atmosphere, it's no surprise that it's so popular with travelers from all over the world.
Even British tour operator Thomas Cook - which previously had not offered trips to Germany - is now advertising travel packages to Berlin, including flights and accommodation. It's not uncommon for hotel beds to become scarce, as was the case in autumn 2014 when the city was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This scramble for beds could be the case again in 2015, with an influx of tourists descending on Berlin for the next quarter-century anniversary.
25 years of German unity
Exhibitions, music events and cabaret shows will all pay tribute to the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. Nostalgia tours are planned for the Baltic Sea resort of Binz, where tourists can get behind the wheel of a Trabant - the notorious and ubiquitous car driven in East Germany -, showcasing a hint of life in the German Democratic Republic. Berlin will play less of a role in the reunification celebrations as it did in last year's Wall anniversary, with the official ceremony, church services and public festivals set to take place in the western German city of Frankfurt from October 2-4.
Other German cities also have anniversaries to mark this year, with the traveler spoiled for choice. You could head to Karlsruhe - Baden-Württemberg's second-largest city - for its 300th anniversary celebration marked with a great feast at the city castle? Then, of course, there is the anniversary of the Ulm Minster, boasting the tallest steeple in the world. Or would you prefer to take a trip north to Hildesheim to help celebrate the 1,200th anniversary of the city's recently reopened and much famed cathedral, which, along with St Michael's Church, is a UNESCO World Heritage site?
1,000 years of Leipzig
Under the patronage of the German President Joachim Gauck, the eastern German city of Leipzig is also marking a major anniversary in 2015: The first recorded documentation of the Saxon trading town appearing 1,000 years ago. The city is planning a huge program of events, including perennial favorites such as the Bach Festival, Wave Gothic Festival and annual Fête de la Musique, plus an array of special events.
A highlight will certainly be the gala concert performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra on June 6. And, like a fine Russian Matryoshka doll, the city will reveal numerous smaller celebrations including the 850th anniversary of the Leipzig Trade Fair and the 850th anniversary of the St. Nicholas Church, which became world famous for its association with the peace movement of 1989.
In the neighboring city of Dresden, a smaller but no less significant commemoration will take place, marking 10 years since the reconstruction and re-consecration of the city's landmark Church of Our Lady on October 31, 2005. The church had been destroyed in the Second World War. The celebrations, which include a series of concerts, will take place in the city icon from October 22-31.
The year of the Cranachs
Theme years have become a staple of the tourism market, as they can connect multiple destinations under one banner. "Countries and regions benefit if they embrace cross regional issues," affirms Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board (DZT).
The occasion for such a celebration in 2015 is the 500th birthday of the great Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach, the Younger. For Kerstin Böhm, coordinator of the project "Paths to Cranach," the decision to focus on the younger Cranach is not without risk. "His position in art history is only gradually being understood and reinterpreted," she explains. More famous are the Martin Luther portraits painted by his father, Lucas Cranach, the Elder. The exhibition "Lucas Cranach, the Younger - The Discovery of a Master" will take place from June 26-November 1 in Wittenberg, where the Cranach workshop once flourished.
Overall, 12 destinations associated with the father and son artists will take place throughout central Germany and Bavaria. The larger exhibitions will include information in English and international tour groups can book entire Cranach tour packages in their respective languages.
The classics of the German calendar
Of course, it's not only these special events which attract the visitors. Indeed, Spanish online travel agency Destinia reveals that Spaniards are particularly fond of Munich's notorious Oktoberfest celebrations (running this year from September 19 to October 4) and Cologne's Carnival (February 12-17), where once again liters of beer will flow and millions of people will dress up in costumes. The Rhineland's Carnival has made it onto UNESCO's list of Cultural Heritage for its intangible cultural merit, reflecting its rise in popularity last year, while Oktoberfest slowed slightly, with a still impressive six million visitors.
According to DZT, interest in maritime vacations in Germany is also on the rise. Two constants of the tourist calendar are, of course, the Hamburg Harbor birthday celebrations (May 8-10) and for those who prefer a splash of color and glamour, Kiel Week (June 20-28) with its famed international sailing regattas in the Bay of Kiel - attracting around three million visitors annually.
Art is a major draw
For most visitors, however, it's Germany's flagship cultural events such as art exhibitions and music festivals which are the focus of many itineraries. According to DZT, in 2014 these kinds of events enjoyed double-digit tourism growth. And the three most popular city destinations will lure impressive numbers again in 2015 with blockbuster art exhibitions spanning the 19th and 20th centuries.
Berlin celebrates its place as the "City of Modernity" with two headline exhibitions: "ImEx. Impressionism - Expressionism" at the Old National Gallery (May 22 - September 9) and "The Tel Aviv Museum of Art Visits Berlin," a collaboration between the Martin Gropius Bau and Tel Aviv Museum, displaying the latter's many art treasures in Germany for the first time (March 27 - June 21). The exhibition marks 50 years of German-Israeli relations, which will also be celebrated with numerous other events throughout Germany, including German-Israeli Culture Week in March.
Frankfurt in the central state of Hessen, has also come up trumps with its share of masterpieces from international collections to be featured in "Monet and the Birth of Impressionism" (March 11 - June 21). The jubilee exhibition marks the 200th birthday of the Städel Museum.
As well as the opening of the National Socialism Documentation center at the site of the "Brown House," the former party headquarters for the Nazi Party, on May 1, those visiting Munich should make a note of two exceptional exhibitions at the Lenbachhaus, celebrating artistic friendships between August Macke and Franz Marc (January 28 - May 3) and Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky (October 21 - January 24).
Classical music for a fairytale setting
It's not only German painters who attract international attention - so do the country's many composers, such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. However, it'll be Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky who will be the focus of this year's Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (July 11 - August 30). More than 110,000 visitors are expected to descend on the festival, with its array of unusual and tradition venues from concert halls to cow sheds.
"See and be seen" is the unofficial motto of the Castle Festival at St. Emmeram Castle in Regensburg. Boasting a diverse mix of performers spanning opera, rock, classical and pop, this year's festival will include tenor Piotr Beczala as well as German soul and R&B singer Xavier Naidoo.
The stars will also align for the 25th anniversary of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival (June 20 - September 19). Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and conductor Kent Nagano are amongst the star-studded line-up. As spokeswoman Ilka von Bodungen explains, the festival utilizes the picturesque landscape of the Baltic Sea coast down to the Mecklenburg lake district as a backdrop for concerts staged everywhere from churches and barns to castles - drawing on the Schleswig-Holstein model. The Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival witnessed its inaugural concert on May 13, 1990 at the State Theater in Schwerin and today attracts around 70,000 visitors annually, including many from abroad.
German's largest garden show
A different city in Germany hosts a horticulture fair each year
With their various music festivals and themed events, many of Germany's regional areas are on the tourist map. However, the state of Brandenburg has broken the mold by marketing itself as a haven for sustainable green tourism in areas such as the Spreewald and the Uckermark. Now the region has something to boast about, with the National Horticultural Show (BUGA) coming to the Havel region from April 18 to November 11.
"We expect that this will make the Havel region a greater tourist destination and attract many more first-time tourists and guests," explains spokesperson Amanda Hasenfusz. Instead of the usual large hall-style exhibitions, the event will also feature flower shows in old church buildings.
According to Visit Berlin, numerous tour operators have adjusted their Berlin tour packages to coincide with the National Horticultural Show - but largely for German-speaking tourists. And with the show very much a German affair, it may be difficult to lure international guests.
However, Petra Hedorfer from the DZT remains optimistic about 2015, stating that 2014 concluded with exceptional tourism figures with the Federal Bureau of Statistics clocking 65.3 million overnight stays from abroad (in establishments with 10 or more beds) from January to October. That's five percent up on figures from the same time in 2013. Many are hoping this trend will continue into 2015.