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Travel

Hanover: Grottos, Gardens and Guerillas

Hanover, hometown of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, has been rediscovered over the past few years. From top art collections to a great zoo, there's something for everyone.

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Hanover is not to be overlooked

Frequently overlooked in the past, the capital of Lower Saxony made the most of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's decision to spend his 2003 summer vacation at home in Hanover. A local store owner sold hundreds of t-shirts printed with "Kanzlerstadt" (Chancellor's City). The demand for information was so high that the tourist office had to have more brochures printed after they distributed all 15,000 of the German and English language pamphlets they had on hand.

The then chancellor's vacation plans caused many to do a retake. Visitors to the Hanover World Exposition in 2000 who were too busy to take in what else the city had to offer missed out on a good opportunity. They may have thought there wasn't anything more to see since few old buildings survived Allied bomb raids during World War II.

Grottos galore

Blauer Raum von Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle's Blue Room in the Herrenhausen Gardens

But art connoisseurs, in particular, will get their money’s worth when they stop here for a short break on their way to the better-visited art scenes in Hamburg and Berlin. Situated on Masch Lake in the midst of Hanover, the Sprengel Museum has one of the world's best collections of 20th century art, covering works from German expressionism to French cubism to conceptual art.

It also houses a collection of work by Kurt Schwitters, including a reconstruction of the artist's legendary "Merzbau." Schwitters devoted decades to his self-proclaimed life's work and from 1923 to 1936 created a grotto-like structure in his Hanover apartment. The building was destroyed in an air raid in 1943, but by then the artist had already gone into exile in Oslo, Norway, where he had started work on another Merzbau in 1937.

Niki's notorious Nanas

The Sprengel Museum also houses a collection of more than 400 works from pop artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Since the mid-1970s Niki de Saint Phalle's name has been intertwined with that of Hanover, ever since the French artist raised the ire of many Hanoverians by installing her notorious Nanas along the riverside.

The three brightly-colored buxom polyester statues sparked a lively debate about public art in the city. But they survived, eventually becoming a symbol for the city on the River Leine. In 1999, Niki de Saint Phalle began redesigning the Grotto, a 17th century structure in the famous Royal Herrenhausen Gardens. The completed project opened in March 2003, a year after the artist died.

Fireworks and caricatures

Max und Moritz

"Max and Moritz" from Wilhelm Busch

The Herrenhausen Gardens themselves were begun in 1666 and are made up of a French Baroque garden, an English landscape garden and a botanic garden. They are the setting for numerous summer festivals, including an international fireworks competition that features pyro-experts lighting up the skies with their craft throughout the summer months.

The gardens are also the home of the German Caricature Museum, also called the Wilhelm Busch Museum. Busch was a 19th century humorist and illustrator. He penned one of Germany's most beloved children's books about two mischievous little boys, "Max und Moritz."

And for a taste of Gerhard Schröder's Hanover, try the zoo. The former chancellor lives in the neighborhood, and according to the zoo management, he and his wife hold a yearly pass. The zoo was recently renovated and made more animal-friendly. Now the animals live in enclosures similar to their natural environments, designed so that they are not disturbed or even aware of being watched by curious people -- or curious chancellors.

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