The admittance to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites is by no means easy. Once a spot makes it onto the list, it is no guarantee that it will stay there. Cologne's mammoth, gothic-style cathedral, for example, finds its status endangered because of construction around the 157-meter high structure that could obstruct a visitor's view.
Nevertheless, it probably ranks as one of the most popular attractions on the German heritage site list. Cologne is also near to numerous other world heritage sites in the west of Germany, such as the cathedral in Aachen, where Charlemagne reigned over 1,200 years ago. Another sacral site is the cathedral in Speyer, a classical example of Romanesque architecture.
If the serenity of churches is less appealing, the tourist can visit landmarks of the industrialization of Germany from the 19th and 20th centuries. In Essen in the Ruhr River valley, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex shows the visitor just what it's like to mine coal. Fans of Bauhaus-style architecture will be thrilled by one of the masterpieces of the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer. In the far west, near Saarbrücken, the massive Völklingen Ironworks leave the tourist in pure awe of the conditions iron and steelworkers had to work in.
Hanseatic wealth in the north
From the 14th to 16th centuries, the Hanseatic League catapulted the north of Germany to unknown wealth and power. For the first time common citizens, namely merchants, had a say in political affairs. With their money, they could have buildings erected that were unlike anything else in their time. Bremen's City Hall is a classic example of the Weser Renaissance. Stralsund just before the island of Rügen thrived in medieval times and the merchants were patrons to breathtaking structures. Literature fans will not want to miss a visit to the city of Lübeck, home of Thomas and Heinrich Mann.
Further inland to the south, copper, zinc and lead ores were mined in Rammelsberg near the city of Goslar as far back as 1,000 years ago. So vital was the city for its natural resources, that German emperors, most prominently Frederick Barbarossa, conducted court here.
Parks, castles and Reformation in the east
The Wartburg Castle in Eisenach has the historical significance of being Martin Luther's refuge when the father of the Reformation was threatened with death in the early 16th century. The castle is 900 years old and rests stately above the city.
On Berlin's Museum Island, some of the world's greatest museums are clustered in the middle of the capital and are a must see for art and history lovers. If marble and concrete only cause blisters on visitors' feet, then the numerous parks in and around the palaces of Berlin and Potsdam can be a welcome source of relief.
In Saxony, 18 kilometers of the Elbe River valley in and around Dresden provide a beautiful mix of city and nature. On the Polish border in the southeast, Count von Pückler-Muskau mapped out an exceptional garden with the Muskauer Park.
Picturesque church in a meadow
Probably one of the most photographed churches in southern Germany is the Wieskirche. Standing on top of a hill in a meadow, the church reflects the high-point of rococo architecture in the 18th century.
Far to the north yet still in Bavaria, the River Regnitz beautifies the city of Bamberg. The town was virtually unscathed by bombers in World War II so the 1,000 year architectural history of the Franconian city is a showcase.