Our fourth route of World Heritage Sites takes us to the far west of Germany – to Aachen Cathedral. In 1978, it became the first cultural landmark in Germany to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our tour begins in Bingen, a small town situated in very special surroundings: the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. The river valley, stretching around 65 kilometers from Bingen to Koblenz, has been a World Heritage Site since 2002. The valley is best explored by boat or by making use of hiking tracks like the 'Rheinburgenweg' ('Rhine castle walk') or the 'Rheinsteig' ('Rhine climb') – a long, hilly path along the valley. The natural beauty and the abundance of castles among the fertile vine terraces sparked a veritable tourism boom back in the 18th century that is still going strong today. In the early 19th century, the Rhine became the top destination for Romantic yearning. The symbol of this Rhine Romanticism is the Loreley rock, rising sheer up from the river bank. According to legend, many ships shattered on the cliff face after their sailors were distracted by a pretty Rhine maiden sitting at its top. There is no danger of that happening today, so you can sit back on a boat and enjoy the majestic sight of the river and its many fortresses, castles, and small wine-producing villages along the shores.
In Koblenz the Upper Middle Rhine Valley ends at the so-called Deutsches Eck ('German Corner'), where the Moselle joins the Rhine. The best way to admire this arresting sight is from the Koblenz cable cars. Though these cable cars are not officially part of the World Heritage Site, you should not miss swaying over the Rhine in a transparent car that takes you all the way up to the Ehrenbreitstein fortress.
Augustusburg Castle in Brühl is one of the earliest examples of Rococo architecture in Germany
Our next destinations are two castles 100 kilometers down river: Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl. They were declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, as they are among the earliest examples of Rococo architecture in Germany. The Rococo style was imported from France in 1725 by the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, Clemens August of Bavaria. Building Augustusburg Castle meant bringing French, Italian and German architects, artists, sculptors and stucco plasterers together to work side by side - a truly European project. After World War Two, Augustusburg was used by the German president for many years as a reception hall for guests of state.
Our next stop is only a stone's throw away: Cologne's famous cathedral, a World Heritage Site since 1996. Every other major church construction the world over that followed the completion of this cathedral has been measured against this mighty edifice. Cologne Cathedral is rich in superlatives. At 632 years, it has the longest ever construction period for any building in Germany, and when it was completed in 1880 its spires - reaching some 157 meters - made it the tallest building in the world.
Just an hour to the west of Cologne in Aachen we find a similarly significant zenith of religious architecture in northern Europe. Aachen Cathedral became Germany's first ever World Heritage Site in 1978. Emperor Charlemagne dreamt of founding a 'new Rome,' and he created a building with a dazzling combination of classical, Byzantine and Germanic-Franconian elements. More than 30 rulers were crowned in Aachen Cathedral, and, to this day, visitors are fascinated by the immense octagonal basilica and cupola construction that represents the heart of the building. Also, do not forget to see the Domschatz - the cathedral's treasure collection, housed in the building opposite.
A modern counterpoint to Germany's great cathedrals is the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, some 125 kilometers to the north-east. The former coal mining site, the last stop on this route, was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2001. Perhaps a little immodestly, it calls itself the most beautiful coal mine in the world. But not without reason - from 1927 to 1932, Bauhaus architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer created some impressive buildings here. Coal was mined and processed on the site for 135 years. The 'Zollverein' part of its name stands for the German Customs Union, which was founded in 1834 to aid economic recovery by creating a free trade area incorporating 14 German states. Coal mining did bring years of prosperity to both the region and the local Zeche Zollverein. Today, this former coal mine and colliery stand as an industrial monument to this affluent period, and is also used as a cultural venue.
Author: Frederike Müller / sc
Editor: Ben Knight, Helen Whittle