Time flies when you’re moving across the world, but it’s well past due for us to see a little more of Germany beyond the bubble of Berlin.
We’ve been in Germany for about 6 weeks now, and in that time the furthest we’ve been from Berlin is Potsdam.
We eventually found a free weekend and two compelling reasons to get away in the form of friends in Marburg and the final weekend of the much-publicised 9 Euro rail ticket in Germany.
The 9 Euro ticket is pretty straightforward – you pay 9 Euros for the month and can use any public transport in Germany except the high speed Intercity trains and the tiny handful of private trains like Flix. No catches, no bookings, you just stroll onto any train, bus or tram you want.
52 million people, some 60% of the population, have bought into the scheme, plus another 10 million who had preexisting subscriptions.
It’s been brilliant for getting around Berlin, but with an unlimited national travel pass in hand and a limited time to use it, we were itching to go on a longer trip. Some people have gone really extreme here, getting all the way to the Baltic Sea and back to Berlin in a day. We wanted something a little more sedate.
We’ve always had a soft spot for train travel – hello Chiang Mai – and thought we’d take a lazy route down towards Marburg.
I have to say that Germany isn’t the best at marketing itself to the international traveller – English language info on places to visit via train are not exactly abundant. Before we moved here we bought a Lonely Planet guide to Germany and the gist of the introduction was ‘nobody comes on holiday to Germany’, which was a bold opening gambit for a travel guide.
Being pretty short on information, we reverted to the time-honoured tradition of looking at train stops on Google maps and seeing if anything in the vicinity looked nice, and thus we stumbled upon Hann. Münden – Hannoversch Münden if you’re feeling formal.
On the route to Kassel, where apparently all trains in Germany connect, Hann Münden looked like it had some nice buildings, a bit of scenery, and some good hotels.
Berlin to Hann. Münden by train
With 9 Euro ticket in hand, or rather in-app, we took the slow, effectively free route, totalling three trains and some five hours of travel to enjoy both the journey and the destination.
Having never been on a double decker train before, I was delighted when this tall beast chugged into Charlottenburg station, destination Magdeburg.
The 9 Euro scheme has in some ways been a victim of its own success, more or less everyone has a ticket. That means the trains are absolutely rammed, especially around cities, and ours was standing room only until Brandenburg.
After it calmed down, we were able to enjoy the flat, green and lake-dotted surroundings of Brandenburg before arriving into Magdeburg. The platform at Magdeburg wasn’t much more fun than the crowded train.
From Magdeburg, the next leg was towards Erfurt – this train was not so busy and we powered through our packed lunches before hopping off at Sangerhausen.
The terrain had become notably lumpy by this point, as we skirted around the Harz mountains and through pretty small towns and farmland.
A side note: my word Germany has a lot of cycling infrastructure. It seemed like a tarmacked cycle path followed train like and river on the journey. Definitely one to explore in future!
We should have twigged that the final leg towards Kassel may have been a bit busy when the entire train poured off – clown car style – at Sangerhausen, to connect with the train coming from Halle.
What arrived was already full, and we performed a collective sardine-tin process to get everyone on.
The scenery on this leg was beautiful – medieval looking half-timbered towns aplenty and steep, rolling hills all around as the train tracked the meandering Werra river. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of it because I was tucked into some guy’s armpit for the duration.
Eventually we did squeeze our way off at Hann. Münden’s rather nondescript station, rousing a sleeping Spaniard in the aisle and nearly tripping over a dog in the process.
At this point I had the nagging feeling that we might have made a mistake and ended up in the German equivalent of, say, Hemel Hempstead, rather than anywhere worth seeing.
Hann. Münden in all its glory
I needn’t have worried. A five minute walk down the hill brought us to Hann Münden’s spectacular old town, still very much the beating heart of this lovely little place.
The old town is quite small and easily walkable, but is like stepping back in time – timbered buildings leaning at all angles.
It’s a pleasure to simply stroll around Hann Münden and peek at the well-preserved townhouses, some dating back to the 1500s according to the dates above the door.
There are some little curios dotted around the small streets as well – plenty of small shops and craft places, and outside one building a small collection of old pianos which have been turned into outdoor planters.
In the middle of town is a gigantic church and almost equally large Rathaus building with a couple of restaurants in the main square. The Rathaus is now converted into a brewery and beer hall.
The town is flanked by a pair of rivers and steep, wooded hills. On the far side of the river were a few guesthouses, some activity areas and a large campsite. Up in the hills is a spindly castle looming over the town – if we’d stayed a little longer this would have been interesting to visit.
The views down by the water are lovely – the water tumbling over a couple of brooks as it comes through town.
Hann Münden had a lively buzz. There were plenty of German visitors when we arrived, including many cycle tourists ambling along the 300km cycle path which winds its way from Thüringen – that must be a good way to spend a week.
When we were visiting, the main draw was some kind of concert in the church square, for which people started queueing about three hours early. The patrons seemed to share a certain vintage and we wondered whether it’d be some kind of classical concert.
Nope: Simon and Garfunkel tribute band.
And in fairness they were very good, which was just as well seeing as they could be heard in glorious HD at almost any point of town. My only complaint was that they played The Boxer far too early and closed with Sound of Silence, which is clearly the wrong order.
Anyway enough of that, here’s another pretty picture of Hann Münden.
There were plenty of places to sit out and enjoy a beer and some food in Hann Münden. We opted for Küsterhaus as it has a large covered area outside near the church. The food was decent, service very quick and the prices were reasonable.
The clutch of restaurants by the Ratsbrauhaus also seemed well-regarded, but we preferred to be outdoors on a warm night.
The more upmarket Die Reblaus was also packed if you’re in the market for a fancier meal.
Perhaps owing to the Simon and Garfunkel extravaganza, hotel pickings were a little slim, but we had good luck with the Alte Rathausschänke.
It’s right in the centre of the old town, the building is extremely old and pleasingly wonky, and the owner was exceedingly friendly – apologising for his ‘school English’ before speaking English at a level which put me – an Englishman – to shame. This happens a lot in Germany.
In the UK they would have kept the period features of the building in the hotel rooms, marketed the hell out of it as a romantic getaway, and charged £200 a night. Here, they’ve borrowed the interior designer of a late 90s Travelodge and stuck with it, and the other patrons were cycle tourists and hikers by the look of it.
That said, the room was totally practical, the welcome was warm, we had a view of the main square, and a fine breakfast spread, and it cost €80 – a very good deal all round.
The Alter Packhof looked like the more upmarket hotel in town for those looking for a luxury stay, but expect to pay significantly more.
We only stayed a night in Hann Münden as we were heading onwards the next day, but it would certainly make a good weekend break, or a stop on a longer exploration of the area.
As first trips out of Berlin go, this was a great one. Free and easy travel, and a beautiful destination in Hann Münden.