Bizarre Germany: Odd Things To See & Do

October 13, 2009 by

Europe, Suggested Itineraries

So you’ve ticked off the wall in Berlin, the Oktoberfest, the Rhine cruise and all manner of stunning castles and cathedrals? Well, you’ve only just scratched the surface of Germany – and the way to get the most out of the rest is to make things a little weirder. We’ve picked out eight of the most bizarre places to visit in Germany and they’re far from the usual suspects.

The Gasometer

Another stop along the Ruhr’s industrial heritage trail is this enormous gas cylinder in Oberhausen. It has been converted into one of the most bizarre – and striking – exhibition spaces you are ever likely to see. The current exhibition – lasting until at least March 2010 – is about the solar system. Inside, there are retrieved satellites, displays on the history of astronomy and some amazing space photography blown up in gigantic proportions.

Gasometer in Oberhausen

Gasometer in Oberhausen

The highlights, however, are the ‘sun’ in the middle of the ground floor exhibition area and ‘The Largest Moon on Earth’. The latter is a sculpture dangling from the top of the Gasometer and has a diameter of 25m. It’s also possible to get a lift up to viewing platforms at the very top of the 117m-tall Gasometer. From there, the views over the whole region are rather spectacular – if rather heavy on the old smoking chimneys.

Wunderland Kalkar

Wunderland Kalkar in North Rhine-Westphalia was originally designed to be Schneller Brüter, a multi-national nuclear power station shared between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. For a variety of reasons, however, it was never turned on.

So what do you do with a big, useless nuclear power plant? Turn it into a theme park, of course.
Looking out over the Rhine river, the rollercoasters, big wheels, hotel and conference centre are given a somewhat surreal look by the giant, brightly-painted cooling tower. And for those slightly worried about the park’s history, never fear, its owners guarantee it’s “radiation free”.

Hitler walking tours

It may sound a little tasteless on the surface, but the Third Reich walking tours are one of the most fascinating ways to discover Munich and its dark Nazi-era history. The Nazi party was formed here, and it was where Adolf Hitler rose to prominence. The tours, led by keen historians, take in the Hofbrauhaus – where Hitler held his first major political rally. Also included are the spot where his attempted beer hall putsch was halted and the sites of former Nazi headquarters.

Strangely, it’s the more insignificant bits – such as the photographer’s studio where Hitler met Eva Braun and the buildings he painted as a struggling artist – that really stick in the memory. (From Munich Viator also offers a tour to the Dachau Concentration Camp; if you’re in Berlin, the Third Reich walking tour covers similar chapters in Nazi history.)

Colditz Escape Museum

Continuing the Second World War theme, Colditz Castle in Saxony is arguably the most famous prisoner of war camp in history. Part of it has now been turned into an ultra-modern youth hostel, but the rest is a museum devoted to the numerous escape bids that Allied POWs attempted. The museum goes into the defences that led to the camp being dubbed ‘unescapable’ – think lots of barbed wire, men with guns and snarling dogs.

But most entertaining are the ingenious methods that the captured officers used in an attempt to get out. Unusually, all were photographed by the Nazis in a bid to train guards about what to look out for – and these photos make up the bulk of the museum.

There are pics of would-be-escapees dressed as women, electricians and German guards. There are also dummies that were used to stand in at roll call, while it’s possible to walk through a tunnel that a group of French POWs painstakingly dug.

Landschaftpark Duisburg-Nord

The Ruhr region is particularly notable for converting old industrial plants into something a bit odd, and the Landschaftpark Duisburg-Nord, in Duisburg, is a classic example. A former ironworks has been transformed into a rather odd-looking public park, where the buildings have been converted into bistros, concert halls, bars and an information centre.

View from halfway up the blast furnace at Landschaftpark Duisburg-Nord

View from halfway up the blast furnace at Landschaftpark Duisburg-Nord

It’s also possible to clamber up to the top of the blast furnace, go free-climbing up the walls of the ore bunkers and have diving lessons in a giant gas cylinder. There’s also a large play area for kids and a series of cycling tracks where the train lines used to run.

The German Occupational Health and Safety Exhibition

Despite sounding like a shoo-in for the title of ‘most boring museum in the known universe’, this enormous maze of workplace wonders is surprisingly engrossing. It’s located in Dortmund, and is utterly bewildering. There’s way more to it than displays on how to lift up boxes properly.

Amongst the many, many things on offer are playful robotic arms, interactive games that mess with your visual perception, aircraft cockpits to sit in and mock-ups of a power station’s control room.

All manner of machinery is on display, from weaving looms and printing presses to helicopters used to repair power lines. There are lots of buttons to press, computers to play with and enormous contraptions to control. All information is in German, so you might not understand what’s going on most of the time if you don’t speak the language, but the sheer scale and ambition of the exhibition make it worth visiting.

Salt mine tour

Having been operational for nearly 500 years, Berchtesgaden’s salt mine is now a tourist attraction. And one that packs in as many forms of novelty transport as it can possibly manage. Visitors dress up in miner’s clothing, whizz down miner’s slides and get into the mine on a miniature train. Once inside, there are chapels made of salt, exhibitions on the mining process and impressive light shows to contend with.

Speeding through the Berchtesgaden salt mine on a miniature train

Speeding through the Berchtesgaden salt mine on a miniature train

The trip continues with a raft trip on an eerie underground lake and a funicular railway back up to the top. It’s like a series of theme park rides, an art gallery and an industrial heritage centre all rolled into one. (You can book a joint tour to Berchtesgaden and Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest fortress on Viator.)

Propeller Island hotel

If, after completing your bizarre tour of Germany, you’re looking for somewhere suitably weird to stay, then it’s hard to look past Berlin’s Propeller Island. The brainchild of musician and artist Lars Stroschen, the rooms at Propeller Island are all wildly individual. At best they’re mind-blowingly weird; at worst they’re completely impractical.

One of the most notorious rooms is the upside down room, which has everything – the bed, the chests of drawers, the works, suspended from the ceiling. The real bed can be found hidden in the floor, incidentally. Others include The Mirror Room, which as the name would suggest is entirely surrounded by mirrors. The kaleidoscope effect is nicely complimented by silvery bedsheets…

-David Whitley

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Germany tours, things to do in Berlin, Munich tours, and more.

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