You don't need to be religious to go on a journey. These days, spiritual travel is a way of finding yourself. Travelling to churches, abbeys, monasteries and mystical places or embarking on a journey along pilgrimage routes – Germany has plenty of impressive and inspiring places just waiting to be discovered.
Travel to must-see historic places, such as Wartburg Castle, Aachen Cathedral or Cologne Cathedral. Explore deeply moving places that have a story to tell: reconciliatory sites such as the Church of Our Lady in Dresden – a church, work of art and meeting place for cultures from all over the world. Places of hope, such as the Room of Silence in Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, where the desire for freedom brought down walls. Or impressive sights, such as Dicke Marie, Berlin's oldest tree, which has braved many a storm, fascinated great poets and thinkers and is still a lovely place to spend time. And perhaps it will even embolden you to see the storms in your life in a more serene light.
Visit inspiring places such as Neuzelle Abbey in the south-east of Brandenburg, which boasts Baroque splendour and an abbey garden with small orange trees that make tourists long for some southern sun. Or St. Marienthal Abbey in Upper Lusatia, where guests, having taken their cue from the Cistercian monks and their infectious zest for life, take a "holiday for the self". The abbey finds a balance between silence and meditation, but is also at the heart of the action with earthly establishments such as the abbey's market, bakery and pub. A break for all the senses – who doesn't want that?
The olden-day monks would be so jealous if they had any idea how comfy abbey life can be...
Sleep in rooms with modern furnishings, for instance in Tholey Abbey, where the abbot, who used to be a chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, sometimes takes to the kitchen himself. Or in Blieskastel Monastery, where guests sleep in former monastic cells, still full of the spirit of times gone by. Even if the monks were to barely recognise their once spartan cells, they surely would not miss the lack of TV, telephone and Internet access...
Those who follow in the footsteps of Luther and want to be particularly close to him, should stay in St. Augustine's Monastery in Erfurt. This is where Martin Luther was ordained, and where he lived for six years. The rooms are quiet with a simple and elegant design and feature no digital devices whatsoever.
The Georgenburse pilgrim hostel in Erfurt is where Luther lived before his stay at the abbey. The accommodation is spartan and designed with pilgrims in mind. The spiritual world of Volkenroda Abbey is intended for both pilgrims and anybody seeking a "home from home" who is not afraid to get their hands dirty. Those wanting to travel with all mod cons and still experience spirituality can stay in abbey hotels, for example the one in Wöltingerode in the Harz region, where visitors' bodies, minds and souls can enjoy a very special break.
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Rediscovering ancient pilgrimage routes is a revelation in an age where people need to learn how to slow down. Slow travel is becoming increasingly popular. Germany's network of well-developed pilgrimage routes offers something for every taste.
Torsten Marold (born in 1962), German game designer
Major pilgrimages cross paths on the countless St. James' Way routes, but they can also be taken in small stages to make it easier for novice spiritual travellers to manage. For example, St. Anne's Path, which follows in the footsteps of St. Anne in Brandenburg, or the pilgrimage from the Elisabethbrunnen well to the Lutherbrunnen well in Thuringia, both of which are around 20 kilometres in length.
The longer routes, such as the Luther Trail in Saxony-Anhalt (approx. 410 km), require higher fitness levels and, above all, more time.
The St. Boniface Route from Mainz to Fulda, one of the most beautiful pilgrimages in Germany, is known for its natural beauty and cultural treasures. Routes such as the Benedict Trail, a circular pilgrimage route and cycle path retracing the steps of the Benedictine monks and Pope Benedict XVI, are examples of living history. Pilgrimages along the Wine Route from Koblenz to Konstanz are particularly indulgent. They are also open to all, as the paths through the German wine country are accessible!
Pilgrims on a journey have two aims: to reach their destination and find themselves. Some may even be secretly wishing for a minor miracle along the way...
OUR TIP: before you embark on your journey, research the available accommodation options, as some of them need to be booked in advance and a mobile phone signal is not always available along the entirety of each route.
Pilgrimage routes are not just footpaths, even if they are much more pleasant to travel along today than back in the Middle Ages. They require good fitness levels and excellent planning. Having the right equipment is paramount. After all, even if your rucksack isn't the heaviest baggage on a pilgrimage, every gram counts. Another top tip: the duration of the pilgrimage does not play a key role when it comes to packing. You will need the same amount of stuff whether you're on the road for one week or six.
Basic equipment for pilgrimages
Important papers(in addition to standard travel documents)
Leave your books behind you along the route. This will make your backpack lighter and focus your mind on being at one with nature, meeting people and finding yourself.