"The sea is not a landscape. It is an experience of eternity," as the writer and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann once said – and his words ring true on the UNESCO 'Natural wonders and proud towns & cities' route. Natural features, including coastal mudflats and unspoilt beech forests, are interspersed with ancient Hanseatic towns and cities such as Bremen, Lübeck, Wismar and Stralsund.
It is one of the most beautiful town halls in Germany: the magnificent facade is a textbook example of the Weser Renaissance architecture typical of northern Germany. Along with the Roland statue, the city's very own 'statue of liberty', it still stands as a reminder of the pride that the locals have for their city, their freedom and their sovereignty.
The diversity of the Wadden Sea landscape on the North Sea coast makes it a unique habitat for countless species of plants and wildlife. This UNESCO World Natural Heritage site covers an area of around 11,000 square kilometres and includes the three Wadden Sea National Parks of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Denmark plus the Wadden Sea conservation area in the Netherlands.
The Border Complex in Schleswig-Holstein is regarded as a unique archeological testimonial of the Viking Age. From the 9th until the 11th century, early Medieval Hedeby was one of the most important maritime trading hubs and also one of the first cities in Northern Europe. A semi-circular wall protected the city from attackers. This was connected to the defensive system of Danevirke.
This is where the roots of the modern European city of Hamburg lie: the historical Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus district with the famous Chilehaus are synonymous with Hamburg's rise as a global trading power – and are today a vibrant cultural quarter. Having survived the years without damage or alteration, this historical ensemble has now been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Lübeck, the undisputed Queen of the Hanseatic League, was founded in 1143 as 'the first western town on the Baltic coast' and provided a shining example for all the Hanseatic towns and cities along the Baltic. The medieval old town is one of the foremost examples of brick Gothic architecture and reflects Lübeck's illustrious past as an early centre of international trade.
The grandeur and riches of the Hanseatic League in the 14th century could hardly be more vividly illustrated than in the historic centres of Stralsund and Wismar. Both towns boast virtually unchanged medieval layouts and extensively preserved architectural heritage from the brick Gothic period.
The harbour is the heart of the maritime city of Rostock. Although there may be fewer sailors on the quayside these days, the harbour still shapes the character of the city. It is also the venue for major events, such as the Hanse Sail in August, which attracts hundreds of sailing ships and a million visitors each year.
They are really the original inhabitants of Europe: without human intervention, beech trees would still cover large areas of continental Europe. Today, unspoilt lowland beech forests are found nowhere else in the world but in Germany. The Ancient Beech Forests of Germany UNESCO World Natural Heritage site therefore offers a fascinating, romantic and incredibly diverse picture of the original European landscapes. They are an extension to the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, an existing cross-border World Heritage property.
The unique collection of galleries and museums on Berlin Museum Island, with its five temple-like buildings, houses treasures from 6,000 years of human history. Elevated to UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999, and located in Berlin's historical centre, the complex is the centrepiece of the city's museum network and is Europe's largest cultural investment project.