The German city of Hanover doesn’t get too many tourists – its visitors tend to come on business for trade fairs. This is good news, as you can have its attractions more or less to yourself as I did when I had a few hours to kill in the country’s thirteenth biggest city.
After going to a wedding in the village of Bilm, about 12 miles to the east of Hanover, I had six hours before my return flight to the UK. So, arriving at Hanover’s main train station, I put my bags in a left-luggage locker and went off to explore.
The Red Thread – a red painted line on the pavement – leads you from the station to the various sights of central Hanover, so it’s easy to go on a self-guided tour.
We walked straight down Luisenstrasse, the main street lined with high street shops, to the main square Kröpcke, known as clock square. The clock itself is pretty unimpressive, but there was a decent jazz band next to it so we stopped at one of the square’s pavement cafés for an al fresco cuppa and a listen.
We then moved on to Hanover’s architectural highlight the Neues Rathaus (new town hall), a fifteen minute walk away. Entrance is free, but for €3 you can take a lift to the top of the dome for the best view in town.
The ride in the lift is one to remember, as it travels at a slant up the angled lift shaft. Be sure to look up through the glass ceiling as you go.
Once the lift has stopped, there are a few more steps to climb before you can enjoy panoramic views of what must be one of Germany’s greenest cities. You can see a small lake behind the town hall and a huge lake (Machsee) behind that. Eagle-eyed German football fans will also be able to see the HDI Arena, home of Bundesliga also-rans Hannover 96 and one of the stadia used when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006.
Although the area behind the town hall is verdant, modern day Hanover is not a particularly pretty city as much of it was bombed in WWII. The inside of the town hall is almost as impressive as the outside and the view from the top, with four large models of how the city looked in the Middle Ages, 1939, 1945 and today. The 1945 model shows in some detail that the RAF left very little intact – the town hall is one of the few recognisable buildings.
Back at ground-level, we went for a stroll around the lakes and crossed a bridge covered in those pesky love-locks. The love-lock phenomenon seems to have spread all over Europe (and most travel blogs) in the past decade – couples buy padlocks, write their names on them, lock them to bridges and then throw the key into the water below in a declaration of undying love.
Some think it’s romantic, others think it’s vandalism – it’s illegal in some cities with fines and even jail sentences threatened. Many of the love-locks in Hanover are red, and attached to the green ironwork of the bridge with the town hall reflected in the lake, I’d say they look marginally more like the work of romantics than vandals.
Locals run, cycle and walk around the Machsee lake – we were happy to sit and watch the giant Koi carp, who were fighting the ducks for scraps of bread thrown to them by kids.
To see an example of the WWII destruction Hanover faced, pay a visit to Aegidienkirche, just across the main road from the town hall. This church was bombed in 1943, and like Coventry Cathedral in my hometown, only its blackened outer shell and spire remain.
Before heading back to the station, we had time to wander around Hanover’s reconstructed Aldstadt (old town). The streets of this area reminded me a little of Stratford-upon-Avon with their black and white timbered buildings. If you fancy some traditional German meaty fayre, there are plenty of choices around here – I enjoyed a pork schnitzel washed down with an Einbecker beer at a restaurant above a pub.
Game of Thrones
If you want to understand our Royal Family’s German roots, look no further than the forecourt of the train station on your way back. Here you will find a statue of Ernest Augustus I on his horse and wearing his favourite hat.
He was King of Hanover in the early 19th Century, and was the uncle of our very own Queen Victoria. She missed out on becoming Queen of Hanover as she had too many male relatives in line for the throne, so she moved to England and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hanover may have a reputation for being a bit dull, and while a weekend break might be overkill it’s an ideal place for a daytrip. And if you’re in town on business, it’s well worth sticking around to see a bit more of the city than the inside of an exhibition hall.