Germany Revisited

On a budget? Discover the castles, parks and gardens of the eastern region

By: By Irene Thomas

Where to Stay

Brandenburger Hof
Berlin’s Brandenburger Hof is both elegant and sophisticated. On a quiet, tree-lined street and near great shopping, the property has unique furnishings and artwork, an outstanding restaurant and impeccable service.

Relexa Schlosshotel Cecilienhof Potsdam
The four-star castle-hotel, Cecilienhof, is the site where the Potsdam Treaty was signed in 1945. It features 41 romantically furnished rooms, located in an exquisite landscaped park, 10 minutes from Sanssouci Palace.

Hotel Suitess
Hotel Suitess is a five-star boutique hotel in the very heart of Dresden’s city center. It is luxurious but intimate with a top-notch restaurant and spa.

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For those of us who are of a certain age, it’s hard to believe that 2009 marks 20 years since the 96-mile-long Berlin Wall was opened, reuniting what was then East and West Germany. To commemorate the reunification, Germany is honoring the castles, parks and gardens of the region with a new tourism campaign, focusing on the states of Brandenburg and Saxony.

Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace is one of the sights on a budget-conscious visit to Germany. // (c) Zemistor
Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace is one of
the sites
on a budget-conscious visit to
Germany. // (c) Zemistor

From hip Berlin, which is bordered by Brandenburg, to rebuilt Dresden, the former East Germany is ripe with possibilities of new sights, tastes and culture for seasoned U.S. travelers to explore and enjoy.

A major bonus of traveling to this region, which was virtually unreachable for 28 years, is that prices are far lower than in the western part of the country. On the eastern side of Germany, it’s easy to find a cappuccino for around $2.50 and a hearty meal of sauerbraten, red cabbage and an enormous dumpling for about $10. A bottle of German beer? I found many for less than $2 each. And gorgeous, uberluxurious hotels are much less expensive than in some other parts of Europe.

We started our week-long, budget-conscious adventure in Berlin, the dynamic capital where 3.5 million live in a city known for its cutting-edge architecture, fashion and art. Here, we toured Charlottenburg Palace — a palace once owned by the Prussian Empress Sophie Charlotte of the Hohenzollern dynasty — and its lovely baroque French-themed gardens.

Driving about an hour south, we came to gorgeous Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg and the former summer residence of Prussian kings. Brimming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Potsdam boasts historical enclaves, such as the Dutch Quarter and the Russian Colony. Brandenburg’s capital, however, is probably best known for both Sanssouci Palace and Castle Cecilienhof, where Truman, Churchill and Stalin signed the crucial Potsdam Treaty in 1945, dividing Germany into four zones.

We continued south, passing through the former summer residence of the Saxon royal court (Pillnitz), before reaching our final stop, Dresden.

Although Dresden suffered more than any other German city from the bombing in World War II, today’s visitors are greeted with an almost surreal recreation of Dresden in 1945. Nowadays, clients can view the fine art in Zwinger Palace, attend a concert at Semper Opera House and see one of the world’s most esteemed porcelain collections at Dresden Porzellansammlung, featuring 20,000 pieces of Chinese, Japanese and Meissen porcelain.