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GERMANY

Germany is the largest country in Central Europe and most populous EU state. Known around the world for its precision engineering and high-tech products, it is equally admired by visitors for its old-world charm and hospitality.

When thinking of Germany, beer, lederhosen and Alpine hats quickly come to mind. If you're still looking for the cliches, the Romantic Road is a famous scenic route along romantic castles and picturesque villages. With its fairy tale appearance, the Neuschwanstein Castle could be considered the most iconic of German castles. The walled city of Rothenburgob der Tauber has a beautiful mediaeval centre that seems untouched by the passage of time. Some similar typical German towns can be found elsewhere in the country, like Augsburg, Bamberg, Celle, Heidelberg, Lübeck, and Quedlinburg. Your picture postcard visit to Germany will be complete with a visit to the beer halls of Munich and a peek of the Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. You can also go to the lovely yet seldom visited medieval city of Schwäbisch Hall. For those who are fans of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, which include many famous ones such as Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and The Pied Piper, the German tourism board has a recommended Fairy Tale Route which takes you to places where the Brothers Grimm lived, as well as towns that were featured in the Grimm's Fairy Tales.

A completely different experience can be found in Berlin, a city unlikely to be found anywhere else on the planet. While architecturally an odd mismatch of sterilised apartment blocks, post-modernist glass and steel structures, and some historic left-overs, it has a laid-back atmosphere and a culture of internationalism. Its turbulent history gave rise to an enormous wealth of historical attractions, among them the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor, Bundestag, Checkpoint Charlie, Fernsehturm, Holocaust Memorial and Rotes Rathaus.

Due to its size and location in Central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes. In the north, Germany has an extensive coastline along the North Sea and the Baltic Seas in a vast area known as the North German Plain. The landscape is very flat and the climate is rough with strong winds and mild, chilly temperatures. Due to the south-easterly winds that push water into the German Bight, tidal variations are exceptionally high, creating the Wadden Sea. Vast areas of the seabed are uncovered twice a day, allowing one to walk from one of the numerous islands to another. (This should only be done with a guide.) The East Frisian Islands just off the coast are very picturesque, although mostly visited by the Germans themselves. Favourite white sand resorts along the Baltic Sea include Rugia and Usedom.

The central half of Germany is a patchwork of the Central Uplands, hilly rural areas where fields and forests intermix with larger cities. Many of these hill ranges are tourist destinations, like the Bavarian Forest, the Black Forest, the Harz, the Ore Mountains, North Hesse and Saxon Switzerland. The Rhine Valley has a very mild, amenable climate and fertile grounds, making it the country's most important area for wine and fruit growing.

In the extreme south, bordering Austria, Germany contains a portion of the Alps, Central Europe's highest elevation, rising as high as 4,000 m (12,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest summit in Germany being the Zugspitze at 2962 m (9717 ft). While only a small part of the Alps lie in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and the unique Bavarian culture. Along the country's southwestern border with Switzerland and Austria lies Lake Constance, Germany's largest freshwater lake.

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