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History and Geography of Hannover
Hannover is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony, Germany and was once the family seat of the Hannoverian Kings of Great Britain, known as the dukes of Brunswick- Lüneburg. It lies on the river Leine and was founded in mediaeval times as a village of ferrymen and fishermen that grew to become quite a large town in the 13th Century, by virtue of its geography on a natural crossroads. Its position on the river helped increase its value as a trading town.
Map of Hannover
Its crucial position became unfortunate as WWII blew through Europe, making it a prime target for strategic bombing of its railhead and production centre, as well as its important road junction. Residential areas were targeted too: more than 6,000 people were killed in the Allied bombing raids. In the aftermath, more than 90% of the city centre was destroyed by 88 bombing raids. The Aegidienkirche has been left as a ruin and today stands as a war memorial. The Allies marched into Hannover in April 1945, and the US 84th Infantry Division took the city on 10 April 1945. Inmates were released from the Neuengamme concentration camp. Hannover fell under British occupation, and became part of the new state of Lower Saxony in 1946.
Hannover’s landscape is quite flat, with the river Leine snaking through the city. It has large green areas, with big parks and forests. The Maschsee (Masch Lake) is a spectacular man-made lake.
Best time to go to Hannover
Hannover is a great place to be any time of the year, but the summer months are the best time to go. With an average temperature of 23°C (73°F), the whole city is in great spirits, celebrating lots of festivals, and hosting numerous events. Mind the frequent showers though! July is the hottest month; although far from unbearable.
The months between May and October are the most popular tourist-wise. The winter months are cold, and the deepest winter months see the temperatures dropping below freezing.
English translation was just recently introduced to some official tourist points such as the train ticket machines. The German people are generally helpful, but you have to ask for assistance, as they don’t tend to intrude upon others. For general information, it’s best to go to the Tourist Office.
Hannover’s public transportation network is superb. If you plan more than one mode of transport, a day ticket is the best buy, giving you unlimited travel on the bus, the trams and the subways; they are valid until the last connection of the day, which is often sometime after midnight. Be aware that some tickets need to be validated (stamped in the blue box), and some not, depending on the machine. Most of the city falls under Zone 1, so that should be the only one you need. Keep in mind that getting to the airport requires a Zone 2 ticket.
The city can be enjoyed on foot, with pedestrian paths on every street, as well as the area in front of Central Station. Bike paths are also provided on almost every street. You can take a bike on the busses and trams for free, but it’s restricted to 8.30am – 3pm, and after 7pm.
Taxis are also an alternative means of transport; at a higher rate of course. If you’re travelling in a group, you can order a 7 or 9 seat taxi, and so divide the cost effectively.
Major Attractions and Sights
Hannover is not a typical European city. Beautiful centuries-old buildings are here no more. The city was one of the hardest hit during World War II, leaving it with few historical landmarks. Even the Old City (Altstadt) area is ‘new’; all the old houses, about 40, left standing after the war were gathered from throughout the city and collected in one place. Around that area are grey 1950s buildings that are quite dreary. However, there are still a few residential neighborhoods just outside the downtown area, such as Oststadt, List, and Linden consisting of late-19th-century houses with often elaborate facades.
The Old City has points of interest, including the Market Church, the Nolte House, the Beguine Tower, Leibnitz House, and the Old Town Hall. The Kreuz-Church quarter has many little lanes to meander down.
Kröpcke is a large pedestrian area in the heart of Hannover. It is Hannover’s major shopping spot, home to the Opera house, and has lots of places to eat.
Passing through the Marstall Gate you come to the banks of the Leine, and happen upon the renowned Mile of Sculptures of which the Nanas of Niki de Saint-Phalle form a part of. Following the river bank along the Mile, you can cross the Königsworther Square to the entrance of the Georgengarten. From here, you can follow on to the Reformed Church, the Catholic Church of St Clemens, and Lutheran Neustädter Kirche.
Other popular sights to see in the city are: the Wangenheim Palace, the Kröpcke Clock, the Gehry Tower (by American architect Frank Gehry), the Waterloo Column, the Hannover Playhouse, the Lower Saxony State Archives, and the Opera House. The historically important Leibnitz Letters, which are on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, are housed in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz Library.
The Great Garden of Herrenhausen (Herrenhäuser Gärten) is a world-famous baroque garden created in the 17th Century to copy the Versailles Gardens in France. In the winter its beauty is still evident, but it reaches its best at the end of spring until the end of summer.
Also in the Herrenhausen Gardens you will find the Sea Life Grossaquarium. It has around 30 different displays, including a deep water tank which has a glass tunnel running through the centre, so you can walk through it and get really up close with the sharks and other big fish in the tank. It’s an indoor location, so if the weather is playing up, this beautiful aquarium is the ideal place to while away a rainy day.
Further out is the EXPO-Park, which hosted EXPO 2000. Crossing the Exponale, one of the biggest pedestrian bridges in Europe you’ll find the fairground complex.
The Hannover Zoo is a must-see; being one of the best and most spectacular in Europe. It has multi-themed areas including a farm, a jungle palace, a tropical house, a wooded area for wolves, a gorilla mountain, and many others. Annual visitors number around 2 million.
For general leisure activities, choose from forests and gardens, rivers, a canal and lakes, and 40 parks. In this bustling city there is a myriad of options to choose from, to suit any tastes.
Shopping in Hannover
Next to central Station is a large mall, the Ernst August Gallerie, as well as a supermarket inside the station, Lidl, which is open on Sundays. Kaufland is also nearby. The large department stores Karstadt and Galeria Kaufhof are in Kröpcke, as is Hugendubel, which sells English books. For sports equipment, look at Karstadt Sport and SportScheck. Rossmann and Douglas sell body care products, while Horstman & Sander in Kröpcke has great leather goods and top quality bags, from a coin purse to a large suitcase. The Galerie Luise is an upmarket boutique.
There is a flea market along the Leine every Saturday from 7am to 4pm. Watch out for overpriced ‘antiques’, and pickpockets. Souvenirs of Hannover can be bought from the Tourism Office.
Eating Out in Hannover
In most cafés and small restaurants, paying individually is accepted, as Germans like this system. Tips are not compulsory but most people do. In smaller cafés, if paying separately, rounding up to the next full euro is common; in bigger restaurants, 10% is best.
For traditional German fare, try Café Mezzo, Satluss, Schöneberger, Wurst-Basar (said to have the best German sausages, it has several stalls throughout the city), Das kleine Museum (stuffed crocodiles on the roof!), and Bavarium, a Bavarian restaurant.
The food stalls in the Market Hall are worth a visit.
Nightlife in Hannover
For high-end DJs and live performances, Eve Klub, which was voted one of the Best 50 Clubs in Germany by the magazine Maxim in 2004 is a sure bet.
Osho Discothek has a 90m2 dance floor to dance the night away on.
Brauhaus Ernst-August is a nightclub that serves food too, as well as freshly-brewed beer. Join in with dancing on the tables; it’s a common sight here.
Heartbreak Hotel on Reuter Street is one of the newer nightclubs. It stays open until dawn.
Sansibar on Scholvin Street has music spanning the 60s, 70s and 80s.
As the beer gardens are an essential part of the Hannover nightlife, here are a few:
Waterloo Biergarten, Waterloo takes its name from being close to Waterloo square and on Waterloo Road. It is a huge beer garden surrounded by trees, and is very busy during the summer. It opens daily from 11am.
The Uni-Biergarten, is a relaxing beer garden in the midst of the city. Students and professors meet or go to have a drink. Food is available. It’s open from: 11am to midnight.
Und der Böse Wolf on Heese Street’s owner is a Hannover football supporter, so it gets full of football followers. It serves Thai food from 5pm every day.
Lister Turm Biergarten on Waldersee Street is one of the largest beer gardens in Hannover. With the Lister building as a backdrop as well as all the trees, it makes this an idyllic drinking spot. It is family friendly and business savvy as there is a playground for children and WiFi for laptops. The pub also serves food if you’re hungry or need a break from drinking.
Of local interest
The CeBIT is the biggest computer-related exhibition in the world and takes places over several days in March. It is held in the EXPO area.
In May the Masala World-beat Festival has musicians from around the world play in several spots throughout the city; it’s an annual event in spring/summer, as well as the International Fireworks festival. Hannoverians love their fireworks, and there are also fireworks every night of the Kleines Fest, every weekend during the Spring Festival, and on the weekend of the Lake Masch Festival.
In spring, the Münchenerhalle at the fairground is worth a look, being a huge Bavarian-style restaurant. The Hannover Messe is an industrial expo held in spring.
The Kleines Fest is held in summer has 30 to 40 international performers such as clowns, comedy theatre, acrobatic performances, etc. Each performance schedule lasts around 4 hours (from 6 to 10.30pm). As mentioned above, fireworks bring each day to a great conclusion. It is recommended to start queuing early, as much as 2 hours before the time.
The Lake Maschsee Festival is held around the lake in summer. The Reincarnation Parade is a one-day street techno party, on a smaller scale of Berlin’s Love Parade.
There is the open-air theatre in Herrenhausen’s Great Garden, with its programme of enchanting summer musicals.
Also in summer is the Rubber Duck Race, for the kiddies. Hundreds of rubber duckies ‘race’ on the Leine River; you can buy your own numbered one before the qualification race. The race starts at the Lower Saxon State parliament and ends at the Marstall Bridge.
October sees the biggest festival – Oktoberfest! It’s held on the Schützenplatz, and is the second biggest Oktoberfest in the world. Party on!
The Christmas markets are held in front of Central Station, in Kröpcke, in Altstadt, and in List. They start at the end of November and last until a few days before Christmas. The best stalls are said to be the Finnish stands in Altstadt, serving very good herring, smoked salmon, and reindeer meat. Their Glühwein is said to be the best too.
The Winter Zoo at Hannover Zoo is a great seasonally-themed place to visit. From the end of November until the middle of January you can enjoy ice skating, ice shows, slides as well as good food and drink to keep you warm.