Kiel is the capital city of Schleswig-Holstein state in Germany and sits around 90 kms from Hamburg to the north, and is known as the ‘gateway to the Baltic’. Since it is right on the waterfront, this is a maritime city par excellence with all kinds of activities relating to sailing and water sports.
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History and Geography
Kiel sits on the Jutland peninsula on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and attracts international interest when it comes to sailing. It has hosted the sailing events for the Summer Olympics twice in the past, and is still home to the German Baltic Navy. The Kiel Fjord, said to be the busiest waterway in the entire world, is somewhat of a feather in the cap for Germany since it is entirely man made. Those who are looking to travel further afield can get to Sweden or Norway from this area. Cruise ships are in abundance too and they ply the Baltic Sea from one end to the other. The terrain is extremely flat so those who like to walk, hike or go by bicycle are well catered for here.
Map of Kiel
Kiel really took off more than one hundred years ago because of the busy shipping industry. The Second World War really hammered the place, so the rebuilding has a modern feel with plenty of open spaces. However, some of the old quarter is being reconstructed for historical purposes.
Best time to go
Much as any other European city, the warmer months fall between May and September. Winter months, between November and February, sees temperatures drop as low as freezing point. Rain falls more in the winter period but even in summer it can be a little unpredictable. However, it is seldom too hot, so summer is the ideal time for family holidays.
Getting around in Kiel
Since this is a port city, many visitors come in from Scandinavia and other northern European countries. Once landed, they can avail themselves of the very efficient trains and buses etc to get around the capital.
Kiel Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, stands next to the main bus terminus and is situated right in the middle of the shopping center. Travelers can ride into Hamburg or beyond by picking up connections on this line.
Buses take travelers as far as Poland and on to Estonia if they so wish or, for those coming into Kiel, take a bus from Berlin which takes around six hours. The nearest major airport is situated in Hamburg – about 100 kms away, but charters do fly on an irregular basis.
Buses and ferries in this port city ensure that the populace gets to where they should be. Taxis are expensive so many people opt to hire bicycles to get around.
Major Attractions and Sights
For those who like to meander around a museum or two, Kiel has an abundance of them. They sit on the edge of the Kiel Fjord and all have spectacular views. They uphold a tradition of being scientific, and each is reachable within one hour from the city centre.
One is full of old and ancient antiquities, with lovely examples of Grecian vases and urns on display. Another will house an aquarium which shows local sea life off to perfection. Kids will love the outdoor seal pool here as they can help to feed these adorable creatures.
In Kiel there is an art museum covering just about any genre, and they also display international artists throughout the year. The medicine museum is a must for anyone interested in how medicines were discovered, and the exhibits include old instruments and specimens.
There are more, covering anything from maritime history to a zoological museum, so it is hard to see how someone would not find something interesting here.
There are beaches galore in Kiel and walks that take visitors to the Friedrichsort cliffs. There are also things like the Botanical Gardens at the Christian Albrecht University Holstenstrasse and the quirky folding bridge called the Hörn to be visited around the town.
If traveling through Germany by car, a visit to St. Stephan’s Church in Mainz is a must at any time, but particularly around Christmas. It has some very fine examples of stained glass windows by Chagall, which were put in towards the end of the last century. See different scenes from the bible and wonder at his attempt to bring the Jewish people and Christians together through art. It is around 500 kms away, but it is a good spot for a weekend out of the capital.
One great way to enjoy the sights of Kiel is to take a walking tour starting from the New City Hall. Stroll past the library and take a look in the gallery, or just sit and rest up at a roadside café. Walking on to the Sophienhof shopping centre, there is plenty of time to buy up some souvenirs. Go over the footbridge and take a look at the historic but modernized railway station where Kaiser Wilhelm II once held court. It seems that at every turn there is a breathtaking vista of industry and water coming together, so do not forget to bring a camera for some free souvenirs.
For history buffs, and for those who remember the movie ‘Das Boot’, viewing submarines in the flesh, so to speak, must be an exciting thing to do. Visitors are allowed to walk through the one surviving submarine left over from the Second World War. There is an underground memorial to the fallen men from this war with some rather interesting details of the German Navy and its history.
Since Hamburg is not very far away, a night or two here is also possible. Hamburg used to be famous for the swinging sixties style music and its red light district. The red light district is still there, but is not meant for the children of course.
Again for history buffs, those that know about the mass migration of people from Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth century may like to visit the Ballinstadt complex in Hamburg. Five million people took the plunge to the ‘New World’ back then and all the halls and venues that processed them are still standing in situ. Those that are studying their ancestry can check out the world’s biggest genealogical database to see if they can find any clues.
Another great place to visit out of Kiel is Lubeck near Hamburg. This place came into being in 1143 and the old town actually sits on an island. The beauty of this place is obvious and it is the very first centre to be registered as a World Heritage site. It is great for tourists since they can walk around the whole place in just one day to look at all the medieval sites. Anyone who is into German history will certainly need to visit here.
It has six churches including the extremely unique St. Mary’s where a bell broke the floor after a bombing during the war. The bell is still there for all to see and is now a memorial to that time when the world was at war. The towers were so weakened by the barrage of bombs that they actually bend in the middle!
Lubeck is very famous for its marzipan and these little delicacies certainly make for good souvenirs to give as gifts. Try the marzipan nut cake before wrapping up some to take home!
Lubeck is also on the waterfront so it has many ancient and interesting buildings to see. There are the old city gates called the Burgtor and a wonderful old abbey called the Kulturforum Burgklster. For those who are tired by this stage, take a canal boat tour so that the sites pass by as the boat sails serenely along.
For those who want to glimpse into the history of the Hanseatic League, Lubeck should certainly be one place to visit, to see how people struggled for freedom, while staying in Kiel.