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.
Shopping in Kiel
There is a whole range of shops in the Holstenstraße pedestrian area. Also, take a look at the Sophienhof area. Citti-Park is also popular and there is a giant Ikea shop here for those who like very stylish furniture.
There are designer shops for quality clothing, up-market electronics shops and other pricey outlets that offer jewelry and quality goods dotted all through the malls and shopping centers. These tend to be scattered all around the edge of the water so don’t be surprised to have a towering cruise ship keeping pace alongside. Specialist shops and those aimed specifically at tourists abound. However, for something a little different, and perhaps something with some more local color, take a fifteen minute stroll from the city center to the ‘Holtenau Arcades’ which is full of shops, cafes and bars etc. This is where weekender locals like to hang out, so for a taste of local culture, this is the place to be.
Eating out in Kiel
Those who love food and drink are in for a treat, and they should certainly visit the International Market along the Rathausmarkt to try some delicacies. Look for the Kieler Nachrichten (newspaper) on Saturdays to find out what is going on and what is being offered.
It is said that the best German/Turkish Döner kebabs are sold in the Garips Imbiss on the Metzstrasse and Wörthstrasse. Or, for those with plainer tastes, the Kartoffel Keller sells anything with potato in it. Even pizzas with potato are sold here but there is a good gathering of coffee shops, pubs, bars and cafés selling all kinds of interesting tidbits. The Café Louf near the Reventloubrücke is the place to be on the weekends since they serve up a delicious breakfast buffet at this time. It too looks over the water, so is a great meeting place on Sundays in particular.
One delicacy that must not be missed is the kieler sprotten, the local dish made from sprats straight from the ocean.
Nightlife in Kiel
There are many clubs in Kiel, but the locals prefer to head out of town towards Hamburg for their fun. However, for those who stay in town, there is still plenty to do. Most clubs have a five Euro fee to enter, so think carefully before hopping from one place to another.
Luna, at the Bergstraße sometimes has international DJs performing and visitors should expect to pay more on these nights. Music changes from Ragga to Soul/Funk and electronic tunes so there should be something for everyone to enjoy.
Look out for the Prinz Willy Café on Lutherstrasse 9. This is described as a ‘creative’ joint that has live bands, poetry readings and anything to do with the arts going on.
Anything of local interest
One cannot visit Kiel in late June and avoid Kiel Week. Apart from the swelling crowds which take the quarter of a million local people’s numbers up to more than three million, there is so much to see and do at this time. Especially prominent is the display of tall ships that come into harbor for the regatta.
Kiel Week has been said to be the biggest sailing event in the entire world and the whole town is decked out to show the world what it can produce in the way of food and entertainment. There are craft fairs going on, superstar entertainers appearing nightly, kids’ entertainment and many open air concerts to chill out at. These don’t go past around eleven at night, but then the parties start up in indoor venues or the Eggerstedtstrasse.
One odd place to see on the popular guided walk of Kiel is the Asmus-Bremer-Platz. There is a large model of the eponymous man and woman under the tree here, and is meant to remind people of the former Mayor and his wife. These two came to office in 1702 and there is a folk festival every year in their honor. See men wearing the oddly shaped trousers that he wore in his day leading up to the weekend when the festival goes on.