• Thu
  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 9:32am

Nature reserves are haven for hikers and bikers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am

Two decades on, there's no more potent symbol of the reunification of East and West Germany than the former Iron Curtain. Running from the Baltic Sea to the Czech border in a 1,400km zigzag, the barbed wire and fortifications have long gone, replaced by nature reserves.

This happy example of swords being turned into ploughshares is a haven for hikers and bikers - and wildlife has flourished, with black storks, wild cats, wood grouse and rare mosses thriving in the wilds.

The local tourism industry has been quick to capitalise, offering itineraries tracing associations with figures such as Goethe, while author Oliver August paid tribute to Germany's 'green line' in his travelogue Along the Wall and Watchtowers.

While the Iron Curtain divided a country, the Berlin Wall sliced a city in half. It's barely visible nowadays, and the capital is more vibrant than ever, especially when it comes to shopping. Kaufhaus des Westens - or KaDeWe, as it is usually known - might reign supreme as the mightiest department store, but there are also a plethora of smaller, quirkier and imaginative boutiques.

Fashionistas will find more than a little to delight at stores such as Chelsea Farmer's Club and A.D. Deertz. Lunettes stocks vintage eyeglasses, while Dialogue Books is a glorious reminder of what bookshops should be like.

If Berlin does eclectic boutiques well, it does eclectic boutique hotels even better. First and foremost is the tried-and-tested Propeller Island - every room has a different design - Chicken Curry has an Indian theme, The Table is dominated by a circular bed, while Padded Cell more than lives up to its name - and the clientele is just as varied.

More recent arrivals include the centrally-located Circus Hostel, a 'budget boutique' with dorm and private rooms and matey staff, and Hotel Otto, in Charlottenburg, with 46 spacious rooms and a dining room whose view is matched by gargantuan buffet breakfasts. Away from the capital, Germany's coastline - and beyond - beckons. The beaches are popular year-round, and islands such as Sylt are synonymous with summer hedonism. Heligoland sits 50km from the coast, basking in a mini-time warp; there are no vehicles, except for a single police car, and it's exempt from taxes. Closer to shore, Borkum enjoys a well-deserved reputation for its king prawns, known as granat, served with rye bread and butter.

Germany's most surprising concentration of Michelin stars is in a remote valley in the Black Forest. Three chefs in Baiersbronn, at a trio of restaurants serving traditional fare, share a total of seven stars.

The German Wine Route runs near the French border, with plenty of vineyards open for tastings and restaurants whose sommeliers don't need to be told about pairing.

Germany is easy to get to, and to get around. Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific fly non-stop to Frankfurt, the country's main hub, linked to the country's 40 other airports. Germany's autobahn system covers about 12,700km, and there is an equally efficient rail network calling at some 5,400 stations. A flexible 72-hour rail pass, which can be used on any three days in a given month, starts at about HK$2,100.

A slower method of transport is the old-fashioned paddle steamers that make their way along the River Elbe. Based in Dresden, they travel upriver past the picturesque castle at Pillzen and then on towards the mountains. They make for a memorable outing.

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