Hannover Stories and Tips

Hannover, Germany

City Hall, Hannover, Germany Photo, Hannover, Germany

On a trip to the north of German I made a stopover in Hannover. I arrived mid-morning, left my luggage in a locker and went out onto the Ernst-August-Platz (Platz = square) in front of the Central Station with the enormous statue of King Ernst August (1771-1851, the fifth son and eighth child of George III and Queen Victoria's uncle) on horseback. The spot under the horse's tail is a famous meeting point for the Hannoveraners. A glance back at the station is worthwhile. It's a pompous and imposing building in the Neo-Renaissance style. When it was rebuilt after the bomb raids in 1943, it was done in this style so that it now looks older than it really is. It's a busy station with lots of shops, there can't be much you can't get there. It's a befitting entry to the capital of the Land Lower Saxony and a city of more than half a million inhabitants.

Crossing the Ernst-August-Platz slightly to the left one comes to the Tourist Information Office where friendly women hand out brochures. Hannover has a Red Thread (4.200 m long) running through the city connecting the most important sights, a good thing I haven't seen in any other German city. The city map with the Red Thread is free, a brochure with detailed information on the sights costs 3 Euro.

Maybe 100 m away from the Tourist Information Office is the Kröpcke, the central square of Hannover, its heart so-to-speak. I was puzzled when I got there. I think I stood there open-mouthed and gaping, because a man approached me asking if he could help. I told him that I couldn't believe that this ugly place was dear to the Hannoveraners. A dangerous remark, he could have been a fierce local patriot, but I couldn't help myself. He agreed with my judgement, however, and even apologised! As in so many German cities and towns post-war architecture is of indescribable ugliness. The buildings are more or less only concrete boxes. He pointed out the Opera which stands in the vicinity. It was completely destroyed inside but the facade remained and was restored in the original style. This looked much better. I have nothing against modern architecture, on the contrary, but the post-war style seems to be no style at all.

The Red Thread led me along the Georgstraße, a boulevard with nice and expensive shops on one side, to the Aegidienkirche (Kirche = church). It was bombed at the end of the war and has been kept as a ruin ever since, without roof and windows. It serves as a monument now. I like the idea. The next sight was the New Town Hall, a grandiose and majestic building with an enormous dome. As the ground is swampy, it was erected upon 6026 beech-tree piles. It was opened in 1913, is the seat of the mayor and houses scale models of Hannover through the ages. At the back of the building is the restaurant Gartensaal (Garden Hall) overlooking an idyllic pond surrounded by a park in the English style.

An elderly man watched me taking pictures and accosted me with the hint from where the view was best. I don't like such pieces of advice but we started talking. I told him that I intended to walk to the Maschsee (See = lake) [thus leaving the Red Thread] of which I already knew that it was an artificial one created in the flood meadows surrounding the river Leine. "Adolf built it," he said. I didn't know that. Of course, Adolf didn't built it but had it built. I asked him why and what for. He told me that it was one of the work-creation programmes of the Third Reich. Before we parted, I asked him if it was far from the Maschsee to the old quarter of the city which I also wanted to see. He denied this and pointed in the general direction I'd have to take. Then he said, "Haarmann lived there, too. Do you know about him?" He was clearly disappointed when I nodded, he would have liked to tell me the story.

Fritz Haarmann was a serial killer who was executed in 1924 for sodomising and killing 24 young men by biting their throats. Strangely, he's entered folklore. Three film were made featuring the man and his crimes, books and articles were written. "In 2007, the Hannover Tourism Board caused controversy by including Haarmann in its cartoon-style advertising calendar, along with other well-known people from the city. The calendar became a best-seller, and the initial print run of 20,000 calendars was expected to run out in November 2007, rather than lasting through Christmas as planned." (Wikipedia). And then there is the song sung to the tune of a well-known operetta. "(rough translation) Wait, wait a while, soon Haarmann will come to you, too. With his small chopper to make mincemeat of you. From the eyes he makes aspic, from the bottom he makes lard, from the intestines sausages and the rest he throws away." In 1961 a Dixiland version of the song was the No 1 hit in the charts for several weeks. Sick humour is a British thing? Think again!

The Maschsee is about 0.3 sq miles large and an ideal place for all kinds of water sports. And this within walking distance of the city! If I lived in Hannover, I could often be found there, I'm sure. No water sports for me in the short time I had on that day, though, but a visit to the Sprengel Museum which is alongside the Maschsee. I had already heard good things about it and found wonderful artefacts of the 20th century there. Many great names all aficionados know. The museum has a good restaurant (not cheap) with a terrace overlooking the lake. Unfortunately there's a busy street between the museum and the lake, but I enjoyed sitting and eating there nevertheless.

Surprisingly, the day was blazing hot, a rarity for the north of Germany. So I treated myself to taxi ride to the Old Town Hall behind which the so-called old quarter of the city can be found. Also largely destroyed during the war it was rebuilt in what is called North German Brick Gothic. It's quite picturesque and serves as an attractive background for photos of couples coming out of the registrar's office which is located inside. Some steps further on is the Marktplatz (Market Square) with the Marktkirche. One look inside and it's clear that it is a Protestant church with its severe strictness or strict severity. Both expressions fit.

The old quarter is a sad affair in my opinion. It's tiny, one could say it's condensed in the Kramerstraße with its pubs, restaurants and boutiques. After the bombing raids there was almost nothing left and what we see now is very touristy.

Another friendly man (I only met friendly, talkative people who were keen on enlightening me on their city) told me that I had come too early. The following day (29th June) the Schützenfest would begin, the biggest of the world. The dictionary gives these translations: 'fair featuring shooting matches' or 'marksmen's funfair' which means nothing to the uninitiated. Read what Wikipedia has to say: "The highlight of this funfair is the 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) long Parade of the Marksmen with more than 10.000 participants from Germany and all over the world, among them around 5.000 marksmen, more than 100 bands (playing oompah music) and more than 60 wagons, carriages and big festival vehicles. More than 1,5 million people visit this funfair every year. The landmark of the funfair is the 60-metre (200 ft) tall Steiger Ferris wheel which can carry 420 people in its 42 passenger cabins." No need to go to the Oktoberfest in Munich any more now that you know this!

My last destination were the three Nanas by the late French artist Niki de Saint Phalle standing beside the river Leine (which is more a brook than a river). These are gigantic female figures with distorted bodies painted in loud colours and child-like patterns. They seem frozen in some kind of dance only they know the music of. They make every onlooker smile. I was disappointed to see them standing forlornly between the river and a busy street. I had just been to an exhibition of artefacts by Niki de Saint Phalle and know how positive their impact can be if they're presented in the right surroundings. First they were a shock for conservative Hannoveraners, now they're one of the landmarks.

Time was up and I returned to the Central Station to continue my journey. I was content with the day, I hadn't imagined to see so much and so many things I liked. There was no time for Herrenhausen, the baroque castle and garden. Maybe next time.

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