Possibly you can tell by the tone of this month's lead story that Bamberg is a town with which we fell immediately in love. In the sense that we have been traveling regularly to Germany, Austria and Switzerland since the '70s, and only now have gotten around to seeing it, Bamberg is in a category with Graz and Freiburg im Breisgau. These are towns that when we first walked their streets we found ourselves asking each other, "where have we been all these years."
Admittedly, our selection process of travel destinations is haphazard. A recommendation from a friend took us to Bamberg; Graz was on the way to somewhere else; and we drove off the autobahn one afternoon looking for a hotel room and wound up in Freiburg.
So how does one go about choosing where to go and what to see in the course of an all-too-brief two or three week vacation? First-time travelers understandably want to see towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Salzburg, Munich, Nürnberg, Vienna, Lucerne, Grindelwald and Geneva. But after the first or second tour, attention shifts to less well-known attractions. Some of which, like Bamberg, have as much history and charm as the better-known stops.
Probably the best resource for planning a trip is the Michelin Green Guides. There's at least one for each country in Europe. Michelin's ratings may not square completely with your own idea of what constitutes a great destination, but the Green Guides are nonetheless the best way to ensure you'll get to the cities and sights you really ought not to miss.
Michelin puts towns and sights in four categories: "worth a journey," "worth a detour," "interesting" and "see if possible." Care to guess which cities and towns in Germany, Austria and Switzerland Michelin says are "worth a journey"?
As always, Michelin works in mysterious ways. Bamberg, I believe, should be in the "worth a journey" category. And I can't fathom including Interlaken or St. Moritz on the "journey" list. We love the regions in which those towns are located; both are definitely worth a journey but the towns themselves are not at all special. (Remember, we are talking only about cities and towns. The guide also lists numerous regions and sights: the Mosel, the Bernese Oberland and the Grossglockner Road, for example as being "worth a journey.")
You'll have your own arguments with Michelin. Let us know what towns you like best and why they are your favorites.
Decline in Travel to Germany
It's soapbox time again. As long-suffering Gemütlichkeit readers can attest, once or twice a year I have to huff and puff over something or other. Like Sixty Minutes Morley Safer saying Americans should stay away from Europe's great sights because they are being ruined by tourists; or last summer's wire service scare stories about astronomical prices in Europe caused by a weak dollar.
Now, a year later, we are told how cheap things are in Europe and how Americans are traveling in record numbers. Except to Germany. There tourism is down 14%. The reason given is racially motivated violence. Newspaper headlines and network news shows would lead readers/viewers to conclude the violence is daily, widespread and that the country is poised to elect an ultra-right wing government. Few stories fail to make reference to the horrors of the 30s and early 40s, thereby connecting what happened then with what is happening now. One must read beyond headlines and lead paragraphs to learn that the number of neo-Nazis in Germany, a country with a population of 77 million, is in the hundreds.
Those who won't go because they are worried about personal safety, or are boycotting what they perceive to be a bigoted Germany, might consider the following:
• Most of the violence has been in the eastern part of the country near the Baltic seaport of Rostock. We know of no violence in the principal tourist regions such as the Black Forest, Bavaria, Franconia, the Rhine or the Mosel. Traditionally left-leaning Berlin has, in fact, been the site of massive demonstrations against racial violence.
• Americans concerned for their safety might consider that they come from the land of drive-by shootings, car-jackings and serial killers. In Oakland, California (pop. 350,000), whose downtown buildings I can see from my window as I write this, there were more than 300 murders last year. I'll take my chances in Germany. Given the violence this year against German and Japanese tourists, those chances would seem to be substantially better than a foreign visitor's in the U. S.
• To those appalled by Germany's racism I would point out that in the U. S. racial violence is an everyday occurrence. Germans must get a good laugh when they hear Americans are boycotting Germany because of its racism. Imagine our reaction if the thousands of Germans who vacation in Miami every year stopped coming because of anti-semitism in the U. S.
The foregoing doesn't excuse or make right what is being done by a handful of Germans but a holier-than-thou boycott makes little sense.
Victoria Jungfrau Correction
A separate letter recommending the special Gemütlichkeit Getaway package exclusively offered to Gemütlichkeit readers by the Grand Hotel Victoria Jungfrau Hotel in Interlaken contains an error. The approximate cost is $143 per person, per day. The cost for the four-day, three-night package, including breakfasts and five-course dinners, for two persons is 1290 Sfr., or about $860.