The traveler on a first or second trip to Germany who wants to hit the country's main attractions - Munich, Berlin, Bavaria, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Black Forest, etc. - should probably give the small university town of Göttingen a pass. But for more experienced Germanophiles seeking pleasant, relatively tourist-free, off-the-beaten track towns, Göttingen, in lower Saxony about 75 miles south of Hannover, is very much worth a day or two.
One of Germany's four principal university towns - the others being Heidelberg, Tübingen and Marburg - Göttingen has more going for it than most cities of its size. The university boasts 40 Nobel prize winners and the Brothers Grimm once taught here. And, as with most college towns, Göttingen comes with an extra dose of interesting cafés, galleries, nightlife and cultural offerings.
Handy for rail travelers, the train station is on the edge of the old town and several good hotels are within easy walking distance. There is a nice network of narrow streets and alleys in the Alt Stadt which, when combined with a little window shopping, will take about half a day to explore.
Major sights include the 13th century Altes Rathaus (which also houses the town's first-rate tourist office); Gänseliesel, a bronze statue of a girl with a goose which, tradition requires, must be kissed by university students when they pass their exams; the Gothic Johanniskirche; and the Städtisches Museum, which offers a collection of religious art and locally produced glass and porcelain.
Though Göttingen is small, it doesn't shut down after dark; the 30,000 students are no doubt responsible for the lively night life. Jazz and blues clubs, such as Blue Note at Wilhelmsplatz 3, provide a variety of live music; a handful of student taverns, including Zum Altdeutschen (Prinzenstr. 16) and Zum Szültenbürger (Prinzenstr. 7), serve inexpensive food and, of course, plenty of beer; and cultural venues such as the Deutsches Theater and Stadthalle offer top-flight theater, symphony, opera, and concerts almost daily.
On a chilly November night in Göttingen, we obtained tickets at the tourist office for a performance of the Don Cosack singers, a small a cappella Russian choir. The tickets cost approximately €13 and the group's mesmerizing concert took place in one of the town's secondary music venues, St. Albani Church.
The accessibility of Göttingen's rail station makes excursions to nearby towns a simple matter. Kassel, with its Brothers Grimm Museum and the Wilhelmshöhe Castle with its great Old Masters Gallery, is just 30 miles distant; Hannover, site of Expo 2000 and the glorious Herrenhausen Gardens, is about an hour by train; and such villages as Duderstadt, with more than 500 half-timbered houses and once known as the "Nürnberg of the Eichsfeld," are just minutes away.
Hotel Stadt Hannover
The Stadt Hannover's undistinguished exterior gives little hint that inside is a well-run small hotel of better than average warmth and comfort. Since it is only a three-block walk to the station, the Stadt Hannover is an especially good choice for rail travelers. Our room, Number 32, was perhaps a bit small but well laid out with a large window, a comfortable bed, good reading lights, a couch and an overstuffed chair. A staff that seemed to go out of its way to be pleasant and helpful prompt us to give the Stadt Hannover our "G" rating.
Daily Rates: Singles € 50 - 65, doubles € 74 - 95.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 15/20
The Eden is another hotel not to be judged by its simple street-front façade. This modest little building connects to a series of larger ones which contain spacious, elegant public rooms, two restaurants, an Italian delicatessen, and 100 guest rooms with all the big-city amenities.
Our one quibble is that rooms are a bit staid. Much needed is the public rooms' lighter touch. Nonetheless, this is a well-run hotel; book it without qualm.
Daily Rates: Singles € 64 - 87, doubles € 97 - 143.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 11/20
The Hotel Central, in the heart of the old town, uses brick and leather furniture in its lobby/public areas to create a slick, modern atmosphere. The few recently refurbished guest rooms reflect that same style but the older rooms are not as desirable.
Daily Rates: Singles € 46 - 92, doubles €61 - 87, junior suite €128
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 11/20
Hotel Kasseler Hof
Travelers seeking good accommodations at inexpensive to moderate prices will find them at this sedate, family-run hotel in a residential part of the city just outside the ring.
The best rooms are in a separate guest house. Each is a bit different and all have the feel of a private home. Ask for Number 31, a large double with herringbone wood floors and a spacious bathroom.
Daily Rates: Singles € 35 - 61, doubles € 59 to 95
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 14/20
Editors Note: A place to avoid is the hotel Michelin places first in Göttingen, the Gebhards, whose owner ranks as the rudest, most arrogant hotelier we have ever encountered.
It looked promising: massive pillars supporting vaulted ceilings; historic murals; granite floors; lamps with fringed shades; and large, comfortable banquettes set against pillars and walls. The table coverings were white linen but the flowers were artificial and the napkins a heavy ersatz cloth/paper. Nonetheless, it was a medieval atmosphere with pleasant, friendly service. The food, however, was a disappointment.
Wildschweinkeulenbraten mit Pilzsosse, Preisselbeeren, Apfelrotkohl and Knödel (roast wild boar with mushroom sauce, cranberries, red cabbage with apples, and dumpling ) for about €15 was awful; dry and off-tasting. Nothing helped it, not the sauce, the Apfelrotkohl or the Preisselbeeren. The Knödel, which had been sliced and then toasted, was barely edible.
Slightly better was a roast leg of venison served with a blackberry mousse, a few tiny vegetables sprinkled with bacon, and small rounds of roast potato, € 15.
The mixed salads (€3.35) which preceded the main dishes were of fresh ingredients but in a bland, flat dressing.
The restaurant had just brought in a few cases of the first wine of the year from France's Beaujolais region and a half liter (€10) of that was at least some solace.
For some reason, one of the canned background music selections that evening was that popular dinner-time favorite, "Taps."
The two, without beverages, was €37. Nice people, but bad food.
Rathskeller, Markt 9, D-37073, tel. +49/0551/56433, fax 45733.
Rating: Quality 4/20, Value 4/20
The Turkish restaurant Diwan, recommended by Göttingen's welcoming and responsive tourist office, was a far better choice.
Though more Germanic than Turkish in decor, with Gothic arches and wood paneled wainscotting, Diwan's fare was unquestionably Middle-Eastern.
A Diwan Teller for two persons began with a refreshing, minty Greek-style salad with feta cheese, cucumber, and tomatoes accompanied by flatbread.
Our main dish came on a sizzling platter and included spicy pork, beef, chicken, lamb chops, lamb kebab, eggplant, and several vegetables; enough for three regular eaters or four with smaller appetites.
The meal was a welcome change of pace and cost €36, including three beers. No credit cards.
Restaurant Diwan, Rote Str. 11, D-37073 Göttingen, tel. +49/0551/56085
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 14/20
For lunch, an odd-time snack, a midday or late-night beverage, or a very informal and simple dinner, you can't go wrong at the centrally-located Nudelhaus. A light meal of soup and a beer will run about €5. Main courses, including the restaurant's numerous house-made pasta dishes, range from about €8. In good weather, there is an inviting beer garden.
Nudelhaus, Rote Str. 13, D-37073, tel. +49/0551/44263.
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 13/20
Tourist Information: Altes Rathaus, Markt 9, D-37073 Göttingen, tel. +49/0551/540 00, fax 400 2998, email
Altitude: 159 meters/522 feet
Berlin 340 km/213 miles
Frankfurt 230/144 miles
Hannover 122 km/76 miles
Kassel 47 km/29 miles
Rail Connections: Trains run almost hourly to Berlin and the trip can take as little as 2 hours, 13 minutes. They run even more frequently to Hannover, a journey that can take as little as 30 minutes; and there are about two trains per hour during the day to Frankfurt, a trip of about an hour and 45 minutes.
Brothers Grimm Museum In Kassel: Bellevue Palace, Schöne Aussicht 2, D-34117 Kassel, tel. +49/0561/787 2033, open daily 10am-5pm.
This is a city of Nobel Prize winners, the Brothers Grimm, half-timbered houses, and some 30,000 university students, many of whom harbor a crush on the "Goose Girl," a statue atop a fountain which all students must climb and kiss.