A couple of weeks ago I took a quick trip back home to Germany. When I say quick, what I really mean is crossing 8 time zones via two flights, a total of 16 hours travel time door-to-door. All that for 7 days with my parents and sister, but it was so worth it.
Despite the fact that I used to travel to Hannover almost daily in my late teens, and having lived in the city for a couple of years, I always feel that I never really discovered everything about it. Its history seemed to always escape me a little. I was born in Hannover and I grew up around it, living outside the city limits in small towns until I married. My brother also lived in Hannover in his adult years until he moved to Berlin, where he lived until his death 3 years ago. He is buried in one of the most peaceful cemeteries in Hannover, not far from the small town we all grew up in where my parents and sister still live to this day. So, for all those reasons I have always considered Hannover as my hometown.
Hannover is the Landeshauptstadt (Provincial Capital) of Lower Saxony and as such is well-known for its various different expos (the CEBIT being the biggest and most famous one), sporting events, shopping and its royal connection through the House of Hannover (from which the current Queen of Great Britain is descended).
One of the best ways to discover what Hannover has to offer is to follow the Red Thread (Der Rote Faden).This is a 4,200 meter long red line painted on the ground which takes you past 36 must-see highlights of the city. This red line was created in 1971 as a way to make Hannover more appealing to tourists, as the city was perceived to be boring by outsiders. A brochure was created to go along with it and the idea of a thread through a town/city has been copied in different cities around the world. These days the brochure has turned into a little book with just over 100 pages, is available in 10 languages and there is even an app (for a small fee) to go with this. The Red Thread is as much a part of my memories of this city as some of its buildings and long-standing shops. However, I never actually walked the whole stretch of it, until now.
The little book is available at the tourist office (costing 3 Euros), which is situated opposite the main railway station (the Hauptbahnhof), which is also where the self-guided tour of the Red Thread starts. So, why don’t you come along and discover my hometown with me.
Stop 1 – The Tourist Information Office
Not much noteworthy to report here, other than this is where you pick up your Red Thread guidebook and start the walking tour.
Stop 2 – Galerie Luise
The first point of note is Galerie Luise, which is an upmarket shopping mall with around 40 shops and various eateries. The Luise (as locals call it) opened its doors in 1987, and I remember it well. It was new, shiny and exciting, with lots of glass and shops not previously seen in Hannover. The first time my friends and I visited this shopping mecca (we were teenagers then) put us in awe of all the glitzy boutiques. Needless to say we couldn’t even afford a plastic bag from any of the shops, but it was great for window shopping and dreaming.
Stop 3 – The Opera
The Opera was the brain child of Georg Ludwig Laves, who was the King’s architect between 1814 and 1864. King Ernst August was not impressed with the idea of building an opera house on what was then a green hill with a wind mill on it (no sign of any hill can be seen today, flat as a pancake!). It took the royal architect 7 years to convince the King to move ahead with this project. The building was completed in 1852 and Ernst August’s son, the blind king Georg V had the honour of formally opening the opera.
The front of the Opera consisted of a wide avenue where horse-drawn coaches would stop to deposit their rich passengers. In the summer months this was the place to be seen; officers, gentlemen and royalty would saunter along this avenue with their beautiful female companions on their arms.
During WWII the Opera took a hit from Allied bombers and completely burnt down, but was fully rebuild only 5 years later. It was the first theater house to re-open in West Germany after the war.
The Opera seats 1,200 people and is rated as one of the Top 20 Opera houses in the World.
Tours of the inside of the opera take place on various dates throughout the year and advance booking is the only way to take this tour (visit http://www.eventim.de/fuehrung-durch-das-opernhaus-hannover-tickets.html?affiliate=EVE&doc=artistPages/tickets&fun=artist&action=tickets&kuid=355583 to buy tickets for a tour of the Opera).
When I was in school, I think I was about 9 or 10, our class went to the Opera to see the Magic Flute by Mozart, which was a special Kinderoper (children’s opera) performance. These special performances are geared towards children, often the parts are all played by children and it is to introduce the young generation to the world of opera.
We arrived by coach and I remember at first we all thought “yeah, whatever”, but then the curtains went up, the music started, and we all fell silent. The performers, adults in this case, had us totally spellbound and took us on this magical journey. The Magic Flute is still my favourite opera.
Stop 4 – Georgstraβe
This is the main thoroughfare through the inner city and passes right by the Opera house. Half of it is a pedestrian zone and it contains lots of little shops and restaurants. Hannoveraner (which is what the locals are called) call this the “Schorse”, which is local speak for George. The road is named after King George III, who was not just king of Hannover, but also king of Great Britain from 1814 to 1820.
Right opposite of the Opera is the Varieté theater, which had such famous names as Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich, as well as famous German entertainer Heinz Erhardt on their stage.
Stop 5 – Georgsplatz
A little further along is the Georgsplatz (3 guesses who this one is named after!), which sits in the banking district of the city, with the Deutsche Bank building dominating the scene.
In my youth this was not a place to go, as it was usually a place where druggies and other shady characters would congregate. Since then the city has been successful in cleaning this plaza up and once again it is a place where office workers will spend their lunch break in the summer. On Friday evenings this is now the meeting place for bikers.
Stop 6 – Around the Aegidientor
On this part of the walk you are able to see a part of the old town wall, which enclosed Hannover back in 1337. The name Aegidientor (tor means tower in German) stems from the tower that was part of the old fortifications. The tower was first mentioned in documents dating back to around 1300, but in 1748 the tower was sacrificed for the building of the new district.
The other notable building is the Ernst Grote house, which was built in the Gothic style in 1873. Ernst Grote was a food wholesaler and founded a coffee-roast house making Ernst Grote Kaffee. In 1971 the coffee company was sold to the local competition of Machwitz Kaffee, which is still in existence today and opened a coffee shop in Hannover in 2010.
So, I hope this first part of the tour has given you a good glimpse of Hannover. Join me again next week for Part II where I will introduce you to the church without a roof; we will re-visit the New (Old) Town Hall, and take a look at the house with 5,000 windows. See you then!