In Lower Saxony, Braunschweig (also known as Brunswick) is the largest city between Berlin and Hanover. The city was founded by the Duke of Saxony, Henry the Lion, a member of the Welf Dynasty that would be present in Braunschweig right up to 1918. In the Middle Ages the city was a major trading hub and was one of the last nine remaining members of the Hanseatic League.
Despite the widespread bombing suffered during the Second World War, Braunschweig’s monuments like Henry’s Romanesque palace and the spellbinding St. Blasii Cathedral have been restored. And you can’t visit without paying your respects to the proud Brunswick Lion, cast in bronze in the 11th century and standing on Burgplatz.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Braunschweig:
The seat of the Braunschweig Princes from the 9th century onwards, Burgplatz is hemmed on all sides by a marvellous ensemble of historic buildings.
Around you are the cathedral, a 19th-century reconstruction of Dankwarderode Castle, a row of timber-framed houses and the guild hall.
Standing proud on a triangular plinth is a replica of the Brunswick Lion, the symbol of the city and cast in bronze by an unknown artist in the Romanesque style in the 11th century.
This replica has been here since 1989, while the original is in Burg Dankwarderode to protect it from the elements.
2. Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum
In the 17th and 18th century Anthony Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel put together an astounding collection of Renaissance and Baroque art.
In 1754, forty years after he passed away this became the basis for the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, the oldest museum on the European continent.
The gallery is almost a who’s who of northern European art from the 1500s and 1600s, and there are pieces by Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Holbein the Younger, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and Vermeer.
The print room is not to be missed either and has tens of thousands of drawings, engravings and wood prints by William Hogarth, Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt and many more.
3. Dankwarderode Castle
The Romanesque palace that greets you on Burgplatz is a 19th-century reimagining of the 12th-century seat of the Duke Henry the Lion.
The original building was never actually demolished but became obsolete as a defensive building when the city grew around it, and was rebuilt in the Renaissance style in 17th century.
From 1887 it was returned to its Romanesque origins using an archaeological survey, with walls torn by semi-circular arched windows.
Inside is the medieval collection of the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, as well as historic fittings like two fireplaces made from the very rare reddish limestone known as Aquäduktenmarmor (Aqueduct Marble). In the Knappensaal on the ground floor you’ll come face to face with the original Brunswick Lion, weighing 880kg and measuring almost three metres in length.
4. St Blasii Cathedral
Henry the Lion ordered this building in 1173. But because he was exiled from Germany twice in the 1180s, the construction was delayed and both Henry and his wife Matilda were buried here before it was finished.
Their shared tomb was sculpted in the 1230s and if you look closely at Henry’s effigy you can see model of the cathedral in his right hand.
It’s easy to distinguish the church’s unadorned Romanesque central nave from the north and south aisles, which date from the 14th and 15th centuries and have twisted columns and rib vaults in the English Perpendicular style.
At different points in the nave and in the vaults of the apses are fresco-secco paintings that date to between 1230 and 1250. In the central apse you can make out Christ Pantocrator above the 12 apostles.
5. Brunswick Palace
The former residence for the Dukes of Brunswick has come through three tumultuous centuries.
The first building burned down in 1830, and its successor would also only last for around 100 years.
From the 1960s to 2007 there was actually nothing here, as the palace was heavily damaged in the war and was demolished despite protests from Braunschweig’s citizens and replaced with a park.
But the grand facade was reconstructed according to the 19th-century Neoclassical designs.
Behind that facade is the Schloss-Arkaden, a plush shopping mall.
6. Schlossmuseum Braunschweig
Also past that Neoclassical exterior is a museum on the reconstructed first floor of the northern wing.
In a series of rooms based on original designs you’ll get a good impression of the lifestyle and personalities of the House of Welf.
The rooms are decorated with authentic art and furniture, all backed up by additional displays about the dukes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and their families.
Spend a moment at the dining table in the Weißer Saal (White Hall), which is equipped with interactive computer stations where you can access an archive of images and historic texts.
The Throne Hall is fitted with damask wallpaper and carpets following the original designs, and its gilded furniture is all original as it was removed from the palace in 1935.
7. Braunschweiger Rathaus
A short hop from Brunswick Palace in the Regierungsviertel is the city hall, built in a Neo-Gothic style in the 1890s.
The 61-metre Flemish-style belfry can be seen from all over the city, including the Burgplatz and Schlossplatz in front of the palace.
A restaurant, the Ratskeller, has been open on the ground floor since the building was completed, and there’s also a memorial to Braunschweig’s Sinti population, which was persecuted and murdered in the Second World War.
Monday to Friday from 09:00-15:00 you can go inside and climb the 161 steps to the top of the tower for an all-encompassing view of the city.
One of Braunschweig’s oldest quarters begins a couple of streets east of Schlossplatz.
The Magniviertel is a warren of cobblestone streets traced by rickety half-timbered houses.
These are footed by restaurants and independent shops and the streets open onto squares like Ackerhof and the churchyard of St Magni.
At Ackerhof 2 is the oldest half-timbered house, not just in Braunschweig but maybe the whole of Germany.
One of the beams bears the inscription “Anno d[omi]ni m cccc xxxii” (1432AD). In summer the square in front of the Magnikirche is taken over by outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes.
9. St. Magni Kirche
You could say that Braunschweig was born at this church, as its dedication certificate from 1031 recorded the name of the settlement for the first time.
The church was rebuilt in the middle of the 13th century, while hanging between the two octagonal Romanesque towers is the two-ton Magnusglocke.
This is the oldest bell in the Braunschweig area and was cast in 1335. The church was hit during an air raid in 1944, and the nave was rebuilt in a contemporary style after the war, while the western towers and choir could be restored.
Keep an eye out for the baptismal font from 1468, the marble high altar from the 1730s and the many solemn epitaphs and ledger stones on the walls, both inside and out.
10. Happy Rizzi House
In the Magniviertel there’s a bizarre building by the American pop artist James Rizzi.
The building is made up of nine connected blocks and was erected on the northeast side of Ackerhof at the turn of the 2000s on a plot empty since the war.
You can see where they got the name “Happy” from, as the facade is plastered with colourful, cartoons of cheerful faces, and uplifting recurring motifs of stars and hearts.
The building is office space and not open to the public, but you can stop for a picture and to see how the building’s window openings have been integrated in to the wacky design of the facades.
11. Schloss Richmond
In 1768 Duke Charles William Ferdinand ordered a castle to be built for his wife Princess Augusta, who was the elder sister of Britain’s King George III. The property is in English gardens on the banks of the Oker River and was named after the princess’ home in Richmond, now part of London.
It’s a very satisfying sight from the outside, with a curved avant corps, Corinthian pilasters and pediments all crested by a balustrade.
The palace is now a private residence, so be sure to enquire ahead of time about a tour of the state rooms.
The palace is on the brow of a hill and has sweeping views of the picturesque grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, the foremost English landscape architect of the day.
12. Städtisches Museum
This attraction reopened in 2012 after a long refurbishment and has a reputation as one of the richest municipal museums in the county.
The setting is a refined Neo-Baroque hall on Löwenwall, an ovular square bordered to the east by Braunschweig’s old moat.
Antiquarians and lovers of decorative arts should allow a good couple of hours to get through the sizeable assortments of silverware, furniture, musical instruments, porcelain from the Fürstenberg manufactory and maybe best of all, delicate lacquer-work by the Stobwasser workshops.
But there’s a great deal more to see, from African ethnography, a coin collection of more than 86,000 pieces and art by the local 18th-century landscape painter Pascha Johann Friedrich Weitsch and his son Friedrich Georg Weitsch.
In the Braunschweig’s Altstadt (Old Town) precinct, the Altstadtmarkt is a square that first appeared at the end of the 12th century.
The ensemble of historic buildings around the square has been perfectly restored and each one has a story to tell.
The Altstadtrathaus on the northwest corner is the oldest surviving town hall in Germany, mentioned for the first time in the 14th century and featuring delicate High Gothic tracery on its facade.
On the south side is the half-timbered old customs house, attached to a warehouse where the Old Town’s dressmakers would store their goods.
And just like in days gone by there’s a daily market on the square, where 50 stalls sell fresh produce and two offer freshly cooked bratwurst and shish kebabs.
14. “Arche Noah” Zoo Braunschweig
This compact zoo opened in 1964 and since then has been redesigned to give its animals more space.
This might mean that there are fewer species than at Germany’s major city zoos, but here they live in near-natural enclosures.
There are 50 different species in all, counting cats like cheetahs and a Siberian tiger, South American bears, barbary apes and Golden-headed lion tamarins.
Among the reptiles are five turtle and tortoise species, and kids will have a fun time watching the playful common marmosets and Asian small-clawed otters.
15. Christmas Market
Braunschweig has a Christmas market up there with the best in Germany, pulling in a million visitors each year.
The big draw is the historic atmosphere of squares like Burgplatz, where stalls are framed by that lion, the cathedral, Dankwarderode Castle and the various half-timbered houses.
The market can be traced back to 1505 and lasts for a whole month starting 29 November.
Over 150 artisan stalls sell handmade home decorations, wooden toys, jewellery, stuffed toys and culinary treats from Germany and the Braunschweig region.
One sure to warm you up is the Feuerzangenbowle, a rum-soaked sugarloaf melted into mulled wine.
And to counter that alcohol you could go for a metre-long bratwurst, baked camembert or something sweet like Schmalzgreben, which resemble donuts.