Hesse (German: Hessen) is a state in west-central Germany, with around six million inhabitants, most of them living in the Rhine-Main region of the southwest. The rest of Hesse is hilly, with 40 per cent of the land area covered by forests.
|North Hesse |
Nordhessen, a hilly and sparsely populated region.
The metropolitan area around Frankfurt.
A region along the Rhine.
|South Hesse |
Südhessen, around Darmstadt.
- 1 Wiesbaden. - the state capital and storied spa town
- 2 Darmstadt. - former state capital focused on science and high technology, with an astonishing variety of architectural monuments
- 3 Frankfurt. - the largest city of Hesse and Germany's financial centre, known half jokingly as "Bankfurt" and "Mainhattan"
- 4 Fulda. - much more than just tyres, the city is full of sights to behold and hides its size very well behind a small-town facade
- 5 Gießen. - a university town famous for an elephant loo. Seriously.
- 6 Hanau. - the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm...
- 7 Kassel. - ...who moved here later. Plus a spectacular Bergpark, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 8 Limburg an der Lahn. – Limburg Cathedral, castle, old town.
- 9 Marburg. - a picturesque historic university town with a castle perched atop a hill
- 1 Biosphärenreservat Rhön.
- 2 Geo-Naturpark Bergstraße-Odenwald.
- 3 Großer Feldberg. The highest mountain in Taunus (881 m (2,890 ft)). On its summit, there is a 40 m (130 ft) tall observation tower. A much more remarkable tower on its summit is the telecommunication tower, which cannot normally be visited.
- 4 Naturpark Diemelsee.
- 5 Naturpark Habichtswald.
- 6 Naturpark Hessischer Spessart.
- 7 Naturpark Hessische Rhön.
- 8 Naturpark Hochtaunus.
- 9 Naturpark Hoher Vogelsberg (High Vogelsberg Nature Park). an old volcanic region with the largest basalt mass in Europe, a destination for hikers, cyclists and, in winter, skiers.
- 10 Natur- und Nationalpark Kellerwald-Edersee.
- 11 Naturpark Lahn-Dill-Bergland.
- 12 Naturpark Meißner-Kaufunger Wald.
- Naturpark Rhein-Taunus
- 13 Westerwald
What is now Hesse was governed mostly by two states, Hesse-Darmstadt and Hesse-Kassel, both named for the residence of their ruling house. Other places like Frankfurt were de facto independent in medieval times already. Hesse, lying at the crossroads of Europe was an important place for trade and exchange and Frankfurt rose to a trade and financial center early on. Frankfurt still enjoys its status as the seat of many important banks (like the European Central Bank) as well as Germany's and Continental Europe's most important stock exchange, whose movements are followed by analysts and politicians throughout the world. This importance has led to Frankfurt being called "Bankfurt" or "Mainhattan" (a pun on the river Main it sits at). Despite being the biggest and most important city, Frankfurt is not the capital, nor are the historical residences Darmstadt or Kassel with that honor going to Wiesbaden instead, which in turn is just across the river from Mainz, the capital of neighboring Rheinland-Pfalz. Hesse has a lot of highlands, mostly in the North but also to the East and West. The valley of the Main is the main lowland and also a major center of population with cities like Frankfurt, Wiesbaden or Darmstadt. In the North Kassel is the most important city, which was one of the first to be connected to Germany's high speed rail network, when a new line was built from Würzburg to Hannover, running mostly North South through Hesse and neighboring Niedersachsen. Owing in part to the airport in Frankfurt (Germany's busiest), the good Autobahn and rail connections, Frankfurt as a financial center and several small and medium-sized world industrial leaders, Hesse is one of the richest regions in Germany, only being beaten on a state level by Hamburg and Bremen in per capita GDP. Unlike the city states, however Hesse also has a relatively low unemployment rate, which of course affects prices with Frankfurt being particularly expensive. Hesse was also a hotbed for political radicalism as early as 1848 when the first attempt at a democratic constitution was made by the revolutionary national assembly that deliberated in St. Paul's church in Frankfurt. Later Frankfurt became a center for leftist radicalism and the so-called Sponti-Szene, a member of which was a certain Joschka Fischer, who would go on to become minister for the environment in Hesse (famously wearing sneakers while being sworn in) and later foreign minister of Germany (1998–2005), both in a coalition government of his green party and the Social Democrats.
German is the main language in most of the state, although Hessian, the local dialect, is spoken natively by many rural and old people and can sound quite different from standard German. However, since almost all Hessian speakers also speak standard German and most people also speak at least rudimentary English you shouldn't have any problems communicating with them.
You can talk English in Hesse without a problem, but it's better when you speak slowly, as many people are not confident about their English and do not want to embarrass themselves with a native speaker. In smaller towns and out in the country, it's more likely that you will encounter old people who cannot speak or understand English.
However, as students take English as a second language, you'll find that almost all young people speak English well, albeit possibly accented. Even slightly older people usually do have at least some command of English, and in the cities you should not be surprised to find a 60 year old who speaks English quite well.
You may be surprised at how friendly the people can be, as (like most Germans) the Hessians are very friendly and nice when you are friendly too with the exception of the Odenwald where there is a tendency to be suspicious of foreigners.
You can get some good tips on local events and places to visit from the locals if your take the time to ask.
Feel free to try out any German you have—either you'll get what you want, or at the least impress/amuse your victim!
International visitors will arrive mostly at Frankfurt Airport, the second largest airport in Europe and a major hub for the German carrier Lufthansa. Frankfurt's central station is less than 15 minutes away by subway.
Hahn, somewhat misleadingly officially called "Frankfurt Hahn" even though the hamlet is over 100 km away from Frankfurt, is a former military airfield being used by "no frills" low budget airlines. Getting from Hahn to Frankfurt takes about 90 minutes by bus (there is no train, the next station is about 9 km away from the airport).
Regular and high-speed InterCity (Express) trains connect Hesse to the rest of the nation as well as to various international destinations, such as Vienna, Basel, Brussels and Amsterdam. TGV also connect Hesse to French cities like Paris Marseille and Strasbourg.
The A3 and A5, crossing near Frankfurt, provide a fast way into and through Hesse.
There are large regional networks of local public transport:
- Nordhessischer Verkehrsverbund (NVV) providing all local public transport in north Hesse including Bebra and Kassel.
- Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV), providing all public transport in Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Hanau, Wiesbaden and the surrounding area.
- The VRN (Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar) also provides local public transport in the far south of Hesse around Bensheim.
The three VVB offer a wide range of discounted local travel tickets for their own regions, details of which can be found on their own websites, and also cooperate to offer a state-wide ticket:
- The "Hessenticket" [dead link] is valid for day-long travel (not before 0900 Monday-Friday) on local (RB/RE) trains and on all modes of public transport in the RMV, NVV and VRN areas in Hesse (and also Mainz) for up to 5 people. The 2018 price is €35; unlike most other Ländertickets, the Hessenticket still comes only in the one, full price version: there are no price variations for smaller groups. See this official plan for the full area covered.
For travel beyond the borders of Hesse, German Rail offer the "Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket" [detailed link [dead link] in German] (2018 price €44 + €6 each for extra travellers, up to €68 for 5 passengers) giving day-long unlimited travel at weekends on local trains and some other local transport nationwide (see this PDF [dead link] for full details, in German), and also offer the "Quer-durchs-Land Ticket" (Travel throughout Germany Ticket) [detailed link in German] (2018 price €44 + €8 each for extra travellers, up to €76 for 5 passengers) after 0900 Monday-Friday and all day at weekends for nationwide travel on local trains (but not other public transport).
Be aware when using a car that Hessen likes to put speed cameras (tall thin cylindrical grey towers) not just on major roads and feeders into towns but also on county roads.
- Frankfurt's skyline of high-rises clustered in the down-town city is a rare sight in Europe.
- Wiesbaden with Kurhaus (spa house), it is one of the oldest spa towns in Europe with 26 (today: 14) hot springs.
- Not necessarily touristy Rüdesheim, but the Middle Rhine Valley of the river Rhine with its castles and vineyards such as Schloss Vollrads in Oestrich-Winkel.
- Eberbach Abbey in the Rheingau, a cistercian monastery where 'The Name of the Rose' was shot
- Hessenpark, near Bad Homburg, an open-air museum showcasing half-timbered buildings from the land of Hesse
- Also near Bad Homburg, reconstructed Roman Fort Saalburg.
- Kloster Lorsch, Lorsch. World Heritage UNESCO
- [dead link] Oberes Mittelrheintal. World Heritage UNESCO (Middle Rhine Valley)
- Limes. World Heritage UNESCO
- Grube Messel (just outside Darmstadt). World Heritage UNESCO
- The "Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe" in Kassel is a major sight.
- Shopping, museums, opera, theater and ballet options abound in Frankfurt.
Hesse has much nature, and is good for outdoor life.
- Take a boat trip on the rivers Main and Rhine.
- Go canoeing on the Lahn river.
- Do some hiking up the Feldberg/Taunus or in the Spessart woods.
- The Rheinsteig walking trail passes through the Rheingau and the Middle Rhine Valley.
- A vegetarian option for the daring is Handkäs mit Musik, literally: hand cheese with music, a traditional dish where dry, round, low-fat cheese is marinated in oil with caraway and raw onions (hence the "music").
- Another Hesse specialty is Rippchen mit Kraut, cooked pork chops with loads of Sauerkraut.
- Not to mention the original Frankfurter Würstchen, which are essentially the same as Wiener.
- For pastries, try the Frankfurter Kranz (Frankfurt Wreath).
Local specialities include wine from grapes, especially white grapes, and from apples (a kind of cider). This apple wine (Ebbelwei or Ebbelwoi) may be enjoyed straight (pur) or mixed (gespritzt). The latter versions distinguish between "sweet" and "sour", i.e. mixed with either some citrus soda (Süßg'spritzter) or sparkling mineral water (Sauerg'spritzter).
Across the state and the country is a dense network of Youth Hostels (membership required).
Good luck if you're out of the major cities like Frankfurt or Wiesbaden.
Public telephones are rare in many areas, and to complicate matters there was a transition from coins to rechargeable/disposable cards a few years before mobile phones made public telephones mostly obsolete. You can buy public telephone cards at the Post or some shops. If you have a mobile phone that takes SIM cards, consider buying a disposable SIM at a mobile phone shop. In the case of an emergency, most people would let you use their mobile phone.
The number for the Police (Polizei) is 110, and for the fire department (Feuerwehr) and ambulance service 112. They can often speak some English.
As a very central state of Germany – and the site of its biggest airport – this is a good starting point to explore the rest of the country.