Where to stay
Prices are for a double room per night, including breakfast.
Hotel Loccumer Hof Immaculate modern hotel, a short walk from Hanover’s main train station. From €94. Kurt Schumacher Strasse 14/16, Hanover, 00 49 511 12640,loccumerhof.com
Pentahotel Braunschweig Very stylish hotel where the reception shares the bar area. From €99. Auguststrasse 6-8, Braunschweig, 00 49 531 48140,
Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg Impeccable service is still the highlight, as well as a striking, modern design. From €261. Parkstrasse 1, Wolfsburg, 00 49 5361 607000,ritzcarlton.com
Steigenberger Hotel Remarque Creative design and an excellent restaurant add to the appeal of this great location. From €124. Natruper-Tor-Wall 1, Osnabrück, 00 49 541 60960, steigenberger.com
Currency is the euro. Lower Saxony is one hour ahead of GMT. The average temperature is 8°C, with highs of 20°C in summer and lows of -1°C in winter.
RESOURCES - Tourismus Marketing Niedersachsen (reiselandniedersachsen.de), Lower Saxony’s tourist board, can be contacted on 00 49 511 270 4880, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to eat
Prices are for three courses, excluding drinks.
Das Alte Haus Stylish restaurant with imaginative menu. From €32. Alte Knochenhauerstrasse 11, Braunschweig, 00 49 531 618 0100,altehaus.de
Aqua Three-Michelin-star European haute cuisine from chef Sven Elverfeld at the Ritz-Carlton. From €38. Parkstrasse 1, Wolfsburg, 00 49 5361 606056 restaurant-aqua.com
Brauhaus Ernst August Brew-pub with traditional German dishes and local beers. From €19. Schmiedestrasse 13, Hanover Altstadt, 00 49 511 36 59 50, brauhaus.net
Broyanhaus Tourist-friendly restaurant and bar serving hearty local dishes. From €21. Kramerstrasse 24, Hanover Altstadt, 00 49 511 323919, broyhanhaus.de
The Grill This place provides a relaxed background as Aqua’s neighbour. Set lunch from €29. Parkstrasse 1, Wolfsburg, 00 49 5361 607091, ritzcarlton.com
Rattenfängerhaus Regional cuisine from Karl-Heinz Fricke, with rats’ tails flambé the highlight for many. From €19. Osterstrasse 28, Hamelin, 00 49 5151 3888, rattenfaengerhaus.de
La Vie Thomas Bühner has won two Michelin stars for his Asian-inspired cooking. Set lunch from €38. Krahnstrasse 1-2, Osnabrück, 00 49 541 331150, restaurant-lavie.de
- Local version of cider, usually served in a traditional Bembel jug with a portion of Handkäse and dark rye bread.
- Layer cake made by spreading batter onto a rotating spit.
- Eichsfelder Stracke
- An air-dried ‘tea sausage’ (traditionally eated at tea time). Other regional types are Bregenwurst (with pig or cattle brain) and Kohlwurst (smoked with seasoning). Pinkelwurst is a smoked sausage made with pork, oats and barley. Sausages are often eaten raw in Lower Saxony, or lightly stewed with Grünkohl (kale).
- Flambierte Rattenschwänze
- Hamelin’s famous flambéed ‘rat’s tails’, which are actually made of strips of pork in a cream sauce.
- Korn Schnapps
- A wheat, rye or barley-based schnapps, doubledistilled to 32 per cent or 38 per cent (Doppelkorn). It is usually sipped, unless drunk as part of the Lüttje Lage ritual.
- Harzer Käse
- Cheese from the mountainous Harz region.
- A hand-wrung cheese made from sour milk and sprinkled with caraway seeds, eaten with dark bread or chopped onion.
- Fat rendered from pork or goose, much like dripping.
Food and Travel Review
It’s Tuesday afternoon in Lower Saxony, and I’m fulfilling all the usual German clichés by spending a few hours in the local brew-pub. Bastan Tietjen is showing me how to drink beer. He cheerfully demonstrates how to hold the two small glasses in one hand; one full of dark, low-alcohol Lüttje Lage, the other containing a shot of Korn Schnapps. I pour both into my mouth at the same time, the wheat spirit mingling edgily with the beer. It certainly has a kick. Bastan makes it look easy and doesn’t spill a drop – but I find myself needing the bib he’s provided.
Hanover’s famous Brauhaus Ernst August is a brewery whisking up great quantities of refreshing, unpasteurised organic beer that is only sold within 30km of its brew-pub; 70 per cent of the stuff is drunk on the premises. The squat, brown bottles of Hannöversch Bierspezialitäten are stored in wooden crates made by the inmates at the local city prison.
Herr Tietjen is a bruchmeister (literally translated as ‘master of breaking up’ – one can only assume of the crowds here) at the Ernst August brew-pub. Today he has the thankless task of keeping an eye on the hundreds of rowdy marksmen and bands who have come to take part in the Marksmen’s Festival or Schützenfest, held in Hanover over 10 days every July. The event attracts 10,000 marksmen and 100 bands, marching in the longest parade in the world. The beer-drinking afterwards is no less legendary, but even on a normal day this place is packed. This is a beer connoisseur’s utopia – above the bar, a sign warns patrons to refrain from dancing on the tables. I sense that things often get a little out of hand.
Hanover is the principal city in Lower Saxony, a German province sandwiched between the North Sea and the endless flatlands of central Europe. The view, as I flew in, afforded a jigsaw of orderly fields stretching to a distant horizon, a paradise for farmers – and hence chefs. It’s a town that encapsulates Germany. Bombed heavily during the Second World War, 90 per cent of the city centre was destroyed, but the old town is still crowded with historic sites such as the market church and the old town hall.
The verdant Royal Gardens of Herrenhäusen date back to 1666 but now sport an ultra-modern Gaudí-style grotto by French-American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. De Saint Phalle was made an honorary citizen of Hanover for her work in the city, of which this fantasy of mosaics, mirrors and multi-coloured figures is the centrepiece. A dark blue room represents night; a mirrored one reflects the day. The artist died in 2002 and the grotto was her last big project.
Hanover’s old market hall was a casualty of war – and while the modern hall lacks character as a building, inside it’s rich with regional produce. Local specialities include Handkäse, a hand-wrung cheese sprinkled with caraway seeds. It’s said to have only 0.2 calories per 100g, a claim I take with a pinch of seasoning. Made from sour milk, it has a tart taste and strong aroma and is eaten with dark bread or chopped onion and Apfelwein, the local version of cider served in a paunchy Bembel jug. When Handkäse is served with onions, it’s often referred to as mit Musik (with music) – some say from the resulting digestive sound effects. Definitely higher in calories is another regional delight: Schmaltz. This fat rendered from pork or goose and mixed with onion or apple is eaten spread on bread, a slightly more flavoursome version of our own bread and dripping.
And there’s the Leibniz House, lovingly restored to celebrate not only its former resident – philosopher Gottfried Leibniz – but also the town’s beloved biscuits. Leibniz-Keks, those golden rectangles with their recognisable 52-‘toothed’ edges, were first baked by the Bahlsen factory in 1891 and take their name from the philosopher, although the only link is that he was one of the more famous residents of the town at the time; one has to hope that he had a sweet tooth. If a biscuit can gain cult status, then the Leibniz really has it. These sweet, crunchy confections were so popular that by the 1920s, they had become the city’s number one export and have even been hailed as ‘monuments of German design’. Our equivalent is a Rich Tea, although slightly more buttery and less sweet – and, of course, round instead of rectangular in shape.
Back to the beer – and it has to be said, most things in Lower Saxony do lead back to the pub. The half-timbered Broyhanhaus was built in 1537, and is named after 16th-century brewer Cord Broyhan. One of the oldest houses in Hanover’s Altstadt (old town), it was renovated in 1985 and is now a restaurant serving traditional Lower Saxony cooking, with chef Uwe Brugge at its helm. He serves steaming beer soup before a generous grilled leg of lamb in a rich, herby sauce. A welcome contrast to the hearty meat is a side of Bohnen mit Speck (green beans and bacon) and pears. There’s cheese from the nearby Harz mountains with lard, gherkin and home-made bread. Tasty too is the Eichsfelder Stracke, an airdried ‘tea sausage’ that’s eaten with dark, buttered rye bread and gherkins. It’s fatty and stronger than Italian or French equivalents, leaving you in no doubt of its German rumbustiousness.
The ‘Fairy Tale Road’ along the picturesque Weser river to Hamelin, 45 minutes south of Hanover, is a preamble to the place where, according to legend, the Pied Piper led the town’s children away in 1284 after not being paid for doing the same to the rats.
The rats may not have existed outside Browning’s poem, in which they ‘ate the cheeses out of the vats, And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles’. But that does not stop Hamelin making the most of them. Besides bread rats and rats’ blood (thankfully, it’s kir royale), you can sample the famed rats’ tails, a dish created 40 years ago in the town’s Rattenfangerhaus restaurant by chef Karl-Heinz Fricke. The recipe contains a bewildering array of ingredients, including a stir fry of peppers, mushrooms, onions, olives, corn, tomatoes, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, red and white wine, port, gravy and cream.
Fortunately, the rats’ tails turn out to be rather less intimidating strips of pork loin fried in butter and flambéed in Calvados before being poured into the aforementioned stir fry, the whole then served with even more cream, topped with puff pastry, and accompanied by rice, salad and fried potato. Mein Gott! More spectacle than culinary delight, it is nevertheless surprisingly tasty.
Next stop is Osnabrück, where French-Canadian Jean-François Pelletier, who leads wine tastings in Das Wein Cabinet, aims to wean locals off their beer (good luck with that). He introduces us to the wines of Markus Schneider, whose straightforward labels proclaim his mission to fight back against the New World upstarts. Black Print is a mixture of six grape varieties, including merlot, syrah and a very dark cabernet sauvignon. The 2007 vintage is full-bodied and complex with a long finish; everything I wouldn’t have expected from a German wine, especially for €11.
Osnabrück also has a two-Michelin-star restaurant, La Vie, run by Thomas Bühner and his Sri Lankan wife. Fans, who include former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, expect a third soon. In the heart of the old town, the crisp, modern interior has a tropical ambience that dispels the overcast day outside.
Bühner’s dishes show incredible attention to detail in the plating, with tiny flowers, swirls of jus and iced foam. He describes his cooking as ‘culinary fireworks’ and it’s no exaggeration. Starters range from delicate octopus sushi to foie gras pâté subtly flavoured with beetroot and summer salad of Büsum shrimp, saffron eel, chanterelles, young peas, beans and herbs. Smoky langoustine is paired with a sensational Asian-style array of mixed salad vegetables, Ibérico bacon and bulgur wheat. The mains are perfectly formed – a fine slice of venison trembles atop cauliflower presented five ways, offset by rich sliced cherries. Marinated cod comes laced with lychee jelly and iced almond foam.
‘I believe in having the same focus for everything on the plate,’ says Bühner. ‘It’s not a matter of putting some beef in the centre and then adding some vegetables. The quality of the vegetables – I have some really good local suppliers – is just as important.’
Tradition and innovation also collide at Axel Leysieffer’s cake shop, first opened in 1909 by Ulrich Leysieffer and his wife Emilie. In 1936, they began producing their own chocolate truffles and in 1950, the shop that had been destroyed during the Second World War was reopened by Karl and Ursula Leysieffer and the first chocolate truffles called ‘Himmlische’ (heavenly) were made. They are as good as their name, as are chocolate-rich baumkuchen (treecakes), made from layers of pastry concocted by smoothing batter onto a rotating spit.
Two hours south-east of Hanover on the banks of the River Aller is Wolfsburg – a town nicknamed ‘Golfsburg’, because the place would not exist in its current form if not for the fact that on 1 July 1938, Hitler’s government magicked it up as the Stadt des KdFWagens bei Fallersleben (‘City of the KdF car at Fallersleben’). This planned town around the village of Fallersleben housed the workers, many of them prisoners of war, from the newly opened Volkswagen factories that would assemble the ‘people’s car’ – the VW Beetle – until 1978, followed by the best-selling Golf, among others.
Thus, you can’t come to Wolfsburg without visiting the futuristic Volkswagen Autostadt – both because it virtually is the town, but also because it’s fascinating. Buy a new Volkswagen in Germany and the Autostadt (literally meaning ‘town of cars’) is where you come. You hand over your licence and your money and an hour later drive off in a shiny new Golf or Polo downloaded from one of two hi-tech storage towers.
When young chef Sven Elverfeld first thought of setting up a restaurant here, colleagues thought him foolish. But with the knowledge that the best of Germany is often outside its big cities, he took a gamble. ‘There are no three-star restaurants in a main city in Germany, not even Berlin,’ he says. ‘That’s one reason foreigners don’t know we have so many good restaurants.’
Sven’s gamble has paid off with Aqua. Three Michelin stars now decorate the restaurant, with a dining room overlooking the Ritz-Carlton’s floating swimming pool to the four red-brick chimneys of the old VW factory. ‘There are parallels between cooking and architecture,’ says Sven. ‘You can’t build the new without knowledge of the old. I don’t plate something just because it looks nice; but because it makes people go “wow!”.’
Perfectly done Odenwald snails nestle in fresh watercress, with a zing of garlic and egg; melt-in-the-mouth foie gras is zapped through with unexpected coffee, cherries, yoghurt and hazelnut. There’s lobster teamed with young pork belly, complemented by a shellfish mayonnaise, and roebuck, supplied by a local hunter who shoots in the nearby forest, comes with medlars. Like Lower Saxony itself, it’s a melding of flavours and influences; new meets the old – with a lovely sense of fun.
Get Premium access to all the latest content online
Subscribe and view full print editions online... Subscribe