Seen from Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, Hanover might not exactly seem a pulsating metropolis. Many years ago, the philosopher Theodor Lessing called his hometown a “paradise of the middle classes, the well-off and all forms of mediocrity”. Yet the people on the River Leine have learned to live with the prejudice that their city is the home of well-tended boredom.
Well-tended, yes: the famous Baroque Herrenhäuser Gardens typify this image, as do the solid middle-class residential areas near the Eilenriede woods and the Maschsee lake. Boring, no: the directors and actors of the opera house and the theatre play just as much in the top league as the soccer players of Hanover 96. A world-famous French artist, no less, has been awarded the freedom of the city: Niki de Saint Phalle, whose “Nanas” – brightly coloured larger-than-life statues of female figures – have introduced cheerful accents of colour into the townscape.
Yet Hanover is not the town that immediately comes to mind when people ask: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the fairest town of them all?” Celle, Lüneburg, Stade – three prettily restored half-timbered divas are generally seen as the favourites. But lovers of north German ambience also appreciate Papenburg on the Ems, or Undeloh in the Heath, or Worpswede on the “Devil’s Fen”.
In Worpswede just outside of Bremen, now a chic artists’ village, artists such as Otto Modersohn, Fritz Mackensen, Hans am Emde, Paula Becker-Modersohn and Heinrich Vogeler painted the country and people and made them world-famous at the turn of the last century. And Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the poetry to match: “Herr, der Sommer war sehr gross…” (“Sir, the summer was very big ...”). Wilhelm Busch and Hermann Löns also made sketches and wrote texts in their Lower Saxon homeland which, depending on the season and the light, sometimes makes you feel melancholy, sometimes merry and cheerful.