Hanover: Tanks for the memory

By Judith Woods

Sausages, sights - and a novel museum - make Hanover ideal for a husband-and-wife visit writes Judith Woods.

A Soviet Army T-55 is among the exhibits at the Panzermuseum. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user  Thorsten Hansen
A Soviet Army T-55 is among the exhibits at the Panzermuseum. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Thorsten Hansen

What nicer birthday treat for a chap than to be whisked off for a perfect weekend abroad with his lovely wife?

"It's not Paris, is it? Because there's too much to see."

No, darling.

"It's not Milan is it? I'm not trailing round the shops for 48 hours."

As if, my sweet. It's your perfect weekend, so it's all about you.

"Well, in that case we'd be spending it at Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset," he grumbled.

Nearly, very nearly - but how about somewhere even more Panzerlicious? With better beer and metre-long sausages? How about fulfilling your long-held (if, to me, entirely unfathomable) dream of a trip to Germany's national tank museum?

His hyperbolic response reminded me of those "The excitement begins the moment you tell them" advertisements for Disneyland, which was tremendously gratifying, if mildly alarming.

Das Deutsche Panzermuseum is in Lower Saxony, in the nondescript garrison town of Munster (not to be confused with the slightly more happening Westphalian city of Munster), miles from anywhere, with Hanover the nearest major city.

I persuaded my husband to delay gratification and visit the tank museum on Sunday, a day when little else in Germany is open. That left us two days to sightsee and relax.

All parents know that a perfect weekend without the children must incorporate naps. It must also feature the sort of leisurely sitting-drinking-coffee idleness that you can't achieve in an exciting, buzzing world city.

Without wishing to denigrate the quiet charms of Hanover, it proved to be an ideal destination, with just enough to do and a few pleasing surprises thrown in.

Gerti, our fabulous 70-something German guide, took a shine to us as the only non-Germans on our tour.

Our final stop was the New Town Hall, a magnificently imposing early 20th-century building constructed in a mishmash of architectural styles. In the foyer, several three-dimensional models traced the development of Hanover from early settlement to modern city; the second of these gave a snapshot of 1945, when barely a building was left intact.

I was taken aback; I knew that much of the city had been rebuilt, but had no idea it was so much.

Alongside the huge pedestrianised shopping areas (and Hanover has a great many shops), the medieval alleys and buildings have been carefully reconstructed from the rubble.

That evening, we had dinner at the Broyhan Haus, a traditional restaurant in the Old Town that serves German food at its hearty best - trencherman portions of roast duck, knuckle of pork, sauerkraut, potato dumplings, the works.

Too footsore to contemplate visiting the five baby elephants at Hanover Zoo, one of Europe's finest, we returned to the hotel, stopping en route for a metre-long bockwurst at a lively bierkeller, where a notice read: "Please do not dance on the tables, dancing on the benches at patrons' own risk."

This pretty much summed up the atmosphere and helped rally our spirits for the next day's expedition to see German tanks in their natural habitat.

After picking up our hire car, we drove 65km to Munster. I had brought a good book to read, as I knew my interest in military hardware wouldn't extend much further than the tank museum cafe.

So while I drank coffee and had a discreet doze with the other indulgent wives, my husband explored the delights of Jagdpanzer IVs and King Tigers and ran his hands in wonderment over the infamous 88mm anti-aircraft gun.

The commentaries pointedly focused on the marvellous engineering triumphs rather than the slaughter, and there were uniforms and various other accoutrements that I couldn't even pretend to summon an interest in. But then this wasn't about me.

Four hours later, my spouse emerged, declaring that it was tanktastic, the best day ever, and, now he came to think about it, I was the best wife ever.

But there was one more Teutonic treat in store, a stop-off in the medieval town of Celle, one of the highlights of the German Timber-Frame Rd, a tourist route that wends its way from the River Elbe in the north to Lake Constance in the south.

Its town centre comprises about 480 half-timbered buildings dating back to the 16th century, beautifully restored, painted and maintained.

A great many now house shops, and their interiors have been creatively converted for modern use while retaining their medieval integrity.

We sat gazing out at the gilded beams, drinking hot chocolate and eating generous slices of apple Streuselkuchen.

It was a chocolate-box end to what really was a perfect weekend.

And not just for my husband.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to London, from where a range of European airlines connect to Hanover.

Accommodation: Rooms at the Maritim Grand Hotel on the edge of the old town cost from $200 a night, including breakfast.

Further information: See panzermuseum-munster.de.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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