If you had turned to the local section of the Magdeburger Volksstimme daily newspaper last April 18th, you would have seen an “usie” (group selfie) of 11 wide-eyed journalists, including myself, in an authentic dragon boat just before German Olympic gold medalist, Andreas Ihle, single-handedly beat our motley crew in an impromptu race on the Elbe River. We, and more than 1,100 delegates from 45 countries, were in Saxony-Anhalt’s capital city of Magdeburg for the 42nd Germany Travel Mart (GTM), the largest incoming workshop for Destination Germany hosted by the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) and the Magdeburg Marketing Kongress und Tourismus GmbH.
During the tradeshow, we met with German tourist boards, tour operators and hotel suppliers for insight on the latest news and trends in Germany’s incoming tourism industry, but not before taking a moment to explore the more than 1,200-year-old host city on a bike tour.
City of Greats
Nicknamed “the City of Otto” in honor of its most notable residents, Otto the Great and renowned scientist Otto von Guericke, Magdeburg was once an obscure fishing village and market town before Otto I (later “the Great”) transformed it into his royal city. The king, who in 962 was crowned Emperor at St. Peter’s Basilica, would never see the vast architectural and cultural achievements of his favorite residence that took place following its complete devastation during the Thirty Years’ War and World War II. Nor would he meet the diplomat, scientist and fellow eponym Otto von Guericke, who played an instrumental role in the city’s history after the Thirty Years’ War. Yet, the City of Otto, with its new culturally rich, post-war identity, will always show reverence for the favored leader in its name and the “Magdeburg Horseman” statue in Alter Markt (Old Market Square), which is believed to depict Otto I.
Culture with a Capital “C”
“[Today,] Magdeburg is competing for the title of European Capital of Culture 2025,” says Sandra Yvonne Stieger, managing director of the Magdeburg Marketing Kongress and Tourismus GmbH. “The timing of this goal is perfect and has been carefully chosen. After all, the City of Otto already meets the criteria required of a European cultural metropolis thanks to its combination of European roots and postmodern influences. In other words: it’s already a secret Capital of Culture!”
Magdeburg’s cultural pursuits span 11 museums, 10 theaters and comedy venues, five libraries, 168 sports clubs and an array of cafes and restaurants.
“The excellent quality of life available in the metropolis by the river Elbe attracts people from Europe and all over the world with its parks, gardens and program of cultural events and activities,” Stieger goes on to say. “Magdeburg is not only home to a number of historical sites and landmarks, but also a multitude of modern attractions such as the Magdeburg Waterway Junction, which boasts the world’s longest canal bridge, and Green Citadel of Magdeburg, a building designed by the famous artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.”
The striking Citadel, with its bright pink exterior, Baroque facades and greenery, was one of the many stops on our whirlwind bike tour of the city. An architectural novelty and one of Hundertwasser’s last masterpieces, the building houses offices, 55 apartment flats, a day care, shops, cafes, a theater, the 42-room Green Citadel hotel and lush rooftop gardens. But don’t stop short of viewing the Citadel from the outside. Guided tours are available Monday to Sunday for a small fee.
The Greener Side
Magdeburg prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in Germany and features countless gardens and parks accented by towering ancient trees and wide expanses of riverside meadows. One of the city’s most popular green spaces, Elbauenpark, should top any must-see list. From its exquisite flowerbeds and tropical butterfly house to its sculptures, artwork and Millennium Tower—the tallest wooden building in Germany housing an interactive exhibition hall exploring 6,000 years of scientific and technological history—the 222-acre Elbauenpark is a great place to stop and take a stroll. Guided tours of the Millennium Tower must be booked in advance and are available April through October; admission is free November through February.
From the top level of the tower, visitors can get a bird’s-eye view over the entire city from the more than 137-ft.-tall panoramic platform; however for what are arguably the best views of the city, your clients should visit the Gothic-style Magdeburg Cathedral, the resting place of Otto the Great, for the more than 314-ft. ascent to the top of the building. Looking out over the Elbe River, the Green Citadel of Magdeburg and St. Sebastian Church among decorative turrets and pinnacles, it’s easy to see why the cathedral is Magdeburg’s most famous landmark.
Magdeburg Marketing Kongress und Tourismus GmbH: