It is a route that few outside Germany know about. Dotted with half-timbered houses scattered over 100 medieval towns, it is known as the German Half-Timbered House Road. Although they are all timber-frame constructions, the architectural style (including shapes and colours) is known to differ from one sub-region to another (it covers the federal states of Saxony, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Hesse, Thuringia, Bavaria and Baden Wuerttemberg) and even between villages on the route.
Also known as the German Framework Road, the trail runs for nearly 3,000km, stretching from the river Elbe to the Black Forest.
Apparently, the half-timber houses came into vogue between the 15th and 17th centuries in Germany, possibly owing to the abundance of forests and the expertise in carpentry owing to the ship-building industry.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes half-timber work as the "method of building in which external and internal walls are constructed of timber frames and the spaces between the structural members are filled with such materials as brick, plaster, or wattle and daub."
While covering the entire route can be very exciting—because it contains many historic landmarks and other attractions—you will have to spend an awfully long time driving and halting at most villages. Instead, you may draw up your own itinerary, including villages that seem the most interesting to you. According to the website of Deutsche Fachwerkstraße, you can choose from seven sub-routes.
The Hanseatic town of Stade is one of the popular towns on this route being an hour’s drive from Hamburg. Some of the most beautiful houses are found along the waterfront. A walk through the high street of Wernigerode is a lovely experience with rows of timber-frame houses rising high on both sides. Some of them have quaint cafés and shops you can stop by.
Quedlinburg, part of the Sachsen-Anhalt, is said to have the largest number of timber-frame houses, more than 1,200 of them. The number and high quality of the buildings dating from the medieval period and the town’s history has earned it the UNESCO World Heritage Site tag.
Do not miss the 16th-century Hoppener House if you are visiting Celle, also known for its castles and museums.
Surrounded by vineyards is Bernkastel, where the timber-frame houses have pointed roofs because of space constraints. Also overlooking acres of vineyards is Esslingen where lies the oldest connected row of half-timbered houses in Germany.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria also draws a large number of tourists. Apart from its timber-frame houses, the town has managed to preserve its medieval look, including the town wall with its 42 gates and towers.
Apart from the timber-frame houses, the route also includes some interesting attractions. If you are lucky, you may catch some of the traditional festivals in these medieval towns. Nienburg is known for its asparagus cultivation, including a museum and a pageant built around it. You will find a fine array of regional cuisine here—make a pitstop for a glass of German apple cider, or Bock Beer (Einbeck on this route is said to be the place where it was first brewed). Falling on this route is Germany’s Ivory Museum (in Erbach im Odenwald),
It is at the town of Schlitz that every year a candle-like structure is set up during Christmas, which is said to be the largest non-wax candle in the world. At Hanau, the Half-Timber House Route crosses with the German Fairy Tale Route.
The surprises on this route are endless, scenic mountain views, nature parks, historical attractions, museums, bars and restaurants, abound. Some of the towns and villages also offer cycling trails. Remember to research the route well, as some of the towns may not fall on the main route but at the end of a diversion.