Step gables and peace treaties, old churches and high fashion, fine art and good bier – there’s a lot to love about these two historic German cathedral cities, straddling the boundary between Lower Saxony and Westphalia. Germany expert Neville Walker shares his highlights.
. Fuel up for the day with breakfast at Konditorei Ulrich Läer (Krahnstrasse 4, 0541 22244) in Osnabrück’s
oldest surviving half-timbered burgher’s house, which dates from 1533. The café is open from 7.30am. It’s a short stroll from Café Läer to the picturesque market place to visit the Gothic Friedenssaal (Peace Hall) of the 16th-century Rathaus (Markt, 0541 323 2152). Its name derives from the fact that the Protestant delegations had their base here during the negotiations that led to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the terrible Thirty Years War. Osnabrück is rather proud of its reputation as a city of peace; it was also the hometown of anti-war All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque.
0900-1100. Pause to admire Marktplatz’s step-gabled burghers’ houses before taking a little time for some retail therapy. Krahnstrasse is a good hunting ground for fashion: try Andante Moden (Krahnstrasse 22, 0541 358 980) and Mondän (Krahnstrasse 23, 0541 205 2566) before continuing to Holthaus Mode (Grosse Strasse 43, 0541 21560). Afterwards, explore the pretty, meandering streets and window shopping opportunities of the Heger Tor quarter, the most atmospheric part of the Old Town.
1100-1300. Leave the Old Town by the Heger Tor, which was built to honour local troops who took part in the Battle of Waterloo. Cross Heger-Tor-Wall to reach the Felix Nussbaum Haus (Lotter Strasse 2, 0541 323 2207), a striking modern museum building designed by Daniel Libeskind and reminiscent of his famous Jewish Museum in Berlin. It houses a collection of work by German-Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum, who was born in Osnabrück and murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. Don’t miss his haunting Self-Portrait with Jewish Pass.
1300-1500. Wander back through the Old Town, pausing to admire the Cathedral of St Petrus (Domplatz), impressively austere on the outside and with a graceful Gothic interior. Follow Kleine Domsfreiheit and Möserstrasse to Osnabrück’s main station for the 23-minute train ride to Münster. Münster is Germany’s most cycle-friendly city. Hire a bike at the Radstation (Berliner Platz 27a, 0251 484 0170) in front of the station and head for Prinzipalmarkt, keeping an eye out for the major hazards – pedestrians and cobblestones.
1500-1700. Prinzipalmarkt is Münster’s gorgeous main street, lined from one end to the other with tall stone-gabled houses and with classy shops sheltering beneath its arcades. Head for Café Kleimann (Prinzipalmarkt 48, 0251 43064) for a light snack, coffee or cake. Try to bag an outside table facing Prinzipalmarkt and ponder the startling fact that this glorious historic setting was a heap of smoking ruins in 1945 – it’s one of Germany’s most successful post-war restoration projects. Gaze up at the spire of the Lambertikirche opposite – the iron cages fixed high above the street are Münster’s most gruesome curiosity. The corpses of three radical Anabaptist leaders were displayed in them in the 16th century after their execution at the end of the oddest interlude in the city’s history, when for a brief period they proclaimed Münster the kingdom of Zion and polygamy was the rule. Afterwards, wheel your bike the short distance to the Gothic Rathaus (Prinzipalmarkt 10) to see Münster’s elaborate and beautiful equivalent of Osnabrück’s Friedenssaal, lined with portraits of the Catholic delegates to the 1648 Treaty negotiations, who had their base here.
1700-1900. Continue along Prinzipalmarkt and Rothenburg to the Picasso Museum (Picassoplatz 1, 0251 414 4710), the first in Germany devoted to Picasso’s work. It hosts exhibitions devoted to the artist and his contemporaries in 600 square meters of galleries behind the restored facade of an 18th-century mansion. Afterwards, stretch your legs with a leisurely tour of the inner city by bike. Cycle the short distance north to Domplatz for a side-on look at Münster’s copper-roofed cathedral, before crossing the bridge over the tiny Aa River to reach Frauenstrasse, at the end of which is a head-on view of the former palace of Münster’s prince-bishops, in a park-like setting on the fringe of the Old Town. Bombed and rebuilt in the 20th century, it’s now part of the university. Turn left from Schlossplatz along Badestrasse to reach the Aasee, a picturesque lake that’s a mass of sailing boats in summer. If you’ve worked up a thirst, stop for a drink with views over the lake from the terrace at A2 (Annette Allee 3, 0251 284 6840). Then head east along the leafy Promenadenring, which follows the course of the old city walls. Return your bike to the Radstation.
1900-2100. Pinkus Müller (Kreuzstrasse 4-10, 0251 45151) is a brewery-owned restaurant dispensing hearty Westphalian food and good beer in the studenty Kuhviertel in the northwest corner of the Old Town; there’s a similar mix of beer and big portions in a rustic, traditional setting just around the corner at Drübbelken (Buddenstrasse 14-15, 0251 42115). For something more cosmopolitan, try Brust oder Keule (Melchersstrasse 32, 0251 917 9656), where the short, creative menu is based on regional produce, or dine on bouillabaisse or a plateau de fruits de mer at the firmly Francophile Giverny (Spiekerhof 25, 0251 511 435). The hip mix of Asian fusion food, soju-based cocktails and stylish, lounge-like ambiance has proved a big hit at Royals & Rice (Frauenstrasse 51-52, 0251 3963 3699).
After 2100. The liveliest spot in Münster after 9pm is the Hafen’s revamped quayside, with a strip of bar and restaurant terraces that’s particularly tempting when the weather’s fine. Heaven (Hafenweg 31, 0251 609 0585) is a slick lounge, restaurant and dockside beach bar that transforms into a club at weekends, when it pulls in big-name international DJs. Electro fans may prefer the hallowed portals of Fusion (Am Hawerkamp 31, 0251 481 690), where the music policy embraces everything from drum and bass to psychedelic trance.