Göttingen is a university city with a smell of history, located in Lower Saxony, Germany. While roaming in the streets of Göttingen, you will come across pigeons having chocolate dropped on the pavements. You will see that they have gotten used to humans so much that they won’t fly away. The city also offers lots of green color, fresh air, and definitely fewer cars, and no traffic congestion. A humble city which will allow you to enjoy life in its simplest and purest forms.
In this blog I will give you a brief introduction to the history of Göttingen, a medieval city lying at the heart of Germany. If you are looking for a metropolitan city where you want to feel dizzy and dazzled by its mind-blowing offers, Göttingen might not be the city for you. But if you want to find some peace and feel fresh air and visit a university city and especially if you are low on budget but still want to have a grasp of what German cities are like, Göttingen would satisfy you more than enough.
The population of Göttingen is 130 000, while the number of students is around 30 000. The total area is 116.89 km2. In the summer, it is generally 25 – 30 degrees. Though summers have their own unique character. The sun might just disappear and summer days could turn cold at any moment. Unexpected rains refreshen everything and dust off the trees. In winter, if there is no extreme change, it oscillates between -4 and 5 degrees. The mornings and the nights during the winter could be really challenging.
History of Göttingen
Göttingen is a very old city, untouched by the bombings of WWII. Half-timbered buildings and traditional German houses are worth seeing. The first historical document which mentions Göttingen dates back to 953 AD and belongs to Holy Roman Emperor Otto. The origin of the name Göttingen actually comes from the village Gutingi. Also, it was only around 1200 that Göttingen officially became a city and was given city rights.
Known as the city of science, Göttingen houses the Bismark Tower, a student prison, the university of Göttingen and the most kissed girl in the world, which I will talk about individually right below.
The Bismarck Tower
First, let’s start with the Bismarck Tower. Situated in the city forest, the 31 meter-tall Bismarck Tower was built in 1896. It’s named after Otto von Bismarck, the statesman who united Germany. The Bismarck Tower offers a fantastic view of Göttingen. It is only open during the weekend and public holidays from 11: 30 to 18:00. The entrance fee costs 2 euros for adults and 1 euro for children. The opening season starts in April and ends in September.
Actually, the Bismarck tower is not exceptional to Göttingen. It is a standard model monument which you can find in different cities of Germany and in different countries too, such as Austria, Poland, and Chile.
One of the main buildings located at Wilhelmplatz was converted into a jail for students who got caught drunk, smoking tobacco in public, or participating in duellos. Unfortunately, this jail-plan didn’t go as expected because it never functioned as a deterrent factor. On the contrary, going to the student jail turned into a must-do activity and became an adventure for the students. It operated until 1933. Now it remains open for visitors.
Wilhemplatz is still one of the most attractive places for students, but for a different reason. Nowadays, it is just an outdoor place where people gather to have beers, enjoy some music and dance. They sit on the grass and get captivated in their conversations, not leaving at least 4 am in the morning.
University of Göttingen
I think the history of Göttingen is very much intertwined with the history of the University of Göttingen. Thus, what makes Göttingen “Göttingen” is probably its public research university in a way. Almost every building has a kinship to the University of Georg- August- Göttingen.
In 1784, the local ruler, Elector George Augustus of Hanover, founded the university. Therefore, the university was named after him. The main aim was to follow the Enlightenment principles. The church’s control over other domains such as science was restricted. Academic teaching started to have its own privileges. Thus, Göttingen was growing as a city of science. Many significant mathematicians and physicists from Göttingen made priceless contributions to their fields. The mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and physicist William Eduard Weber are only two of them. Gauss and Weber collaborated at some point too. In the city, you will find their statues near the department of mathematics.
“May never come back
The time of blood and hatred
Because there are people I love
In Göttingen, in Göttingen”
A song to listen to while you are walking in the streets of Göttingen or as you are having a “Göttingen bratwurst” (sausage) with “pommes” (fries). Originally Jewish, Barbara, who sings the famous “Göttingen” song, is a French singer. After the Second World War, the relationship between France and Germany wasn’t going any better until Barbara’s “Göttingen” changed the mood and distributed the dark clouds.
The story of the song “Göttingen”
One day, the director of Junges Theater of Göttingen, Hans-Gunther Klein, happened to listen to Barbara in a cabaret, L’Eclise de Paris in France. He invited her to perform in Göttingen theater, and she accepted. The concert took place in 1964. During her stay, she fell in love with the city and postponed her return to stay one more week. She also wrote her memories of Göttingen in her auto-biography ” Il était un piano noir : Mémoires interrompus.” After her return to Paris, she worked on the words and adapted the song to German, known as “a hymn to Franco-German reconciliation.”
Music feeds the soul and embodies stories. The same goes for the “Göttingen” song. In the following years, Barbara became an inspiring figure for both Göttingen and France, and the streets were named after her. Barbara’s “Göttingen” is so very humane and the lyrics are laden with naïve feelings. Below I share only a couple of quatrains from the song in the English translation:
“No quays, and no old tunes
moaning and dragging on
But love still blossoms here
In Göttingen, in Göttingen.
They know better that us, I think,
The history of the kings of France
Herman, Peter, Helga and Hans,
Don’t get offended,
But the tales of our childhood,
“Once upon a time” start
Lastly, the song has become such a hit that it helped to renew the relationship between the two countries. Even the German Chancellor referred to this song in a speech he gave to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty.
Gänseliesel, the most kissed girl in the world
Gänseliesel Statue is one of the landmarks of Göttingen city. It is a bronze statue of a girl with geese on top of a small fountain, standing at the very centre of the city centre, Göttingen, in front of the Altes Rathouse (Old Town Hall). According to tradition, the students who complete their PhD have to kiss the girl. Therefore, the statue is famous for being the most kissed girl in the world. If you see fresh flowers attached to the goose girl, it means that you just missed the scenery.
Fun and relaxing activities in Göttingen
Göttingen International Handel Festival
It is a baroque music festival in Göttingen. The festival focuses on the 18th century music of George Frideric Handel, whose operas were almost forgotten. In 1919, Oskar Hagen, who was a lecturer at Göttingen University, established this festival and in 1920, the first performances were given. Thus, it’s considered the “Göttingen Handel Renaissance.” Since 2006, the festival has had its own professional orchestra called the Festspiel Orchester Göttingen (FOG).
The Christmas market has its place around the medieval Old Town Hall, hosting over 80 stalls. Lighted streets will lead you towards the Christmas Market. You can find anything you can think of; hats, jewellery, paper stars, candles, Christmas ornaments and many many others. More, it also offers a feast for your stomach. Mulled wine is very popular and it will keep you warm too. If you have a sweet tooth, there are thousands of sweet things you could try. Christmas Market is open between 22 November and 29 December.
The University of Göttingen maintains two main botanical gardens. One of them is the Old Botanical Garden, which is very near to the city centre. Established in 1736, it has 14,000 species, forming one of the largest scientific collections of plants in Germany. Additionally, it also contains eight greenhouses which house tropical rain forest plants, cacti, carnivorous plants and many others. In winter, it seems like a desolate haunted place, while in the summer, it is full of joy and colours, a plethora of different botanic species.
There is also the New Botanic Garden, maintained especially for research purposes. In 1967, Prof. Heinz Ellenberg established this garden. Since 2009, it has been known as the Experimenteller Botanischer Garte.
There are two museums. One of them is an ethnological museum, which has over 16,000 exhibits from people from all continents, and the Cook-Foster Collection, the collection of more than 300 Pacific artefacts, from the 18th century. The second one is the Municipal Museum, which exhibits collections of art and cultural history of Lower Saxony, including the history of Göttingen, and religious art. It also hosts temporary exhibitions. There is no entrance fee. It’s only required to leave your bags in the cupboard. That costs 2 euros, but as you leave the museum, you can take your money back. The opening hours from Tuesdays to Fridays are between 10 am and 5 pm, while on the weekend, it is from 11 am to 5 pm.
Located in the southern part of Göttingen, it is one of the best places you could visit in summer. You can try lake activities like a pedalo, have a picnic or go jogging around the river.
In Göttingen, you have many options for live music. One of them is Exil, which is a night club, very close to the university’s main campus and to the city centre. On Monday evenings, Lindy-Hop and swing learners practise in Exil with the guidance of their instructions for free. It is a great way to meet people, enjoy music and learn new steps. If you are a night-club person, Club Savoy would be another option, too.
Another one is Dots, which is a café-bar, offering different atmospheres at different times of the day. Occasionally, it hosts events such as concerts, open-air cinema and parties.
When it comes to cinema, you have two options: CinemaxX and Cinema Lumiere. The first one displays more commercial films. It is located 5 minutes away from the train station on foot. While in Lumiere, you can find more art-house films. Language and subtitle options can change from day to day. Therefore, it’s better if you check before going.
Where to eat
Göttingen is a very international city and enriched by the foreigners who came to Germany and settled there. Thus, besides German food, you might try other cuisines as well, such as Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Indian and Italian. In Göttingen, Vietnamese and Indian restaurants outnumber the other ones, excluding Turkish döner shops.
Where to stay
For travellers on a budget, Hostel 37 could be a good choice. It’s five minutes away from the station on foot. One night varies from 20 euros to 60 euros, depending on whether you want to share the room or not. The hostel has a kitchen for the guests. Showers and toilets are shared. For more information, you can see here.
Located at Weender Landstraße 3-5, seven minutes away from the station, BoxHotel is another option. Prices start from 25 Euros per night. BoxHotel has three different boxes: Single-box, Standard-box and Comfort Box. Single-boxes only have a single bed. A Standard Box has a sofa bed, a washbasin on the ground floor along with a bed and shower upstairs accessed by in-room stairs. Staying here for one night costs close to 30 Euro. Thirdly, the only difference between Standard and Comfort Box is that the latter has a wider bed, which costs approximately 35 Euro in total.
Hotel Stadt Hannover
Hotel Stadt Hannover could be one of the luxurious hotels you could stay in Göttingen. It’s five minutes away from Göttingen’s train and bus station. The prices range between 87 euros and 200 Euros.
Given that it is a small city, you can never be too far away from where you want to get to unless you are at the outskirts of the city. The only public transportation inside Göttingen is the bus. An important detail is that to use buses, you don’t need to get a transportation card or ticket beforehand. You can get it from the driver. A one-way ticket costs close to 3 euros for adults. If you wish, you can also hire a bicycle. Like many other German cities, Göttingen is a bike-friendly city, too. The only thing that you need to be careful of is bicycle thieves.
Where else to go?
Since Göttingen is basically at the heart of Germany, by using trains you could go to much bigger cities like Hannover and Kassel in 45 -60 minutes. Harz mountains, for hiking and jogging lovers, could be another option. One of the Unesco Heritage Sites, Goslar, is also very close to Göttingen.
What does Göttingen tell us?
Göttingen is a kind of city which teaches you to appreciate the small details of life and lets you listen to yourself. It allows you an escape from all the daily rushes. This humble city slows you down. You don’t have to run around to catch a bus or a train because almost everywhere is within walking distance. Another thing that I like about Göttingen most is the diversity it inhabits, but it is not the diversity that seems strange or feels like it’s going to swallow you. It’s familiar too, somehow. Even if you stay there for a few days, you will start to recognize the faces of others. It is very likely that you will be bumping into the same people.