Germany // Lower Saxony and Bremen //


For centuries HILDESHEIM, 30km southeast of Hannover, starred on the check-list of every cultured Grand Tour of Europe. It was medieval Germany writ large, its two Romanesque churches among the finest on the continent and its Altstadt a half-timbered fairytale. So a night of firebombs on March 22, 1945, which ravaged the centre as the Allies targeted prestige cities to sap German morale during the war’s end-game, struck particularly hard. The town salvaged what it could and erected typically monstrous postwar rebuilds until, in 1984, the council took the unprecedented decision to re-create the former townscape. Uncharitably, then, the architectural highlights of Hildesheim are conscious antiquarianism at best, glorious fakes at worst. Yet UNESCO deemed the efforts worthy of its World Heritage list, an unexpected fillip to a beautification programme that seems likely to continue. Aside from the architecture, Hildesheim is a relaxed university town, pleasant, certainly, but also fairly provincial.