The B3 - Germany's Route 66
Article and photos by Wolfgang Groeger-Meier
Germany boasts dozens of storied tourist routes enticing visitors and tourists to see hundreds of attractions reflecting its history, culture, and lifestyle. Some of these date back more than 2,000 years to the ancient Celts and other tribes who lived here in pre-Roman times. Among the most famous are The Romantic Road of castles and fortresses, the Clock Road, and the Fairy Tale Road.
However, Germany also has its own "Route 66," a "national highway," so to speak- not an Autobahn. Its name is "The B3" or Bundesstrasse 3 which runs from Buxtehude, Germany to Basel, Switzerland. (The "B2B", if you'll pardon the pun.)
The B3 runs north-south from Hamburg in the north straight south almost the entire length of Germany, paralleling the Rhine much of the stretch until it ends at the German-Swiss border at Weil am Rhein about 750 kms away. Unlike the impersonal autobahns or America's Interstates, the Bundesstrasse 3 presents a panorama of the German countryside, accessing beautiful small towns and even big metropolitan cities - like Hannover and Frankfurt. Traveling the B3 is discovering architectural treasures of all ages from the recent Bauhaus and Art Deco styles, back to Renaissance and medieval traditional timber-frame houses, as well as impressive feudal castles and palatial manor houses of much later eras.
Starting in Buxtehude near Hamburg, Bundesstrasse 3 begins its journey with a very straight road to the south. Far away from the Autobahn and its breakneck speed, a B3 road trip proceeds leisurely and offers views of everyday life and special aspects uniquely German.
Less than an hour's drive from Hamburg you approach the Luneburg Heath with its beautiful old farm houses in Niederhaverbeck near Wilseder Berg. Then comes Celle, a city in the south of Luneburg Heath, a scenic old town, with more than 400 timber half-frame houses and an impressive castle certainly worth a stopover as we dally an hour or two to take in an extended walk in the old town.
Einbeck on the 3 has more than 400 fully-restored medieval Fachwerk-Half-timbered buildings.
Hannover, a big, commercial, industrial city, the capital of Lower Saxony nevertheless also has its share of beautiful places. The reconstructed Herrenhaus Castle with its marvelous, formal garden, the old town around Marktkirche and the Town Hall are highly all impressive. Take a coffee break in the vibrant Market Hall of the traditional Holländische Kakaostube. Art lovers will discover the Sprengel Museum, one of Germany's most important museums for 20th and 21st century art.
Marienburg Castle near Hannover is one of the most stunning monuments in Germany. It is also called the "Neuschwanstein Castle of the North." It is the seat of the former kings of Hannover, the origins of Britain's reigning family, the Windsors. Remember, Queen Elizabeth's ancestors were essentially all German—most of them from here, all those "George's" numbers I - IV!
Hannover City Hall is an impressive Wilhelminian building anno 1913. Unique in the world is the diagonal lift in the town hall's dome.
Less than half an hour's drive from Marienburg Castle, architecture lovers will stop at Bauhaus building the Fagus Werk in Alfeld. Designed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, the factory is a milestone in history of architecture and still evokes an impressive, stunning modernity at almost 100.
Going further to the south come the first small hills surrounding Leine River Valley. The B3 leaves the flat northern plains here and you enter Einbeck - a must stop for beer lovers: Way back in 1380 this small city had more than 700 breweries!
In the old town you will discover old timber framed houses. Automotive enthusiasts will have a field day here because Einback boasts a huge car, motorbike and truck collection on display at the PS.Speicher. This is Europe´s largest car museum, far more extensive than BMW or Mercedes, presenting the history of motorization. Traditional and modern hotels invite you to stay and to enjoy good food and a beer in Einbeck. Forging south departing Niedersachsen, we enter Hesse.
The King of Rock ´n´ Roll, Elvis Presley, lived on the B3. Elvis performed his US military service with the Third Armored Division in Friedberg 30 kms north of Frankfurt but he was allowed to live in Bad Nauheim, since Roman times a beautiful health resort spa with highly acclaimed natural springs. Elvis served in the mid- 1950's and lived in the Hotel Villa Grueneberg in Bad Nauheim. His room, #10, is still in the same condition as then, and looks like he just left the premises not 10 minutes ago. Anyone, not just VIP's, can rent this room. Imagine, sleeping in Elvis's bed! The US Army may be gone but Elvis's spirit is still here, commuting on Bundesstrasse 3 going from Bad Nauheim to Friedberg and back.
Germany's travel hub and Europe's financial-economic headquarters is the vibrant cosmopolitan city of Frankfurt on the Main River. It is nicknamed "Mainhattan" for its skyscrapers and money markets. Its opera, orchestra, ballet, and countless museums, including Goethe's birthplace, the European Central Bank, the Boerse or Stock Exchange, are all here. The B3 takes you right through some of the most livable fun parts of town - the East End, Bornheim, the shopping paradise Zeil, then over the Main River to Sachsenhausen, the town's non-stop party place for revelers. Countless bars, taverns, Apfelwein gardens and pubs, restaurants and the Museum Mile promenade Main-side are all literally minutes by foot from the B3.
North of the Main, the B3 bisects the lively Bornheim district to the east of the University's totally modernized US-style Big 10 campus. Bornheim is reminiscent of New York's Greenwich Village. You will find a bohemian, colorful lifestyle in Berger Straße. Right in the middle of it all is the Apfelwein Wirtschaft Solzer, which is already five generations under the same family. Sample its typical Frankfurt specialties such as Schäufele (smoked pork shoulder) and Grüne Sosse - a sprightly, delicious green sauce made of seven herbs, proffered with dozens of Rhein Main / B3 regional delicacies.
Continuing south through Frankfurt's "greenbelt" and southern suburbs, we reach Darmstadt, directly on Bundesstrasse 3. Art Deco enthusiasts will savor the Mathildenhöhe neighborhood for its many unique Art Deco buildings. The wedding tower, the Russian Orthodox chapel (built on soil imported from Russia's most sacred monasteries -Tsar Nikolas II's wife was a German princess from here) and the stylish 19th and 20th century villas of important Jewish merchants and industrialists further enhance the dream-like ambiance.
Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt is a fantastic ensemble of Art Nouveau and International Style movement of 19th and 20th century. An innovative group of artists and architects designed this living monument. Note the Russian Orthodox Church.
After the cultural breathing space on Mathildenhöhe, we take the Heidelberger Landstrasse and head south, the B3 being the de facto western edge of the legendary Odenwald Forest - famed for its superior quality dragons, and Siegfried. We pass Frankenstein Castle, (no relation to the famous scientist and his monster) and approach the Melibocus peak (571m) , which towers above the B3 and the Rhine's alluvial plain. Adjacent to this highest point on the Bergstrasse is the Auerbach Castle with its annual medieval tournament and concerts. It is one of a pearl-like string of castles overlooking some 50 kms of the B3 as Hesse becomes Baden-Württemberg.
The Bergstrasse wine region on the B3 begins to the south of Darmstadt. The Bergstrasse boasts some 50 or more wineries featuring Riesling, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, and Silvaner white wines and reds such as Pinot noir, St Laurent, and a red-white mix rosé called Rotling. Like California's Route 29 in Napa Valley, the B3 is lined with wine restaurants and winery outlets offering countless local wines which rarely are exported.
Heppenheim, on the Hessian Bergstrasse, is a charming small town, county seat, with romantic market place, tiny timber-framed houses, a compact, ornate, intimate Cathedral, is home to the Centgericht vineyard, directly on the B3, offering some of the region's best wines.
We arrive exhilarated in Heidelberg and we immediately become friends with the unique charm of the dreamlike old town, the castle ruins and the picturesque city on the Neckar River. Heidelberg is known as the city of poets and thinkers and so it is only a short walk along the Philosophers' Trail to enjoy the view of the city. Its University is Germany's most prominent classical place of higher learning. Overseeing the town is the massive castle and its impenetrable ramparts with High Renaissance palace and apartments within. A fabulous vista to the west displays the sun-drenched Palatinate on the west bank of the Rhine.
Elated by a beautiful evening and curious about today's tour, we leave Heidelberg heading south and soon arrive in Leimen on the B3. The town is known as the home of the tennis legend Boris Becker and has a very nice old brewery in the center. The brewery itself has not been in operation for years, but in the traditional brewery bar in Leimen you can enjoy an excellent meal.
In the following segment of our drive, the course of the B3 is identical to the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Bertha Benz drove the first car on a road trip along this route in 1888 and stopped at the city pharmacy in Wiesloch to fill up. The Stadtapotheke is considered the oldest petrol station in the world. After prior registration, we can take a look at the historic rooms of the pharmacy, visiting with owner Dr. Adolf Suchy to listen to the pharmacist's exciting stories.
Another 25 kms south, the B3 enters Bruchsal majestically as we drive through an archway in the Tower Gate directly past Bruchsal Castle. This small city has a wonderful Residence with many highlights and a very beautiful park. A stopover for sightseeing is definitely worthwhile. Moving on towards Rastatt, friends of art and history will enjoy a visit to Rastatt Castle and Favorite Castle.
Baden-Baden follows next where the Frieder Burda Art Collection is a must-see exhibit funded by the Burda Publishing Company. It is a pleasure to stroll through the town, amble past the casino and the Kurhaus. World-class concerts with the finest artists regularly perform here, superb dining keynote what might be the world's most renowned spa and its upscale casino so well documented by Mark Twain 150 years ago. Here Composer Richard Wagner and General U.S. Grant, the former President, met, and where the literary giant Feodor Dostoyevsky lost two fortunes at the roulette wheel.
Freshly refueled with new impressions, our journey on B3 continues on through Sinzheim in the direction of Bühl. Above Bühl is Windeck Castle, a hotel, restaurant and castle ruins. On clear summer evenings you have a good view from the terrace over the Rhine Valley to France and the Strasbourg Cathedral which is often clearly visible. Besides, the restaurant is a very good place to dine in style. Baden-Württemberg excels in fine dining: more Michelin-rated restaurants than the rest of all of Germany!
Next comes Markgräfler country, the region near the Black Forest between Freiburg and Basel known for very good cuisine, both Swiss and French influenced. Its very warm temperatures, among Germany's highest, benefit its red wines which include Pinot noir, St Laurent, Lemberger, Trollinger and the less familiar white wine Chasselas. It's called Gutedel here, there's also Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc and Traminer.
Discover the region in the south of Freiburg with its the narrow, curvy roads. Staufen, Heitersheim or Sulzburg are fantastic small towns. Photo enthusiasts will discover Sulzburg the birthplace of Ernst Leitz I, the founder of the optical works in Wetzlar, birth place of the Leica - LEItzCAmera. Sulzburg also offers nice restaurants and like everywhere in this region you will always get a fine glass of wine from the Baden Bergstrasse growths along the B3, or from the Kraichgau to the east or the Kaiserstuhl to the west.
In the small town of Müllheim Feldberg is a hillside area called "Paradise". In this town is the Landgasthof Ochsen, a very good restaurant. Another must-see place is Bürgeln Castle, only ten minutes away from Müllheim Feldberg. It is yet another beautiful castle with a stunning view over Upper Rhine Valley. A wine tasting at Lämmlin-Schindler winery in Schliengen-Mauchen combined with good food in Gasthaus Krone adjacent the winery is also highly recommended.
For a highlight on the last mile on the B3 take the exit to visit Vitra Campus. Famous architects like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid designed fantastic buildings for the furniture company Vitra there. A few kilometers further will bring you the German-Swiss border and the end of Bundesstrasse 3 where our marathon journey concludes.
There are so many great impressions and experiences to enjoy on a B3 /"B2B"- road trip we have barely touched upon in this brief overview. However, you can discover even more of them in depth by visiting the travel blog (in German): https://bundesstrasse3.de/
Happy Motoring to You - On the B3 - Germany's Route 66!
Wolfgang Groeger-Meier drove his mint-green, sporty, comfortable 1975 BMW 2002 on his B3 road trip. The car also served as charming conversation-opener with many people he encountered on his B3 journey. Many motorists have fond memories of this car which was very popular in the 70's and 80's.
Groeger-Meier's travelogue book , "Lockruf des Südens" ("Lure of the South,") documenting his journey on the B3 has been published by Verlagshaus Römerweg. It is available in bookstores and online.
"Lockruf des Südens" was awarded Motorworld 2020 special book prize.
Prior to that, two special photographic exhibitions entitled "Dreamroad B3" were presented by Groeger-Meier in Munich and Tokyo in 2019.