Next to the traditional student towns of Frankfurt and Marburg, many may wonder why you should choose to live Giessen of all places. While Frankfurt has Germany’s most impressive skyline, and Marburg a beautiful old town including its very own picturesque castle, Giessen’s main attraction is the “Elefantenklo” (literally: elephant toilet). The oversized grey concrete pedestrian bridge from the 1960s gets its name from three massive circular openings above the road junction that remind you of a gigantic pit latrine. Whether it is an aesthetic eyesore or a preservation-worthy monument from a past architectural period is up for discussion. One thing is certain however: the “Elephant Toilet” belongs to Giessen like Big Ben does to London.
But Giessen has much more to offer than controversial architecture. In 2015 the med students of the town already came to the conclusion: Giessen is ok. And in fact it’s even more than that. I’ve not come across a student who doesn’t love it here. My name is Olivia Jamison-Behrendt and I’d like to let you in on the secret of Giessen’s most loveable quirks and wonders.
If the first thing that comes to mind when hearing the phrase “the city that never sleeps” is New York, you’ve probably never been to Giessen’s “Bierexpress”. Here, for 23 hours a day, you can buy a glass of beer for a euro. The accompanying wads of cigarette smoke might cloud your mind, if the incredibly cheap prices haven’t done so already. If you prefer things a little more dignified don’t worry: Giessen has much more to offer. On Ludwigstraße (also called Ludi) there is something for everyone: from Irish pubs to sports and wine bars to German cider pubs. The “Cocktail Casino” in Enchilda on Monday evenings is especially popular among cash-strapped students. The number you roll on a dice while ordering is the amount you pay for your drink. Say hello to 1€ cocktails.
The “Dachcafé” (roof top café) at the end of the street adds a touch of big-city flair to the town. Enjoy looking down on Giessen while having a drink or two. Gin lovers and people looking for a relaxed evening in a cosy atmosphere get their money’s worth at “Lieblingsmensch” in Katharinengasse. Should you suddenly feel half starved to death and in good need of a quick takeaway, there are nearly 20 kebab shops in town – four of them in the so-called “Dönerdreieck” (kebab triangle) with opening hours until 5 am. Where other people store wine and food supplies for hard times ahead, the students of Giessen go to celebrate. The majority of the town’s “clubs” can be found in cellars a few meters under the ground. If you are now imagining a secret party location in the style of the roaring 20s, you’re in for a disappointment: With a lack of dress code, cramped spaces and sometimes questionable music, it quite often feels like celebrating in an old air raid shelter. But that doesn’t stop students from giving it there all on the dance floor – fun is always guaranteed in Giessen. Should you ever long for a “real” club, you can still hop into the next minicar and go to the Admiral Music Lounge, which was even awarded “Best Club in Germany” in 2015.
Even during the day, Giessen is more than bearable. It is probably one of the few towns in Germany where the town centre is booming more than the adjacent shopping centre. While the latter is full of empty shops, the pedestrian street Seltersweg is always full of life. In addition to all the usual shops, which can be found in every major town, there are many small independent ones, especially in the side streets. Here you can find all sorts of little treasures that the heart desires.
If you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped and need a little break, Giessen offers countless lovely cafes that can easily compete with those in Frankfurt. “Lieblingsmensch” not only serves gin, but also coffee and cake and is perfect for a little snack. “Schwätzer und Söhne” offers organic fair trade coffee in a small but very hip location near the Seltersweg. You have to be very lucky to get one of the few sought after tables inside. Hard to beat, however, is the cute Café de Paris on Bismarckstraße. With delicious croissants and huge milk coffees served in enormous cereal bowl-like cups, you’ll feel like you’ve walked straight into the heart of the French capital. And you might just begin to find Giessen equally magical…
If you’ve had enough of university canteen meals but don’t want to spend any time in the kitchen yourself, Giessen offers many other opportunities. For the best burgers in town head to “Gut Burgerlich“, which belongs to the same people as “Schwätzer und Söhne”. As everything is regional and organic, it doesn’t necessarily come cheap. But once you’ve tasted it, you’ll gladly dig a little deeper into your pocket time and time again. If you’re looking for original Neapolitan pizza, “Pizza Wolke” is the place to go. While the dough rests for an impressive 72 hours, the pizza only needs 90 seconds in the 450 ° C hot oven. Be sure to get here early or there is a risk that there’s no dough left due to high demand.
The nearest seaside town may be 400 km away, but Giessen nonetheless has a beach bar in summer. After a short stroll along the “Schwanenteich” (swan lake) and through the park “Wieseckaue”, you can enjoy a cold drink under the blue sky and with sand beneath your feet. If you can’t get enough of sand, visit the beach at Lake Dutenhofen. For 3 € you’ll get holiday feelings here.
Access to the “Silberseen” near Heuchelheim and also by Launsbach is free, with the latter being so free that a local nudist movement has established itself here. All lakes can be easily reached by bike. The cycle path leads along the river through the “Lahnwiesen” and past numerous small garden allotments. Even the harshest of Giessen-critics cannot deny the beauty of these places.
Justus von Liebig once said: “The best thing about Giessen is its station”. Although this was surely intended as an insult, he is not entirely wrong. The student town is extremely well connected. You can reach Marburg within 14 minutes by train and Frankfurt in just under 45. Numerous Intercity trains stop in Giessen and you can even get to Hamburg in less than four hours, without changing once.
For cheaper travel you can also take advantage of the long distance buses that stop just a few meters from the station. If, however, you have fallen for Giessen and would rather stay here, you can take one of the 15 town buses to get from A to B. Or hop onto a bike and travel like the local students. One of Giessen’s largest benefits is that everything is so close to each other. In 15 minutes you can cycle from one end of the town to another– so you’ll never experience any problems in getting anywhere late at night.
In the past, I often visited friends in Giessen and today I live here myself. Therefore I can say with complete conviction: although Giessen is unlikely to ever be one of Germany’s most beautiful towns, it is still one of the best for students. Without glitz and glamour but with a lot of heart.