We managed to pick one of the hottest weeks in a summer heatwave that had gripped Europe for our time in Germany. Glaciers were melting in Sweden. Britain faced a shortage of brussel sprouts. Worse still, mon Dieu, France was suffering a shortage of snails due to heat and lack of rain.
Parts of Spain and Portugal experienced temperatures of 48C as blisteringly hot air swept in from Africa. It was marginally cooler in Germany, reaching only a high of 37C, still bad enough without air-conditioning.
The heatwave and unseasonably dry weather has also affected America. It was the third hottest summer on record in Texas. The tinderbox conditions led to several fires across the south-west. Sixteen of the largest wildfires burning in California have burnt over 320,000 acres and led to many deaths.
Researchers have found that the ‘signal of climate change is unambiguous,’ and heat waves will become more common. You will be hard pressed to find any climate scientists who do not believe climate change is real and man-made.
Meanwhile, a Republican state senator stood within sight of the fires in California and claimed climate change has nothing to do with man and blamed the fire on environmentalists. The gist of his argument was that if you cut down all the trees, they wouldn’t be there to catch fire. I suppose that argument has a certain logic.
But enough of me bitching about stupid people. This is supposed to be about Germany.
We caught the train in to Stuttgart from Vaihengen. Like a lot of European local rail networks the city is divided into zones and the ticket you need depends of the number of zones crossed. There was little information on the station on which ticket to buy or where to zone boundaries started and ended. I struggled with the machine for a while trying to make sense of the different options and just ended up buying a group day ticket for four zones, which I suspect was more than we needed.
After an interesting diversion through the suburbs to the wrong part of town, we eventually found our way to the central station and wandered up Königstrße, the main shopping street, towards Schlossplatz, or Palace Square. Since Germany has not had a monarch since 1918, I am not sure why it has a Palace square, but it is a lovely open area with grass, fountains and a central statue of Concordia, the goddess of harmony, on a high column.
There is a small area of Stuttgart, around the market square, that retains a few older buildings. They have a busy open market with greengrocers and other food stalls outside and a covered indoor market. Being of advanced years I can never remember the exact details of places we visit (I make up most of the stuff in this blog), so I looked at the German tourist website for a description of the indoor market. I present a few extracts for your delectation:
“Behind the heavy entrance doors of this grand art nouveau building a paradise of lucullan pleasures is hidden.”
“. ..in abundance, diverse and colorful, the market hall presents the impressive offers artistically and appetizingly arranged, native products harmoniously lie next to international and ecological-biological products.”
“But how nice it is to simply stroll through the hall without a goal, to smell, to look and to taste!”
I have to agree with the last sentiment. It was lovely to stroll through and look at the amazing range of appetising foods on offer. Had we timed things a little better it would have been a great place to eat. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Stuttgart.
We had a wander round Stiftskirche, a church dating from the thirteenth century. This was extensively damaged during bombing raids WWII and rebuilt in the 1950s. There is a slightly odd mix of some of the historic features and some more new designs with modern stained glass windows and roof.
Close to the Stiftskirch was the Landesmuseum with exhibits from Württemberg ranging from Neolithic to the early 20th century. I was primarily attracted to the admission price (free) and Madam to the fact it had air-conditioning. Even though it was free, we had to queue to get a ticket which was scrupulously checked on every floor. They could have saved themselves a lot of work by eliminated this pointless procedure.
It was all well laid out although the guide insisted that we started vaguely in the middle ages, then to later periods, before we saw the Neolithic exhibits. I’ve always had an interest in anything stone-age. It is surprising to see that stone tools throughout the world are made in the same shapes using the same techniques. We forget that the Neolithic period lasted for several thousand years – long enough for travellers and traders to spread knowledge. I did try to create an axe head from a flint a couple of years ago, firstly using another stone then, when that did not work, with a hammer. All I ended up with was a bruised thumb and an undamaged flint. I read somewhere that a Neolithic hunter would have created an arrow head in 20 minutes using only an animal bone and a lump of flint. I’d like to see that.
Both Madam and I both felt that we were being followed by the museum guides. Every time we looked round a guide would be just behind us. Maybe they thought we might be up to something. About to tuck a small statue under my arm or scratch “Romani ite dominum” on a Roman column. I hope that they were just bored and thought we might have questions. There were only a few other people in the museum which was a shame as it was well worth the visit. I suspect all the tourists were busy in the BMW car museum posing for a selfie in front of an exhibit of indicators through the ages sponsored by local BMW dealers. Car dealers always have a lot of optional extras left over.
There are several motor manufacturers based near Stuttgart. The area is considered to be the birthplace of the petrol engine motor car. Pioneering engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz were both born near Stuttgart. Benz developed the first 3-wheeled car in 1886 and Daimler the first 4-wheeled (a modified horse-carriage) in the same year.
Due to its importance as an industrial area, the city suffered extensive damage during air-raids during World War II. A total of 53 air raids between 1940 and 1945 destroyed 40,000 buildings.
Post-war planning and rebuilding during the 1950s has preserved the few remaining historic buildings and large parks. Now the city has an open feel with wide streets, squares and green parks.
Before this trip, I had a look on the internet for the top attractions in Stuttgart. Most of them seemed to involve cars. The second top attraction was the Stuttgart public library. I don’t believe I have ever seen a library ranked number two in any city. It turned out that this was due to the impressive and unusual architecture including a roof observation area from which you can see the entire city of Stuttgart. Clearly, this deserved a visit.
We tried to get to the library on the local metro. There were five train lines from the central station passing the Stadtbibliothek station. How hard could that be? We got on the right train but it went along a different line. It stopped at Budapester Platz, right next to the massive Milaneo shopping mall. A bit like getting on the central line at Oxford Circus and the next stop is the Elephant and Castle. We went back to the central station and tried again. We studied the map closely. Double checked the train. Triple checked the train. We definitely got on the right train this time. It stopped at Budapester Platz. We gave up on the library and went to the mall. Malls are the same the world over, so we just headed up to the food court on the top floor for a late lunch. I asked Madam where she would like to eat. She chose Mcdonalds.
It may seem an odd choice to eat at an American fast-food restaurant while travelling. I guess it is just easier sometimes. The menu is broadly the same the world over. It comes with pictures that bear a passing resemblance to the finished product. We looked at a few German restaurants but it was hard to decipher the German menu. I have a translate app on my phone but it often gives bizarre translations. You never quite knew if you were ordering a haloumi sandwich or a pig trotter and ox-brain sausage. The Germans are big on sausages. You go into most any restaurant and they will hand you a menu of twenty dishes. The first nineteen will be sausages. They will have names like Schweinfoot und Grissel or Kalbsbrain mit Grosserbits.
The last item on the menu will be something disturbing like a veal cutlet with an aubergine and turnip sauce, served with raspberry ice cream if my translation app is to be believed.
After a brief wander around the mall which was indeed identical to every mall everywhere else in the world, even down to the same chain stores, we went back to main square. We sad for a while admiring the fountains and gardens. We watched Japanese tourists pose for selfies in front of the fountain. A group of five arranged themselves in every conceivable combination and variety of poses. It took them twenty minutes to get every pose covered.
It started raining, and we briefly considered a car museum but realised it was 6pm somewhere in the world, possibly central Russia, so we went into a brauhaus to drink beer.
Out of curiosity I looked at the food menu and had another go with my translate app. The first item, according to the app, on the dessert menu was:
‘Homemade Oven Slipper A Swabian specialty with apples and raisins refined, vanilla sauce.’
Madam, being much smarter, asked the waiter for an English menu. The first choice on the dessert menu was
‘Homemade Oven Slipper. A Swabian specialty with apples and raisins refined, vanilla sauce.’
The rain had stopped, so we sat in Palace Square for a while. It was early evening by now and people were laying out blankets on the grass and settling in for the evening. I was not sure if there was some event planned for a Tuesday night, or if that was what passed for entertainment in Stuttgart.
Stuttgart was clean and prosperous, obviously thriving with many high-end stores in the shopping centre. You have to admire the Germans. Through sheer hard work and a large amount of cleverness they have turned a country of rubble and destitution into a thriving industrial powerhouse. They are the fourth largest economy in the world with full employment. The highest trade surplus in the world worth $310 billion. The biggest capital exporter globally. The third largest exporter in the world. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Meanwhile politicians (and the voting public) in Britain seem determined to turn the country into the nation state equivalent of a pound shop.
We drove to Schloss Ludwigsburg, which I believe translates as Louis’s Castle.
The gardens were beautiful with a central fountain, topiary and flower beds. Elaborate Sand sculptures surrounded the garden. No words can do them justice, so you will just have to look at the pictures on Instagram.
The palace started out as a simple hunting lodge but, in a spate of serious German willy-waving was extended to 450 rooms which needed 800 servants.
We splashed out €7 each on a 45 minute guided tour in English which took us around part of the palace. The details are a bit hazy – it was mostly about, not surprisingly, kings and queens and their various marriages to cousins across Europe. There seems to have been some serious inbreeding across several generations which may explain a lot. Talking of willy-waving, one of the kings reputedly had somewhere between 300 and 400 illegitimate children. I forget which king. It may have been William the first, or maybe a Frederick or an Eberhard. You have to say the last name out loud to appreciate it.
The Birkenkopf is a 511 metre high hill in Stuttgart, the highest point in the city.
During the war, 53 Allied bombing missions destroyed over 45% of Stuttgart, and nearly the entire city centre. Between 1953 and 1957, 1.5 million cubic metres of rubble were cleared and moved to the hill which resulted in an increase in height of around 40 metres.
We walked up the long winding path to the top. At the summit there were many recognisable facades from ruined buildings. The ruins were towered over by a giant iron cross.
It’s hard not to think of World War II when the results of destruction are sitting there starting you in the face. It is a place for contemplation. For reflection. A warning not to follow crazed demagogues of the right.
In a sombre mood I took a few pictures and wandered the ruins and rubble. There were lots of Germans, some walking dogs, some admiring the view, some sitting silently looking out over the city. Flowers were growing amongst the ruins. Children were playing and climbing the stones. A sign of hope perhaps.
A plaque at the top reads:
“This mountain piled up after World War II from the rubble of the city stands as a memorial to the victims and a warning to the living.”
It would be nice if we learned from history rather than repeat past mistakes, wouldn’t it?
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