Germany: Around Freiburg

30 09 2008

Besides the Black Forest, there are several towns and splendid countryside surrounding the city of Freiburg that are worth exploring.  Much of southwestern Germany is covered in vineyards and cultivated land that provide fresh, seasonal food and drink to cities and towns in the area.  Most areas are within a 20-30 minute car ride of Freiburg and well worth the trip.

Quaint towns like Ihringen that specialize in wine production are part of the fertile countryside in the Freiburg area. Ihringen is located on the southern tip of Kaiserstuhl on top of an old volcano that was transformed into vineyards, in between the Winklerberg and Fohrenberg appellations (wine regions).  This small town is full of wineries, restaurants, pubs and guesthouses that are surrounded by vineyards and orchards.  Just like the meticulous vineyards, the town itself is beautifully maintained.

An inviting restaurant/pub overflowing with flower boxes in Ihringen.

A winery

A guesthouse/restaurant

Pretty window boxes are the norm here.

Vineyards and orchards are just outside of town

Picturesque town like Ihringen dot the countryside in this area.  In fact, we drove through 2 or 3 just going to Ihringen.

Vineyards and farms take up the spaces in between these towns.

One of the delights of the Freiburg area are the numerous seasonal dining establishments called Strauße that serve traditional food from the region.  The word Strausse, or ostrich in German, is related to the use of brooms that traditionally indicated that the venues were open.  These are not restaurants, but rather the dining rooms attached to farms and wineries that enjoy a special tax status if they follow a strict code.  These strausse must only serve food and wine of their own production, be open 16 weeks a year, and have 40 seats maximum.  To find a list of these establishments, you can buy a brochure listing these “Strausse” from certain shops and bookstores in Freiburg.

A few tips on these brochures:
1) Ask the cashier for help in finding this brochure and if the store doesn’t carry it, ask who does.  Most Germans, especially University educated Germans, speak English so it will not be hard to ask.
2) Make sure to call the kitchens before you go because the days they are open shift around every year.

On our visit, we were able to visit 2 different Strausse, which were both very good.  L and M wanted to take us to their favorite one but unfortunately they were closed on the days we were in the Freiburg area.  That’s why it’s so important to call beforehand for hours, directions, and if a reservation is needed.

Burg Cafe, Landeck

If you are looking to dine on traditional and fresh German food in the shadow of a ruined castle overlooking beautiful countryside, I would highly recommend the Burg Cafe in Landeck.  The food was good and fresh, and the views were even better.

Burg Cafe

We ate in the shadow of the ruined Burg Landeck.

The view from our table at Burg Cafe, looking away from the castle.

After we finished our meal at Burg Cafe, we took the stone steps up to the ruined castle.  It is literally across the road from the cafe and is a perfect after dinner walk.  Just climb up the stairs!

After seeing the ruined castle itself (you can no longer actually climb up the castle), be sure to explore the grassy area to the left.  You will be rewarded with these magnificent views.

Can you just imagine this scene:
King of Swamp Castle: One day, lad, all this will be yours.
Prince Herbert: What, the curtains?
King of Swamp Castle: No, not the curtains, lad, all that you can see stretched out over the valleys and the hills! That’ll be your kingdom, lad.
Quotation from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.

Burkles Winzerhof

On another night, we decided to try a seasonal winery L and M had never visited before since their original choice was closed.  Burkles Weinlaube turned out to be one of the nicer dining rooms with good solid German food. The wine and drinks were very good.  Besides the house wine, these Strausse also always have homemade apple soda and/or grape soda made from wine grapes if you would rather enjoy non-alcoholic beverages.  

You can’t see from my pictures, but if the kitchen is open, you will see a ceremonial broom with bristles over their door.

If you go to any regional kitchen, you MUST try their Flammenkuchen (onion and bacon tart).  It’s like a pizza, but better.


Garden Salad with shredded pickled vegetables

Fried steak with friend potatoes

A german ham salad

As you can see from the numerous posts on Freiburg and its environs, this area of southwestern Germany is full of natural beauty, interesting food and wine culture, and medieval history.  Even though I was able to spend a few days here, I wish I could have stayed longer.  There is so much to see and do here – I haven’t even started to scratch the surface.


Germany: Freiburg Part 2

24 09 2008

This post about Freiburg is continued from Germany: Freiburg Part 1.

After circling the market square, go back to your entrance point and head away from (south of) the Munsterplatz on Eisenstraße.  Then turn left onto Schusterstraße.  Go down about a block and then turn right onto Augustinergasse.  Continue on this street until you reach Augustinerplatz.

If you would like a coffee or need a clean bathroom, stop by Aran Cafe just before you reach Augustinerplatz.

Aran Cafe, with Augustinerplatz in the background.

Some yummy coffee drinks and hot chocolate from nearby Aran cafe on the Augustinerplatz.

Augustinerplatz is a large cobblestone square in the middle of the old city that is surrounded by shops and cafes.  It was so clean and pretty it looked like it came straight out of the nearest Disney movie!  The former site of an Augustine monastery, Augustinerplatz is popular with tourists, students, and locals alike.


A courtyard of one of the many quaint shops in the Augustinerplatz.

After visiting Augustinerplatz, backtrack a little and turn right onto Salzstraße.  Stroll all the way down this pretty street until you reach the end of the road at the Schwabentor, the Swabian Gate.


A view of the Schwabentor and the Hotel Bären.

The pink building in the above photo on the right contains the oldest restaurant in Germany, now part of the Hotel Bären.  There has been a restaurant in this location since the 1100s.  The elaborate sign with the golden bear proclaims this is the oldest restaurant in Germany.

Once you arrive at the Schwabentor, look for a staircase just to the left.  Take these stairs and proceed across the wooden bridge.  From here it is just a short vertical hike to the Schlossberg where you can see some magnificent views of the city.  Just follow the trail/crowd.  For those who are tired, if you go straight right after the bridge, there is an elevator inside the cave that takes you about 1/3 way up to the beer garden that overlooks the city.   By the way, this is a good beer garden according to M.

Another view of the Schwabentor.

Bridge to the Schlossberg, facing the city.

View of Freiburg from the Schlossberg.

Closeup of some houses.

The city of Freiburg is surrounded by the Black Forest.

There are a lot of paths on the Schlossberg if you like to bike or hike.  Lots of locals come here because it’s easy access to the Black Forest.

One of the many paths on the Schlossberg.   We took this one to get down the hill.

After returning from the Schlossberg, take the first road/alley on the right called Konviktstraße after you come back down the stairs.  This is, in all of our opinions, the cutest and most picturesque street in Freiburg. It is a very small pedestrian only street that features boutiques and cafes that has ivy strung between the buildings. Although it’s not on our way to the next destination, it is worth the detour to walk down this street.

After you reach the little square at the end of Konviktstraße, take a left onto Münzgasse, which turns into Schusterstraße.  Turn left onto Augustinergasse, where you will then go through Augustinerplatz again.  This time, turn right at the end of Augustinerplatz onto Gerberau.  Walk about a block and turn left onto Gerbersteg.  Then make an immediate right onto Fischerau.

This is a little street that is almost an alley that has a small river running through it.

The houses come right up to the little river.

The house below has a little fountain emptying into this stream.

This house is decorated in a very interesting way with the vines.

Just before the end of this street on the left is a gourmet honey shop that sells the best honey in Germany.  You can go in and try over 30 varieties of honey.  They were very good and we got several jars of honey to take home.  They also honey soap, candy, and candles, among other things.

Once you reach the end of this street, it empties you onto Kaiser-Joseph-Straße and you will see the Martinstor to your right.

The famous Martinstor, one of the original city gates of the walled city of Freiburg.

Notice the fancy McDonald’s sign.  This is the beginning of the pedestrian zone.  From here, the university is to your left and there is a Citibank to your right.  There is also great coffeeshop with a small bakery located under the arch.

This is the end of my Google maps tour, but if you want to make a full loop back to the university like we did, just take the street you see straight ahead when you come out of the alley with the river.  Or if you are facing Martinstor, it is the street to the left of you.

Assembly/Lecture Hall at the University of Freiburg.

Freiburg was my favorite city of all the ones I visited.  As you can see, it has a little bit of everything I love about Germany, from the medieval town center, to the tidy streets, to the unique features like the Bächle, to the University, and of course to its location on the edge of the Black Forest.  I am glad that L has found such a wonderful temporary home while she is in school.  I hope to come back to visit soon!

Germany: Freiburg Part 1

22 09 2008

A visit to the Black Forest is not complete without a stop in the city of Freiburg, located on the western edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany.  Freiburg was one of the highlights of my visit because it is such a unique blend of medieval market town, university village, and modern city.

A view of Freiburg and Münster Cathedral from the Schlossberg.

As reflected in its name, Freiburg was founded in 1120 as a free market town located at an important crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Danube and Rhine Rivers.  Because of this distinction, power struggles over the city’s control were common throughout the middle ages.  Although the city was bombed in WWII, the damaged areas in the city center were rebuilt in the medieval plan.  Freiburg is known primarily for the well respected Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and as the regional hub for tourism in the Black Forest area.  Freiburg is also considered an environmentally friendly city whose citizens are known for their affinity for cycling and recycling.  The Guardian has an article about just how eco-friendly Freiburg is here.

The best way to see Freiburg’s medieval town center is by foot.  Reflecting both its medieval roots and penchant for eco-friendliness, the city center is a pedestrian- and tram-only zone.  Below is a map of our meandering route through the city center, which includes all the must-sees as well as our favorite cobblestone streets and alleys.  Be sure to click on the “View Larger Map” link, which takes you to the interactive Google map.

View Larger Map

We began our tour of Freiburg at the University, where L is just finishing up her graduate studies and where M graduated a few years ago.  Since we live on different continents, it was great for me to see where L spends all her time.  I actually visited Freiburg twice during my trip, so the photos and tour here are a compilation of both visits.

Main Lecture Hall at the University of Freiburg, located in the Platz der alten Synagoge, across the street from the Stadttheater (A on map).


While facing the main lecture hall, take the street on the left called Bertoldstraße and head east until you get to Cafe Schmidt, a wonderful bakery well known for its marzipan potatoes.

After drooling over the baked goods and chocolate,  turn right onto Niemensstraße, a tiny street that is full of student hangouts, including a yummy kebab place.  Take this street all the way to the very large Kaiser-Joseph-Straße and then turn left.  Kaiser Joseph Strasse is the main shopping street in Freiburg’s city center and includes all the large German chain stores as well as everything a college student or Freiburger needs.  Watch out for the trams!

People share the street with trams and the Bächle in Freiburg. This photo was taken on Salzstraße.

At this point, you will probably notice the very small and neat gutters (see photo above) running up and down the streets all around this part of Freiburg.  This system of gutters, called Bächle, has constantly flowing water from the Dreisam and was used in the olden days to fight fires and feed livestock.  The Bächle was never used for sewage (under penalty) and you will often see kids playing in them these days.  During the summer, the Bächle also helps keep the city cool.  There is a saying in Freiburg that if you step in a Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger.

Keep going on Kaiser Joseph Strasse for a few blocks north and then turn right onto Münsterstraße.  Head towards the Münster Cathedral (B on map).

Münster Cathedral is located in the Münsterplatz.

Step into the cathedral (free to the public) for views of beautiful stained glass.

If you go to the Münsterplatz on a Saturday before noon, you will be greeted with one of the best outdoor markets in Germany.

A view of the Saturday Markt in Freiburg, looking to the left of Münster Cathedral.

All the fruits and vegetables here are locally grown.  I have found that the produce in Germany has been some of the highest quality I’ve ever had.

Look at all that beautiful squash!

There are several flower vendors, with blossoms each brighter and more colorful than the next.

A market is not complete without the encased meat and butcher wagon.

There are also several bratwurst stands at the market.  Apparently, curry on bratwurst is very popular among Germans.  Who would have thought?  We had some bratwurst for breakfast.  Yum!

We went to Germany just at the end of their strawberry season.  These were some of the sweetest and juiciest strawberries I’ve ever had.  The fruit that look like small red grapes are johannesberries.  Most berry vendors also sell homemade jam.

The market on the other side of the cathedral was filled with craft stands.

The Historisches Kaufhaus (Historic Marketplace) is the red building.

Cafes spilled out from the buildings into the market.

Next: Germany: Freiburg Part 2

In Part 2, we will continue onto Augustinerplatz, the Schwabentor Gate, and Martinstor.

Germany: The Black Forest

18 09 2008

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that really impressed me about Germany was its beautiful and dramatic countryside.  Just looking out the window of the car was a treat since we would often pass by pastoral vignettes of quaint villages with red roofs (always with a church steeple at the highest point) and farms with content cows grazing on the green and hilly pastures.

A blurry photo of a town nestled in a valley on the way to Freiburg.

Cows grazing on a hill above a farm as seen from the highway.

Cows on a hilly pasture outside of Freiburg.

However, the Black Forest was another category altogether. I had, of course, heard of the famous Black Forest of Germany.  Having only seen the woods of the East Coast and Midwest of the US and lived in and around cities my whole life, however, I was a skeptical of why it was such a big deal. I caught my first glimpses of the Black Forest while we were driving to Freiburg and it literally took my breath away. Even from a car window, I could see why the Black Forest has earned such a reputation. It was magnificent.

The Black Forest is situated on a mountain range in an area that is 120 miles long and 37 miles wide in the Southwest region of Germany.  Picture huge swaths of thick dark forest filled with unimaginably tall trees set upon mountains, stretching for miles and miles. While the clearings were bright green and welcoming, the forest itself was as mysterious as the fairy tales and legends that are set in it. It was easy to imagine elves running or knights galloping through these trees.

My photos only give a hint of how magnificent it is in real life.  Among other limitations, you cannot see how deep the valleys are and the magnitude of these trees.  Driving to Freiburg, we were literally surrounded by these thick forests and mountains and at times it was as if we were in complete wilderness.

The famous Hirschsprung (Deer Leap) statue.

The amazing thing is that this stunning wilderness has existed for so long in such a small area as Europe. Although logging has always existed here, the forest is so huge that there is still a lot left even though it is a much smaller area than it used to be.

As we get nearer to Freiburg, the forest becomes less dominant and lush meadows emerge.

Visitors can experience the Black Forest in a multitude of ways, including driving around the countryside (an easy must do), visiting the historical open air museum in Gutach, tasting Black Forest cake (available everywhere), eating from the numerous seasonal restaurants called Strasse, enjoying the local wine, boating at Titisee, and perusing cuckoo clocks, not to mention hiking and skiing (including long jumping).

Most visitors to the Black Forest make their stops in the cities of Baden Baden and Freiburg, both on the Western edge of the Black Forest. Baden Baden is best known for the natural springs and baths the old European aristocracy frequented.  Today it’s a big tourist destination for Europeans and foreigners alike.  Rick Steves has a lot of great information on Baden Baden, which you can read here.   Freiburg is a city in its own right that also serves as a hub for regional tourism and is home to Freiburg University.

Next Post: Freiburg

Germany: Ludwigsburg

12 09 2008

After hearing that I love touring castles and palaces, L and M decided to take me to visit Ludwigsburg, a city approximately 12 kilometers north of Stuttgart.  Nicknamed the “Swabian Versailles,” Ludwigsburg Palace is one of Germany’s largest Baroque palaces and was at one time, one of the grandest courts in Europe.  The adjective “Swabian” refers to the old region/duchy of Swabia, which encompasses modern day Baden-Wurttemberg and the Swabia area of Bavaria.  The palace was home to the court of the Dukes of Wurttemberg, the rulers of this Germanic region until modern times.  At one time, the Duke of Wurttemberg was raised to the status of King by Napoleon Bonaparte.

At Ludwigsburg Palace, you can explore the courtyards and gardens for free.  You can only tour the inside of the residence with a guide, but for 6 Euros you get a wonderful and in-depth 90 minute tour with an informative guide.  There is an English language tour at 1:30 PM everyday and additional English tours at 11 Am and 3:15 PM on weekends and bank holidays.  German tours run continuously.  Our guide Wolfgang was hilarious, and the tour was not rushed at all.  Actually, I think our tour ended up being 2 hours long – you really do get the value of your admission ticket. There are also a few small museums on the grounds, including a fashion museum for the time period, and two smaller palaces.

Although there is evidence of human settlement dating back to the stone and bronze ages and the area was occupied by different groups (including the Romans) throughout history, the modern city of Ludwigsburg was only founded in the early 18th century while this palace was built.

Duke Eberhard Ludwig of Wurttemberg first built Ludwigsburg Palace as a pleasure palace and hunting lodge.  However, after seeing some of the palaces built by other European royals at the time, the duke decided to expand his palace partly as a way to project his absolute power and partly to serve as his headquarters.  Ludwig also just liked living there.

The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Wurttemberg.

While the palace is mostly built and decorated in the Baroque style, it also features Rococo and Empire style. During the original Duke Ludwig’s time, the Baroque style was popular among the aristocracy as a way to impress others and demonstrate power and control. The Baroque style is characterized by drama and grandeur expressed through architectural details such as large entrances, grand courts, dramatic staircases, and opulence.

Shown above is a drawing of the grounds of Ludwigsburg Palace. Notice the importance of symmetry that is an integral part of the design of palaces during this period.

The entrance to the outer courtyard.

Looking into the inner courtyard.

The grand inner courtyard of Ludwigsburg Palace.

A fountain stands in front of the original hunting lodge, located in the inner courtyard.

Some of the gardens at Ludwigsburg Palace.

The grand staircase we saw the beginning of our tour.

There are beautiful chandeliers in every room.

The king’s reception room.

You can tell it’s for the king because there are three steps to his throne. The queen only gets two steps.

I think this is the king of Wurttemberg. His white part of his royal coat is made of tons of tons of these animals:

A painting of Jesus. He has some extra toes though.

This was a portable organ, one of the duke’s expensive playthings. This way he can enjoy some music on his walks, like an old fashioned boombox.

An example of the exquisite furniture found in this palace. I think this is in the Rococo style, with the in-laid wood and curvy sides and marble top.

Apparently, this palace had so much furniture that it had to give some away to other palaces that were damaged by WWII.

I think this is the queen’s bedroom. Notice the high tech toilet sitting next to the bed.  Click on the photo to see a larger version of the picture.

Above is the room of mirrors.

In those days, every palace had to have a room or hall of mirrors as a show of opulence and richness. During that period, mirrors were as precious as gold. According to our guide, the dukes of Wurttemberg used this room to rendez-vous with his mistress. One of the dukes actually died in here, waiting for his mistress to come.

The pictures above and below are of a grand audience room that is still used by the German government for certain meetings and speeches.

There are whimsical paintings on the wall, including this one of Duke Lugwig, the original builder of the palace.

This room (above) is a masterpiece showcasing the work of a master woodcarver. The entire room is made of inlaid wood, including the floors and the elaborate desk.

At the end of the tour are some rooms set aside for children of visitors to play.  The kids can dress up in 18th century court costumes – it’s quite cute.

Casanova once visited Ludwigsburg Palace and proclaimed it the most magnificent court in Europe.  While it is not the scale of Versailles, it certainly comes close in its opulence and splendor.  Despite having visited many grand castles and palaces in Europe (including Versailles, Neuschwanstein, and Windsor Castle, among others), I think this is my favorite palace in Europe so far.  Unlike the short tours that are packed full of people at these other European tourist attractions, I feel like I really got to see how the dukes/king lived at Ludwigsburg.  You could actually talk to your tourguide and didn’t feel like you were part of a tour factory.  All in all, Ludwigsburg Palace was a perfect ending to my tour of Swabian culture.

Germany: Esslingen

10 09 2008

One of the best things about visiting Germany is that it’s not just the touristy places that are picturesque and historical.  Although we did visit the typical tourist trifecta of Munich, the walled town of Rothenburg and Neuschwanstein Castle (which I will blog about later), I was also lucky enough to see some towns and palaces lesser known to Americans that to me were equally as interesting.

After resting for a day after my arrival, L and M took me on a tour of Esslingen, a city only 15 kilometers from Stuttgart where they had lived for a short period.  Esslingen has one of the best preserved medieval city centers in Baden-Wurttemberg.  It was not destroyed in WWII because it was occupied by U.S. soldiers.

Cobblestone streets are the norm in Germany.

Above is a bridge over the river Neckar.

Although it is much smaller than Stuttgart, Esslingen is actually much older than Stuttgart.  In fact, there is evidence that human settlement in Esslingen dates back to at least 1000 BC and perhaps even to the neolithic stone age.  Esslingen became a market town at around 800 AD, and achieved city status in 1229.  However, Esslingen lost its Imperial city status in 1803 and became part of the Duchy of Wurttemberg.

Above: Stadtkirche Sankt Dionys (Parish Church of St. Dionysius)

The Stadtkirche is known for its two towers, built in separate times, that were later connected because of stability issues.  The chapel in the Stadtkirche dates back to the year 777.  The church as it presently stands was built in the 13th and 14th centuries.

On the day we visited, Esslingen was hosting its annual Onion Festival.  Apparently, this festival originated from an old folk tale from the middle ages in which a market woman tricked the devil into leaving Esslingen by giving him an onion when he demanded an apple.  From then on, the citizens of Esslingen have been known as “little onions” (I looked this up on the internet if you are wondering, M).  Local restaurants set up tables and tents while serving traditional German food featuring onions (zwiebel) and beer, of course.  I had my first introduction to real German food here and partook in some Swabian dumplings and apple soda for lunch.  Yep, the locals had beer with lunch.

After enjoying the festival, we ambled on over to the Rathaus (town hall).  Fortunately, it was only two steps away.

Pictured above is the Altes Rathaus (old town hall), which was built in 1420.  According to the tourist office of Esslingen, the old town hall was built as a solely half-timbered building with classical examples of the characteristic half-timbered constructions of the “Swabian Man.”

The “Swabian Man” construction refers to the criss cross beams between the windows that resemble a man’s body.  It is sort of like a stick figure version of Leonardo’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man.

Above: Another closer up of the Altes Rathaus at street level.

Pictured above is the Neues Rathaus (new town hall), which stands opposite of the Altes Rathaus.  Originally built in the 1700s as the town palace of Baron Franz Gottlieb von Palm, it was later the property of Count Alexander of Württemberg before becoming the new town hall in 1841.

Closeup of other houses surrounding the Altes Rathaus.

Below are some more examples of traditional German architecture.  To me they look like gingerbread houses.

The best part of not going to the super touristy places is that on some days (like when the locals are all enjoying themselves at the Onion Festival), you get the medieval streets all to yourselves.

At Hafenmarkt 4 – 10 are some of the oldest-known row of half-timbered houses in Germany.   These were built between 1328 and 1331.

Brunnen am Kesslergebäude

Esslingen is situated in the wine region of Germany, and it follows that many wineries have shops and wine cellars in town.  Below is the famous Haus zum Einhorn (The House of the Unicorn).

Below is Das Wolfstor, the oldest remaining city gate dating from 1220.

We then strolled through the main shopping street.  So this is where everyone is!

From the shopping street, we walked to the edge of the old town so that we could climb up to and walk along the old town fortification.  This is called the Esslingen Burg (castle).  You need to go under a large road.  When you emerge back at street level, you will see the house below.  Turn right and you will see a set of wood and stone stairs.

There are actually a lot more stairs than it looks from this picture, but the view is worth it!

Just halfway up we are rewarded with these views of the city and the vineyard on the slope above it.

Below is a view of the Stadtkirche.

Here is a picture of the wall on which we were walking:

Below: Der Dicke Turm (The Big Tower) built in 1527.

Gorgeous view of some houses on a hill right outside the city.

After the walk, we went back the way we came and I spied this cute little street.

Esslingen is also well known for its Medieval and Christmas Market that usually runs between the end of November and just before Christmas.  While the Christmas Market is common all over Germany (and even in Chicago), Esslingen’s goes a step further because it is set in a medieval backdrop and includes town criers, jugglers, and other medieval touches.  Hopefully Charles and I will be able witness this event sometime in the future.

From my experience, it appears that you cannot drive more than a few kilometers in Germany without seeing picturesque countryside views and passing by charming medieval architecture.  Every few kilometers on the Autobahn, a sign pops up on the side of the road indicating a historic sight, whether it’s an important church, monastery, town center, palace, hill, or birthplace of a famous person.  Wholly preserved medieval town centers are a little more rare since many were destroyed in WWII, but fortunately we are still able to visit many of them, including Esslingen!

Germany: Arrival and Stuttgart

8 09 2008

I am back in the US after three weeks in Germany (and a little bit of France).  Although I am glad to be sleeping in my own bed, I miss Europe already.  Not only do I dearly miss my sister L and my brother-in-law M, but also I miss the leisurely breakfasts, the clean and tidy streets with quaint houses, the fast cars on the Autobahn, and of course the medieval cobblestone streets that greeted us in almost every city and town we visited.  My wallet is lean from the exchange rate but my mind has been filled to the brim with new fantastic experiences.  And so begin my travels in Germany…

This beautiful sunset in Chicago marked the beginning of my journey. I flew on a direct flight from Chicago O’Hare to Frankfurt.  If you look closely, you can see Wrigley Field all lit up in the lower right hand corner of the photo.

Goodbye Chicago!

Hallo Deutschland!

This was one of my first views of Germany. Although it’s not as obvious from this photo, you could see from the air how boundaries of cities and towns are clearly defined in Germany.  Also notice the river Main flowing through Frankfurt (above).

The famous skyline of Frankfurt, the financial capital of Germany. We didn’t spend much time in Frankfurt outside of the airport. Frankfurt was one of the only cities in Germany that was almost entirely rebuilt in the modern style after WWII.

Did I mention how Germany is full of forests? Large, thick, and tall trees are everywhere in western Germany.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful but I was exhausted on arrival. Because it was an overnight flight and Germany is seven hours ahead of Chicago (Central) time, I got almost no sleep on the flight (not to mention how uncomfortable Economy class is in general). Arrival at Frankfurt airport went without a hitch. In fact, my flight arrived early. M tells me that this is quite normal for this particular flight. Immigration and Customs were a breeze. My flight landed at around 11 AM (11:10 scheduled arrival time) and I was outside hugging my sister by 11:30 AM.

Charles’ experience a week later was the opposite, although it was the fault of the airline and not the airport. His flight was delayed twice and 3 hours in total. On an overnight flight this was especially horrible. But I digress.

After the 8 hour 40 minute flight, we had to drive about 2 hours to get to L and M’s home in Stuttgart. Thus, while I was excited to try a German restaurant, I was overjoyed to eat at this fast food chain:

KFC in Stuttgart

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love to take pictures of KFCs around the world. Well, we did more than that and ate here for a very late lunch.   Actually, I was quite impressed with American fast food chains in Germany. They were clean, even chic in appearance. The employees were very polite and nice, although they mess up your order more often than not, just like in the US. And, they have some of the cleanest, best bathrooms in Europe. They even have designer faucets.

Best of all, we ate the Colonel’s chicken on china!   That’s right, that is china and NOT plastic or paper in the picture.  And it was delicious. They do not have franken-chicken in Germany.


Throughout most of this trip, L and M’s apartment in Stuttgart was our home away from home. L and M live in a residential neighborhood situated on a hill in Stuttgart proper. This neighborhood is a great example of how neat and tidy everything is in Germany.

L and M have a large, sunny home that looks like it is straight out of the pages of the latest IKEA catalog. While we Americans are all familiar with IKEA, it doesn’t completely click until you have seen the furniture in its home environs in Europe. The Ektorp sofa and matching ottoman and the TOBO media storage combination have never looked so good – it is chic and functional at its best!

L and M have a great relaxing balcony where you can enjoy some greenery.

We even had a gorgeous view of the Stuttgart environs from the guest room. As you can see, even an industrial city such as Stuttgart has beautiful countryside views.  One of the most surprising things about Stuttgart is that it is also situated in a fertile valley surrounded by vineyards and forest. In fact, Stuttgart is Germany’s largest wine growing city.

Stuttgart is the capital of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. It is one of the wealthiest areas in Germany and has some of the lowest crime rates in the country.  Considered the “cradle of the automobile” because Mercedes, Porsche, and Maybach are all produced in Stuttgart, the city is also home to Daimler AG and Bosch, among other major corporations.

Parts of downtown Stuttgart are very modern and corporate. Mercedes is king in this town, and most tourists come here for the Mercedes Benz Museum.

Downtown Stuttgart

The center of Stuttgart is the Schlossplatz (Castle Square), which is surrounded by the two main castles and the major museums. Below is a picture of the “old” castle, which dates back to the founding of the city in 950 AD.

The Old Castle

The “new” castle, which was built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was behind me when I took the picture of the old castle. However, there was an REM concert that night right in front of the new castle and it was entirely covered by a huge bandstand, lights, and seating so unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the new castle. It is a very grand palace, though.

Another view from the Schlossplatz.

Besides the Schlossplatz and the Mercedes Benz museum, most visitors come to Stuttgart for the grand Wilhelma Zoo and Botanical Gardens.  Built around 1850, this former summer palace has beautiful pavilions, greenhouses and gardens, in addition to the zoo.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go there, but I am sure it is as divine as it sounds.  Stuttgart is also home to several historic churches, museums, galleries, and parks.

Parts of downtown Stuttgart are at once urban and cozy. Just a few blocks from the Schlossplatz are some pedestrian only cobblestone streets filled with shops, cafes, and trendy restaurants.  I saw one street that was reserved just for outdoor seating for cafes and restaurants.

We went to this Italian place for lunch one day. It is right off a small mall:

We also visited the famous Markthalle, an indoor market hall.  The stands are filled with fresh produce, meat, and other products from all over the world.  Although it certainly has local foods, this market is world class.  The Washington Post did a great article in 2006 on the Markthalle in Stuttgart, which you can read here.

I spent a relaxing couple of days recovering from jet lag and spending time with L and M in Stuttgart.  It was a wonderful introduction to German life.

NEXT: Freiburg Esslingen, Ludwigsburg

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