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.

STUTTGART

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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