Stuttgart: Faces of a City
Written by Marion Busacker
As well as being a centre of design excellence, Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg’s state capital, is at the same time a city nestled in picturesque scenery, surrounded by rolling vineyards, picturesque buildings, and magnificent palaces and castles. And what better way to explore the rich landscape, than behind wheel of a classic sports car?
Classic cars can be hired at the Meilenwerk’s classic and sports car rental in Böblingen. For your tour of discovery, for which you should allow at least two days, you could in theory hire the Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman – complete with chauffeur and state flags – which was originally owned by Congo’s ex-president Mobutu. There is a plethora of beautiful machines to drive, such as a 1968 Ford Mustang and Ferrari 328 GTS. However, you should opt for something quintessentially Stuttgart with a 1958 Porsche 356A, or 1970 Mercedes-Benz 220SEB.
But before you set off to explore the surrounds, change down a gear and take a look at the Meilenwerk on its heritage-protected site at a former airfield. The main building houses the V8 Hotel with ten themed rooms. Try sleeping in a converted Cadillac, a workshop, a drive-in cinema, or the 120m2 suite in what used to be the control tower. In the hangar, a Lockheed Starfighter recalls the original purpose of the hall where some 200 classic and exotic cars now stand, from the micro-sized Goggomobil to a rare 1930 Rolls-Royce.
Safely ensconced behind the wheel, allow a whole day for exploring Stuttgart’s city centre – it has a touch of almost everything: a wealth of culture with museums, opera, and ballet, the world’s first television tower, and a host of traditional festivals such as the Cannstatt Beer Festival (one of the biggest in Europe) the wonderful Christmas Market, and the Stuttgart Wine Village. The city has a long tradition of viniculture and is located in the heart of one of Germany’s largest wine-growing areas. The Romans planted the first vineyards here, and they’re still a prominent feature of today’s cityscape. You can get an impression of them from the hill known as the Württemberg. The route through the vines leads to the mausoleum built for Queen Katharina, where you’ll be rewarded by a magnificent panoramic view of the east of the city.
Stuttgart and the region are not only famous for their fine wines, however, but also as a centre of commerce. Each year there are around 3,600 applications for patents – the second-largest number in the whole of Europe.
There’s a strong tradition of innovation here. In 1886 Gottlieb Daimler and Karl (later Carl) Benz together invented the Benz Patent Motor Car, the world’s first automobile, and founded the world’s first car factory in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim in 1926. Today Mercedes-Benz and Daimler are known the world over, as are Porsche sports cars. In 1931 Ferdinand Porsche founded a construction bureau in Stuttgart, the cornerstone of the prestigious brand.
The development of these two companies and their products, from the past up to the present day, is illustrated in the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museums, with many original automobiles and other exhibits. Both exhibitions are an absolute ‘must’ and enthral not only car enthusiasts. In addition, this summer the region is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the automobile. The opening event of the ‘Automobile Year 2011’ is on May 7-8 on Stuttgart’s Schlossplatz (Palace Square), in the city centre.
Get out of town
From Stuttgart it’s only about 20km to Ludwigsburg, the site of one of Europe’s most magnificent and extensive Baroque palaces. This ‘Swabian Versailles’ was once the residence of the dukes and kings of Württemberg, and the rooms of several rulers from different eras have been preserved and are open to the public. In the surrounding park, you can admire garden art from various epochs. Opposite the royal palace is the hunting and pleasure palace of Favorite, with avenues leading to the lakeside palace of Monrepos – the elegant backdrop for the annual ‘Klassik Open Air’ event and firework show.
Next, head 30km south along Schloßstraße/B27, onto the B10 to Esslingen. The picture-perfect old town centre, with its 1,200 years of history, is just what tourists imagine Germany to be. Here you’ll find the earliest timber building (1261) and the earliest row of timber houses in Germany, and three town halls from three centuries. Esslingen is also famed for Georg Christian Kessler, founder of Germany’s first winery. Kessler learned his trade from Widow (Veuve) Cliquot in Reims, and Kessler’s 800-year-old vaults are a step back in time. The wine cellar of the nearby Gaststätte Einhorn is only 100 years younger, and in the Middle Ages it served as a wine store for vintners. Today, typical Swabian cuisine is served in these quaint surroundings.
About half an hour farther south, along the B313 and B312, take a break from culture in the Outlet City of Metzingen, with shops selling Hugo Boss, Escada, and an array of luxury labels. This is no mall though, but an integral and individual part of the town centre. What’s more, you can hire a Porsche Cayenne complete with chauffeur to drive you to the Outlet City from Stuttgart Airport.
Just 10km southwest of Metzingen is Bad Urach which leads you to the Swabian. Bad Urach was once the seat of the counts of Württemberg. Its castle, town hall, and historic marketplace, whose fountain and wooden dwellings define the late medieval townscape, are well worth a visit. The Schäferlauf (Shepherds Race) on July 24, 2011 is a traditional local festival culminating in the race itself, where unmarried shepherds and shepherdesses run across a stubble field – naturally barefoot.
Allow time for a short detour to the picturesque Urach waterfall – which free-falls for 37 metres, then flows over mossy rocks for another 50 metres – and the limestone show caves of Nebelhöhle, before heading for Marbach. Marbach is home to the state’s oldest stud farm, Haupt- und Landgestüt Marbach, which was opened in 1477 by the then Duke of Wüttemberg. There are three farms in all, and most of the stables in Marbach are open to the public. In addition, exclusive guided tours and coach rides can be booked in advance. Queen Elizabeth II of England, insisting on visiting the stud in 1956, was disappointed – unfortunately, she landed 7km further north in Schiller’s birthplace, Marbach am Neckar. On leaving the National Museum she is reported to have uttered only one sentence: “And where are the horses?”
Our final drive takes us 40km southwest once more to Tübingen, where we turn left (north) and get swept into the dense woodlands of the Schönbuch National Park. Then, 6km into the woodlands is Bebenhausen; but it seems like a journey through time. One of the best-preserved medieval monasteries, Bebenhausen could well serve as a film set.
From 1190 to 1684 it was home to Cistercian monks. In the early 19th century it became the property of the royal family, and in 1868 King Friedrich I of Württemberg had the abbot’s house converted into a magnificent hunting palace. Much of the monastery and palace can be seen in their original states.?A meal at the adjacent Restaurant Waldhorn, Michelin-starred since 1985, is an enjoyable way to round off your tour of Stuttgart and its surrounding area – a region full of diversity.
These are Europe’s largest zoological-botanical gardens and unique in Germany. King Wilhelm I of Württemberg had the park laid out as his private garden in the Moorish style, and today the ‘Alhambra on the Neckar’ attracts over 20 million visitors yearly with some 6,000 species of plants and over 8,000 animals, many of which are endangered species in their native habitats. The young animals nursery, where abandoned baby apes from all over Europe are taken in and reared, is a special magnet. If possible, come when the biggest magnolia grove north of the Alps is in full bloom – depending on the winter, from the end of March onwards. Alternatively there’s the water lily pond with an area of 650m2. From May to October giant lotus flowers and some 35 varieties of water lilies bloom at different times throughout the day.
Stuttgart Spring Festival:
Don’t be surprised if in April you come across some of Stuttgart’s inhabitants in a merry mood, wearing dirndls and lederhosen. National dress is not usually typical of the state capital, but when Europe’s biggest spring festival invites visitors from far and near to the Cannstatter Wasen fairground for the 73rd time, from April 23 to May 15, 2011, young and old alike dress for the occasion. In the huge marquees, festival beer, Swabian specialities, and brass bands make for a great atmosphere. Stroll round the fairground, sample the candyfloss, the candied almonds, and the many fairground rides.
Two tips en route for Tübingen:
Meilenwerk Region Stuttgart
Outlet City Metzingen
Haupt- und Landgestüt Marbach (stud Marbach)
Hotel Restaurant Forellenhof Rössle