The problem with many of the places in Germany I would love to visit is that due to distance, I need to consider more than one-day trip for a serious discovery therefore, everything should be planned in time, mostly if I want to get the best Deutsche Bahn tickets and convenient hotel rates. This year, I started to advance on my list of places to see that are far away from Berlin, starting with Karlsruhe and its cosy neighbouring towns, such as Baden-Baden. Next on the list was Stuttgart, that I longed to see for a long time. After a long 6 hours trip from the capital city, I am here to explore it step by step for 48 hours.
When I arrived there, on a sunny spring day of mid-March, the entire train station was surrounded by massive construction works and finding my way to the hotel via the center was not very easy, especially when I was not sure which way to go out of the workshop maze. Luckily, the impressive construction of the central train station, built between 1911 and 1928 diminished my frustration. The masonry is made of different types of stones, creating a monumental archaic impression.
The next stop is the famous Stuttgart City Library inaugurated in October 2011, one of the main reasons I wanted to visit this city for such a long time. Projected as the beating heart of the newly emerging neighbourhood, the library from Mäilander Platz is built as a cube with edge length of 45 meters. Inside, it follows the design of an ancient pantheon, the plans being inspired by the work Cenotaph for Newton, by Etienne Boulle, an architectural poetic homage to science. Before and after going to visit and look for a book from one of the neatly organised 8 levels of bookish delight, one can stop at the 1square meter fountain wrapped into the light coming from the top of the ceiling, in an area designed to create a meditative space.
Meditative myself, but also humanly limited by my jealousy of the citizens of Stuttgart, blessed to have access to such a bookish resource, I am strolling slowly the busy shopping areas and the chaise-longues in the front of restaurants taken by people enjoying the generous rays of sun in Pariser Platz. It is time to go back to my route, find my hotel and continue the exploration, although, every couple of meters I am tempted to stop and follow a random street.
Once I am at the beginning of the 1.2 km long Königstrasse, the vibe of the city catches me. It is Thursday afternoon and tourists and locals are heading from all direction to what it is the beating heart of the consummerist pleasure, institutional decision making - the building of the State Parliament, Landtag is situated nearby - or just walking.
The Marktplatz, with a history coming back to the year 1304, displays a hectic mixture of classical and modern, with shopping centers hosted in temples lookalike buildings and transparent cubes offering a glimpse into the contemporary art trends. As usual in Germany, any sunny day is an opportunity to spend as much time as possible outdoors, in this case on the grass.
Once I am checking in at my hotel, my second, and hopefully more organised part of my trip is about to start. But leaving some place for the unknown is part of my travels, therefore, when I see the small tram that reminds me of Lisbon, at Marienplatz, I don't think twice before I am heading...not sure where. Interestingly, as the city is apparently coping with serious pollution problems, the days when the level of air pollution is high, the costs of the tickets are half, an information generously shared by a local helping me to find the right ticket for my short trip.
After ten minutes of tram ride, when I passing near fantastic photographic corners from where I can have an overview of different parts of the city, I am in the Degerloch part of the city, a relatively quiet area that used to be a religious quarter back in the 12th century.
Back in the city, on the usual touristic route, I am checking various traditional destinations, such as the family brewery Dinkelacker, with experience in producing beer made in Schwabia - the geographical and historical part of Germany to whom Stuttgart belongs - from the 19th century. Tours and other sightseeings of the location are possible, and a big restaurant generously offering local beers and food seems to be always busy with customers.
The architecture and culture lover is rewarded with the view of the Altes Schauspielerhaus - Old Playhouse - an Art Deco structure with Baroque elements with 500 seats.
Baden-Württemberg is one of the wealthiest parts of Germany, with a high-end economic and banking profile. Therefore, no wonder that an impressive building is dedicated exclusively to economic activities and research. Haus der Wirtschaft is worth a short look even if you are not a rich and successful banker or CEO, because it shows the importance given to research and development, an incentive for the German economy in general.
However, I am superficial enough to look for other manifestation of a successful economy, mainly the good foodie places. Feinkost Böhm is, for instance, such a destination, offering high-end gourmet products, plus a nice bar in the middle where sushi and some champagne is generously available.
For the end of my first day in Stuttgart, I am exploring places on Königstrasse, with its art messages spread between luxury stores and shopping centers.
Although not in the mood for some shopping experience, I can't miss the occasion to enter the Königsbau Passagen, be it only for its bold architecture.
And also for a little bit of local sweets, the Cremschnitte, with the yellow cream melting between the fine pastry layers, which vaguely reminds me of some childhood sweet dishes. Unfortunatelly for my foodie reputation, this is the only local food I am trying during this trip. No Maultaschen - the mince filled pasta dish similar to ravioli - no Kasspätzle - the cheesy noodles - not even the Swabian national dish - lentils with noodles. This time I was to busy to explore the city, even on an empty stomach.
On the way back to the hotel, the city is showing its secret corners under the electric lights of the night.
Marktplatz is looking more restrained, now when the tourists and locals are no more out of the street. As a Messestadt, a city regularly hosting international fairs, Stuttgart seems to never sleep, with a constant number of visitors from Germany and all over the world always around checking the local trademarks.
The next day starts early in the morning with an ambitious agenda, that should be adapted to the aggressive rain that will follow my curious steps. I am buying a one-day ticket that will help me move faster through the city - 6.90 Euro - available for both tram, metro and bus. First stop: the TV Tower - Fernsehturm -, a landmark of the city, famous far beyond the German borders. Built 60 years ago, the 217 metre high construction it is the world's first TV Tower, who served as a model for similar constructions in Frankfurt am Main, Dortmund, Johannesburg and China. From the top, one can have an overview of Stuttgart and its surroundings, preferably while having a meal at the restaurant.
Back in the central area, I am running from the rain at the Staatsgalerie, which has an extraordinary collection of old and new art that can keep you busy for long hours.
My favorite section is dedicated to modern and contemporary artists, such as Chagall or Frank Stella.
The building itself combines various styles, from the classical entrance to the more exuberant and anti-traditional new wing.
Classical in appearance and spirit, the State Ballet is another famous landmark of the city, with a tradition of being on the forefront of international dance for over 50 years. Especially when you are new in town, with a precarious language knowledge, but interested in arts, this place might be the favorite destination for the new expats and Stuttgart is due to its economic and industrial relevance a destination for people from all over the world.
However, as I noticed myself as an expat in Berlin for over 8 years, you always need a lot of local knowledge if you want to grasp the local culture and symbols. For instance, if you visit any tourist store in Stuttgart, you might notice everywhere two funny figures, a worried donkey and a naive monkey. The two, Äfflen and Pferdle, were the symbols of the local Swabian programs for children in the 1960s, and are still the funny mascots of the city.
My next destination for the day is in a completely different part of the city, but only five minutes away by train - S-Bahn - from the central area. In a couple of minutes, I am arriving in a heavy industry area, ready for another immersion into the local culture.
The Mercedes Benz Museum, situated at Mercedes Street 100, is at the first sight an architectural landmark, with its sophisticated contrasts between glass, metal and transparent spaces disposed as part of a complex and complicated geometry.
Inside, the view is equally impressive, and leaves a strong memory although you are not interested in cars or Mercedes Benz as such. The exhibition starts at the last level where the visitor arrives in a metal capsule like elevator. It is a real journey through time and history and the way in which the information is displayed, through video, photos and written text make it one of the best museums I ever visited.
I particularly appreciated how the history of the famous German brand car is intervowen with the industrial revolution and the history of the country. The eight levels of the museum unfold chronologically from the beginnings of the 19th century, until our era.
Even if you are not a big fan of vintage cars, it is not easy to ignore the extraordinary impact on the material culture of the Benz and Daimler discoveries. An unique experience through a 125-years timeline, live lesson into the history of innovation displayed through 16,500 square meters.
There is also a car and truck collection, as well as of race cars, disposed on the spires stages of the museum, descending from the last level. In total, there are 160 vehicles and 1,500 exhibits presented, among which historical pieces, such as the boat owned by Bismark, a present from Daimler.
From the Museum, I am walking a different path to the train, having a view over the Mercedes Benz Arena, home of the local soccer team VfB Stuttgart, the center of the most important sport activities in the city.I am back in the central area, in the mood to see all the hidden gems around the big shopping alleys. The castle gardens are a pleasant walk, if it doesn't rain too often, as it happened almost every 30 minutes since I started my second day in Stuttgart.
With such a rich cultural offer, there are always things to fill the time between rain showers. The Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg offers the opportunity to find out more about the culture and history of this part of Germany, for instance.
Nearby, the Markthalle invites me to check out some foodie delishes, covering the entire world, including Spain and France, with charcuterie, fine cheeses and wine, a lot of wine...
In the weekend, the flea market from Stauffenbergplatz is generously offering deals of all kinds, or just the opportunity to discover special local and family histories or secrets.
It is never enough walking, as I feel that I still have a couple of things to see here. For instance, the elegant Karlpassage, which reminds me of the elegant KaDeWe from Berlin, with its many international brands and a champagne counter too...
Hiding between two brand stores, I finally find also some street art in Stuttgart: a manga wall on Kirchstraße, an interesting sight in this fancy looking area.
If you are visiting Stuttgart, there is another area pulsing with life, recently brought to life: Bohnen Quarter, or the Bean Quarter, a former settlement of tradesmen and wine-growers situated initially beyond the city walls. It acquired its name from poor inhabitants which grew beans in theor gardens. After a massive redevelopment at the end of the 1970s, the area is a lively part of the city, with fancy restaurants, bars and modern apartments.
I have enough time at hand to notice how the stone high-ground levels and windows are writing an interesting narrative of a street, especially when no one is around.
As usual, there is a different feeling you have of a city when you are wandering the streets early in the morning. On the way to the train station, I am trying to see even more and catch up some more travel information.
Just before I have to leave Stuttgart - hope not for too long - I have the chance to have a look at the Hegel Haus where the famous philosopher whose conceptions influenced the history of European thoughts in the 19th century was born and lived the first 18 years of his life
My last sight before I say 'good bye' is the Palace Gardens, an elegant architectural display in the middle of a green oasis. I've spent very some very intense 48 hours in Stuttgart but I want to come back to have an even more local feeling. I hope this will happen sooner than later.