Until recently Stuttgart was virtually a blank page for me. Even though my parents and I visited relatives in its suburbs throughout the years, these social calls were usually in connection with birthdays, or my cousins’ confirmations, and did not entail sightseeing. So it was with fresh eyes that I encountered Baden-Württemberg’s capital during my travels this past fall. My aunt and uncle housed and fed me royally, and my aunt also introduced me to her home turf by taking me on a circuit of the city’s center.
Our tour began at the new Central Library, completed in 2011. This fabulous futuristic cube affords Escheresque views on the inside, and a panorama of Stuttgart from the rooftop’s observation platform.
The town developed in the picturesque Neckar River valley, but is composed of a number of vales and hills. The river climate is conducive to the thriving of forests and vineyards and I was pleasantly surprised by so much verdure and viticulture.
From the library, we strolled to the Main Train Station which was saved a few years ago by citizen protesters from demolition in the context of Stuttgart 21, a controversial public transportation renewal project whose ongoing process has resulted in ubiquitous construction sites. The railroad hub sits at one end of downtown’s main shopping avenue, the Königstraße. Parallel to this pedestrian zone runs the Upper Castle Park with a number of historic buildings.
We admired the elegant Opera House and the Neues Schloß (New Castle), the 18th century baroque residence of the former kings of Württemberg which now accommodates offices of the state legislature.
It replaced the neighboring Altes Schloß (Old Castle) whose origins date back to the 10th century, after it had outlived its purpose. Since 1969 it is home to the state museum.
Like many German communities, Stuttgart was in the crosshairs of Allied bombing during World War II, and was heavily damaged. The two palaces have been restored to their former grandeur, but of the nearby Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church) mainly walls remained, and it was rebuilt with major modifications. Surviving stone fragments highlight the original architecture, and glass panels on the ceiling are arranged to imitate the former existence of a main nave and two side aisles.
At the beloved art nouveau Markthalle (market hall), which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, the appealing aroma and appetizing aspects of an assortment of local and international foods provided a veritable feast for the senses.
Enticed by its ambience and attractions, I returned downtown repeatedly. An amazing 4 story bookstore, Buchhaus Wittwer, with a dizzying array of regional, national, and global titles, and comfortable chairs, kept beckoning. Near this buzzing book hive, I encountered an extensive string of soap bubbles, enchanting to the young, and the young at heart. The shopping district’s proximity to numerous notable structures creates a very alluring combination in the core of the city.
I was delighted to detect that the Upper Palace Park was only the first in a succession of connected oases of greenery that run like a ribbon through the urban landscape. It is followed by the Middle and Lower Castle Parks, as well as the Rosenstein Park. Miles and miles of non-motorized trails wind through copses and alleys of trees and along scenic creeks and lakes. My stay coincided with a string of sun-kissed days, stimulating to man and animal alike and I relished the brilliant arboreal colors.
My family also introduced me to additional local landmarks, among them the Max-Eyth-Lake, nestled adjacent to the Neckar. Along this stretch of the river, one of the embankments is steep and covered with vineyards, the opposite gradual, with high-rises. A Black Swan seemed as enthralled by the sights as I.
In Ludwigsburg, a short distance north of Stuttgart, my cousin and I strolled across the Saturday market and caught a glimpse of the baroque palace and gardens. With more time at our disposal we would have paid the fee to view the annual gourd festival which features artistic cucurbit displays.
On a stunning Sunday we joined what appeared to be the majority of the resident population on a pilgrimage to the Württemberg, the state’s eponymous hill, where King William I expressed his love for his wife, the Russian Duchess Catherine Pavlova, in a magnificent edifice, after she passed away prematurely. He commissioned her sepulchral chapel in the neoclassical style with a dome modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.
Its prominent position offers jaw-dropping views of the scenery, similar to those from the nearby Kernenturm (Kernen Tower) in the midst of the flamboyant fall forest.
I was spoiled by this beautiful Swabian locale, the clement weather, and by my obliging hosts. Stuttgart and surroundings will definitely remain on my travel wish list, and I highly recommend it as a destination.
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