It’s now been over a month since my arrival in Germany, and since then I’ve crossed the country (up and down, left to right) four times, chucked a bit of a party in Prague and explored a massive chunk of my “home” state, Baden-Württemberg.
Apart from Freiburg and the Black Forest, I’m pretty confident in saying I’ve covered all my “must-visit” towns, cities and sites in the state… Maybe half of them today alone!
So I’m going to try address that, starting now!
Of course, the most exciting things to happen happened in the last few hours, so you can tell I’m itching to write about them. In the spirit of Irreversible (I watched it the other night and was rightly impressed, disgusted and horrified) then, I think it’d be interesting to deliver this story backwards. Let’s start with today, yeah?
Fit for a King
I cycled across Mannheim, in the dark, to reach the Hauptbahnhof and my early morning train, the first of many throughout the day.
Cruising through the country on a combination of train and bus, I managed to arrive in the rather small town (small compared to Mannheim at least) of Hechingen. Nestled at the base of the mountains, Hechingen was my starting point for a wander up to the absolutely incredible Burg Hohenzoller.
The fortified castle, house of the House of Hohenzollern and third castle to be built on the site, is one of the most magnificent buildings I’ve ever walked into. To go from seeing postcards and Google images to actually walking up the steep ascent and into the gates… Well…
It’s a long way to go for only a couple of hours in a specific location, but definitely worth the trip out. The moment you get up to the Burg (wether by shuttle bus or the more adventurous hike) and look out over the nearby towns you’ll be blown away. I immediately wanted to bottle the air.
Clouds moving under you, gothic spires and stained-glass windows make you feel like you’re in some slightly-less-magical Hogwarts. It’s surrounded by thick forest, a place where you could likely still get lost and end up meeting witches and nymphs.
The castle itself is actually fairly small, at least the explorable section is. I wrapped up my individual tour (I can imagine going on a guided tour through here would be a bit laborious and limiting) in just under two hours and that’s including the time it took me to eat a slice of cake. Traveling solo to busy places like this gives you a lot of freedom, but also gets you done quicker. I feel a bit like I’d not taken enough time to appreciate everything (though I really did). If it weren’t for the waves of screaming kids and tourists arriving at midday I would have stayed longer, just to sit and watch the world go by, feeling like a king.
Really though, I’m glad I got out of there fairly early, as it gave me time to explore more areas during the day!
Fear and Loathing in Hechingen
I wandered back down the mountain a bit early for the bus back to town, so I decided I’d go for a hike. It’s something I’ve been itching to do here for ages so, even with only an hour to spare, I hitched up my boots and ventured forth. Like that? The word “ventured”? Very medieval, yeah.
I found a quiet track leading from the carpark into the wilderness and spent my damn time just slowly walking, taking in the scenery and just breathing. After a month of hustle and bustle and moving quickly, I definitely needed this short time just to appreciate things. Like my visit to my “happy place” in Prague, this excursion bought me closer to the area, and to Germany!
I did have to Google “Woodland Predators Germany” though, just to be sure I wasn’t going to be attacked by wolves. Stupid, I know, but knowing is half the battle (the other half is violence).
When I got back to Hechingen though I found it essentially deserted. With nothing more than a pub open on the quiet Saturday, I decided to just sit by the train station with a beer and write postcards. This was also super nice, but heading into a small-town pub while speaking a very small amount of the local language is definitely going to get you some strange looks.
Instead of spending the whole day there (my train back to Mannheim was only booked for seven o’clock), I decided to boogy onwards and doing some more city spotting before the day was over.
Back home I never rode trains, anywhere. They just weren’t the done thing, and there was no infrastructure at all in my neck of the woods. So catching seven separate trains in one day was definitely a change of pace for me. I’m actually surprised at how easy it was, especially with the Deutsche Bahn app on my phone, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. If Germany does one thing right, it’s definitely public transport.
I hopped from Hechingen to nearby Tùbignen first. Funnily enough, this was the only other option for student exchange my home university offered, so it was interesting to see what could have been. Obviously, I’m really happy I chose Mannheim, as Tübingen just doesn’t seem (at least on the surface) to offer as much. That, plus it’s location, would have made travel and life a bit more difficult.
Of course, it’s still a beautiful town. The river, infested with gondolas, is gorgeous on a sunny day and it’s old, twisted, colourful buildings add a medieval character that you just don’t get in industrial ol’ Mannheim.
Plus they had a sweet gaming store there.
Honestly, I wasn’t there long enough to really write anything more about it, but I’m definitely glad I got to see it, even for such a short time. My next stop, however, was a little more high-profile.
The Beating Heart
Deciding I might as well just catch the train back home from the stop-over point anyway, I spent about ten euro to hop over to Stuttgart, the capital of mein neues Heimat.
As I arrived in the city, the sun had already started flagging and things were getting grey, but the place was still humming with energy. The Stuttgarter Volksfest was on and so the stadt was covered in live music, street food, street booze and lederhosen. With hundreds of rowdy German lads and a huge outpouring of family fun, Stuttgart felt like a bubbly, fun and exciting place.
I really only managed to see the main stretch of the city outside of the Hauptbahnhof, but what I did get to see was incredible, just like I would have expected. The fountains and lawns of Schlossplatz are distinctly German and impressive. The shopping district is modern and jam-packed. Even the Hauptahnhof is super impressive, with massively high ceilings that speak of some sort of German strength. You can definitely sense that this is the beating heart of the state.
I spent a little time walking up and down this stretch, before getting dinner at a cute little burger joint called “Hans im Glück”, which presented their menu in a storybook style. The food was good… not great, but definitely good after a long day of hiking around and trying not to fall asleep on trains.
I left Stuttgart in the night, running into friends from Mannheim along the way (kleine welt, huh?), and dealing with an absolutely jam-packed and uncomfortably loud train. I mean, it’s great to hear the energy and excitement from the Volksfest party-goers, but jeez, hold in the testosterone for just an hour, please.
Overall, the day was absolutely magical and went off without a hitch. The one mistake I did make during the day was putting sugar on my chips accidentally. It wasn’t too bad though. I must admit, in a shocking revelation never before shared, that I put sugar on bacon as a small child and really liked it. Yup.
This success was all facilitated, of course, by having a smart phone with plenty of charge and data. I was able to take great pictures, write notes for this post and, most importantly, make sure I caught the right buses. I hate to admit it, as it gives the robots the power, but I don’t think I could have done a three city tour with 24 hours if it weren’t my handy brick. If you’re traveling alone and at the same break-neck pace as I was, you definitely need to come prepared.
It’s absolutely great to have friends with you, but when you can’t (or just want a bit of meditative solitude in the middle of the woods), definitely take advantage of the time. Pick one big thing that you want to see and do it, going on from there wherever you feel like the Great Magnet is pulling you.
More on Baden-Württemberg to come soon!