SECOND STOP — STUTTGART
When I think of Stuttgart, the capital of a German federal state Baden-Württemberg, “Baustelle,” a German word for “construction site,” comes first to my mind. This is an association created by the stories of so many neighbors, relatives and my friends’ grandfathers from the Balkans working on construction areas in southern German cities, mostly in Stuttgart, during the 70s and 80s. Some know Stuttgart from its car industry: the base of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, or yet for its extensive wine culture. But Stuttgart’s electivity does not end there: another piece of the puzzle is the traditional Spring festival, known as — the “Frühlingsfest.“ The picture I paint in stop two of my German cities tour depicts these bits and pieces of Stuttgart.
With my closest family members visiting me here in Mannheim, I’ve decided to give them a tour of nearby German cities that I also haven’t visited myself, and Stuttgart found itself high on my list. The first place we saw as we arrived at the city center was the “Schlossplatz,” or Palace Square. By now, I am more than used to German cities having castles and palaces inside or outside the center, with them functioning as street names, squares, statues, museums etc. Almost all of them date back to the Middle ages and proudly represent different cultural eras.
Schlossplatz is the largest square in Stuttgart, where two fountains encompassed with figures represent the eight main rivers of Baden-Württemberg.
Fun fact #1: Stuttgart is the only German city with municipal wine estate, which covers around 17.5 hectare. Therefore, Stuttgart is often a base for wine festivals and wine culture in general.
While walking through the city center, I was surprised how many tourists were going in and out from shopping malls with giant suitcases. We went in to see what it was all about, and it turns out that Stuttgart is one of the most popular tax-free shopping destinations in Germany. Branded clothes, cosmetics, business supplies, all that was stuffed into the suitcases of tourists from all cultures, colors and ethnicities. I just couldn’t believe that someone would be “trapped” in the walls of a shopping center and miss out on seeing and experiencing the city. The madness of grabbing so many articles and long lanes at the cashier lines reminded me of Black Friday in the U.S. – which I dislike almost as much.
Fun fact #2: Stuttgart is also well-known for its 8 km Green-U, which represents a chain of parks and green areas, including more popular Wilhelma and Leibfriedscher Gardens. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see this on our visit, but that is just another reason to come back.
While in Stuttgart, at least for most boys and young men, either Porsche or Mercedes-Benz Museum is the top destination to visit. It was no exception for my brother. We had time for only one, so we chose Mercedes-Benz. An enormous, stunning building in its wavy shape, which raises up like a spiral, is just as impressive from inside. The exhibitions grasp a long motor car history from 1886 throughout the present day. Around 160 vehicle exhibits and special exhibition pieces are available for visitors.
The museum’s shape resembles a DNA double helix structure, and represents the heritage of the Mercedes brand, which is embedded in every piece of 1,500 exhibits which are on display.
Just as in my previous posts about Mannheim and the origin of the first petrol-powered car by Karl and Martha Benz, it is evident that Mercedes-Benz traces exactly these origins. Patented in January 1886 by Bertha Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and engineer Wilhelm Maybach improved the stagecoach by adding a petrol engine later that year. Today, it’s one of the most famous automotive brands in the world with a catchy slogan: “The Best or Nothing.” Reaching a couple of shiny, colorful floors with various vehicles, I finally gave up and decided to take a break on the sofa. Not surprisingly, many children were running around, while the parents were resting. I heard the conversations in my own language, which going back to the “Baustelle” point, makes perfect sense.
For my taste, I would prefer having cars like this “vintage-lady” to be on the streets today.
And the last look at Stuttgart I experienced was at a completely different occasion, a more traditional one — the Stuttgart Spring festival. The festival takes place every year for about 14 to 16 days in mid April and the beginning of May at the Cannstatter Wasen in Bad Cannstatt. It’s the second biggest beer festival in Germany, after Oktoberfest in Munich. Besides the traditional food world of sausages (“Würste”), potatoes (“Kartoffeln”), sour cabbage (“sauer Kraut”), pasta squares with meet and spinach (“Maultaschen”), among others, the visitors can also enjoy the traditional German beer that comes in big jugs of one liter. VISUM, a student group at our University, took the international students for a one-day “As German as it gets” unforgettable trip, as we later begun to call it.
Prior to the trip, I didn’t know too much about the southern culture and customs, but it was quite easy to observe and learn from the atmosphere. A big tent with wooden tables and tiny benches was prepared for the hungry and thirsty visitors, eager for some folk music and good old German days. The program started at 4 p.m. and the two main singers and a couple of players, dressed in the traditional clothes, entertained the audience. As the tent was filling and the air was becoming somewhat thicker, the atmosphere exploded with positive vibes and a general good mood. Everyone was standing on the benches, singing and dancing along the traditional lyrics of “Ein Prosit”:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
A toast, a toast
to your health and well being.
A toast, a toast
to your health and well being.
The Stuttgart Spring festival started around 1818, when King Wilhelm I sponsored the festival after years of hunger. Today, it’s the premiere cultural celebration of well being, happiness and joy.
Fun fact #3: The traditional costume for women is called “Dirndl” and for men “Lederhosen.” “Dirndl” comes from the word “Dirne,” which is an old-fashioned word for “young girl.” “Dirndl” is actually an abbreviation for the “Drindlgewand,” which meant “dress of a young girl.” “Lederhosen” mean simply the leather trousers.
Most of the boys and girls, men and women were wearing this traditional southern clothing.
The “Dirndl” is typical for the south of Germany and Austria and dates back to 1870 and 1880. It used to express a fashion trend in cities as a summer dress in countryside-style, although it was originally worn by housemaids. These dresses were most worn during the First World War as a cheap substitute for expensive dresses in the previous times. The idea with “Dirndl” was to distance it from church, so its designer, Gertrud Pesendorfer, created it in a more lascivious design. Additionally, the “Dirndl” was declared as a “German Array,” which meant that Jewish people where not allowed to wear it anymore.
A fellow American friend from the University of Alabama, Cira LaPerriere, wears her very first “Dirndl” dress and carries the best souvenir from Germany back to the U.S.
With all of its characteristics, food, culture and costumes, Stuttgart has left a strong effect on me, as well as my family and international friends, who also appreciated our experiences and all of Stuttgart’s attractions. I can only recommend that once in Germany, Stuttgart should definitely be one of the “must see” German cities.