Last Saturday night, Theresa and I flew from Bangkok to Frankfurt for a week in Germany and Switzerland. We landed at 6 a.m. on Sunday, and after clearing passport control we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the airport Sheraton. Our week-long ground journey then began with a one-hour bus drive south to Heidelberg. Over the course of the week, we spent about 15 hours in the coach touring southern Germany and northern Switzerland.
Our first stop was at the Heidelberg Castle. The castle sits in the hills overlooking the university town that sits on the Neckar river. The view of the city from the castle is magnificent (picture on left) as is the view of the castle from the city.
The original portion of the castle was built in the early 1200s and the castle was expanded over the next several hundred years. From the different architectural styles — the relatively plain Gothic structures on two sides (top two pics below) and the more ornate Renaissance style on the other two (bottom two pics below) — it is clear that the castle took shape over hundreds of years. Sculpted figures of kings, noblemen, and popes adorn the Renaissance buildings on the north and east sides of the castle. Over the years, the castle was partially destroyed by lightning, by wars, and by fires; it was expanded and rebuilt several times; and it has undergone several renovations and restorations.
The castle is home to the world’s largest wine barrel, which is now empty. The barrel (the Tun) was built in the mid-1700s to hold the wine taken by the rulers from the local wine growers as a tax. The barrel measures over 20 feet high and 25 feet wide, and it has capacity to hold 58,000 gallons of wine. On the wall across from the barrel is a statue of Perkeo, the court-jester who guarded the wine. Perkeo was known for his ability to drink large quantities of wine, and legend has it that he died when he mistakenly drank a glass of water. (Heed the warning, Dr. Stec!)
The castle also contains an Apothecary museum. The museum shows the history of drugs obtained from animals, plants and minerals; the laboratories and pharmacies that were used to distill, refine, mix, and dispense the drugs. The museum shows that evolution of the pharmacist’s office and tools, including mortars and pestles, balances, technical flasks, and raw drugs. Quite a difference from the local CVS or Boots!
After visiting the castle, we went into Heidelberg for sightseeing and for lunch. One of the major attractions is The Old Bridge that spans the Neckar River. The source of the Neckar is in the Black Forest and the river runs north through Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and finally into Mannheim where it flows into the Rhine. The Old Bridge was built in the late 1700s by Prince Elector Carl Theodor as a replacement for wooden bridges that were periodically destroyed by floods and ice flows. At the end of WWII, retreating German soldiers destroyed three arches of the bridge to make it impassable. The bridge was repaired and rebuilt during the next two years.
More of our photos from Heidelberg can be seen at: http://cid-7f0356bdd6b7671b.photos.live.com/play.aspx/Heidelberg
After lunch, we were back in the bus heading further south to Stuttgart, home of automakers Mercedes-Benz and Porsche and parts suppliers Robert Bosch and Mahle. BMW and Volkswagen, the other two major German automakers, are headquartered in Munich and Wolfsburg, respectively.
Both Mercedes and Porsche have museums in Stuttgart and we visited the Benz one on the fifth anniversary of its opening. The museum has eight levels and over 150,000 sq. ft. of display area in which it traces the 125 year history of the company. While today Mercedes-Benz is synonymous with luxury vehicles, the museum shows that Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler began their companies by motorizing bicycles, boats, streetcars, fire engines, trains, and aircraft.
The museum contains hundreds of restored vehicles (including the Popemobile that John Paul II used and a fabulous 300SL gullwing coupe that M-B produced from 1955 to 1957, both pictured below); art from Andy Warhol and many other traditional and contemporary artists; and pictorial and graphical narratives about the company and society. The museum forthrightly addresses the role that Mercedes-Benz played as a weapons manufacturer during the world wars and its use of forced labor during WWII. Because Stuttgart was a major manufacturing base, the city and the Mercedes plants were leveled by allied bombing during the war.
More of our photos from the Mercedes-Benz museum can be seen at: http://cid-7f0356bdd6b7671b.photos.live.com/getlink.aspx/Mercedes%20Benz%20Museum?ref=1
More info on the museum can be found at: http://cid-7f0356bdd6b7671b.photos.live.com/getlink.aspx/Mercedes%20Benz%20Museum?ref=1
We spent the night in Stuttgart and were on the road by 9 a.m. on Monday headed toward the Black Forest. Two hours later, we arrived in Titisee, a town on a lake of the same name, where we went sightseeing and ate a traditional German lunch of pork, sauerkraut, and sausage (not-so-good — I do not know how Germans do not die young of either starvation or from a heart attack.) After lunch, we attended a talk on the history of the cuckoo clock, a demonstration of how they are made, and an explanation of the mechanics within them. We then went shopping and, of course, bought a cuckoo clock!
After our visit to Titisee, we were back on the bus for a one-hour ride to Rhine Falls. The Rhine Falls (or Rheinfall if you prefer) are located on the Upper Rhine river in northern Switzerland near the border with Germany. At 450 feet wide and 75 feet tall, the Rhine Falls are the largest plain waterfall (as opposed to a cataract, a horsetail, a ribbon or a plunge). For perspective, the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls is 2,600 feet wide and 175 feet tall.
We took a short boat ride across the river to the base of the falls where we were able to ascend a set of stairs to get a close-up view of the falls. Across from our vantage point was Laufen Castle (Schloss Laufen –photo on the right above.) Built in the early 9th century, the castle is over 1,100 years old. For the last 70 years, it has been owned by the canton of Zürich. The castle has three restaurants and it contains a youth hostel in what once was the castle’s wash-house. It must be one of the nicest hostels in Europe, although I think that I would nevertheless still prefer a five-star hotel!
After visiting the Rhine Falls, we were back on the bus for a 90 minute ride to Lucerne, where we had dinner and spent the next two nights. More to come from Switzerland.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.