Playing tourist in Stuttgart

My day was brightened last week by an out of the blue email from an old friend; she was in town for six hours and wanted to see both Stuttgart and me. I don’t often play tourist in my own city and never with a time limit, so putting together a plan was necessary.

There is a lot on The German Way about Berlin, living in Berlin, what to do in Berlin, but less about life down here in the south. So I thought I’d share my plan for anyone wanting to start to explore Stuttgart, there is plenty more to see than just the city centre but on this day there wasn’t time for places like the Porsche Museum.

Stop One – Hauptbahnhof (main train station) – Our meeting point anyway since she had just got off a train. I waited with two coffees in hand, working out that we hadn’t seen each other for at least fifteen years and hoping that we still shared the same sense of humour. When she arrived also holding two coffees I knew we’d be fine. The Turm (tower) of the train station is an often overlooked free attraction, it houses a museum which shows the history and future of transport in Stuttgart and a stunning panoramic view of the city. Continue reading

Auto Factory and Museum Tours in Germany for Car Buffs and Car Buyers

Audi | BMW | Ford | Mercedes-Benz | Opel | Porsche | Volkswagen

Seven major automakers manufacture automobiles and trucks in Germany. The automobile is a German invention, and the auto industry in Germany is one of the country’s largest employers, with a labor force of over 747,000. Germany is among the world’s top four car producers.

Below you’ll find our guide to automobile factory tours in Germany and the option of buying a German car in the United States and taking delivery at the factory in Germany (European delivery).

BMW Welt - night

Munich: BMW Welt by night, with headquarters tower and museum on the right. New BMW owners can pick up their new car here. More below.
PHOTO: Richard Bartz, Wikimedia Commons

All the German automotive brands offer factory tours, in some cases combined with optional auto museum tours. German car buyers also like to pick up their new Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and Volkswagens directly at the factory. (See How to Buy or Lease a Car in Germany for more.) Ford and Opel are the only automakers in Germany that do not allow buyers to take delivery of their new vehicle at the factory, but they do offer factory tours.

You may not think of Ford as a “German” auto company, but the American Henry Ford opened his first auto plant in Germany in 1912. Some Germans don’t even realize that Ford (pronounced “fort” in German) is not a German company. The American car giant General Motors planted its flag in Germany a bit later, when it purchased an 80 percent interest in Adam Opel AG in 1929. Today Opel is still a division of General Motors.

KIA
The South Korean automaker Kia has its European design center in Frankfurt, but its only European auto factory is located in Žilina, Slovakia. That plant supplies almost 60 percent of Kia’s European demand. The facility produces three vehicles for the European market, with brands that few Americans would recognize: the cee’d model family (hatchback and Sportswagon, as well as the pro_cee’d coupe), the European bestselling Sportage crossover, and Venga compact MPV.

European Delivery for US Customers
Factory delivery is a popular option for German car buyers. Four German automakers – Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche – also offer their US customers the option of picking up their new car in Germany and combining that with a European trip. All but Porsche offer a 5 to 7 percent discount on the vehicle, combined with free or discounted air fares. Some also offer additional perks such as free meals, museum entrance, and a factory tour. Volkswagen, alone among German car producers, does not offer European delivery for its US customers. (Opel sells its cars in the US through its owner, General Motors. The Swedish carmaker Volvo also offers European delivery in Sweden for US customers.) Continue reading

A German Epic

Of the many cultural highlights I enjoyed while living in Germany, an Abo (subscription) to the local Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra was definitely one of my favorites. We regularly attended concerts featuring world-class musicians at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, an impressive concert hall with phenomenal acoustic quality. The Stuttgarter Philharmoniker were unafraid to present the audience with challenging works, ranging from traditional to modern, and regularly impressed me with unique combinations of styles during each performance.

One of the most memorable performances I attended there was of the music to the 1924 Fritz Lang silent film “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Rache” (Kriemhild’s Revenge, the second of a two-part epic; part 1 was “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried“; music by Gottfried Huppertz) . The orchestra played the score, mostly in the dark, while the audience watched the black-and-white film on a large screen in front of the auditorium. I was blown away, both by the story and by the orchestra.

Having never heard of this epic tale, I began asking my German friends about it, and many of them had learned it in school. Das Nibelungenlied is an old epic poem, whose manuscripts date back to the 13th century, the authorship of which is unknown. Consider it along the lines of The Iliad and you get the idea. I found the movie so fascinating that I wanted to read the story for myself. While my German is fluent, and I often read German books and regularly read the newspaper and magazines, I knew I couldn’t handle mittelhochdeutsch (German from the middle ages) in poetry form. Happily, there is a contemporary author who has crafted the tale into a novel, and I found his book Hagen von Tronje, by Wolfgang Hohlbein, easy to follow and very enjoyable to read.

Another form of the tale which I have yet to experience is the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, a series of 4 epic operas that loosely follow the story of the Nibelungen. In fact, the German title is Der Ring des Nibelungen. This is another form of the tale that I am not sure I am quite ready to consume, although I might enjoy the attempt.

I can highly recommend either the 1924 silent film or the novel format of the epic as a good starting place for learning this mythical tale. Don’t worry – you won’t feel like you are back in grade 10 Literature class, and there is no quiz at the end. The benefit is in your deepened understanding of German cultural references (Yes! They regularly reference this tale when referring to things like the Nibelungentreue, and have done so throughout history).

Enjoy!

International schools: going local or not

Of the many considerations and decisions we have to make as expats, ones regarding education for our kids can be amongst the most challenging. What’s available where we are has made the decision for us whenever we came to that juncture. While we were still living in San Diego, our oldest was going to attend a German immersion charter school in San Diego. San Diego doesn’t otherwise have a Deutsche Schule but amazingly has the Albert Einstein Academies, the aforementioned immersion charter school.

Since we moved back to Germany before our daughter matriculated, she’s had another year of Kindergarten for us to consider the path to set on. We currently live more than an hour away from the next large city, Stuttgart, which now has three international schools. My husband and I didn’t feel that for this stage of the game (grade school) there was any reason that anybody had to make the big sacrifice of commuting in order for her to attend an international school. There is also a relatively new (about eight years old) international school in a smaller city closer to us that we keep in mind as an option for the future, but we’ve been made wary by stories from other expat families with older kids. Basically, the quality of teaching as well as administrative organization is not the greatest, especially for the older and newer grades since in a lot of cases, the school is still figuring things out.

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Beware of the “Mexican” Restaurant

Originating from the west coast of the US, Mexican food has long been a staple in my diet. On my first forays into Europe, I made a few optimistic attempts to find suitable restaurants to satisfy my cravings for chips with salsa, fish tacos, over-sized greasy burritos, and cheesy enchiladas. Just about every single attempt was a complete and utter failure, leaving me homesick and a bit sick in the stomach too.

The first time I tried Mexican across the Atlantic, it was in England. Mind, the English aren’t exactly known for their abundance of spicy food. The salsa was chunky ketchup, the chips oversalted, and the food was unseasoned and tasteless. I was miserable. Continue reading

Happy Advent

I am not homesick for Germany*. There must have been something in my eyes this weekend, when I attended the Toronto Christmas Market. Something strange happened as we walked past the huts selling ornaments and decorations from the Black Forest. These waves of memories, of all the Christmas markets I have visited in Germany, of my first forays into German culture, of Bratwurst and Glühwein and Füßgängerzonen, they all hit me out of nowhere. And then, of course, there was a kind lady from Marbach (near Stuttgart, my German home) selling Butterbrezeln (buttered soft pretzels). The Butterbrezel was my undoing. Tears ensued.

Anyone who has lived in southern Germany will understand. Brezeln are staples of the southern German diet. Butterbrezeln can be substituted for any mealtime, eaten at the table in polite company or scoffed in the car on the way to work. Despite their popularity in the south of the country, good ones are remarkably difficult to find elsewhere. And although many Americans will claim to have eaten “soft pretzels” at county fairs and shopping malls, these do not compare with the German version – the original is irreplaceable.
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Out and About in the Schwäbische Alb

(This post is totally focused on the SW of Germany… apologies to readers in other regions!)

Have guests coming? There is no reason to trek all the way to Neuschwanstein to see a castle; there is plenty to be seen within a two-hour drive of Stuttgart. Having spent a weekend enjoying some of the sights near my adopted hometown, I thought I’d share a few ideas for where to take your parents when they finally come for a visit. My apologies to readers not living in the lovely southwestern corner of this country, but perhaps this short list will serve as impetus to make a trip to Schwabenland? I have focused here on the region of the Swabian Alps, an ancient range locally known as the Schwäbische Alb (not, in German, to be confused with the alps, die Alpen, as they are two very different regions)

Burg Hohenzollern is a lovely castle perched on the top of a symmetric hill. The view of the castle while approaching already makes you excited to see the inside. Continue reading

Swabian Delights

Because most of my experience in Germany has been in the Southern half of the country, I often believe that all German food is as delicious as it is here in the region of Swabia. Occasionally, we venture North on vacation and I realize with disappointment that this isn’t true. Perhaps it’s a general European rule: the farther South you travel, the better the food. One dish that consistently gets the longest lines in every corporate cafeteria is the classic Swabian Linsen mit Spätzle (Lentils with Noodles). I have tried making this at home a number of times in the last ten years, but never with the amount of success I had this week. Here for you to recreate in your own kitchen is an admittedly imprecise recipe for this German favorite. I suspect that imprecision was the trick to perfection. Continue reading