Finally, the continuation of the chronicles of my recent adventures in Europe.
So why would I want to visit Tübingen? It certainly is not on the tip of tongues of most people when they have to suggest a travel holiday destination. Tübingen is a small German university town, surely there are better alternatives?
The reason why I wanted to travel to Tübingen was because I have a friend who studies there. Admittedly I did not know much about the town beyond what I listed here. I also simply wanted to spend more time in Germany, as the last time I was there, it was not for very long. And it seemed like a good idea to connect with a friend who had “gone native”. However, because I was visiting the town during the week during the semester, my friend obviously had commitments and duties at the university. So after she picked me up from the train station, she took me to my hotel and then left for university; we would be able to catch up later in the day.
Because I arrived early at the hotel, I could not yet book in. I could, however, leave my bags there safely and, in my not-refreshed state, set off to go explore Tübingen. The evening before I had checked the walking route from the train station to my hotel on Google Maps (just to be sure) and noticed that one of the streets on the route was called Gartenstraße (Garden Street). So, being on my own, I decided that that sounded nice and would start my exploration there. Now, just a tip to other travelers: when Google warns you that the “walking route” feature of Google Maps is just a beta feature, they mean it. I found where I wanted to be easily enough, however I had to walk along what was basically a mini highway. I am sure that I stood out very much, clambering about on the grass slope through overhanging branches with my trust camera swinging from my side. And, of course, I would stop periodically to take pictures. Walking down Stuttgarter Straße is not an activity that you would find listed in any tour guide, but I did not mind doing it (at least not just the once), as already I was starting to gain insight and peering into “life in Tübingen”, rather than just going to all the tourist attractions.
I finally managed to get on to Gartenstraße and was very taken by it. I had the choice of walking along either the street, or a foot path which runs next to the Neckar river. I choose the latter and passed a few joggers, cyclists and dog lovers who clearly had nowhere better to be on a Tuesday morning. And it was understandable, as it was quite peaceful. I snapped pictures along the way until I got back to “civilisation”. Then I snapped more pictures as I headed into the direction of what my friend had pointed out on our drive to the hotel as “Altstadt” (“Old Town”). As the name implies, it is the old part of the town. Not being an industrial town, Tübingen survived the Second World War unscathed and boasts an impressive quarter of cobblestone streets, “old German” houses and churches. I turned unto the first street of the altstadt and bought a croissant to regain my strength. I then continued and quickly found a towering church building in front of me. This was the first of many pleasant surprise discoveries which I would make over the next two days. The church definitely seemed Roman Catholic, with all its icons and memorials and the altar. This surprised me, as I understood this part of Germany to have been Protestant. I was in the Stiftskirche and I would later find out that it in fact was not a Roman Catholic church. Although it was built as a Roman Catholic church, it was one of the first churches to adopt protestantism (and later reformism) and, as such, retained much of its Roman Catholic heritage. The church was undergoing renovations and parts were sealed off. After I had spent some time there, I walked around a bit in the altstadt and then discovered the botanical gardens. After walking through it, I decided to head back to the hotel: I had been walking long and far in uncomfortable shoes. When I got back, I took a shower, put on clean clothes and had a well deserved nap.
For lunch my friend came and fetched me at the hotel. We decided go to the mensa, which is a university cafeteria type place. There I had my first Schwäbische dish: Spätzle. It is a type of pasta and I really liked it! My friend then took me to go see where she studies and where she lives (which was basically on the other side of town). After that, we went for a walk through the forest to the north of Tübingen. It was an amazing experience to walk through a real German forest: once again there was a serenity to it all. You are not alone (with towns so close to each other and people everywhere I doubt you are every really alone in that part of Europe), but there was a sense of isolation. Something, which I suspect, many people there crave in their busy, modern lives.
My friend was taking me to Bebenhausen and I was surprised to suddenly find the small hamlet appear in the middle of the dense forest. We looked around the monastery there a bit and then set off on our return, as my friend had to be at home at a specific time for the census (ah, the Germans). Our route back took us partially through some grain fields, which I always enjoy. After the census we made supper and I met friend’s flatmate and her boyfriend (?). It was the first of two German dinnertime conversations which I sat in on. I could follow the conversation, but did not feel comfortable enough with my German to contribute. Tübingen is in the state of Baden-Württemberg, one which claims that its people can do anything, except speak high German. The first part of the statement comes from the proud tradition of inventors, innovators and artists who came from the region. The latter part refers to the distinct dialect which is spoken in the region. And, as a high school student, I was of course instructed in pure high German. This caused some concern. Pronunciation was the most difficult , but generally I could follow the thread of the conversation well enough.
The next day I was on my own again during the day. My first blunder for the day was that I missed breakfast at the hotel, so I would have to go into town to get something to eat. My friend briefly explained to me how the buses work in Tübingen work, so I decided to to get a day rider ticket and pick up where I left off the day before. The bus system seemed very similar to that of the Netherlands, but there were subtle differences. In the Netherlands, you buy your tickets from the bus driver and then you are on your merry way. In Tübingen, the bus drivers refuse to touch money: you must use the machine behind the driver’s seat. When I approached the machine, I got a nasty surprise however: the machine only accepted coins and chip cards. I did not have enough money in coins, but I did in notes. I did not have a chip card, only a regular credit card. After digging out all my cents I confirmed that I did not have enough money in coins. So I tried to my credit card, just in case. The machine was too smart for me, however, and realised that my credit card did not have a chip. It then decided not to give me my card back. After a few panicked moments, I managed to get it out by using two coins to ply it out. At this point we were nearing my destination and I was still riding without a ticket. I decided to approach the other passengers for help. Digging deep to the lesson on “Restaurants” which we had in high school, I latched on to what I remember the German word for “change” was. I started asking the other passengers, but each refused me dryly. At last I approached the driver (again), who asked if anyone on the bus spoke English. One girl (probably a student), raised her hand (the only one on the bus). I explained my situation to her and she was able to help me out with two €2 coins (all that she had) for one €5 note. And so I managed to get my bus ticket just in time for no-one to really care or be bothered about it. When I related this story to my friend that evening, she told me that the word which I used on the bus, Trinkgeld, means “tip”, not “change”. So I was going around on the bus begging for money! But all’s well that ends well.
I headed for the Stiftskirche again, as it is a pretty good landmark, and then north again through the narrow streets I had followed the day before when I ended up at the botanical gardens. Taking a few turns, I found a few restaurants, but nothing which struck my fancy. I could have returned to the shop where I had bought a croissant the day before, but I had decided that I rather want to find somewhere else than return to the same “safe” place every time. As I was walking along, I came to another large church: the Johanneskirche. It was not as grand as the Stiftskirche, but still imposing as it sat there as if slumbering. From inside I could hear music coming, but the door was locked, so I moved on. This part of the Altstad seemed quieter and I was keen to see what was around the next turn. I found a small, almost obscure bakery which had some really good prices. The quietness of this part of town was broken by the people who would frequently slip into this bakery and then emerge with delicious baked goods. Clearly this place had the approval of the locals and I would later return there to get some breakfast. I soon came across the Stadtsmuseum, which I decided to skip. I then stumbled upon the town square. It took me completely by surprise, but it would not be the last pleasant surprise of the day! There was a market in the square and a large, milling crowd coming between the stalls. At the other end of the square stood the imposing town hall . Next to town hall came the sound of a man playing his accordion. I even glimpsed a man in a monk’s robe manning one of the stalls. I walked around between the stalls a bit (which were mostly selling food like fresh produce) and then decided to take a break with a nice German beer. After I had regained my strength, I set off again, with no idea what I would find next. As I was heading in one direction, I passed a steep staircase leading up. Intrigued, I decided to follow the stairs up. I was not prepared for what I would find, as at the top to my right was the gate to the castle of Tübingen! I was not even aware that there was a castle, as everywhere you go there are narrow streets which are flanked by tall buildings. I then spent a good deal of time exploring the castle, which for already more than a hundred years has been part of the university. My mind was blown and I could only imagine what it must be like to have your department and classes in a castle thatis hundreds of years old! I ascended a couple of stair cases and finally reached the apex of Tübinge. Where I stood, I could finally look down on the town: a sea of red roofs which creep over the rolling, wooded hills of the area. I was in awe and it feels feeble to try and explain the experience. It was serene at the top, with people lying around or sitting and reading: this was clearly a place to come to escape the hustle and bustle. When I was done exploring, I descended a long set of stairs and decided to reward myself with an Italian style ice cream. My last stop was the Jakobuskirche, another church, which was also closed, so there is not much to tell.
I headed back to the hotel and met my friend that evening for dinner. I had my second proper Schwäbische dish: Maultaschen. While it was really nice and I enjoyed it, I still maintain that it is simply ravioli (I love ravioli!), to the protestation of my friend. I also discovered dunkel weissbier, the name of which I think is an oxymoron. It was a great evening and I went to bed very happy with the day’s adventures. I was especially pleased with how well things had worked out considering that I had done no planning beforehand. My serendipitous discoveries were much more exciting than going to see places I had planned for! Eventually I fell asleep amidst my excitment about what lay ahead on the next day, when I would journey beyond Tübingen.