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Weekend Wanderlust: Medieval charm and Maultaschen in Tübingen

Known for its dominating student life, Green politics and historical charm, we write about why Tübingen is an ideal place to stay - whether for a long weekend or maybe your phD.

Weekend Wanderlust: Medieval charm and Maultaschen in Tübingen
Half-timbered houses sit along the Neckar in Tübingen. Photo: DPA

The mayor of Tübingen, a small student-driven city, caused a social media stir in November when he declared that he is “leaving the functioning part of Germany” when he visits Berlin.

While I’ve grown fond of the far-from-perfect German capital in my six years living here, I can see how the Green Party mayor Boris Palmer might feel that way – especially when I think back to my long weekend trips to his charming city.

Stepping back in time in Tübingen

I first visited the city in Baden-Württemberg in fall 2013, after only a few months of living in Berlin. I was eager to pay a visit to a more idyllic part of Germany – the type with picture-perfect cobblestone streets, hilltop churches and castles and a colourful Altstadt.

Avidly walking around Tübingen after a nearly 8-hour bus ride from Berlin, I saw I had chosen the right city. The founding of the city of over 85,000 residents dates back to 1048, and it’s been preserved – only one-bomb fell on it in World War II.

The Altstadt, situated along the Neckar river, felt like stepping back in time to the 17th century, with crooked, cobblestone streets winding past pretty half-timbered houses. A Friday street market sold a versatile array of used books, not surprising for a city where one-third of the population is students.

I headed up nearby winding stairs to the Schloss Hohentübingen, the city’s impressive castle whose Medieval courtyard and garden spans impressive views of the city.

 

Views from the top of the Schloss Hohentübingen. Photo: DPA

Eating your heart out in Tübingen

Situated in the heart of Swabia, Tübingen boosts an impressive cuisine from the region, what I still like to think of as the true German comfort food.

Popular with students and longtime locals alike, the Neckarmüller serves up savoury Swabian specialties such as Zwiebelkuchen and Maultaschen, or usually meat-filled ravioli. But this being a student city where 40 percent of the population votes for the Green Party, it’s not shocking to also find a vegan variant of the dish on the menu.

The delicious Swabian specialty Zwiebelkuchen. Photo: DPA

Doubling up as a beer garden – with a sprawling patio overlooking the Neckar in winter months – the restaurant also serves regionally-brewed beer from nearby Mössingen, of course served up with a big Bretzel.

Being a student city, it’s possible to find a variety of hearty cuisine for reasonable prices – from the burritos of “El Chico” to the classic Döner and pizza of Aksaray 3. Night owls, take note, though: a restaurant called Stern serves up tasty Italian specialties until its kitchen closes at midnight, and then doubles up as a dive bar. Unfortunately I didn’t receive a discount when eating there.

Religious roots

I initially chose to visit Tübingen by chance: a friend was studying theology there. I soon saw that this city is an ideal place to contemplate religious philosophy – not just for its organized and scholarly quietude that seems to permeate it during the day (being a student city there’s still an active nightlife), but also for its deep religious roots.

A central city landmark is the Stiftskirche, which became part of Martin Luther’s protestant church, and has features of Roman Catholicism, such as patron saints. Next to the remarkable Rathaus (town hall) is also the Judengasse, or the residential street where Tübingen’s Jewish community lived until they were expelled in 1477 – a plaque there commemorates their fate.

The university, which is one of the largest in Germany with over 20,000 students, has also hosted many intellectual greats. Joseph Alois Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) held a chair in dogmatic theology there.  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Schelling, David Friedrich Strauss, and Johannes Kepler were all students there.

There are lots of memorials devoted to the city’s many intellectuals throughout history. A parodied sign on Goethe's old dormitory stands out from your typical German memorial plaque. “Hier kotzte Goethe” it reads, or “Goethe puked here” – one reads, commemorating the visit of the author in the late 18th century

Going Green

Tübingen was also one of the core cities for the worldwide student-led protests of 1968, and has been shaped by Green and left-leaning views ever since. It’s also literally a very green city: on Saturday, I recommend hopping on one of the free buses – or cycling to – the nearby Schönbuch nature reserve.

After my years of living in Berlin, I’ve grown fond of both its vivacity and its vastness, despite its problems. While gentrification changes many neighbourhoods, there is still a certain disarray and disorder I haven’t seen in the rest of the country – and certainly not in comparatively tiny Tübingen.

I wouldn’t trade Berlin for Tübingen, but could benefit from a few days every now and then to rejuvenate in a slightly slower and more scholarly pace of life, at least for a short window of time.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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