Travel Series Germany – Karlsruhe

City Connect offers a new travel series on Germany highlighting cities and places ideal for a weekend break or holiday. This week we are reporting on the city of Karlsruhe.

Karlsruhe is one of the culturally richest cities found in the Federal Republic of Germany. It was founded around the palace in 1715 and is situated in the Southwest of Germany, in the federal state Baden-Württemberg, near the French-German border. It has a population of about 300,000 and an unusual town planning, radiating from the palace right in the centre. The palace was home to many noble families of Germany until they were expelled in 1918 after the Great War. It is now a museum and one of the most beautiful buildings in the Southwest of the country.

The city now houses two of the highest courts of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Justice, making it a political centre in addition to its rich historic architecture. Highlights of the city are the palace, the Gottesau castle (portrayed below), the federal courts and various magnificent churches. The St. Stephan parish church is a masterpiece of neoclassical church architecture in Germany. It was built between 1808 and 1814 based on the architecture of the Pantheon in Rome. The neo-gothic Grand Ducal burial chapel was built between 1889 and 1896 and is situated in the middle of a forest. It also functions as a mausoleum. The population grew dramatically in the late 19th century and many suburban areas are preserved with a plethora of buildings in Art Nouveau and Gründerzeit styles.

The Rhine is also not very far from Karlsruhe and the Rhineland offers beautiful nature reserves. Further South, the famous Schwarzwald with the Spa city of Baden-Baden offers great ways to relax and spend time in nature.

An unusual exhibition on motored vehicles is currently shown in the art museum of Karlruhe. Dancing VWs, an oversized Porsche, a tarred Rolls Royce – this exhibition tries to say Good-bye to our current dreams and understanding of mobility. The exhibition aims to protest and criticise the apparent lack of innovation of the car industry and thus a variety of art pieces portray the artists’ perceptions of what modern cars represent. To me, the most stunning piece of art of this exhibition is a red Porsche which looks like it has eaten too much or has melted away in the sun (depicted below).

Karlsruhe is an ideal place for a city visit for a weekend and there are direct flights with Ryanair from London/ Stansted. For those who wish to spend a longer time in the Southwest of Germany, other famous places such as the university towns of Heidelberg and Tübingen and the city of Stuttgart are not far. The city offers great and affordable accommodation. Combined with cheap flights, this can make a city break in Karlsruhe potentially very cheap.,,



Wine on the Rhine

Michael Korn not Mick JaggerIt was a sunny lunchtime but I was trapped in a dark, underground state-cellar with 150, aged Australians.

After an average meal, I was forced to clap and sing to cheesy songs (think ‘Que Sera Sera’) by a strutting, lederhosen clad, German blonde-bombshell who appeared to think he was Mick Jagger instead of Michael Korn (see left).

Was this a nightmare?

Would I wake up?

Unfortunately I was awake and on a day trip to Freudenberg from our Rhine river cruise from Nuremberg to Amsterdam.

Despite the fact I’d been tasting splendid German wines amongst vines in the morning, I badly wanted to escape and retreat to the peace and quiet of my cabin.

This was our first foray into river cruising, but we’d been tempted by the ubiquitous Viking advertisements sponsoring ITV Mystery Drama although we eventually booked with Scenic. We were somewhat apprehensive about our trip as we’re very independent travellers who shun company and prefer to do our own thing. It started well. London City Airport, a 20 minute cab ride from home, was small and friendly with all formalities being dealt with quickly and simply. In Nuremberg, our transfer was equally straightforward, although by coach rather than my preferred private transfer. We were greeted by the extraordinarily friendly manager Svetlana, whilst Brigita, pressed us with flutes of chilled champagne. Our personal butler, Enache, escorted us to our cabin: we’d been advised to go as high as we could afford, and as near the front as possible. We discovered a spacious, well equipped cabin and bathroom with L’Ocittane toiletries and state of the art shower with coloured disco lights. The small balcony had a sliding window in case of chilly weather and there was a HD TV incorporating internet, radio, DVDs to amuse us.

The first day’s itinerary tempted us with a Bavarian beer experience at 6pm, the regular port talk about the following day’s activities at 6.45pm, and a 7pm dinner. We’d tasted two beers and realised that if we didn’t miss the final two, we wouldn’t have time to dress for dinner. We wondered when fellow travellers would change out of their day shorts and t-shirts. At dinner, we realised they hadn’t and Roy’s two summer suits, remained unworn. This was disappointing as he’d been looking forward to our butler pressing them every day (a freebie as part of the ‘top-deck’ gang). So much for the DVD showing elegantly clad couples.

Food was exceptional: fizz accompanied breakfast and the four-course dinner was free from the dreaded buffet. As neither of us have huge appetites, we opted for a sandwich and fruit lunch in the bar rather than the formal restaurant affair. Dinner was served promptly and rather early 7pm but at least it had free seating. As most tables were large, communal affairs, we quickly learned to be on our starting blocks after the port talk finished to bag one of the few tables for two. This wasn’t difficult bearing in mind the age and condition of fellow travellers who had a flight of steps to negotiate. We were usurped one night but spent a delightful evening with Australians, Stella and Don. Stella was of Chinese descent and an extremely young-looking 76 who taught ‘oldies’ to play card games to keep their minds active. Don, two years older, and paralysed down his right-hand side since birth, had been one of her ‘oldies’ but romantically they’d settled down together.

Our top-deck cabin entitled us to dine one night at ‘La Rive’ a degustation tasting menu with galley views. Each sumptuous course was presented with an appropriate wine, great fun.

A billed highlight of the trip was dinner and medieval entertainment in Marksburg Castle. Scarred by the state-cellar lunch, we ducked out fearing Michael Korn dressed as William the Conqueror. Instead, dinner on ship was in the Italian Portobello restaurant where to our horror, we found three large tables set. As those dining were either too ill to leave the ship (more of this later) or social misfits like us, Roy was despatched to sort it out. However, the sick people were worried about infecting others and soon the large tables were dismantled.

The Top Deck - exactly how we liked it - empty!

The Top Deck – exactly how we liked it – empty!

The daily itinerary, delivered at turn-down with a pillow chocolate, could have filled our days from the early-riser breakfast at 6.30am to late-night snacks at 10.30pm. On-board entertainment showed us how to make ‘swan towels’ and blow glass, whilst lectures about the European Union and German history provided more cultural stimulation.
Stunning German Villages and Vineyards

Stunning German Villages and Vineyards

Off ship, we stopped at small previously unheard of German villages with narrow, cobbled streets, old but well maintained buildings with colourful window boxes and a plethora of interesting looking bars, restaurants and small shops. In some, like Wurzburg, we docked in the centre of town allowing us to do our own thing instead of following the guide and table-tennis bat. In Rűdesheim, we had to board the dreaded coach for the short journey into town. Once dropped off, we escaped to freedom. Electronic gizmos with headphones enabled us to either tune to the guide speaking into their microphone or be self-guided by GPS. Ironically we struggled to use them and reverted to an old-fashioned map and book, whilst the oldies used them with ease.

We’d arrived on the ship half way through a 13-night cruise and discovered many passengers had developed and spread some kind of lurgy: a debilitating chesty cough and cold. On our first night a passenger was admitted to hospital, the following day an elderly lady collapsed at breakfast and a doctor came on board in Amsterdam to tend the sick. Through constant use of hand sanitiser, we stayed well until our final day when Roy brought home a souvenir of one of the worst colds he’s had.

So, would we repeat our experiment? We’d certainly think about it but we’d like the company of slightly younger passengers, less full-on, forced entertainment, tables for two and more flexible eating times. Then it really would be the perfect trip.