by Claudia Fischer & Roger Holliday
This month the Fischer-Holliday team report on Tübingen, likening it to Heidelberg but without the tourists and the high prices.
Probably the most surprising and beguiling aspect of the Swabian city of Tübingen is that so few tourists ever seem to go there. No camera-toting visitors roam these medieval streets and alleys. There are no lines of diesel belching tour buses. Or large, unsightly parking lots. Or block on retail block of tourist kitsch.
All of which is somewhat curious considering that Tübingen has so many of the same tourist attractions as its academic neighbor, Heidelberg. Both have a magnificent and original Altstadt (old town) that miraculously escaped the ravages of war. Both are dominated by dramatic hilltop castles and located on the selfsame Neckar River. Each has a world-class university over 500 years old - and all the concomitant student culture and tradition. Fraternities and Wappens and beanies and such. And both are readily accessible by road or rail from Stuttgart, the state capital. But there the comparison ends. Rather abruptly.
For while Heidelberg has won the popularity stakes hands down - and profits royally from the legions of tourists storming its ramparts and seeking out glimpses of authentic Student Princes, "I Love Heidelberg" T-shirts or seats in the snuggeries of the 16th century Bierstubes - it has also paid a very heavy price in tourism overload. (To the point that high-season visits should probably be no-nos for Gemütlichkeit readers).
Tübingen, on the other hand, is exceeding thankful for its relative anonymity and, recognizing its good fortune, likes to cock a snoot at its up-river rival with the rather naughty, haughty taunt of Tübingen halt, was Heidelberg verspricht (Tübingen has, what Heidelberg promises).
This is no lucky coincidence, however. No haphazard occurrence. The city fathers have long made a conscious effort to exclude the vices of mass tourism - and the easy money that goes with it - preferring instead to maintain the city's architectural and academic integrity and small town persona.
Their efforts have been supported over the last two decades by a Left leaning city council - one of the few in Baden-Württemberg - and by the Green Party's success in beating back proposals for urban ringroads and commuter rail lines.
Their work has not gone unnoticed. The city's multiple attributes were publicly recognized in 1995 when the German news magazine, Focus, voted Tübingen number one in the country for "Quality of Life." It beat out Bonn and Münster and 543 other cities and communities based on several factors such as environmental health, life-style, prosperity, culture, safety and upkeep. "No industrial smokestacks darken the skies and no Autobahn cuts through this city," rhapsodizes the magazine. "Instead, unprecedented numbers of young people in this university town stroll through the historic Market Place, ride their environmentally correct bicycles through the old Botanical Gardens or visit the latest exhibit in the art gallery."
By any measure then, it is the university, founded in 1477, that is Tübingen's lynch pin and commanding feature. Half of the city's population some - 85,000 people - are associated with it in one way or another giving added credence to the local saw, "We have a town on our campus."
There is, of course, a downside to all this planned parochialism. Focus goes on to report that Tübingen's cost of living is extremely high, and the rent structure even higher.
From a casual visitor's perspective, the downside can more easily be seen in a tourism infrastructure that's somewhat underdeveloped. Hotel beds are a scarce commodity. Good restaurants are few and far between. And those that accept credit cards even harder to track down - as we found to our cost earlier this year during a horrendous Sunday evening rainstorm.
On that same visit, the Tübingen Tourist Office seemed uncharacteristically chaotic and disinclined to help us find lodgings for the night.
A look through the Michelin Red Guide for Germany helps to pinpoint the hotel problem. There are only half a dozen full-service hotels listed in Tübingen as opposed to 20 for Heidelberg. And Frommer's Guide to Germany devotes a full 10 pages to Heidelberg hotels, restaurants and sight-seeing. Tübingen gets a paltry two.
These difficulties aside, Tübingen is still very much "worth a detour" on anyone's itinerary. For discerning Gemütlichkeit readers, it's almost certainly "worth a journey!"
The city itself is neatly and distinctly divided into two parts. A medieval Altstadt of market squares and spouting fountains. Crooked bridges and drinking troughs. Moats and duck-filled ponds. Plunging alleys and ancient yards.
There are Gothic churches, convents and seminaries. And a plethora of plaques, towers and statuary commemorating favorite sons like poets Hölderlin and Mörike, writers Uhland and Hesse, philosophers Hegel and Schelling and astronomer, Johannes Keppler.
Add a placid, unhurried river where students guide their lantern-lit punts on summer nights and residents stroll along the tree-lined island, Platanenalee, and Tübingen's Old World atmosphere is complete. Cross through the Botanical Gardens on the north side, however, and both architecture and atmosphere change dramatically. From middle ages to modernity in the space of a few meters. From age-old dwellings to broad boulevards, gracious university buildings, libraries, halls of ivy and countless clinics - for Tübingen is known around the world for medical research and expertise that attracts kings, princes and potentates.
Before contemplating a walking tour of the city, drop by the Tourist Office and pick up two useful brochures in English: A Brief History of Tübingen and A Tour Through The Old Town. Be advised too, that Tübingen can be a little difficult to navigate for the physically challenged. Steep hills and cobbled streets don't make for easy walking.
The best place to start any Tübingen tour is at one of its two major squares. The Holtzmarkt - formerly a timber market - is a popular student gathering place with its fountain of St. George and close proximity to the gaunt and Gothic Stiftskirche which boasts one of Germany's most impressive interiors, gorgeous choir screens, a 5th century baptismal font, and stained glass windows from 1480 by Peter Hemmel.
The Holtzmarkt also offers wonderful views across the Neckar and out to the distant Jura Mountains.
Just a Gasse away is the even more dramatic and spacious Marktplatz dominated by the richly decorated four-story Town Hall (1435) and an elaborate astronomical clock created in 1511 by Johannes Stoffler...still ticking away and showing the course of the stars and the phases of the moon.
Center stage is a splendid renaissance fountain of King Neptune copied from one in Bologna while the perimeter of the square features animated bars and cafés covered with brightly colored canopies.
Market days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Climb from there up the steep Burgsteige - one of the oldest and most handsome streets - up to Schloss Hohentübingen, a renaissance successor to an 11th century castle and now used for various academic pursuits.
Guided tours of the castle with its prison, cellars and 18,700 gallon vat are possible April-September. But it's worth the walk up for the panoramic view alone.
This is also the part of town populated by the Gogen (Schwäbisch dialect for vine growers) well known in Swabia as much for their rich and earthy humor as for their delectable wines.
While the jokes themselves are hardly repeatable in such an upstanding publication as Gemütlichkeit, suffice to say there are frequent references to buttocks and outhouses. For those who still want to hear the jokes but don't know their Umlauts from their Ausfahrts... translations are available in town.
As previously mentioned, hotels are a bit scarce in Tübingen and it's a good idea to secure accommodations before arrival.
Hotel Am Schloss
Half way up the steep cobbled street leading to the castle, the appropriately named Hotel Am Schloss turned out to be a treasure. Our first impressions of it as a lively, friendly, open place began as soon as our cab pulled up to the front door. Big tubs of imaginatively combined flowers flanked the recessed entrance and equally pretty window boxes covered the façade.
The lobby is something of a nonevent being small and doing double duty as a reception area for the restaurant (more about this later) but the welcome received is genuinely warm and hospitable. And our jewel of a room now ranks high on our list of all time favorites.
Number 20 is two-and-a-half flights up (there's no elevator) and the hotel's flagship room. Someone with originality, a fine color sense and good taste has been at work here. Basic colors are a heraldic combination of rust red and deep bright blue. Above the sofa is a matted reproduction of an illuminated manuscript. And from the bed you look out French doors at a fabulous view of the Altstadt.
But the most incredible aspect of the room is a limed-oak armoire whose doors are entirely covered by a whimsical representation of a medieval prince and princess gazing wistfully into the distance as the prince dips a toe into the moat. The princess appears to be holding a sprig of tarragon.
The bathroom of Number 20 is also a marvel with Corian-style counters, double sinks, a big tub, power shower, heated towel bars and an excellent hairdryer. The only fault; thin towels.
There are 18 rooms in the main portion of the hotel and another 16 divided between two nearby buildings. A few are without ensuite bathroom facilities. The standard rooms are simple and fresh with white walls and Scandinavian-style wood furniture. The excellent bathrooms are fully equipped.
• Daily Rates: Singles 99 to 130 DM ($58-$76), doubles 124-148 DM ($73-$87), Room #20 185 DM ($109).
Contact: Hotel Am Schloss, Burgsteige 18, D-72070 Tübingen, tel. +49/07071/9294-0, fax 9294-10.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 18/20
Across from the Tourist Office, is Tübingen's most prestigious hotel, a fact easily deduced from all the plaques and decals outside the front entrance. The critical ones identify the Krone as the site for local Lions and Rotary Club meetings; usually a good indication of quality - at least in Germany.
The Schlagenhauff family opened this centrally-located hotel in 1885 and has been running things ever since. It's not surprising that an aura of permanence and continuity prevails throughout, from the large, handsome lobby to the 47 comfortable guest rooms, half of which are air-conditioned. Interspersed with all the conveniences travelers expect today are the occasional grandmotherly touches - a lace doily on an armchair, cabbage-rose patterned carpeting and tasseled velvet drapes - which do nothing but add to the charm of this establishment.
Each guest room is decorated differently with good reproduction antique furniture, attractive fabrics and decent artwork. Small but often overlooked touches like closet lights and extra hangers add to the overall comfort level and the bathrooms are fully equipped with double sinks, magnifying mirrors, hairdryers and thick towels.
A gorgeous baronial wooden staircase curves down to the lobby where huge arrangements of fresh flowers are tucked into every corner and a welcoming bowl of shiny apples sits on the front desk. There are also two highly recommended restaurants within, one more formal with a full menu, the other with a delightful Bierstube atmosphere.
• Daily Rates: Singles 155-175 DM ($91-$103), doubles with WC/shower 190-250 DM ($112-$147), with WC/bath 230-290 DM ($135-$171).
Contact: Hotel Krone, Uhlandstrasse 1, D-72009 Tübingen, tel. +49/07071/13 31-0, fax 13 31-32.
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 16/20
The Hospiz is situated at the base of the road leading up to Hohentübingen Castle, so there's less of a climb involved than to the Am Schloss, but since the lobby is up a flight of stairs, even that advantage is lost.
We liked the flower-bedecked exterior and the location of the Hospiz but otherwise found it ordinary. The 35 rooms were clean and outfitted with all the basics but starkly decorated. In the lobby, wicker chairs, banal impressionist genre posters and African violets completed the decorating statement. The staff seemed fairly capable but generally disinterested not only in us but in the guests they were checking out.
• Daily Rates: Singles 105-130 DM ($62-$88), doubles 160-200 DM. ($94-$118)
Contact: Hotel Hospiz, Neckarhalde 2, D-72070 Tübingen, tel. +49/07071/924-0, fax 924-200.
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 8/20
Built in 1991, and beautifully located on the river bank, the Domizil offers terrific views of the Altstadt.
The operative word here is contemporary which can be refreshing - certainly there is no contrived Schmaltz to contend with. Essentially this is a hotel intended to attract business travelers who need conference, technical and fitness facilities.
• Daily Rates: Singles 168 DM ($99), doubles 202 DM ($119), doubles/riverside 225 DM ($132).
Contact: Hotel Domizil, Wöhrdstrasse 5-9, D-72072 Tübingen, tel. +49/07071/1 39-0, fax 139-250.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 13/20
Hotel Am Schloss
While our rule of thumb is usually to avoid eating in hotels, we made an exception at the Hotel Am Schloss. And were very glad we did.
The decor of the Restaurant Mauganeschtle is simple, with a dark wood ceiling, white walls and wide, multi-paned windows overlooking the city rooftops. Robust green plants sit on broad windowsills and historical prints of Tübingen grace the walls. In nice weather the dining room moves out onto a pretty garden terrace with the same lovely view.
The restaurant specializes in Swäbisch food, especially Maultaschen, the most famous of all Swabian dishes. These delicacies are best described as little rectangles of dough filled with meat and vegetables and topped with a sauce or gravy, a sort of Swabian ravioli.
There were 26 varieties on the menu, ranging in price from 13 DM to 20 DM ($7.60-$12) for a hearty plateful. In addition to the traditional meat and potato fillings there are some more inventive choices; pear, ham and grated cheese for 14 DM ($8.20) or light tomato sauce with raisin, nuts and onions for 18 DM ($10.50).
On our first visit, we tried Gotz von Berlichingen, three Maultaschen topped with goulash and grated cheese. Another version of the dish, called Imog dü, was a trio of Maultaschen with cauliflower, ham and light hollandaise sauce. These were priced at 18 DM ($10.50) and 17 DM ($10), respectively. All orders come with a good green salad with creamy dill dressing and potato salad.
We actually liked the Mauganeschtle so much we went back for lunch the next day to try the other local specialities. This meal began with semolina soup, a rich broth simmered with the grain at 7 DM ($4). The main dishes were Pfannakuacha, a large crêpe folded in half and filled with delicious goulash, and Hausgemachte Schupfnudeln, a browned potato dumpling served with sauerkraut and a thick slab of very good, very smoky, bacon for 17 DM ($10).
The wine list is impressive, too, featuring local white wines such as 1994 Gennaut Tübinger Oberzwerch for 22 DM ($13) and 1993 Schlossgut Hohenbeilstein at 37 DM ($22). Wine by the glass is offered for under 7 DM ($4).
• Restaurant Mauganeschtle, Burgsteige 18, Tübingen, tel. +49/07071/9-29-40, fax 92 94 10.
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 15/20.
Another worthy dining choice is the Restaurant-Weinstube Forelle, situated on a small street that leads down to the Marktplatz.
The dining room is dominated by wood paneling that runs about six feet up the walls. Above the wood, elaborate sepia drawings of grapevines and cupids fill the remaining space to a high ceiling which is similarly embellished.
There's an old ceramic stove and doves in a fountain are etched into the glass of the front window. Tables are covered with linen cloths, candles and pots of fresh ivy and tiny red roses. Very atmospheric indeed.
Many local favorites are served here including an assortment of pork and veal dishes with Spätzle and salad in the 18 to 31 DM ($11-$18) range. A few vegetarian dishes are also on the menu. But the name Forelle (trout) is a good indicator that here the real emphasis is on fish. Dinners of Bachforelle (stream trout) and Seelach (lake trout) costing 26 DM ($15) and 23 DM ($14) are understandably popular.
Our Forellenfilets in Salbeibutter mit Petersilien Kartoffeln und Brattsalat (three trout filets in sage butter with parsley potatoes and spinach salad) (27 DM/$16) were perfectly prepared and delicious. Also a success were Schweinemedallions mit frischen Pfifferlingen, handgemachten Spätzle und Salat (pork medallions with fresh wild mushrooms, handmade noodles and salad) (27 DM/$16). In both cases, the portions were generous.
We tried the Stettener Pulvermächer Riesling Kabinett Trocken for 31 DM ($18). Although there is an extensive list of wines by the bottle, or served in little handled mugs, we noticed many of the patrons drank beer with their meal.
The Forelle, owned for many years by the Family Bauer, is small with a seating capacity of just 40 and reservations are always recommended. On the night we visited there was only one server so, although remarkably efficient, the service was a bit slow - be prepared to relax and enjoy the lively scene.
• Restaurant-Weinstube Forelle, Kronenstrasse 8, Tübingen, tel. 2 40 94, fax 2 44 39. No credit cards.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 12/20
University Enrollment: 24,000
Altitude: 341 meters, 1,119 feet
Distances from: KM/Miles
* Berlin 682/426
* Freiburg 155/ 97
* Frankfurt 225/141
Rail connections: Trains leave Stuttgart hourly at 22 minutes past for the one-hour journey. Regular service is also available from Hergatz near Lake Constance.
ATMs: Available everywhere.
* An der Eberhardsbrücke
* Tel. +49/07071/91360
* Fax: +49/07071/35070
* Open: M-F 0900-2000, Sat 0900-1600, Sun/Holidays 1400-1700
Publications available in English for a nominal charge:
* Tübingen-A Brief History of the Town
* Tübingen-A Tour Through the Old Town
* Tübingen-The Hölderlin Tower
* A useful fan map of the city is also on sale for 2.30 DM ($1.35).
Open Air Food Market-Marktplatz: Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday.