Wanderlust and a Rail Europe Pass set Rishad Saam Mehta exploring Heidelberg's quaint beauty and Stuttgart's spirited festivities
The 225-year-old Karl-Theodor Bridge, better known as the Old Bridge, across the River Neckar, is one of Heidelberg's most prominent and beautiful landmarks
Standing amidst the fervour caused by stomping Teutonic music in a huge beer hall tent awash with the aroma of sizzling chickens and pork knuckles, I was amused to find myself thinking about water conservation.
What had triggered the thought were the beer mugs — in fact calling them mugs would be like calling a fully grown Bengal Tiger a kitten — they were enormous, almost like buckets. And therein sprang the thought — back home we're encouraged to have a bath with the amount of water those mugs could hold.
I was at the 167th Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart — the second largest festival in Germany after the Oktoberfest —which was much more than just a beer festival. The atmosphere was highly festive with music being played and tasty food being served in the magnificently decorated festival tents.
Buxom barmaids traditionally dressed like Saxon lasses, bustled about slamming down beer mugs on long trestle tables. Outside the tents it was a regular carnival with candy and popcorn stalls and roller-coasters, high-speed carousels, the slingshot and other such rides designed to knacker the nervous system.
I'd found myself in Frankfurt with two days to spare before my flight back to Mumbai and since I still had my valid Rail Europe Pass I decided to put it to good use. I decided on Stuttgart and Heidelberg since Stuttgart has the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Festival and Heidelberg because it is reputed to be one of Germany's prettiest cites.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum showcasing models dating back to the early 1900s is a car lover's dream-come-true.
Besides they were on a same train line south from Frankfurt.
I'd hopped into train EC 113 at Frankfurt Hbf at 0822 hrs and it had me in Stuttgart Hbf in exactly 92 minutes. From there I'd hopped onto the S2 commuter train to Stuttgart Neckarpark — the station for the Mercedes-Benz Museum and I was there 16 minutes later. In that museum I was like a kid in a candy shop. The museum is easily the history of the automobile and the display of cars that Mercedes-Benz made in the early 1900s till before WW2 will tug at anyone's heartstrings.
I just remember the first hour at the Beer Fest that I walked to from the museum; the rest is a psychedelic blur. But, the next morning I did manage to make the 1114hrs Inter City IC 1216 which had me in Heidelberg in 39 minutes.
After checking into Hotel Ibis, I hopped onto a bus that dropped me off at the northern end of the Karl-Theodor Bridge across the Neckar River.
Known as the Old Bridge, this 225 year old stone edifice is one of Heidelberg's most endearing sights and forms a gateway into the old town. Standing on the hump of the bridge it is apparent that this is a very pretty city. The imposing castle towers over the red-tiled roofs of the mostly medieval constructions of the town centre.
Cobbled streets and symmetrical period architecture lend to its attractiveness. I didn't need to be told that Heidelberg is a university city; I could see students scurrying about everywhere, some on foot some on cycle, some arm in arm.
Today, they can walk arm-in-arm and share some intimacy on the streets, but a century or so ago, girls were always chaperoned by their governesses. The young women of Heidelburg loved the sweet and creamy chocolate that a local chocolaterie owned by Fridolin Knsel made and would often visit Cafe Knsel in the heart of the old town.
In times gone by, students who skipped homework sometimes ended up doing a stint in the Studenkarzer or Student Prison
Young men would also flock here to exchange furtive glances and try to catch the eye of the fairer sex. Knsel hit upon a novel ideal he created a delicious chocolate delight, which he mischievously called the Student's Kiss. Given as a present, it was such an exquisite, gallant token of affection that not even the chaperones could object. His descendents yet make the same chocolate in the little store on Haspelgasse.
Exiting Cafe Knsel I turned right and headed to the church of the Holy Spirit where I turned right again onto the Hauptstrasse and stopped at the charming Moro Cafe for some very aromatic coffee before turning left onto Augustinergasse to arrive at the Studenkarzer or Student Prison. This is where you were locked up if you had been naughty — as in not done your homework or clattered down the cobbled streets too fast in the sports chariot that daddy had bought you.
But as it turned out being in prison was pretty cool because the detainees had to suffer water and bread for just the first two days and afterwards their friends could bring them food. From the graffiti on the walls I think it was quite the party place. In fact, a faint aroma of roasted pork and German beer still tinge the air within the cells.
Students today can dine like kings at the Heidelberg University Cafe which is Germany's best and prize winning canteen. I headed there and the spread was delicious. Students are charged by weight — as in the weight of the food on their plate and not personal Body Mass Index.
After that I headed back up Hauptstrasse which was quite crowded now thanks to the number of tourists, walked past Marktplatz and Karlsplatz two squares with open air cafes and arrived at the funicular station to head towards the castle. The castle is as grand for its imposing architecture as the magnificent views of Heidelberg to be had from there. But on a busy day it does get a bit claustrophobic because there are just too many people.
Heidelberg, with its cobbled streets and quaint period architecture, is one of Germany's prettiest cities
The kind of claustrophobia I preferred was that of the packed nightclubs and bars on the Hauptstrasse and at the Marktplatz as Heidelberg comes alive once the sun has set. The nightlife is energetic and loud and there is plenty of music to be heard and a vast variety of boutique beers to be sampled.
Little wonder then that I made the S3 towards to Mannheim by the skin of my teeth at 0913 hours the next morning. From there I changed over to the ICE (InterCity Express) 602 to Frankfurt airport and arrived well in time for my flight back to Mumbai.
Getting there: Book a Rail Europe pass on www.raileurope.co.in Most trains don't need any reservations and you can just hop on and hop off.
Staying there: For more information on Stuttgart go to www.stuttgart-tourist.de
The Maritim is a nice place to stay. www.maritim.de
For more on Heidelberg go to www.heidelberg-marketing.de