Do the words UNESCO World Heritage site conjure up a vision of a pile of old stones? P
If it does for you then perhaps this is worth a try.
The Volklinger Hütte is the most angry, scratchy, ugly and impressive example of cultural heritage you’re ever likely to come across.
It has been out of action for three decades.
Yet in the 1960s it employed 17,000 people.
The Volklinger iron and steel works is an utterly massive, terrifying site where man went mad for over a century, building and rebuilding a truly awesome creature that spat heat, noise and pollution over its surrounds from the day it was commissioned to the day the furnaces finally cooled a hundred years later.
On a wet and cold day we walked the 7kms of the site marvelling at the creation, feeling as though we’d entered Kafka’s worst MC Escher nightmare.
Thirty years of weather have taken their toll. Rust pulls the structures back into the earth. Trees, ivy and other vegetation take over where an earthly hell once reigned.
I don’t have the verbal skills to land the enormity of the place in your minds. If expansionist industrial creativity fires your furnace head on down to Saarbrücken and get the train out to Volkinger. I advise booking a tour. It’s easy to get lost in the process, even if not in the site.
In the vast car park there’s an area dedicated for a dozen motorhomes. How wonderfully considerate. Thank you.
Volklinger is far from the pristine, ordered Germany we’re used to.
All around, chemical and metals factories still pump out their danger. At the supermarket we noticed an alarming number of disabled children and young people. We can only guess at the connection. We chose not to drink the water.
A few miles along the route to Karlsruhe the Germanic order was restored. Leaves turn colour through miles of mixed forest. There’s a huge fortress on a hilltop. All these tempt us, but we’re on a mission and the next stop has to be the ultimate new town, the 1751 city of Karlsruhe.
The town was designed around its schloss. To the north of the castle a park spreads through formal gardens into wild unmanaged woodland. To the south is the town and university. Radiating, spoke like, from the castle dead straight paths lead into the distance, most with a point of interest in the distance. A church. A fountain. A castle. It’s not a large town, but it is a delight.
We camped near the ceramics factory on the edge of the woods. Once the owls had calmed for the night there was hardly a sound.
Not far from Karlsruhe we start to notice the increasing dominance of ridiculously flash cars. The speed of the outside lane went from fast to very fast. And we knew Stuttgart was close.
Stuttgart is home to both Mercedes and Porsche. It’s Germany’s 6th largest city. And the biggest we have visited in a long time (Birmingham and Manchester don’t count, we’ve lived in both and so know them fairly well).
Last night we were parked in the woods.
Tonight we’re right by the main road in a tram station car park.
Yet even here green is just a walk away. The city is bounded by forest to the east where Polly and I tried to get the perfect shot of the misty morning sun through the trees. More work needed.
We’re delighted to master the tram’s ticket machine (with the aid of the English translation) and then slide smoothly down the hills into town to emerge into the very heart of the city.
It’s huge, but manageable. Our highlights were the market hall (we love markets, this was superb and truly international, the smell and colours of fresh foods are enough to make you salivate) and the effortlessly cool Academie der Schönsten Künste Gastronomie where we ate flammakuchen under a semi skeletal mermaid and admired other artworks.
We hardly noticed the crowds in the centre, but were disappointed that the Neue Staatsgalerie was closed. We’ll try again tomorrow.
On Wednesday evening Minty said how she was happy we chose Altro hard flooring instead of the considerably more comfortable option of carpet.
Later that night we woke to the splatter of semi digested dog food and the retching of the poor creature relieving whatever hell was taking place in her stomach.
Thanks be for hard floor!
Oh how we love our Polly.
Two days of no food.
A gentle introduction to the joys of eating with rice and egg.
She’ll soon be bouncing again.
Day two and the second try.
Getting Minty into a gallery isn’t always easy.
But getting anyone into the Staatsgalerie is a challenge.
Once we’d eventually found the entrance we wandered in stimulated awe for several hours. We didn’t see it all. We stopped once sensory overload seeped in.
We concentrated on the magnificent 20th century collection seeing many admired works in the oil for the first time. Picasso, Warhol, Munch (I love the Munchs). Giacommetti, including two of his dark oils as well as sculptures.
The controversial Bansky, Love is in the Bin, sits alongside art that has challenged and been accepted in the past.
I was drawn to the work of Max Beckmann. It’s autobiographical, but reminds us of the plight of the every day Germans who were not caught up in the hysteria of National Socialism, but understood the horror. His resurrection is the stuff of nightmares and will haunts me still.
There can’t be many housing estates that attract tour buses of mature adults.
The Weissenhof was commissioned by the forward thinking council and built by 17 prominent architects of the day under the guidance of Mies van der Rohe and including Le Corbusier. Prefabrication allowed fast construction and the clean lined modernist gems were erected in just 5 months.
11 of the original 17 projects remain and have recently been restored. All are lived in and I suspect demand for each was high.
All in one day?
My love of cars has calmed of late. I can’t pretend I’m not still excited by the incredibly fast, or luxurious beasts that thrum by on the autobahn, but the waste does tug as my conscience more these days and I no longer yearn to join their ranks.
Nonetheless there are three marques that still hold my attention.
Morris Minor. I’ve had three and loved each one. Their curves, smell and sound still delight me. I took one to Morocco years back when my bones were more malleable.
Bristol. I’ve never had one and I’m very unlikely to afford one now, but this most eccentric of British makes would be my immediate go to car were a large sum to arrive in my bank account on the same day as my conscience left.
Mercedes. We’ve had seven, and only one of them was remotely modern. One even had fins and was older than me.
Yesterday we visited the brand’s masterpiece museum on the edge of town.
The building by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos is worth seeing even without the wonderfully curated collection. That collection takes you through the history of the brand placing it within first its German, then gradually its global context.
We didn’t come away wanting to buy another Mercedes Benz, but we did both love the experience. Some of my favourite vehicles were the old commercials, super simple, often largely built of wood.
Rather than return to our roadside parking we found another glorious wooded spot on the edge of Aichtal, a few kms south of Stuttgart airport where the swimming pool has a couple of motor home parking bays, and a path deep into the forest.
South. Take me south.
An apprehensive start.
We’re knocking off the miles in a concerted bid to pass the Alps before too much (any) snow falls. We hope our reward will come in sunshine too. The driving is a lot more concentrated that we have become used to, but we’re still packing in the sights too.
After an apprehensive start we’re settling back in to a good travelling companionship.
We need time on our own. This travelling is an intense experience. Although our trip home was hectic it helped us both.
Polly is now strong enough to take on a reasonable walk and that contributes to creating a good balance.
At night Minty often watches downloaded programmes on the iPad while I generally read. Reading doesn’t seem to wipe my mind of the majesty of the day’s scenery in the same way as TV does.
The food is good. And the autumn scenery is beyond anything either of us remember.
Wednesday’s target was Lake Constance, but en route there was time for a visit to the pretty old university town of Tübingen.
Here we loved seeing that the cafes all seem to let people take plates of food out into the streets to enjoy the sunshine. There’s a degree of trust there that we’d find hard at home – perhaps we should try.
We visited a hole in the wall bakery where the food was as good as any of the flash patisseries but at a fraction of the price. It was popular with wasps too, but no one seemed bothered.
This beautiful old 250S was resting at the roadside on the edge of town. Had there been a for sale sign I’d have been knocking on doors to find out more. It’s the successor to our 1960s fintail and we could happily waft our way through Europe cossetted by its leather.
Just outside Sipplingen the car park has three motor home bays overlooking the lake.
The grey hues of evening gave us this trip’s first thrill of “is this real?” as we sat outside the See Haus restaurant. I’d already prepared dinner but it was hard not to order one of the hearty German meals. We’d have shared a plate and still been full.
Instead an excellent Dunkel beer whetted our appetite for fusilli with a fennel and tomato sauce that truly hit the spot an hour later.
Cold. But so alive.
As I slipped gracelessly into the lake’s chilly waters it was important not only to control my breathing but also to remember to absorb the sensation of cold, transferring it from chill to thrill.
It has been too long since my last swim and I have become soft.
Constance delivered and now I feel bursting with life.
Swimming near the marina had the benefit of super nice facilities where I could have a scrub and head shave after my dip. After the jolt of the swim sitting here typing feels mundane. I need to get out there and live life.
Only an OBB branded train alerted us that we had left Germany. Where was the border? We didn’t even see it.
Our planned stop in a town called Hard felt ominous sitting under the high dyke of the Rhine. We moved on.
With the (invisible) border came a massive change of scenery. After Hard the mountains suddenly loomed ahead.
Approaching Feldkirch from a new direction we didn’t recognise it. Even the remarkable road passing under its medieval castle rang no bells. It was only as we started the ridiculously steep climb past the beautiful homes of the rich who live on the hill did Minty ask “Have we been here before?”
The description of the parking spot in the car park to the nature reserve should have altered us. We were here back at the end of May, on a super hot and busy day. We didn’t stay that time but we enjoyed the nature reserve. This time it’s quiet, it’s as if the forest and animals are our own.
I love crows. Their behaviour. Their size.
I used to imagine a post apocalyptic world where only crows and grubs survived.
Ravens are the ultimate. Each time I see a big rook or jackdaw I ask myself if it might be a raven, but remind myself that when I see one I’ll know.
And so it was this morning in the woods.
A majestic bird sounded his strange grating call just a few feet away. He was huge, shining, blue black. He must have been 65 or more cms long.
It got better.
His mate joined him. For a few moments they cawed at each other oblivious to me.
Then on noisy wings they were gone.
My day can’t get better than this.
Austria. We love you, but this visit will be all to brief. We’ll be in Italy by nightfall.
We’ll miss your mountains, forests and schnitzel. Your beautiful cows and the dull ringing of their bells.
We’ll miss your huge houses, many of which are so beautifully designed. Your chalet restaurant hotels that we’d love to stay in on a snowy winter’s night.
We’ll miss the ease of your country where everything seems to work so well.
Over the border.
Is this Italy?
The South Tirol is so utterly beautiful. Better than we’ve ever seen it ever before. It’s wearing the last of its autumn colours. Vines and trees resplendent in yellows, oranges, reds and the last of a few greens. Exaggerated by late afternoon sun and long shadows.
In the medieval town of Glorenza the cars are Italian, but everyone carries on in German. The greeting is a smiling “grosse gott” and all signs are in German first with Italian second or even third after the English.
Our energy had run out by the time we arrived. Snapping at each other at every mistake. Finding ourselves down an ancient little street where the only way through was folding both mirrors. Having to reverse out of another such place. Hard at the best of times. Near terminal when knackered.
Then an oasis. It’s only a campsite.
Not free. Not even cheap.
But when you’re shattered from too many miles a campsite offers the promise of security. Water. A toilet. And, oh lordy lordy, a shower.
Calm is restored by hot showers, dinner and wine. We’re now kicking back as Iggy Pop’s Confidential show ushers in Friday night.
We’re unlikely to hear much of it.
Life is good.