Gleaming above the main station is the motif of a three pointed star- the logo of Mercedes Benz...this city has the automobile in its DNA -it’s famous for its automobile companies, car shows, car magazines and car museums ...It’s not the gritty city of automobiles that I imagined, though. Instead this city located at the edge of the Black Forest, is encircled by green hills covered with vineyards, a series of rambling parks and gardens( loved by cyclists and families), in a ‘Green U’ that runs through the town. Long ago, in the year 950 AD, Stuttgart started life as a stud farm nestled in a verdant valley, when the Duke Luidolf used the place for breeding horses and its name means ‘garden of horses’. Stuttgart is today the gateway to the Swabian Black Forest region with its own distinctive dialect and cuisine.
As I walk through the city, I see the staffeles or the series of steps and paths that were built in the late 19th century to connect the city to its vineyards located on steep slopes-today’s it offers the residents a way to exercise, much better than any treadmill. This is the only German city that owns 17 hectares of municipal vineyards spread over six locations. They say that in the year 1386, there was more wine available here than water so the mortar for building houses had to be mixed with wine, not water. We hear about wine taverns called ‘Broom taverns’ which open only for 12 weeks in a year, where the wine grower’s own wines only can be served. The broom hanging at the door shows that they are open for business!
Stuttgart has a rich collection of museums, including the quirky Stuttgarter Schlachthof devoted to pigs! I head to the shrine of auto aficionados-the new Mercedes Benz Museum. Gleaming like a space ship, its futuristic architecture is based on the double helix of a DNA spiral...a sleek capsule elevator that looks like it came out of Star Wars whizzes us to the top floor of the museum. I make my way along a circular route along the nine levels laid out like a racing track around an open atrium. The Legend rooms showcase the history of the brand and its 120 year old lineage- starting with the invention of the automobile and ending with the Silver Arrows. The Collection Rooms with their own specific themes showcase the diversity of the company’s vehicles. In the Gallery of names I see Princess Diana’s red SL and a huge bus which was used by the German football team in 1974. I walk along the interlaced ramps, taking in nuggets of world history. How did the name Mercedes meaning ‘grace’ in Spanish come into being?
She was the daughter of an Austrian businessman called Emil Jellinek. He ordered his first car in 1897 with the Daimler factory and after that promoted their cars in the elite sections of society. He used the pseudonym Mercedes( his 10 year old daughter’s name) when he raced at Nice. Under this name he entered into a marketing agreement with the Daimler Company and the rest is history.
The city is not just about cars. There are legends and stories buried in the stones and bricks... I love the atmospheric Bohnenviertel or the ‘Bean quarter’. This locality dates back to the 15th century, when it was one of the first settlements outside the city walls, where the poorer residents like craftsmen and traders lived. They grew beans (which were their staple diet) on poles, in gardens and like garlands over their houses to feed their families. Today this historic quarter is full of unique wine bars, antique stores, art and craft stores and cafes. Its cobblestone lanes, hidden alleys and timbered houses are really time warped. Our guide Marion Alwes, shows us a nude statue of a nubile woman with her back to us: Queen Olga of Wurttemberg donated a statue to the city, and when the conservative citizens grumbled about the naked goddess on top, she decided to make her face the other way so that the citizens would only see her posterior!
This Swabian town became the capital of the land of Württemberg, when the region was conquered by Napoleon in the early 19th century. More than 80% of the city was destroyed by bombing during World War II, and it has been restored painstakingly. Our guide points out the Birkenkopf Hill in the distance, which grew taller because of the wreckage and rubble of the destroyed city, which was piled here. The heart of the city is at Schlossplatz with its 365 room new palace once used by the royals, and today housing government ministries. Ringed by classical buildings, lawns and benches, this is a public space that the locals love. The goddess of harmony, Concordia, looks down on me from the Jubilee Column flanked by fountains. The ghosts of the past haunt me... Tall and obese King Frederick who forged a political alliance with Napoleon, providing him with a large army and got his daughter married to Napoleon’s brother. Both traded insults at each other. Napoleon thought that ‘God had created him to demonstrate how far human skin could be stretched’. King Frederick wondered ‘how so much poison could fit into Napoleon’s small head’!
Our dinner is at the full- of- rustic- charm Stuutgarten Staffele restaurant, with a cosy ambience created by candles, wooden alcoves and dim lights. Swabian cuisine is on the menu with local wines like the fruity, light Trollinger and Riesling in special glasses with handles. The piece de résistance is my onion soup topped with stringy cheese served in a huge carved out onion, set on a bed of salt. It’s a moment that remains embedded forever in the recesses of my memory chip!
Published in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu, 2012.