The Center of Modern History
Germany had always held a key interest for me. With its tumultuous history, particularly through the era of the Second World War, the country has struggled to regain its respect in the eyes of the greater world. Although their past brings back bitter memories for many, the history of it all was still intriguing to me; the center of such a world altering era.
My first opportunity to visit this infamous country came shortly after my visit to Basel for their annual Basler Fasnacht. A friend of mine, Alene, whom I had met in university, had studied her Masters of Architecture in the country and was now living and working in the city of Stuttgart. Stuttgart is located to the southern region of Germany and therefore to the north of Switzerland. This was perfect as my city, St. Gallen, is located exactly in the north, which meant that Stuttgart was only a 4 hour train ride away. Jerry had a long week of work this weekend so the trip to Stuttgart to meet up with Alene was perfectly coordinated.
This trip would be my first time traveling alone since arriving in Switzerland. Needless to say it was a momentous time! I had always depended on both Jerry and my grandparents to translate the riddle that was the German language, however, this meant that I would now be left on my own to decipher and navigate the language. As Jerry bid me goodbye on the train I was instantly greeted with the unfamiliar words of German. Panic flooded through me as I realized now that I would have to really be very attentive so that I would not miss ANY of my stops.
My train ride included one stop which meant that I would have to change trains once in Zürich. Jerry had already prepared me with the knowledge regarding the amount of stops before I would arrive in Zürich (I think it’s also pretty simple to hear the mention of the city Zürich as well, right?). The hard part actually came in the form of the platform change. If you have ever been to any train stations I’m certain you are familiar with seeing persons sprinting by to catch connecting trains.
I was all packed up and ready to bolt through the door
The thought of missing my train in a city I was absolutely unfamiliar with was petrifying! Even more so was the thought of trying to decipher the signs written in German or even having to ask a stranger for directions! So when the train arrived in Zürich I was all packed up and ready to bolt through the door. I quickly read the signs (all I had to do was decipher which arrows lead to the platform I needed to be at) and swiftly walked through the thick crowd of people toward my platform. After sprinting up a flight of steps to the upper level of the train station I was finally at the correct platform. It turned out I even had time to spare! Mission catch that train was a success!
The train journey there was another 2 hours, one I spent in complete anxiety (despite having passed the most worrisome bit). How would I find Alene? Thankfully this was not an issue as she had left work an hour earlier so that she could meet me at the train station. So as I came from the train I was greeted by a familiar voice “Toni!”. There was Alene’s smiling face, excited to see me as I was her. We hugged and soon were on our way to her home.
Stuttgart vs. St. Gallen
Even though I had only been in Switzerland for a short while, I was still able to recognize the difference between both St. Gallen and Stuttgart. Stuttgart is a much larger city with approximately 600,000 residents. On the other hand, St. Gallen, by stark contrast, only has 73,000 residents (I mean Germany on a whole is a much larger country than Switzerland). Stuttgart was packed with people walking along the streets so much so that it was sometimes hard to avoid bumping into them.
Although different in character from New York, it still had similar characteristics that I associated with NYC, particularly the busy streets, hustle and bustle of the people and the constant chatter as they passed by. Walking through the shopping passages it was common to see art, from musicians playing their live music, to painters creating live artwork, to temporary street art sculptures. The city was certainly a lively one.
Difference of Architecture
The architecture of the city was also a lot different to that of St. Gallen. Buildings were much more modern than a vast majority of the architecture seen in St. Gallen. While St. Gallen has its own share of modern architecture, it is common to see older buildings being re-purposed into residential buildings or even commercial buildings (it’s still a bit strange to see McDonalds in an old structure that has certainly been around for years).
The difference architecturally between these two places, however, naturally lay within that of history. Much of Stuttgart’s older buildings had been destroyed in World War 2 and had to be rebuilt, while Switzerland, on the other hand, was never involved in the war so was spared the destruction that was associated with the war, thus legitimizing the preservation of their old buildings.
Nightlife in Stuttgart City
The first evening spent in Stuttgart was spent experiencing nightlife, which indeed was far more diverse than the nightlife in St. Gallen. There were many more young persons roaming the streets, venturing from bars to clubs and in the wee hours of the morning crowding the open Kebeb restaurants (Turkish fast food restaurants that are quite popular in both Germany and Switzerland).
Saturday was a relaxed day as we hung around home recuperating from Friday night’s happenings. We spent the time chatting and catching up since we had barely seen each other since we had graduated university.
Stuttgart City by Day
Sunday we woke re-energized and ready to explore the city. Alene’s firm lent us museum passes that allowed us access to multiple museums in the city. We planned to visit two we had the most interest in, The Weissenhof Museum im Haus Le Corbusier and the Mercedes Benz Museum.
Weissenhof Museum im Haus Le Corbusier
The Weissenhof Museum im Haus Le Corbusier is a museum created in 2002 in semi-detached exhibition houses that were designed by world renowned architect, Le Corbusier in the city of Stuttgart (known as houses 14 and 15). The original houses were part of a residential building exhibition created in 1927 under the “Neues Bauen” movement. Many significant architects (17 to be exact) who are now considered pioneers of the modern architecture movement, such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe (who was lead architect) were involved in the project which in total consisted of 21 buildings. These houses were designed to display the modern concepts of dwellings for workers and can be found in close proximity to each other.
In building 1 there is an exhibition explaining the genesis and history of the Weissenhofsiedlung through the use of largely printed text and the use of architectural models.
Building number two is focused on highlighting the structure as it would have been seen in 1927 during the Werkbund Exhibition. It restores Le Corbusier’s arrangement of spaces, the coloration and a part of the furnishings used by the architect.
The museum overlooked the beautiful city of Stuttgart and could be best seen from the garden terrace on top of the home (by this time Corbusier had begun implementing his concept “5 Points of Architecture” so naturally this home utilized a garden terrace).
Mercedes Benz Museum
As we all may know, the Germans are quite popular for building super cars, from the Volkswagen, Porsche and of course the Mercedes Benz. Stuttgart happens to be the home city of the Mercedes Benz (Daimler AG). In dedication to these awesome super cars, an entire museum has been built to exhibit the cars in all their grandeur. After leaving the Weissenhof Museum we made our way via the S-Bahn to the Mercedes Benz Museum. It was a large modern building that stood out in its surroundings, certainly one befitting the sleek luxurious brand that Mercedes Benz is known to be. Inside the museum awaits a unique experience.
Unlike many other museums that begin their tour on ground level, Mercedes Benz escorts you to the very top floor of the building where you then commence the tour. We received devices with earphones that would serves as our tour guides throughout each level of the tour. With these devices you would go to each exhibition piece, tap the start button and then listen to a brief speech highlighting facts of the individual piece.
The tour began with the history of the automotive industry and how this development lead to Karl Benz’s invention of the first petrol powered car. The displays highlighted models of the first engines and vehicles developed by both Benz and partners Gottlieb Daimler and Wilheim Maybach (they were not limited to personal cars but also made boats etc). As we descended each level of the building the story of the development of the company and its models of cars, buses and trucks were explained in a chronological order.
The cultural and significant events which occurred through the world as well as the technological advances greatly influenced the development of these vehicles and this tour was great in highlighting the progress the company has made since its inception in 1926. Finally we arrived on the ground level, both the entry and exit point, where they highlighted the future projects and visions of the Mercedes Benz brand. Overall it was quite an interesting tour.
A Small Piece of Home
That night, after returning from our walk through the city we simply relaxed and enjoyed our last evening together as I would be leaving on the morning train. Although my stay in Stuttgart was seemingly short, it was great to see an old pal from my days in university again. Also, knowing that I had a friend only 4 hours train ride away made the feeling of being so far away from home a lot less pronounced. To be able to reconnect in an international setting was amazing as we now had the opportunity to create memories in places we probably would never have imagined being together in throughout our years in university. It just goes to show you how globally connected our world has become.