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World-leading car-town it may be, but STUTTGART is certainly no Detroit. Instead the Baden-Württemberg capital is surprisingly small (population 600,000), laidback and leafy. Its idyllic setting in the palm of a valley – where vineyards thrive – and its multitude of parks often seem to shape it more than the presence of industrial giants. Consequently, you’re not likely to spend much time in its centre: many of Stuttgart’s best sights are spread across and beyond the hills that surround the city where you can find good hikes among vineyards and between Stuttgart’s celebrated rustic wine bars: Weinstuben.
The attractions on Stuttgart’s southern fringes include the Zahnradbahn, an aged rack-railway, that leads to a Fernsehturm (TV tower), for expansive city views. On the western side of the city stands eighteenth-century Schloss Solitude, while to the north is Höhenpark Killesberg, of interest for the Weissenhofsiedlung collection of Bauhaus buildings. Just east of here, and alongside the Neckar River is Rosensteinpark, where natural history is given a thorough treatment, from its paleontological beginnings in the Museum am Löwentor to a fine botanic garden and zoo. On the opposite bank of the Neckar lies Bad Cannstatt, an old spa-town which became part of Stuttgart in 1905, but which still feels distinct. Though traditionally known for its mineral baths, these days it’s as famous as the birthplace of the car and Mercedes, which has a terrific museum here. An ex-employee of that company spawned Porsche nearby, and the achievements of that brand are celebrated in the Porsche Museum 9km to the north of Stuttgart’s centre. All these attractions are readily reachable on Stuttgart’s excellent public transport system.
The town – and its name – has its origins in a stud farm, or “Stutengarten” established in 950 AD and a black stallion still graces the city’s heraldic crest. It developed as a trade centre and in 1311 became the seat of the Württemberg family. However, the city only really took regional control once Napoleon made Württemberg a kingdom and Stuttgart its capital in 1805. Eighty years later Daimler and Benz mapped out Stuttgart’s future as a motor city. The town’s industrial prowess was duly punished by World War II when bombs rained on the Altstadt.
The rebuilt town feels rather bereft of history, though there’s no shortage of high culture in its heavyweight museums, particularly the Staatsgalerie’s art collections and the archeological treasures of Landesmuseum Württemberg.
Mechanical engineer Gottlieb Daimler left formal employment in 1880, and started tinkering in his Bad Cannstatt workshop in 1882. His quest to produce a light, fast, internal combustion engine was done so secretively that police raided his workshop for money-counterfeiting on the tip-off of a gardener. In 1883, his single-cylinder four-stroke shattered the repose of Kurhaus spa-goers and by 1885 his patented 264cc “Grandfather Clock” powered a motorbike. A year later the world’s first motorboat, the Neckar, chugged upriver and his motorized carriage terrorized horses. Daimler moved to a factory on Seelberg in July 1887.
Meanwhile, unaware of the goings-on in Daimler’s shed, Karl Benz in Mannheim was blazing his own motor trail to found Benz & Cie in 1883, the same year as Daimler. The world’s two oldest motor manufacturers eventually united in June 1926 as Daimler-Benz long after Daimler had died and Benz retired. The Mercedes name was introduced in 1902 to honour the daughter of early Austrian dealer Emil Jellinek.
Housed in a futuristic landmark building on the banks of the Neckar, 4km northeast of the city centre, the Mercedes-Benz-Museum is chock-full of 110 years of immaculate motors. It starts with Daimler’s pioneering motorbike – a wooden bone-shaker with a horse’s saddle – and beside it is the one-cylinder motor-tricycle Motorwagen and motorized carriage Motorkutsche; Benz and Daimler created them independently in 1886, both capable of a not-so-giddy 16kmph. Benz just pipped Daimler to produce the world’s first car.
Another trail-blazer is the robust Benz Vélo, the world’s first production car, for which twelve hundred of the moneyed elite parted with 20,000 gold Marks. A racy 500K Special Roadster in preening pillarbox red begs for a Hollywood Thirties starlet, but it’s the racers that truly quicken the pulse, no more so than the legendary Silver Arrows of the 1920s and 1930s; a cinema shows the sleek machines in action. Just as eye-catching are a pair of experimental record-breakers that look far more futuristic than their dates suggest: in the W125, Rudolf Caracciola clocked up 432.7km per hour on the Frankfurt–Darmstadt Autobahn in 1938 (no one’s been faster on a public highway since); and six-wheeler sci-fi vision T80 was powered by an aeroplane engine to 650km per hour in 1939, though World War II killed the project.
Stuttgart really livens up in April, during the three-week Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest which salutes spring with beer and grilled sausages; in August, when the open-air Sommerfest takes over the Schlossplatz with live music; and during the Stuttgarter Weindorf later in the same month. Stuttgart also hosts Germany’s largest Christmas Market in December, but the town’s really big event is the late September, sixteen-day Cannstatter Volksfest, a sizeable local equivalent to Munich’s Oktoberfest, that’s as yet undiscovered by invading armies of tourists.
Cradled in a valley of five hundred vineyards – some of which spill right into the city – Stuttgart naturally enjoys its wine. Local vintners produce a number of whites, including an elegant Riesling, as well as the popular, full-bodied red Trollinger. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Stuttgart’s wines though: wine consumption here is twice the national average so local supplies only just meet the demand and few wines leave the valley. So, while Frankfurt has its cider taverns and Munich its beer halls, Stuttgart’s unique drinking dens are its Weinstuben or wine bars – a few of which are listed here. These tend to open evenings only, rarely on a Sunday, and are usually unpretentious rustic places. All serve solid and inexpensive Swabian dishes, which invariably include doughy Spätzle (noodles) and Maultaschen, the local oversized ravioli. More homey still are Besenwirtschaften, temporary wine-bars that appear in the front rooms of people’s houses to serve the season’s vintage with home-cooking, including potato soup (Kartoffelsuppe), noodle and beef stew (Gaisburger Marsch), or a Schlachtplatte, a meat feast served with vegetables. These places traditionally announce themselves with a broom hung outside and their locations vary from year to year. They’re all listed in the guide Stuttgarter Weine from the tourist office, which is also a good place to pick up information on the Stuttgarter Weinwanderweg (stuttgarter-weinwanderweg.de), the hiking routes that circle through local vineyards and past many Besenwirtschaften.
Stuttgart’s other great wine-initiative is the Stuttgarter Weindorf, when during the last weekend in August the Marktplatz and Schillerplatz fill with wine buffs sampling hundreds of regional tipples. The year’s vintages are on sale, and it’s a great chance to pick up rarer wines. A similar event is the Fellbacher Herbst on the second weekend in October, in Fellback, just east of Bad Cannstatt.
Kachelofen Eberhardstr. 10, 0711 24 23 78. A bastion of beams and lacy tablecloths among the hip bars of Hans-im-Gluck south of Marktplatz. It’s the Weinstube favoured by Stuttgart’s smarter set and serves hearty regional food as four-course set meals (€32–42). Mon–Thurs noon–midnight, Fri & Sat noon–1am.
Klösterle Marktstr. 71, Bad Cannstatt, 0711 56 89 62. Swabian specials, including delicious sausage salad and good Maultaschen (mains €10–20), in the rustic interior of a wonky half-timbered building from 1463, which looks like an incongruous film-set among the modern flats. Mon–Fri 5pm–midnight, Sat & Sun 11.30am–midnight.
Schnellenturm Weberstr. 72, 0711 236 48 88. Schwäbischer Sauerbraten comes in a rich sauce in Duke Christopher’s 1564 defence tower transformed into a cosy half-timbered nest. Quality and prices are a little above the average Weinstube fare – mains average about €15. Mon–Sat 5pm–midnight.
Stetter Rosenstr. 32, 0711 24 01 63. Wine connoisseurs’ heaven – at the last count, over 575 wines, nearly 200 regional, were on the list of this Bohnenviertel Weinstube. There’s no snobbery at this family-run place though, just locals exchanging news and tucking into spicy bean soup or rich beef goulash. The lentil soup with sausages (€6) is outstanding. Mon–Fri 3–11pm, Sat 11am–3pm.