“ Stuttgart / Germany „
Come with me to Stuttgart, the capital of the land Baden-Württemberg in the south west of Germany. Let's stroll along the Königstrasse (König=King; Straße=street), Germany's longest pedestrianised shopping street. It begins just in front of the station. It's 1200 m long; 251 shops, restaurants and cafés can be found there as well as some of the famous sights of the city. Fear not, I'm not going to lead you through all establishments on either side of the street! I'll point out only the ones I know and which may be of interest to you. I'm not into shopping myself, I see it as a necessity, not a pleasure. People who say that shopping is their hobby are sick in my opinion. I know, of course, that if all people were like me, the German economy wouldn't be flourishing as well as it does. I won't change my attitude, however, for patriotic reasons.
First thing on the left you find the Tourist Information. Until 1922 the King's Gate used to be there, it was erected to celebrate Friedrich (Frederic), the first King of Württemberg who ordered that a street be built up to the square where the Old and the New Castle stood. The Castle Square is now in the middle of the Königstraße. The part from the station to this point is called Lower Königstraße, the part from there up to the end is Upper Königstraße.
The Königstraße has made it onto the list of the Top 25 German shopping streets. On average about 100.000 people can be found there *every day*! With this it lies behind Köln (Cologne), Hamburg and Munich and is par with Frankfurt. It was certainly a good idea to ban car traffic and to put the tram underground although people grumbled a lot, of course, when this was done in the 1970s. Today the Königstraße is not only a street for shoppers but also for flâneurs. It's a permanent open air circus featuring street artists of all kinds. How do you know that you're in Stuttgart and not in some other city? Looking back at the station you see a high tower at its right side with a big rotating Mercedes star on top reminding people where the money comes from in this region.
The shops in this area are rather small. On the left is a tiny Lush shop. Yes, indeed, Lush has come to Germany, too. On the right side you find two delicatessen shops selling expensive meat products as well as savoury pastries and pies. This is stuff you take home with you and eat there, the other food selling establishments on the Königstraße sell it ready for consumption on their premises or when walking around. A deplorable and unappetising habit which we have to live with, I'm afraid. Some people sit down at least while eating. There are many trees in the Königstraße with benches round their trunks. Not only eaters sit there but also tired shoppers and gawkers. Children find an area with playground equipment in the middle of the street beside a fountain in the shape of half a dandelion clock (see pic at the top) so that they don't get too grumpy during the shopping trip.
If you're intent on buying clothes, you can go to small shops, many of which belong to international chains, or to huge department stores. They're huge by German standards but nothing to write home about compared with Selfridges or Debenhams on Oxford Street. When my students saw these buildings on a trip to London, their jaws dropped!
Should you care for a homey feeling you can go to Hugendubel, a two-storey book shop on the left side. On the first floor they have an English section which classics and current bestsellers. This is where I go and check out new books which I then buy on Amazon with my vouchers (Don't tell Mr Hugendubel). On the second floor is a small cafeteria, it's nice to sit there among all the books. Only last week I went there with a friend and had a hot chocolate with orange flavour and whipped cream on top, very good.
When I'm alone in Stuttgart (during term time I go there twice a week to attend lectures and seminars at uni, I'm a senior 'guest-student'), I usually have my cappuccino or espresso macchiato in the Hochland Café which is located between the Drugstore Müller next door and the Catholic church St Eberhard. They have the finest coffee in Stuttgart and good cake.
We're now getting to the Castle Square, in my opinion one of the prettiest squares in Germany. To the right is the Königsbau (King's Building), once the stock exchange, now a shopping centre with a café and with colonnades open to the square and a covered shopping mall behind it. The square proper is on the left. Directly opposite the Königsbau is the Neues Schloss (New Castle), the seat of several ministries. It was badly bombed during WW II as were many other buildings in the inner city. It's been rebuilt in the original style. A bit to the right is the Altes Schloss (Old Castle) which houses the museum of the history of Württemberg. It shows a real king's crown, not as impressive as the one in the Tower, but no queues there, you can look at it as long as you like. There are permanent exhibitions and temporary ones. Two weeks ago an exhibition on the Celts opened of which a part is also shown in the Kunstgebäude (Art Building) just across the Castle Square. In the middle of the Castle Square is the Jubilee Column with a female figure on top holding a wreath. It was erected in 1841 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the then monarch King William I of Württemberg. Furthermore, there are two enormous fountains. Best of all, however, are the well kept lawns on which folks are allowed to lie. When the weather is good, it's a pretty sight, all the magnificent buildings and a colourful crowd in between.
With so many people out and about it's not surprising that there are so many street artists. Many years ago I met a young Englishman at a party, the hosts had befriended and invited him. He had given up his job as a teacher to become a busker. His instrument was the accordion. He didn't only like busking more than teaching, he even earned more. From him we learnt that the Königstraße in Stuttgart is a top address for buskers. On a good day you can find, say, players of Australian didgeridoos, the ubiquitous South American Indio groups and Russian violinists whose real job is to play in a symphony orchestra at home (where they earn less in a year than they do in a month on a busy German shopping street). You can see pavement painters, breakdance artists and youngsters doing tricks on slacklines or jugglers juggling burning torches. Unfortunately, there are also many beggars. A few are Germans, OAPs and young punks with dogs, but the majority are members of organised groups from Eastern Europe. They're taken by car to pedestrian precincts in the morning and collected again in the evening. Whatever you give them lands in the pockets of their bosses.
Before the Upper Königstraße begins, we have to look at - or go into? - the Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) where the collections belonging to the city of Stuttgart are on display. We only see a glass cube by day. By night the interior limestone walls are illuminated and become visible. It has two skins then so-to-speak. On the top floor is an elegant restaurant and café from where you have an excellent view of the Castle Square and the surrounding hills. When it's warm enough (for Germans it's warm enough when it isn't freezing), there's an outdoor café in front of the entrance of the museum. If you like people watching, this is one of the many places where you can do it.
What do Stuttgarters look like? That's difficult to answer. Many non-Swabian Germans (the Swabians are the indigenous German tribe living in the region) have moved to Stuttgart for economic reasons and 40% of the ~ 600.000 inhabitants, and 64% of the population below the age of five, are of foreign immigrant background.
Moving further up the Königstraße we find more elegant and expensive shops than below the Castle Square. And banks. The money you need for your shopping spree must come from somewhere, mustn't it? Everyone can find something for their wallet. Of course, some money should be in the wallet when you go shopping. When I was with a class of pubescent pupils on a day out in Stuttgart some years ago, it wasn't an empty wallet but sheer juvenile goofiness that made a girl steal a pair of shoe laces (!) in a shop with an outdoor display. Thanks to her I now know how shop detectives on the Königstraße work. In the end the shoelaces cost her 30 Euro and a letter to her parents.
I think we've had enough. Let's turn round and go back to the station. You'd think that *everybody* who isn't visually challenged could see the tower with the rotating Mercedes star right in front of them but not so three boys from a different class who got lost on the way from the Castle Square to the station (~ 300 m!). Fortunately I was with a colleague and mobile phones had already been invented. I took the class back to our hometown, my colleague localised the stray boys and returned one train later.
I don't miss this part of being a teacher! Insolent parents who claim that a day out means a day off work for a teacher should be thrown into a dungeon.