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From Freiburg we returned to Tübingen for a brief stay before moving on to Belgium. They were relaxed, rich days. Tyler and Shalynn (and Finn) Crawford saw to our every need, including hosting an Unterwegs dinner in their home across the hall from us. Teammate Tony Cole laid out a feast. Max and Emily had come back from their wedding celebration, so the whole gang was together. A great evening.
At the suggestion of the Crawfords, we rode the train into Stuttgart to take in the huge Mercedes-Benz Museum. They gave us careful instructions so we wouldn’t get lost. They underestimated us. In spite of their best efforts, we got lost anyway. You’d be surprised how complicated the Stuttgart train station is, especially when you aren’t supposed to be there. Their instructions didn’t work. We became disoriented. We were in the wrong station. It’s amazing what the difference missing your station by just one stop makes. Finally, we gave up, caught a taxi, and were deposited at the curb of the museum. Eighteen euros. The price of another bit of our education.
This museum offers a good corrective to us Americans. We like to think we invented everything. We didn’t. Take the gas-powered car, for instance. Henry Ford’s wasn’t first. The Benz Patent Motorwagen appeared in 1886, well ahead of the Ford (1908). In that same year the partnership of Daimler and Maybach added a gas-fueled engine to a stagecoach. Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft produced the first Mercedes, a race car named for car dealer/racing enthusiastic Emil Jellinek’s daughter in 1901. It boasted 35 horsepower. In 1926 the first Mercedes-Benz brand name appeared. Daimler and Benz had merged.
As you walk through the 178,000 square-foot museum you can trace the development of motorized vehicles from the primitive to the latest and most sophisticated, 160 of them in all. Individual audio tours are provided in several languages, English among them. Trip Advisor names the museum the #1 tourist attraction in Stuttgart. Porsche and Audi museums are here also, but we opted for #1.
Back in 1972 when Joy and I first visited Germany I was shocked when I saw my first Mercedes truck—a garbage truck, no less. Until then I had thought the company made only luxury cars, the kind I drooled over and knew I could never afford.
On display here were all kinds of vehicles: the first motorcycle (which made me grateful for my Harley), first gas-powered boat, first engine-driven railroad car—and passenger automobiles and trucks of every description.
Then there were the racing cars—from the beginning Mercedes regularly entered races and often won. Some particularly caught our eye because they reminded us of Velcro sons Jeff and Mike, the family car afficionados; they haven’t raced Mercedes, but they’d love to!
Daimler Benz provided automobiles for some of the 20th century’s most prominent persons, from Pope John Paul on one extreme to Adolf Hitler on the other. During WW II the company was dedicated to the war effort. In 1944, 46,000 forced laborers bolstered Nazi war efforts. After the war the company apologized, forking over $12 million in reparations to the laborers’ families.
I appreciated the museum for not hiding this part of history even as it extolled the company’s advancees from its humble beginnings to its renown among the best recognized automotive brands today. Mike recently reminded me that to say Mercedes sets the standard for excellence is like saying Einstein is brilliant. Some things don’t have to be spelled out.
If you’d like more information and pictures of these dazzling cars, go to You Tube and search Stuttgart Mercedes-Benz Museum.
We had one last outing near Tübingen. The Crawfords took us to see a couple of castles in the area, the modest Hohenertringen Castle overlooking the village of Ertringen, and the majestic Hohenzollern Castle which, from a distance, looks like a perfect set for a gothic horror flick. Up close, though, it is one of the best restored castles we’ve seen. This one is the third erected on this sight.
The first, built in the early eleventh century, was destroyed in 1423; the second, more solid structure arose in the mid-15th century and provided a Catholic refuge during the Thirty Years War. It had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 19th century when King Frederick William IV, in a visit to the ruins of his ancestral home, had a vision of its reconstruction, which was realized later in the century (1850-1867). Thus it’s not a medieval castle, though it looks old enough. It’s 19th century neo-Gothic, but still an enticing tourist destination.
An ancestral home, maybe, but no Hohenzollern family member ever took up permanent residency here, nor did any of the three German Emperors in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still, it’s lovely to look at. After WW II, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, whose father, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was the last Hohenzollern king, stayed here briefly. That’s all. In college we learned to call this “conspicuous consumption,” Thorstein Veblen’s term for showing off how rich you are. All that money spent for a house not lived in!
After the magnificence of Hohenzollern Castle, Entrigen’s fades into insignificance. We enjoyed a kaffe und küchen break there and a walk in the nearby woods to a campsite that offered a great view of the valley. Its dominant simple cross and log benches took us back to the Christian camps that have served generations of children and youth. Tyler and I sat awhile, talking quietly and meditating. Finn explored. Joy snapped pictures. Shalynn did double duty as mother and photographer.
We rounded off the day with dinner along the Neckar River in the heart of Tübingen. Good food, good view, good company. Who could ask for anything more?
Shalynn generously offered to drive us from Tübingen to the train station in Stuttgart. We eagerly accepted. It meant we would only have four rather than five trains to board en route to Bruges. On the way she asked, innocently but presciently, “With all this travel, do you ever get stressed?” No, we assured her. We’re veterans.
She dropped us off at the curb in front of Stuttgart’s main station. We bade our farewells and she drove away. We headed for the entrance which, it turned out, was a massive staircase, almost two stories in height (or so it seemed). We couldn’t find an elevator. The luggage was more than we could lug (ever notice the root of luggage before?) up the stairs. Joy found a kind young security officer who didn’t know where the elevator was, either, but she immediately went to fetch some beefy fellow workers. They came, hefted our bags as if they were filled with feathers, and set them down at the top of the stairway. Good start to the trip.
First train: Stuttgart to Mannheim. All went well. No stress. In our car two friendly guys from down under (an Aussie and a Kiwi—New Zealander—traveling together, rather amazing in itself) helped us with the suitcases. Again. Even the nice ticket lady was helpful. She told us our next train (to Cologne) would be on the same platform where we were arriving in Mannheim. Just on the opposite side. Perfect.
Voila! When we stepped off our Stuttgart train there, across the platform, was the waiting train, just as the lady promised. I looked at my ticket. Car #29. Check. We boarded it, found our seats, managed the luggage ourselves, had a brief conversation with a woman in one of our assigned seats, who looked a bit puzzled but politely moved so we could sit together in #33 and #35. Excellent. Alles gut, as we say in Germany. Until after we were underway and the conductor came by. He studied our ticket and said, rather abruptly I thought, “You are on the wrong train.” And it was so. We were headed to Berlin via Frankfurt. We’d have to get off at Frankfurt (which was OK, since we hadn’t wanted to travel to Berlin in the first place), go to the information office and purchase new tickets to Brussels.
I had visions of euros flying out of my wallet. But we went where pointed, impressed once again by the helpfulness we’ve experienced so often. Long story short, this efficient agent printed out instructions that sent us to Platform 18 to catch the 12:29 direct train to, yep, Brussels. It was the very one we were supposed to be on from Cologne in the first place. We even got the same assigned seats (#81 and #82). Even better than that: someone was in our assigned seat again, so the helpful conductor put us in a six-person private compartment. By ourselves. No extra charge for the compartment–or for the missed connection. Once again as we say in Germany, alles gut.
Then–after arriving in Bruges from Brussels–to keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves, came the next chapter. Since it had been a bit of a tough day for Joy, I decided to pamper her. I put us in a taxi (not on a bus) for the ride to our Airbnb. Good idea. Except that it was a special day of some kind so no cars were allowed on our street. Not to worry, our cab driver assured us as she let us out at the end of our street. Your apartment is “close.” She had the street right.
Our number, however, was at the extreme other end of that cobblestone street. After asking several pedestrians for directions, we lugged (there’s that word again) our suitcases more blocks than I want to recount to #4 Sint-Clarastraat, then up two flights of stairs to our quite adequate accommodations.
I was going to tell you a bit about Bruges in this post, but getting here has worn me out. I’ll just catch my breath while you enjoy…
JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS