Heidelberg to Munich

On The Road Travel Essays

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Heidelberg to Munich

Karlsruhe  Lying south of Heidelberg, this city has an instructive name: Karl's Rest. The city is a piece of "fallout" from Louis XIV's invasion of Heidelberg. Louis destroyed other towns nearby, including the castle of Prince Karl Wilhelm, who ruled Baden. Karl was sick of war and destruction, and wanted rest. So he built a new residence in the middle of his favorite hunting grounds. Thus: Karl's Rest.

The city grew, and today it is a manufacturing and oil-refining center. The Supreme Courts of West Germany are located here. The Nuclear Research Center outside the town is a major site for nuclear technology. The physicist Heinrich Hertz (whose name is the unit of wave frequency — familiar to stereo buffs) discovered electromagnetic waves here in 1894, while working at the Technological Institute in Karlsruhe.

Stuttgart  We're now deeper into the old province of Swabia, associated chiefly with Romantic poets like Holderlin and Hebel, and with the charming scenery of the Swabian Alps.

Road signs announce the turnoff for the town of Pforzheim, a traditional center of goldwork and jewelry.

Stuttgart, the major city of the area, has a population of 650 thousand. What you can see most clearly from the Autobahn is its spindly radio tower, almost 700 feet high. (Look for it off to the left.) The giant tower is actually a long hollow tube, made up of large concrete "pipe sections." The walls of the sections are thick at the bottom but only a few inches in thickness at the top. This made the tower comparatively cheap and easy to construct, and accounts for its great height.

City of technology: Stuttgart is one of the commercial giants of West Germany, with a long tradition of science, printing, and engineering. During the period of the German Reformation, the city's many printing establishments made it the intellectual capital of German Protestantism. Later, Germany's most prestigious automobiles were first made here. The two pioneers of the German auto industry, Daimler and Benz, began their experiments here with the internal combustion engine. Out of their efforts came Daimler-Benz, the company that makes Mercedes. (The name Mercedes comes from the daughter of the company's most successful foreign sales agent. Too bad the poor girl hadn't bothered to copyright her name.)

Other big names in Stuttgart's industry are Porsch, Zeiss-Ikon cameras, and the largest mineral water bottling operation in Europe.

Stuttgart enjoys political prominence as the capital of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

Swabian Jura (These hills begin about a half-hour beyond Stuttgart.)  Notice how these hills rise up like bumps from the plains, detached from the mountain range. They are called the "Swabian Jura." The name comes from the old province of Swabia, and the term "jura" is used by geologists to refer to a formation of moderately steep hills. These hills are packed tightly together shaped like a German sausage as they run from north to south. The Autobahn, moving from west to east, slices through the sausage like a knife, giving us a quick eyeful of Alpine scenery.

To the right appear the first signs of the mountains: several castles perched on top of "bumps" which rise up from the valley floor, isolated from the main range. They form natural fortress sites, just made to order for the castles on top. The castles were the work of the two greatest German families of the Middle Ages: the Hohenstaufens and the Hohenzollerns. The Hohenstaufens became the Holy Roman Emperors in the 11th and 12th centuries. But then their power passed to the Hohenzollerns, who rose to prominence about 1450 and controlled the destiny of Germany until 1918. The famous "Kaiser" of WW I, Wilhelm II, was the last of the Hohenzollerns. It was his medieval ancestors who built the hilltop castles we see today.

Medieval life in the Jura: Life was rugged, especially for the peasants who dwelt in the valleys. Winter winds were harsh, water was scarce, and the uneven terrain poorly suited to agriculture. But the people were hardy, and used every ounce of their ingenuity to prevail over the stingy environment. During long winter evenings, the Jura farmers huddled around the fire, singing or telling stories. The more clever of them used this time to think up ways of making life easier for themselves. They hit upon many brilliant inventions, including new weaving techniques, well-crafted household utensils, and some of the most imaginative children's toys in Germany.

19th-century development: These ideas were developed in the 19th century, and can now be seen at work in a string of factories along the Jura, where cotton is processed and where silverware, precision tools, toys, and musical instruments like harmonicas are manufactured. Among these people at least, adversity has mothered invention.

Ulm  Ulm's old walls, with their watchtowers and gates, are still largely intact. But its chief glory is its 14th-century cathedral. Master carvers flourished during the Middle Ages, along with skilled masons, architects, and sculptors. Supporting all this building activity was a tradition of commerce and finance, reflecting Ulm's position on the great trade route through southern Germany.

Einstein was born in Ulm in 1879.

Augsburg  One of Germany's oldest towns, and like Cologne, it was built by the Romans. It straddled the road leading from Italy to northern Europe, and this made for commercial success. Great merchant families arose, like the Fuggers who laid the basis for modern capitalism. Banks and stock exchanges sprouted up, making Augsburg a solid, sensible middle-class city.

Religious controversy: A famous dispute took place here between Catholics and Protestants at the local Diet (assembly) in 1530. The Holy Roman Emperor was Charles V, who had to deal with Turkish armies in his home territory of Austria. The Turks were threatening to capture his capital of Vienna. What he didn't need was a religious conflict in his empire. He wanted to bring Luther and his followers into line so that he could get on with the business of defeating the Turks. So he summoned the Diet of Augsburg, hoping to cow Luther with a show of imperial authority. But the Lutherans were not a docile breed. They issued their "Confession of Augsburg," which has remained the Lutherans' statement of faith ever since. Religious wars broke out, and were not resolved until 1555, when the Peace of Augsburg gave freedom of worship to the Lutherans. Meanwhile, Charles V managed to roll back the Turkish armies by himself.

Growing prosperity: With peace secured, art and intellectual activity flourished. A thriving middle class meant a lavish patronage of building projects and skilled artists. The portraitist Holbein the Elder (d. 1525) captured the faces of many influential burghers of his time. Nor were the urban poor forgotten. The banking family of Fugger established a "low rent" housing facility that still operates today at the same rental rate as at its founding: mere pennies for a year's lodging.

Diesel: A technological breakthrough occurred in Augsburg in 1897. Rudolph Diesel, a native of the city, designed the world's first Diesel engine.

Dachau  We can't see the town from the Autobahn, but it lies to our left a few miles, just outside of Munich.

19th-century resort: The town, with its castle, was a favorite retreat for artists and writers from nearby Munich. They would sit on cafe terraces, gazing over a large, brooding heath where mist hung heavy most of the year.

20th-century nightmare: These idyllic associations came to an end in 1933, when the Nazis built their first concentration camp on the outskirts of Dachau. Most of the grisly experiments performed by Nazi doctors were tried out at Dachau first, then adopted at other camps. About 200,000 prisoners were admitted to the camp between 1933 and 1945, and between 30-40,000 died here. Some of the barracks have been rebuilt as a memorial, with large photographic displays of the atrocities. The ovens have been restored. Memorial chapels of several faiths have been built on the edge of the camp. Ashes of the victims are buried in marked sites around the building housing the ovens. The barbed-wire fence still surrounds the camp, and a watchtower has been reconstructed.

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