Landing back in Germany, early in December, we were excited to get into the Christmas spirit with the many holiday markets waiting to be explored in the coming weeks. On our first morning we eagerly headed to the Marienplatz, anxious to see our first Christmas market at the heart of the city. We were confused walking out of the U-bahn station and unsure that we were in the right place. This main plaza was the size of two tennis courts littered with a couple dozen stalls, less than half of which were open. Walking around I was thinking about how disappointed Lauren’s parents are going to be for flying all the way over the Germany to see markets like this…
It’s well before lunch and we desperately needed some wine (don’t judge us) after our hearts dropped at the market. On our way for a glass at a cozy place called Staffeleso, we hiked to the top of Karlshohe (big hill) for a view of the city. Our next step in recovering from our Christmas market sorrows was to gorge ourselves on lunch at a place that made vegan Hungarian goulash. When I was growing up one of my favorite Schwan man dishes my mom would buy was the Hungarian goulash. One bite into my goulash in Stuttgart did not give me flashbacks, instead it made me realize how far off the Schwan man was with his recipe! I now know that Hungarian goulash is supposed to be spatzle (potato-based pasta like gnocchi) served with a bowl of tasty and meaty broth. The Schwan man served up a casserole of elbow noodles in a tomato-based sauce with ground beef…..need to step up your game Schwan man!
Ever had a German actually say “See you later alligator” to you? Well Lauren has while walking out the door of a coffee shop in Stuttgart and she was so upset with herself when she wasn’t snappy enough to come back with “In a while crocodile”.
That night we refused to let our Christmas market dreams be dashed so we bundled up and hopped on the train to Esslingen am Neckar. In Lauren’s research this market was just described as a medieval Christmas market meaning we had no idea what to expect. Walking up we were wide eyed in awe of the growing sparkle in the horizon. This seemingly endless market sprawled down every alley from the massive central square. It was half medieval and half a conventional Christmas market and had things we would not see in any of the other markets in Germany or Austria. Much of the footage in the video of the Christmas markets is from this one in Stuttgart so check it out!
Aside from all the fun medieval stalls and blacksmiths, the unique characteristics of this market were the games and rides they had. Most of the games were for the kids, which I really wanted to play, but refrained when absolutely no other adults were playing. So unfair! They had archery, card games, hatchet throwing, knife throwing, ball in a cup, a mini Ferris wheel, and a spinning top ride. We kicked ourselves for eating dinner before the market because of all the yummy stands they had there and some vegan friendly ones. We still tried a few treats like bread on a stick and of course gluehwein and apfelschaumwein. I was so excited when we found archery for adults in the medieval area of the market! Lauren and I each took three shots at the apple dangling in the center of the target for the chance to win a bottle of wine. I am ashamed to admit that Lauren was more accurate than I. The boy scouts might take away my archery merit badge for my poor showing. We learned a very important lesson with visiting our first two markets, always go at night when it is the most beautiful with all the lights twinkling and the most lively with locals in groups drinking their gluehwein. This market restored our excitement for all of the Christmas markets to come with Mom and Dad W!
While in Stuttgart, I wanted to get my car fix at the Porsche museum. They also have the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart, but everyone said Porsche has a better museum than Mercedes. Plus, on the list of cars I hated working on at Midas while in high school, Mercedes was near the top of the list. I have a strong dislike for car manufacturers that take little to no consideration in their engineering designs for those doing the maintenance later. Also, personal opinion on Mercedes is that they are junk and not worth the money. So, it was an easy decision to make between the two although I have never been a huge Porsche fan, I mean I like them and all but I’m American muscle through and through.
The museum is just a short train ride outside of the city center and is literally right next to the Porscheplatz S-Bahn stop. If you go to the museum, make sure to buy a day ticket for the trains because it gets you a good discount at the museum and will pay for itself.
The brand has an interesting history told through the exhibits in the museum. The story is about a father and son Ferdinand (father) and Ferry (son) who together made the iconic cars we know today. Ferdinand spent much of his career working for other well-known car manufacturers before striking out on his own. He spent decades working Daimler Motoren which later became Daimler-Benz which we all know today as Mercedes Benz. The beginnings of Porsche were slow and arduous with mostly contract work for others. Two years after forming the company Ferdinand received a contract from Hitler to develop a “people’s car” or Volkswagen. As a part of this contract Ferdinand developed the design of their most iconic car, the beetle. His designs of the “people’s car” were finalized in 1938 and before the car was ever marketed or produced it was quickly re-purposed as a military vehicle at the start of WWII.
After WWII Porsche struggled to regain traction in growing the company until finally in 1948 the first car carrying the Porsche name was produced, the 356. All of the 356 cars were handmade from aluminum and only 49 were made. They went through several rough years with poor sales in Germany and in the early 1960’s began to make a name for themselves in the racing circuits. The iconic Porsche 911 came out in 1964 and I was blown away at how little it has changed throughout the years. It’s amazing that the fundamental design of this car has thrived for over five decades. I was equally surprised when I learned that up until 1998 the 911 motor was air cooled! A rear mounted air-cooled engine just sounds insane to me, but they did it and very well for many years. The only reason they switched to water cooled in 1998 was because they had begun to turbo the motors and the additional power created increases the heat output of a motor. Fun fact internal combustion engines are incredibly inefficient with on average 75% of the total energy being lost to heat and friction. Personal fun fact, I really want to build a turbo motor when we are done traveling 😊.
After the Porsche museum we returned to the apartment for some R&R before heading back out to the Ludwigsburg market that night. Whenever we have access to laundry facilities with an Airbnb we take full advantage and having a drier is so rare in Europe that we did as much laundry as possible before our departure the next day. Now you might be thinking that is an odd thing to include in a blog about travel, but it will become important and relevant shortly just stay with me for some build up. The drier at this Airbnb was not your typical throw it in and hit a button type, it was a futuristic machine on the wall which dried anything hung in the room and our host was very proud of it. Our host was actually the landlord for the whole building of about 15 apartments and lists his units on Airbnb between leases. I walked out of our apartment headed to the basement where the drying room was and heard some faint voices from the stairwell when I made it to the bottom. It was the landlord, our Airbnb host, stopping by to greet Lauren and I while he was in the building. Lauren answered the door not realizing her blouse was almost fully unbuttoned thinking it was me having forgotten something. Shortly into the conversation with the landlord raving about how his fancy drier works, she felt a bit drafty and realized her shirt was hanging open. She quickly dismissed him by telling him I was down stairs in the laundry room and to tell me how to work the machine.
Midway through hanging our stuff up to dry I am surprised by Jan (he pronounces it more like John) to give me a brief lecture about going down into this basement room. He tells me how the door leading to this room is an old bunker door meant to withstand bombings and the bolt that locks the door is only accessible from the outside and I should always carry my cell phone into this room just in case somebody was to talk down and unknowingly lock the door on me. Sound advice but given we are leaving tomorrow, and this is the only laundry we are doing slim chance of that Jan, but thanks anyway. He then gives me a lesson on the fancy drier system and leaves me to finish hanging up our clothes. Several minutes later I walk to the door to leave and notice it is shut, odd. I give the door a nudge and it is like shoving a brick wall. With the light from the hallway I can just barely see through the crack in the door jamb that the bolt is securely in the locked position. Thanks a lot for the lesson Jan and for absentmindedly locking me in on your way out dufus!!!! I am beside myself laughing hysterically like a villain at the irony of the situation.
Next, I began pacing around my two small prison rooms looking for anything to help me win my freedom. Side note, I have the keys to the apartment which Lauren did not know. The apartment door automatically locks on exit, so I knew it would be some time before Lauren risked getting locked out to come find me. Sure, I tried banging on the door and yelling for help in the hope that somebody in the stairwell might hear me to come spring me from my cell, but I knew that was a slim chance and I had better get to cracking this safe. The best tool I could find in the limited junk laying around was a plastic hanger. Yay! I love a good MacGyver challenge. After the first 5 minutes of jabbing at the bolt through the crack in the door jamb I developed a hypothesis. I wagered that if I broke the hanger in two, I could keep tension on the string tied to the bolt while pushing on said string with the other half of the hanger to get the proper torque to free the bolt. I had only this one plastic hanger, so this had to work, and I had to break it in the optimal locations to make the best tools of it. Ten minutes into the broken hanger plan I nearly gave up hope when the lights in the hallway went out and I could no longer see what I was doing, it was all by feel. Alone trapped in the dark I continued to fish around by feel to free myself. You know how they say when you loose one of your senses the others grow stronger? Without sight I began to feel the string attached to the bolt better with the hanger and the gentle tension needed to be applied to the string without slipping off. When the bolt finally popped free after 30 minutes of fighting for my freedom, I felt like Andy Dufresne must have in the Shawshank Redemption. I brought my prized broken hanger up to my concerned wife and explained the whole ordeal with a good belly laugh.
Our last night in Stuttgart we spent at the Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market which was beautifully decorated with angels nestled in the middle of two baroque churches. The setting of the market was enchanting plus the smell of roasted chestnuts and the gluehwein in our hands warmed us as we took it all in. While meandering through the market doing some window shopping, we found some funny and unique Christmas cards with pull tabs that changed the scene on the front of them. If you were one of the lucky few to get one of these cards this is where they came from! The next morning we anxiously made our way for Munich to greet Mom and Dad W for our week together in Germany and Austria!