Back to the future
SouthWest Germany's Cities between Tradition and Modernity
© Karlsruhe Tourismus GmbH
Ancient meets Modern
Youthful Charm Paired with Proud Heritage
Every city in Southwest Germany, the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg, has a unique tale to tell. Some boast a youthful charm, others are proud of their heritage. With their architecture, culture and inventiveness, the region’s nine so-called independent cities create a rich and diverse tapestry. And here in Germany’s sunniest region, each is determined to preserve the past, while offering a better future for its citizens.
1# Poetry in Motion
With its world-famous car manufacturers Porsche and Mercedes, Stuttgart is often seen as a modern city. But the capital of SouthWest Germany also has a historic heart, with grand palaces and handsome churches. In the centre is Schillerplatz (Schiller Square), which stands on the spot that gives the city its name: the Stutengarten or stud farm. High on a plinth, a statue of poet Friedrich Schiller has stood since 1839. He admires the displays at the Flower Market on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. He surveys the colourful stalls at the annual wine festival at the end of August. What does he enjoy most? Most likely, the fun and bustle of one of Europe’s oldest, largest and best Christmas markets from late November to Christmas Eve.
2# Romantic past; leading-edge present
With its ruined castle high above the Neckar River and atmospheric Old Town below, Heidelberg is often pigeonholed as the cradle of the German romantic movement. But it is also a hotspot for science. Germany's first university was founded here in 1386 and research was – and still is – a pillar of academic and city life. Today, the site of a former railway station is the new Bahnstadt district, a base for biotech and other high-tech companies. In 2023, the striking new Heidelberg Congress Center (HCC) will open for conferences. And, reflecting the motto 'Business by day; romantic at night', the century-old civic centre is the perfect place for evening receptions in the heart of the city. Ninety minutes northwest of Stuttgart.
3# Special Then; Special Now
Playing on Baden-Baden’s double-barrelled name, this sophisticated city on the edge of the Black Forest has a witty slogan: “The good-good life.” In 2021, it was given UNESCO World Heritage status as one of the 'Important Spa Towns in Europe'. It was known as Aquae to the Romans, who came for the soothing, healing power of the 12 thermal springs. From 1700 onwards, Europe’s aristocracy flocked here to 'take the waters' and Baden-Baden became the 'summer capital of Europe'. Today, that tradition continues, with unique spa experiences and elegant gardens, plus grand buildings, such as the stylish Kurhaus cultural centre, the casino, Germany’s largest opera house and world-class art museums. No city offers so much glamour and style, all conveniently close together. Ninety minutes west of Stuttgart.
4# Formative History
Before the Second World War, Ulm’s cityscape boasted a centuries-old architectural culture, with distinctive, primarily Gothic and Renaissance landmarks. The medieval Old Town was one of southern Germany’s largest. Air raids destroyed most of Ulm in 1944, yet the city at the Danube, which today has 130,000 inhabitants, has recovered in the best possible way. Now historical structures such as the Minster, the town hall and the federal fortress harmonize with modern structures like the glass library, the Stadthaus and the buildings in the award-winning 'Neue Mitte'.
In July, the citizens of Ulm celebrate Oath Monday, a unique ceremony that dates back to the 14th century. After the mayor gave is obligatory speech, the ringing of the Oath Bell is followed by the mayor’s vow to 'serve rich and poor alike'. Then the 'Nabada' starts. With themed, decorated boats and live music, it is like a carnival procession floating down the Danube. This ancient tradition was named by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2021. Ninety minutes southeast of Stuttgart.
5# Green City
Green, greener, greenest. That’s Freiburg, the historic city between vineyards and the Black Forest. Back in the 1970s, locals protested against plans to build a nearby nuclear power plant. They kick-started an ecological revolution. And that green revolution is now a way of life in Freiburg, with numerous initiatives. In 2010, Environmental Action Germany named Freiburg the “Federal Capital for Climate Protection”. Germany's southernmost city is still an example of sustainability. Stay in a comfortable climate-neutral hotel or guesthouse; use the GreenCityMap to explore exciting green initiatives. Particularly impressive is the Heliotrop, the world’s first plus-energy house, producing three times more energy than it uses. Stroll through the Vauban district: dating back to the 1990s, this is a model of sustainable urban development, with its green hotel, green spaces and low traffic. Two hours southwest of Stuttgart.