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Tubingen: A medieval German city with a modern vibe

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 25, 2010

Plenty of big shots have walked the old cobblestone streets of Tübingen, Germany, throughout the years.

This is where Johannes Kepler studied the stars as a university student, where Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel philosophized and where Pope Benedict taught as a professor of religion — back then, he was known as Joseph Ratzinger.

For hundreds of years, students from the University of Tübingen, founded in 1477, have injected energy and a spirit of protest and activism into the city. And it is no different today, with some 20,000 students from the university making up one-fourth of the city population.

During a stroll down the city’s lovely alleyways, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of the youngsters studying here. The University of Delaware, my alma mater in the proud but not so impressive town of Newark, Del., was nothing like this.

Dating to the Middle Ages, Tübingen boasts one of the more impressive town squares in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Many of the original buildings are intact, having escaped the bombs that flattened many German cities during World War II, partly because the city had no real industry to make it a target.

At the center of the town is the old market square, which features the town’s oldest structure. The Rathaus, built around 1435, stands out on this picturesque square of half-timbered houses and buildings.

Unlike some old towns, which seem to be nothing more than tourist attractions, Tübingen’s center bustles with locals doing their shopping during weekly produce sales.

With so much interesting architecture, shops and cafes there’s no shortage of eye-catching attractions. And of course no German city would be complete without an old castle. In Tübingen, the castle reportedly dates to 1078, although most of what remains is from the 1600s. It sits above the town, offering views of the Neckar valley. Free tours through its castle museum, which has an array of artifacts, including some from the university, are available Wednesday through Sunday.

Sadly, during my visit I missed a chance to take advantage of one of the main attractions Tübingen has to offer. Starting under the main bridge in town, river tours are offered during weekends in the warmer months. Large gondola-like boats, called Stocherkähn, can carry up to 20 people and often stop to let passengers enjoy the beer gardens lining the river. Tickets for the one-hour tours must be purchased at the tourism office.

I’ll just add it to my ever growing to-do list.

DIRECTIONS

Getting to Tübingen, about 40 miles southwest of Stuttgart, couldn’t be much easier. From Stuttgart, take B-27 south and follow it straight into Tübingen. From elsewhere, take Autobahn 8 to the exit for B-27, and then follow B-27 south.

TIMES

From Oct. 1 to April 30, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; it remains open one hour longer during the rest of the year.

The Stocherkähne operate from May until April; on the second Thursday of June, the boats take part in a major race, the Stocherkahnrennen. 

COSTS

Boat tours on the Stocher-kähne are offered on the weekend for 6 euros. There is no charge to visit the castle museum. 

FOOD

There’s no shortage of food and drink. Cafes, pubs and restaurants are everywhere in this university town. 

INFORMATION

The city’s tourist information office is located at An der Neckarbrücke 1, and is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The city’s website, www.tuebingen.de, has an English-language version. If you have questions, e-mail mail@tuebingen-info.de or call (+49) (0) 7071-91360.

An outdoor farmers market fills the town square in Tübingen, Germany, on a Friday afternoon. There is also an annual Christmas market held in the square.
WARREN PEACE/STARS AND STRIPES

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