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 XVI 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.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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