The Exasperating City

An attempt to wash clothes and hang them out to dry on the balcony was interrupted by P’s neighbour, an aged couple whose constant quarrels mirror the melodramatic Korean dramas. The shifty-eyed man spoke in a choked manner, accused me of eating pizza the night before, lectured me about the necessity of owning beautiful plants to put along the balcony (as his wife had done), before finally ending the conversation with the phrase “I’d like to get to know you better”.

P and I lowered the shades on the balcony not long after.

I cannot seem to stop taking photos of Heidelberg much to my own annoyance, as such an action allies me closer to the quintessential Japanese tourist than I care to admit. But every angle of Heidelberg and the Neckar river cajoles an attempt to capture the ‘perfect shot’ and in frustration, I take more, only to delete them later when something looks less than perfect.

There is both artistry and monotony in the Bergstrasse towns (the mountain road of the south-west in Germany). The fine architectural wonders of the circular, cobbled-stoned medieval Old towns amidst the winery landscape does inspire awe and appreciation, but it probably is not too long before you wonder if they are a tad bit too alike in their structure and overall feel.

Planning day-trips out of a place was never so difficult, even when aided by a map, or by suggestions made helpfully by P. Stuttgart and Baden-Baden were initially on the list of must-dos and must-sees, but something always stood in the way – either the trip by train was too expensive, or the main train station was too far from the central, or the journey time was way too long.

“Speyer, Weinheim…or maybe even Karlsruhe,” says P as she looks through the leftover travel brochures she has of Heidelberg and the surrounding regions. “They are all very nice places, if you want the quaint small town feel.”

Her helpfulness was paradoxically exasperating, and soon, the list of towns grew from 2, to 6 or 7.

“Mainz!” She proclaimed rather excitedly after I had returned from a shower. “We have always talked about places in Baden-Württemberg, but have never quite considered Hessen.”

By then, I had the additional and ridiculous choices of the Bergstrasse towns (the German western mountain road) – Karlsruhe, Weinheim, Mainz, Ladenburg, Speyer, not including Baden-Baden and Stuttgart which had been my original choices.

The quick and dirty answer is that Stuttgart, won at the end of the day – I resigned myself to spending a fair bit on the Intercity train that covered 92km in 45 min to Stuttgart, and was given fleeting glances of the Baden-Württemberg landscape of hills, vineyards and quaint, isolated towns. What began as a ‘stud farm’ a long time ago is now Stuttgart, the royal seat of the Mercedes-Benz. The large, rotating Merc logo rides high on the top of the main train station, and points the way to Königstrasse, the long pedestrian mall.

Aided (or hindered) by a choleric small-mindedness, I made my determined way through the pedestrian mall uphill to Karlshöhe which my perennial Lonely Planet promised one heck of a view of the hilly city, passing along the way, 2 Germans practising Tai-Chi, housewives, quarrelling couples and lonesome retirees. P came back from work, eager to know where I dragged myself to in the end. Mannheim was next, she declared.

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Mannheim, in contrast, displayed industrial sprawl. A mere 15 min away from Heidelberg via the S-Bahn, P and I somehow ended up in the Luisenpark in front of the TV-tower after taking half a boat-trip down the body of water. Fat fish with open mouths swam up to the boat and ducks that paddled nearby were our constant companions. A great reprieve from the afternoon heat, the time spent in the park was nonetheless disconcertingly retro.

The unchanging is many times lauded, but I have yet to make my mind about this one that seemed to have stayed in the 80s for good.

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