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Like Metz and Trier, about which I have recently written on this website, Baden Baden and Stuttgart are about 50 miles apart, as the crow flies. While Metz and Trier are joined together by the River Moselle, Baden Baden and Stuttgart are joined together by the Black Forest. Both Baden Baden and Stuttgart lie in the German state of Baden Wurttemberg. In fact, Stuttgart is the state capital. It’s an area where German is spoken with a Swabian dialect, which German speakers from elsewhere sometimes have trouble in understanding.
Pat and I first visited Baden Baden during our honeymoon thirty years ago. We returned last month, April 2010, and stayed in the center of town at Hotel Haus Reichert. Built in 1843, this really neat hotel is a short walk from the casino, theater and spas. Just as we did on our first stay in Baden Baden all those years ago, we headed for a spa. The word Baden is the German verb meaning “to bathe”. On this occasion, the thermal bath that we selected was the Caracalla Spa, named after a Roman emperor. Even the Romans used to bathe here 2000 years ago. We soaked ourselves in pools of hot spring water surrounded by marble pillars. This experience is highly invigorating, and was particularly kind to my stiff old septuagenarian limbs. Unlike the famous Russian novelist and compulsive gambler Dostoyevsky, we did not visit the casino. After his losses at the Baden Baden casino in 1867, he wrote his masterpiece “The Gambler”. Had we followed his example, we may have had a bestseller on our hands! However, we found that Baden Baden had changed little in the last thirty years. In fact, it has probably changed little since the 19th century, when it attracted regular visits from European royalty including Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, Napoleon III and the Queen of Prussia. Baden Baden still oozes style in its formal gardens and its architecture.
Stuttgart is much different. It’s a far bigger city than Baden Baden. The center of the city was built on flat land alongside the River Neckar, but Stuttgart is surrounded by mountains. As the city has grown, it has climbed up the surrounding mountainsides. The ring road, which encircles the city, must of necessity spend much of its time passing through tunnels under mountains. The state parliament buildings and government offices of Baden Wurttemberg are located here in the New Palace, the construction of which was not completed until 1807. On our first visit to Stuttgart in May 2010, Pat and I decided instead to visit the Old Palace which was originally a castle with a moat, built in the 13th century and once home to the Dukes of Wurttemberg. It presently houses the Wurttemberg State Museum, whose exhibits include treasures and burial objects from the grave of the Celtic prince, Hochdorf. Hochdorf is also the name of a little town on the outskirts of Stuttgart, where the prince was laid to rest in the 5th century AD under a large burial mound. Archeologists excavating the grave in 1977 obtained these exhibits for the State Museum. It was a surprise to me to learn that, all those centuries ago, there were Celts in what is today south western Germany. I thought that Celts and the Celtic language originated in the British Isles in parts of Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Even today, one of Scotland’s most famous soccer clubs is Glasgow Celtic. The Irish language is actually a Celtic language. So is the Welsh language. Yet it seems that the Celts were well established in the vicinity of Stuttgart long before they moved on to settle the northern and western fringes of the British Isles. In fact, they were a thorn on the side of the Roman Empire long before they moved on.
Having been made aware of my ignorance of Celtic origins by Hochdorf, my education in Stuttgart continued. Wandering in the city center, I came across a fine statue. The plinth on which it stood simply bore the inscription “Schiller Denkmal”, without further explanation. I wondered who this Mr Denkmal was and what he had achieved to merit such a fine statue? I had no idea. Perhaps Denkmal was another Celt? It took me some time to figure out that Denkmal is the German word for monument, and that this monument was a tribute to the great German poet and playwright, Friedrich Schiller (1759 -1805) who was born nearby. My intellectual humiliation increased when I discovered that Schiller denkmals are everywhere. A dozen major German cities have a denkmal to Schiller. There are denkmals to Schiller in Austria, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. There are even denkmals to Schiller in the United States in Cleveland and San Francisco. Stuttgart is a fine city, but I left it deeply conscious of the gaps in my knowledge.