STUTTGART, GERMANY — This is a city where you can really pig out on museums, fine wine, great regional food, fabulous public spaces and ancient history. And there’s no better place to start than at Stuttgart’s world renowned Pig Museum.
That’s right, a Pig Museum (Schweinemuseun), located on trendy Schlachthofstraßem. Here a piggy, there a piggy, everywhere there are piggies in this quirky museum that’s made up of 25 rooms filled with over 50,000 exhibits — pig art, pig sculptures, ancient books on pigs, all things pigs.
“It (Schweinemuseun) is one of our most popular museums,” my delightful guide Elisabeth Mohr informs me.
“Don’t look so surprised," she scolds. "Every city in Germany wishes they had a pig museum.”
It’s not the only surprise I find in Stuttgart, Germany’s Motor City, where auto giants Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have their headquarters and state-of-the-art museums, which actually attract more people annually than their historic counterparts.
Is that a wedding I see taking place on a backstreet sidewalk?
“Oh, sidewalk weddings are quite common in Stuttgart,” says Mohr matter of factly as we watch a bride and groom toast passersby with Champagne on a small street opposite Schillerplatz (Palace Square) in the city’s charming Old Town.
Above: Stuttgart is packed with many stately buildings and public gathering places.
“There will be a much bigger reception later tonight but couples like to share their good fortune with neighbours on the street after the public ceremony.”
Mohr then leads me through a labyrinth of narrow Old Town streets that dominate this surprisingly handsome state capital of Baden-Württemberg until we reach a large wooden red door. When she pushes it open — surprise! On the opposite side is a bustling market filled with 43 stalls displaying meats, fish, produce and lots of Swabian (local culture) treats.
“Our Markthalle (Market Hall) is a hidden gem but it’s one of the places visitors to Stuttgart like most.” says the guide of the market that in 2018 celebrated its centennial.
“Our market is very multicultural because many foreigners came here after World War II to help rebuild our city and their food became very popular with the locals.”
One glass case displays a ravioli-like pasta that the guide identifies as Maultaschen, a Swabian dish that has a surprising history.
“It first appeared during Lent in Medieval times when monks were given meat as a gift. Of course, they could not eat meat during Lent so, instead of wasting it, one of the monks combined the meat with spinach, bread crumbs, onions, pepper, parsley and nutmeg and hid it in the pasta.
“We Swabians just love Maultaschen,” says Mohr, who also claims Stuttgart is where the pretzel was first twisted and baked.
Emerging back into the sunlight, I’m surprised to see vineyards clinging to the hills surrounding this industrial city.
“Stuttgart has over 430 hectares of vineyards,” says Mohr, who quickly adds another surprising statistic: “People in Stuttgart consume double the national average (20 litres) of wine.
Above: Schillerplatz is surrounded by ancient buildings and statues honouring some of Germany's best-known writers.
“That’s because our trollinger grape produces such a high quality of wine — much better than Riesling (Germany’s national wine),” she says with a playful wink.
Stuttgart features lots of wine trails that snake through its many vineyards and day trips to charming wine towns like Uhlbach, Untertürkheim and Rothenburg are a popular option with locals and tourists.
More surprises await when the guide leads me on to Königstraße (King St.) which, at 1.2km long is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. The charming thoroughfare, which was first laid out in the 19th century when King Friedrich ruled Württemberg, is lined with high-end shops and café-style restaurants that lead to the city’s main rail station.
Along the way, it passes the Old Town where the city’s Old Castle (Altes Schloss) — it dates back to the 10th century — is located, and Schlossplatz, where the 18th-century Baroque New Castle (Neues Schloss) stands. It’s surrounded by a large green filled with massive fountains and handsome statues honouring ancient heroes. The square also serves as a venue for major outdoor concerts.
When we reach Schillerplatz, where the Old Castle is located, my guide points to a large statue that dominates the square and identifies the bronze figure standing atop as poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller.
Above: Markthalle is a food market like non other and it's where you get some sweet Stuttgart treats.
“He was Germany’s William Shakespeare and we had to study his works in school. And just like Shakespeare, Schiller was a tough read,” laughs the guide.
The Old Castle is home to the state’s Württemberg Museum, which houses musical instruments and art dating back thousands of years. The highlight of its lovely Renaissance courtyard is the southwest Bell Tower clock which marks each hour with rams butting heads. The entrance to the museum is known as the Horse Stairs because it’s where the royals would dismount their steeds.
“Our city was founded by Duke Liudolf of Swabia around 950AD and he was known for breeding war horses, which is why there’s horses in our city’s coat of arms,” says Mohr.
The Romans were the ones who brought wine to this area in 90AD and the vineyards have become part of the city’s green belt, which, despite being an industrial giant, makes Stuttgart one of the most environmentally-friendly cities in Europe.
While wine is the favourite drink of Stuttgart, the city has a fair number of beer halls and pubs, as well. Recently, craft beer has become quite popular among younger citizens and more and more specialty beer stores are cropping up each year.
One, Die Bierothek, near the Markthalle, features more than 200 specialty craft beers from around the world.
Spring is an especially pleasant time to visit Stuttgart, when chestnut trees are in full bloom with red and white flowers. But surprisingly, my guide says Christmas is when the city really comes alive.
Above: Sidewalk wedding receptions is something unique to Stuttgart.
“Our Christmas market is one of the oldest and best in Europe and during the Christmas period the roofs of the Old Town homes are ablaze with coloured lights. It’s all quite magical,” says Mohr as we snack on a plant-shaped cookie known as a wibele, which she claims is the “smallest cookie in the world.”
As we walk around the compact city, my guide identifies more surprises like:
• The Bean Quarter: An area of the city where the poor in Medieval times grew beans to survive;
• The University Quarter: It’s dominated by three lovely buildings – the State Gallery, History Museum and Music Academy;
• Grand Café Planie: It’s a former orphanage from the 1700s that has been transformed into a coffee shop that sells “the city’s best cakes;”
• The wine bar Schellenturm: It’s built into what remains of the city’s Medieval wall;
• Dorothy’s Quarter: It’s where all the high-end designer shops are located;
• The Red Light District: What?! Just like Amsterdam’s? “Much smaller than Amsterdam’s,” smiles Mohr, “but yes we have one."
Stuttgart is just one surprise after another.
JUST THE FACTS
• Stuttgart's Pig Museum (Schweinemuseum) is located at Schlachthofstraße 2, 70188. http://www.schweinemuseum.de
Good places to eat:
The Markthalle, located at Dorotheenstraße 4, 70173, features an Italian restaurant on its upper floor and it is one of the best in the city.
The CUBE restaurant: It's located at Kleiner Schloßplatz 1, 70173. It features modern and traditoional dishes and from it you get great views of the main square. http://www.cube-restaurant.de
Schellenturm wine bar: Weberstraße 72, www.weinstube-schellenturm.de