Though it’s the birthplace of Germany’s automobile industry, Stuttgart is far from being the staid, efficiency-obsessed place that this might suggest. Half the fun of coming here is discovering just how eccentric, creative and delightfully contradictory the city can be.
Author Hannah Stuart-Leach Photography Andrea Wyner
DAY ONE | You wake up feeling regal amid the old-money environs of the Hotel am Schlossgarten. After pulling back the ornate curtains and gazing dreamily at the hotel gardens, you head down to the breakfast lounge for a helping of liverwurst and what the locals call “farmer’s bread,” which is nutty and wholesome. There’s no beer to wash it down—you’re told that’s the thing to do on weekends.
Anselm Vogt-Moykopf is a little late to arrive because he’s been cleaning his taxi for you. He’s been driving cabs for 27 years, but only had the “divine realization” to become a tour guide while drinking wine with friends one night in the 1990s. “My God!” he says as the two of you drive off into the drizzle. “Who knows a city better than a taxi driver?”
Ascending into a wealthy hillside suburb in North Stuttgart, you stop at the pretty Chinese Garden, which looks out onto rooftops laden with vegetable plots and, in the distance, “Rubble Hill,” where debris from World War II was once deposited and which now stands as an odd and little-visited memorial. The city, it seems, has moved on.
Stuttgart could be dubbed Germany’s “City of Cars,” and Anselm drops you off at its centerpiece: the Mercedes-Benz Museum. A silver capsule whizzes you to the top of the eight-story building, the sound effects switching from motors to horse carriages to let you know you’ve arrived—at the birth of the automobile industry, in 1886. A highlight of your museum tour is the 1902 Mercedes-Simplex 40 PS, which sits on a marble-and-rose-quartz throne adorned with 72 Swarovski crystals. Even though you’re not the world’s biggest gearhead, you are captivated.
The fancy automobiles have left you feeling above your station, so you take a cab to the Breuninger Mall, where Stuttgart’s smart set go to swagger and spend. You stay long enough for a little of the glamour to rub off on you before you take a short walk to Café Königsbau, an honest eatery on the main strip, Königstrasse. Here, you become acquainted with hefty German portions in the form of homemade spaetzle with lentils and the obligatory sausage and mustard. Das ist really very good, you assure the matronly waitress.
From here, it’s a quick stroll to Dorotheenstrasse and the sprawling Markthalle (Market Hall). You browse the Merz & Benzing home and garden boutique, falling in love with a hot-pink watering can with a golden spout. But it’s the array of foodie treats on the ground floor that leaves you in a real tizzy, especially loaves of artisan bread the size of an average 5-year-old. You ask if you might get a wurst or two to take back home, and a young butcher shakes his head. “No, no. They don’t like it,” he says, referring to the customs and excise officials. “Unless, of course, can you hide them?”
Up ahead is Schlossplatz, Stuttgart’s most elegant public square, the hub of which is the 98-foot-high Jubilee Column, topped with a gold statue of the goddess Concordia. You gape at the gorgeous New Palace, with its statues of a lion and a stag, heraldic animals of the kingdom of Württemberg (now the state of Baden-Württemberg). You admire the columns of the neoclassic Königsbau opposite, then the Renaissance-style Old Palace, a building looking for a fairy tale to inhabit. Before you know it, you’ve admired away the better part of the afternoon.
Maybe your earlier failure to acquire sausages wasn’t such a bad thing—dinner tonight is at chef Bernhard Diers’ Michelin-starred Schlossgarten Gourmet Restaurant. You opt for the standard menu, not the “grand” one, and thank goodness: What is billed as four courses turns out to be nine. The beef fillet in Périgord truffle jus is flawless, as are the wine selections (and it just so happens that the Drautz family at the next table is responsible for one of your favorites, the full-bodied 2009 Lemberger).
Wined and dined, perhaps overly so, you take an invigorating if wobbly walk to Bix, where crooner Jens Simon Petersen is wooing the busy bar into a sway of appreciation. The jazz club has black-and-white photos of the greats on the walls, red velvet curtains and cigar smoke lingering in the air. During a break between sets, you head upstairs and take a stool. The old bartender, wearing a black silk vest, hands you a pilsner without a word. Perfect.