Karlsruhe, Germany: Royal City Gone High Tech
Karlsruhe is one of Germany’s youngest cities, founded in 1715 by Margrave Karl III as the new regional capital. The city’s name means Karl’s quiet and might point to Margrave’s desire for a peaceful place to conduct his business after repeated problems with the citizens of his previous capital, Durlach. Karlsruhe’s design is centered on the palace, from which 13 streets fan out across the cityscape, giving Karlsruhe the nickname, “Faecherstadt” (Fan City).
Situated on the Rhine River with a population of 289,000, Karlsruhe has two dominant features: the palace and the university. The palace, the focal point of the city, is a stunningly beautiful edifice demanding of a tour, but the Schlossgarten (gardens) to the north of the palace are a real treasure. The Schlossgarten is one of the largest urban parks in Germany and holds more than a few very interesting sites, such as the Botanical Gardens, which stretch north into the woodlands; and the majestic Grand Ducal Burial Chamber, a cathedral-like mausoleum concealed in the trees of the park. Germany’s sole arts-ceramic manufacturer is also nestled in the Botanical Gardens where a blue streak of ceramic tiles link the manufacturing base with the palace. The palace and its surrounding gardens are good for a days walk and maybe a weekend’s full exploration.
Karlsruhe’s Institute of Technology is Germany’s premier technological university and also the nation’s oldest. The university is part of the massive behind the scenes operation that gives Germans their world-wide reputation for technological prowess. The Institute’s grounds are spread out across the city, but its main buildings are to the southeast of the palace, along one of the radiating avenues. A walking tour of the university campus is well worth your time if you are interested in university life, technology and the educational atmosphere of a famous school. For a more centralized and accessible view of Karlsruhe’s technological contributions, visit the ZKM, the Center for Art and Media Technology, where cutting edge multi-media is on display.
While Margrave Karl III left his previous capital of Durlach behind, creating a modern, classic city built along radiating avenues, one might consider heading back to the original capital, Durlach, which has not changed much since the Margrave left. Durlach is a small German town with a quaint, well preserved old town that is easily accessible from the Karlsruhe bus station. It is only one hour away and the authenticity and antiquity of Durlach (founded in the 12th century) will surely charm you.
Karlsruhe is a city in the Baden-Wurttenburg department, located very close to the French border so it has the beer and sausage of Germany, as well as the pastries and flair of French cuisine. Some specialties are Baden’s own Maultaschen, which are basically German ravioli, and Kaesespaetzele — Karlsruhe’s version of southern Germany’s staple potato pasta. The French added their sensibilities to the local Flammekuchen, which are similar to crepes, but heartier.
There is a good food and night life scene going on here, primarily centered around the university and the southwest part of town and around Kaiserstrasse. There are student pubs with student fare in that area as well as several high brow restaurants catering to the intelligentsia (i.e. professors) of town. For local fare, the center of the city and Ritterstrasse are good spots to hear the Baden dialect and see the older generation get down.
One of the best times to go to Karlsruhe is in the middle of summer, during the 3-day long Das Fest in July. After a week in Karlsruhe (more or less) walking the gardens, drinking local brew and enjoying the festivities, you can head north to Heidelberg or south to Freiburg depending on your tastes. If you go north, you will find the wooded valleys of the Neckar and Rhine rivers, while heading south puts you in the Black Forest where you can view the peaks of the Bavarian Alps. If its time to go home, a train ride to the Frankfurt airport takes one hour with the ICE and 3 with a regular train.