Stuttgart, Germany: Cars, castles and Christmas markets
Updated: Jan 17
When Joe's 50th birthday was approaching I decided his milestone should be recognized in a big way. I remembered when he turned 21 in college and the 29 years in between were certainly worth a memorable surprise celebration. I thought long and hard about what he loves and enjoys, and kept coming back to the same thing: Porsches. He bought and restored his first Porsche right after high school and I'd watched him spend hours under the engine lid in college (yes, it's called an engine lid because it's in the back). So I did some research and planned a trip.
I told Joe that I was taking him away for his birthday week and he should pack warm clothes - but that's all he knew. I managed to keep him in the dark for weeks until we arrived at the international departures terminal for our flight. Then I handed him a ticket and revealed the surprise: we were traveling to Stuttgart, Germany to visit the Porsche factory.
We had a great Lufthansa flight and arrived in Munich the next morning. Time for surprise number two: We were met by someone who had the keys to a Porsche 911 I'd rented for us to drive to Stuttgart. Joe took the keys and found the Autobahn heading West. More than half of the total length of the German autobahn network has no speed limit, and we were going to take advantage of that. It was snowing out and the road was wet, so I was more cautious than Joe when putting my foot on the accelerator (I didn't go over 110mph) but Joe hit 130 before I saw my life pass before my eyes and he slowed down.
When we arrived in Stuttgart two hours later, we noticed that the city seemed to be setting up for a carnival of some sorts. There was a huge Christmas tree, a merry-go-round and other rides, an ice skating rink, and wooden stalls with Christmas decorations...it was gorgeous and insanely festive. We soon learned what was going on. It was total serendipity that we were arriving on opening day of the Stuttgart Christmas market.
This was our first encounter with a European Christmas market (I may even say it was life changing because, as someone who loves the holidays, it was a winter wonderland and the beginning of more trips to experience these beautiful markets).
After checking in at our hotel we wandered around this beautiful city as snowflakes fell around us. It was surreal and a great start to our German adventure.
The next day we had tickets for the factory tour and it was pretty obvious when we reached our destination - a huge sculpture on the Porscheplatz welcomes visitors with three Porsche 911s mounted on pillars as if they are ready to take off into the blue sky (no snow yet that day!). Quite the welcome!
I wish we had pictures of the factory tour but no cameras are allowed. That said, it was one of the coolest things we've ever done. We love visiting factories and have made them part of our travels when possible, but this was truly one of a kind.
As we walked around the factory, car bodies were carried along on conveyors above our heads. We watched as interiors and suspensions were installed, engines checked, cars painted...it was incredible. But what was really awesome was learning about the manufacturing philosophy of the company. Rather than workers doing a single, repetitive task, they actually work on one car all of the way through the production process, and the assembly line includes multiple models, to break up the monotony - Boxsters, Caymans, 911 cabriolets, Turbo 911s, all mixed together and slowly moved through the production line. The idea was that workers would never get bored and they would always have a sense of ownership and pride for the end product.
These are not factory workers, they are Porsche automobile assembly technicians doing one of the most prestigious jobs in Germany.
There are green plants and trees throughout the facility to keep the air fresh and autonomous robots scoot along the floor carrying parts from one department to another. It was also insanely white and clean. We were both blown away.
After the tour, we ate lunch at Pit Stop, the on-site restaurant (which was delicious), and then hit the museum. We spent hours wandering around this beautifully-designed space with more than 100 cars. The chronological exhibits begin with Ferdinand Porsche's first cars, the company's racing cars, and goes through today. The museum even spotlighted Joe's first red Porsche 914 for a little trip down memory lane.
It was cold in Stuttgart, so that night we bundled up and walked around the city looking for a taste of Germany. A beer hall seemed like the right spot, and we settled in at a long picnic-style table with benches, and shared dinner with a bunch of German-speaking strangers and lots of beer steins. After the meal we discovered one of Stuttgart's greatest inventions - Jagermeister shots sold by a street vendor to help keep you warm! It was really cold, so we definitely appreciated the beverages.
We spent some time wandering the stalls of the Christmas market and exploring all of the local crafts on display, thankful that we'd completely lucked out during our stay - the city was on Christmas-overload and snow fell every night. We couldn't have asked for more.
After a few days it was time for our next stop on our way back to Munich, the Bavarian town of Ulm. We took beautiful backroads and stopped at the completely over the top Hohenzollern Castle on the way. And, lucky us, there was a special holiday event going on! A bunch of kids were enjoying a little concert and puppet show, and we stopped and enjoyed it, too. Take a listen.
After the castle we made it to our hotel in Ulm, a completely surprising gem. There was a tented beer garden behind the hotel that seemed to be filled with the entire town! And they were all laughing and chatting as they stood around in the dark cold night with snow falling around them - every one one of them holding a warm mug of Glühwein in their hands (that's mulled wine to the rest of us)! It was like something out of a movie.
Of course, we joined them, whereupon I learned...I am not a fan of Glühwein, but Joe enjoyed his. The hotel was adorable, with a small restaurant and bar that, again, the whole town seemed to congregate in all night. Our room had wooden beams and a fluffy white down comforter, just perfect for a cold German night. We were the only English-speakers in the whole place, but that didn't stop us from having fun with the locals. We only spent one night in Ulm but it was truly memorable. The next day we were off to the big city - Munich - to continue the birthday celebration and see what the Germans had in store for us. We couldn't wait!
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