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German city of sisterly love offers idyllic escape

Editor’s note: Nancy Moore, her husband, Roger Engels, Matt Kelly and Olivia East visited Schwetzingen this fall  in  a sister-city exchange.  The relationship began last year.

BY NANCY MOORE

FOR THE FREE LANCE—STAR

Mozart played music in Schwetzingen. Casanova played cards there. You can have fun there, too, even if you can’t speak German.

    Schwetzingen has a lot in common with its sister city of Fredericksburg. Both are small cities with civic pride, natural beauty and a sense of history.  Both are within driving distance of major cities—Frankfurt and Washington. And both offer easy access to other attractions.

       But though Fredericksburg is best-known for its connection to wars,  Schwetzingen is known for its culture.

 The roots of that culture lie in the 18th century, when Prince–Elector  Karl Theodor chose Schwetzingen for his summer palace. There, he held what amounted to an international summer festival, attracting artists, musicians, writers and notables.       The Schloss,  being a summer residence, isn’t the main attraction, though a guided tour offers a fascinating insight into 18th-century aristocratic life.

SCHWETZINGEN TREASURES

  The prince’s most notable achievement is the Schlossgarten.  The 175-acre garden is still impeccably maintained—significant enough to be under consideration as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

 It’s little changed from the original, and includes formal gardens, an English garden, fountains, lakes, sculptures —more than 100 of them—and decorative buildings hidden away in the trees.

 The Rococo Theater in the garden is still used today.      Because of the gardens and the theater, Schwetzingen is a popular  tourism center. The city is internationally known for its music festivals, held indoors in the Rococo Theater and at other sites in the garden.  We were lucky enough to attend a performance in the theater during the Schwetzingen Mozart Festival.

You could spend a day touring the Schloss and exploring the garden, taking time out for lunch at a small restaurant on the grounds or seated outdoors at one of the restaurants lining the broad plaza just outside the Schloss. Don’t worry about ordering; most restaurants also have menus in English.

          When you’ve finished your meal, and perhaps one of the tasty local beers, check out the life-size sculpture of a spargel  (white asparagus) seller and her market table.

 Spring is spargel season, and Schwetzingen celebrates every few years with a major festival. The next one is in 2013.

While you’re on your feet, walk down an alley to the house where the Mozart family stayed.

  A small stream that runs through the city once powered the Schlossgarten’s many fountains. You can still see the dam, pumps and waterwheel  that drove the waterworks and powered a mill.

     The heart of the town is compact, and the best way to see it is on foot or by bicycle (rentals are available). The terrain is comfortably flat, and many of the wide sidewalks have bicycle lanes. The city has curbed vehicular traffic through the plaza  and in front of the Schloss by setting an incredibly low speed limit of 7 kilometers per hour (about 4.2 mph).       Parking is limited, and residents don’t  usually drive their cars in town. In fact, the lord mayor of the city rode his bicycle in the rain to our farewell dinner.

OUT AND ABOUT

Schwetzingen is located in an area laden with history. During our week in the area we toured Heidelberg, Speyer, Mannheim and a winery in the hillside town of Wachenheim. 

Heidelberg is lovely but overrun with tourists from around the world. Still, it’s a place not to be missed. Some guidebooks suggest that visitors to Heidelberg make Schwetzingen their headquarters.

  The main attraction in Speyer is the 11th-century cathedral.  We also visited the ruins of an early Jewish synagogue  that was abandoned after the city’s Jews were driven out in the 15th century.

 Mannheim, an industrial city located at the confluence of the Neckar and the Rhine, has its own more urban attractions. We enjoyed shopping downtown, visiting the Art Nouveau water tower and eating sandwiches at the big Saturday market.

 Karl Theodor’s palace there was rebuilt after being nearly destroyed in World War II.  (Schwetzingen was spared.) The best part of the Mannheim tour was a midafternoon cake break in  the rotating tower restaurant in the city’s Luisenpark. From there, we could see sculls on the river, gliders soaring by, little boats in the park and a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding countryside.

     In the Pfalz wine region west of Schwetzingen, we visited the Wachtenburg winery. Don’t ask me how we managed to taste six different wines, then enjoy more wine with dinner. (Note: We had a reliable designated driver.)

Nancy Moore retired from 

The Free Lance–Star in 2009 

as managing editor.

IT’S OUR BATTLE, IN MINIATURE

 Schwetzingen’s sister-city relationship with Fredericksburg adds to its attractions for visitors from this area.

 Last month, our group was invited  to celebrate the opening of an American history-themed exhibit at the Schwetzingen city museum. The show, featuring thousands of hand-painted miniature figures,  includes a diorama of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The show was a collaboration between Schwetzingen and its French sister city, Lunéville.

 Schwetzingen has two other sister cities—Spoleto, Italy, and Pápa, Hungary.

  Lord Mayor René Pöltl is a strong supporter of the sister cities. The current city budget includes $83,000 for its sister city activities.

  For information about joining the Schwetzingen–Fredericksburg Alliance,  go to schwetzburg.blogspot.com.

—Nancy Moore

RESIDENTS SING AREA’S PRAISES

Schwetzingen is a great place to visit, but it’s also a fine place to live. Here’s what some of our German friends said about their city.

Everything you need is here: all school types, swimming pools, sports clubs, shops for the most important stuff. The people are nice. You can bike everywhere. It’s not far to go for good theater, or a weekend of hiking and biking in the hills. Good cafés and restaurants; you can go out for food, dancing or just for a beer.

“And, of course, the beautiful Schlossgarten!”

—Nancy Moore

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