Chances are that you would not have heard of Ulm, a mid-size city in Germany. I had not, till a nephew of mine had gone to study in the University there. I had imagined it to be a nondescript small town. When I visited this place, I was pleasantly surprised to find there the tallest church spire in the world, the beautiful Danube (Donau in German)flowing by its side and the most crooked house in the world, schiefes haus, dating back to early 1400 and now restored as a hotel. Ulm is also the birthplace of Albert Einstein.
Ulm is an hour and a half away by train from Munich. It lies at the edge of Bavaria, in south west Germany. It is one of the twin cities on either side of the river, with Ulm in Baden-Wurttemberg and Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Like most German cities, Ulm has a hauptbahnhof – the main train station – which connects to other cities and adjoining countries too like Austria and a good network of trams and buses within the city.
The Old Town, with its cobbled streets, the Town Hall and numerous restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating is a charming place and I spent the first evening here. The town hall or Rathaus as it is called in German, is a wonderfully preserved building , covered with bright murals and featuring a 16th century astronomical clock.
Strolling in this area, you can take in most of the important places in Ulm – the church (Ulmer Munster), the butcher’s gate, the most crooked house and a walk along Donau.
The Ulm Munster is one of the most imposing structures. While the construction began in the 14th century, the current structure was fully completed only in 1890. The top of the steeple,which as of now is the tallest in the world, can be reached by climbing 768 steps. Needless to say, it offers an amazing view of Ulm, the Danube and Neu Ulm across the river. The final stairwell to the top is a narrow spiraling staircase. one has to climb single file here and it is recommended only for those who are really fit. The interiors of the church are awesome.
The stained glass windows depicting biblical themes date back to the 14th century.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is known to have played the impressive main organ of this church.
Though I visited several churches in the following days, in Munich, Vienna, Bratislava, Slovenia, Basel and Amsterdam, I found the Ulm Munster having an unmatched grandeur and spent some time again in this church before leaving Europe.
Across the road from the Munsterplatz (the square in front of the Munster), is the quaint marktplatz, the cobbled square encircled by the Town Hall (Rathaus), the pyramid shaped library and restaurants with the fountain known as fish tank at its center. The fountain also dates back to the 15th century and was used by fishermen to keep their catch alive on market days.
Leaving the plaza in front of the town hall and walking through the butcher’s gate, you come upon the Danube.
The river, as such, is not enticing at first sight. It flows quietly between straight banks and looks more like a wide canal rather than a river.
But that could be because I was viewing it with eyes that have seen the rivers in India, the wild tumultuous rivers originating in the upper Himalayas and rushing to meet the plains or the wide rivers coursing through the plains to empty themselves into the sea. But the beauty of the Danube flowing through Ulm is enhanced by the green grass on either side, dotted with trees, which at the time of my visit had the russet hues of autumn and there are benches and cycling/walking tracks all along.
It was an autumn morning and in the long walk I had along the river, I came across old couples taking a stroll, mothers pushing the prams with their babies covered in warm clothes, sprinters, joggers and cyclists.
There were also ramblers like me, stopping now and then to watch the ducks or sit on a bench for a while. Occasionally, a rowing boat would smoothly, silently and swiftly glide along the river, the arm and leg movements of the rowers well synchronized.
And of course the fall colors of the trees are a sight to behold, with the hues ranging from russet to golden yellow to flaming red.
If you are in Ulm, keep some time for a long walk along the Donau.
Fishermen’s quarter is a scenic part of old town, with half timbered houses and flower pots on the window sills.
Blau river, flows through this part of the town into Danube. The most crooked house in the world, Schiefes haus, is also situated here. It is now converted into a hotel.
A visit to Ludwigsfelder Baggersee is also recommended. It has a serene lake with lovely grassland meadows around it, There was not a soul in the autumn afternoon that we visited but it seems this place is crowded in summer with swimming and other water activities.
I spent my last evening in Ulm by visiting the interiors of the Munster again and taking a long walk in the grasslands around Kuhberg fort, from where you get an aerial view of Ulm and of course, the Munster.
The river and the Munster are compelling reasons for visiting Ulm. Make it happen during your next visit to Germany.