One of the ironies of growing up abroad is that you get the responsibility of representing your country when you yourself only have the smallest chance of experiencing it. When you vacation you look for new and exotic places, when you explore your home that home is an adopted one. As a result, your geography gets skewed. My years at university insured that I know the national parks of the UK by heart while I can’t even locate half of the cities in Germany. The bit of Germany I am familiar with is very, very northern. I come from an area where you can still hear ‘Plattdeutsch’ on the radio, where the local delicacy is fish, and the world is flat as a pancake. Not what most people imagine- their vision is usually of the south, lederhosen, bratwurst and mountains. Oh. Maybe even Yodelling.
Heading south is like visiting a different country with the benefit of speaking the same language. Since living here in 2008 I hadn’t been further south than Frankfurt, and before that my ‘southernmost point’ was Stuttgart. Both are big cities, and while they have their distinct character, somehow still retain that inescapable city atmosphere. The small towns with classical houses, cobbled roads and marketplaces which we all know from pictures, and in many people’s minds define the quintessentially German, are something I had never experienced personally, until I headed to Tübingen last week.
Around 30 km south of Stuttgart, the university town lies on the banks of the Neckar, with a beautiful old city and a contrasting landscape of river-valley and hillsides. The architecture is the kind I recognised from picture books and Disney comics, the version of Germany that didn’t really exist for me. It’s a funny alternative city, with old facades housing new shopping giants and small cafes. It’s also a really young city- at home in the north I tend to see retired couples, and this university-centred town was filled with young people and very active people.
I didn’t spend long in this town, as I was there for an interview and had other plans shortly afterwards, but I was still delighted by it. A run along the Neckar and several walks through the old part of town in the grey, still weather left a peaceful and friendly impression. I should travel around this large country more often. Time to add to my 2016 resolutions…