From the black forest and Schwäbische Alb highlands in Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany’s topography slants down to the Swiss border, where it dips into Lake Constance — Bodensee on European maps and known locally as the Swabian Sea. Balmy midyear weather, a leisurely tempo and water activities attract vacationers to the compact city of Konstanz at the western end of the lake.
The city’s contours are shaped by Bodensee shores and the Rhine River, which passes through the lake and out again, flowing beneath bridges connecting the north and south parts of the city. Crossing the Rheinbrücke bridge to the north takes you to the newer, upscale Petershausen district and its Seestrasse lined with early 20th-century Jugendstil Art Nouveau villas. One has housed a Spielbank, Casino Konstanz (Seestrasse 21, tel 49 7531 8157 0), since 1951.
But any tour of Konstanz should begin south of the bridge, in Niederburg, the core of Altstadt (Old Town). At the river be sure to notice a pair of stone gateways — the Pulverturm, dating to 1321, and Rheintorturm, built around 1400 — from the original medieval fortifications. Here the old trading town comes to life with its tight tangle of narrow alleyways and autofree pedestrian zones connecting cubbyhole shops, cafés, food stands and Kneipe pubs, interspersed with arcaded courtyards and buildings dating from the Middle Ages. Another sturdy gateway, Husenstrasse’s 13th-century Schnetztor, guards the inner city. The Zoffinger Dominican Convent on Brückengasse, now a girls’ school, was founded in 1257. Most of the medieval Old Town is intact — its proximity to neutral Swiss territory kept Konstanz totally free of aerial bombardment throughout World War II.
Over toward lakefront esplanades, the Renaissance Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) will grab your attention with its walls and niches splashed with colorful heraldic frescoes. Just as prominent, the Münster Cathedral (Münsterplatz) — gradually transformed from austere Romanesque to soaring Gothic over the years — features a vaulted nave combining cloister, Mauritius rotunda, side chapels, crypt, carved oak choir stalls and 16thcentury organ loft. A stairway spirals up to an observatory, where for a small fee you can view panoramas of the city with snowcapped Swiss alpine peaks on the southern horizon.
Look into some local history at the richly appointed Rosgarten Museum(Rosgarten Strasse 3-5, tel 49 7531 900 248), established in 1870. In this former butchers’ guildhall, exhibits span a broad spectrum: local and regional history, recalling the city’s beginnings as a Roman garrison; archaeology, art and handicrafts; folklore and lake commerce — plus detailed accounts of rambunctious religious disputes of the Great Schism hammered out during the Council of Constance of 1414–1418, instigated by hot-headed Czech reformer Jan Hus.
When it’s time for a break, luxuriate in the Stadtgarten greenery overlooking the Bodensee; get there by way of bustling Markstätte, Salmannschweilerstrasse or picturesque old Zollernstrasse. While resting your feet, look up at the tall limestone memorial dedicated to airship pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, born in Konstanz in 1838. In the park’s adjacent steep-roofed Konzilgebaüde, originally a circa 1388 granary and now an acoustically resonant concert hall, audiences applaud performances by the Southwest German Philharmonic (am Fischmarkt 2, tel 49 7531 900 810).
People of all ages line up to enter the waterfront’s popular Sea-Life Centre (Hafenstrasse 9, tel 49 1805 6669 0101, http://www.sealife.de), a futuristic aquarium with numerous interactive features, primarily focused on the lake district’s creatures and environment. Hands-on experi ences abound in the complex’s Bodensee Natural History Museum.
One of the best-known Bodensee attractions is Mainau Island, reached via a 50-minute cruise from Konstanz. Dominated by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century, now owned and nurtured by Swedish Count Bernadotte, Mainau dazzles visitors with its sculpted floral arrangements spread among semi-tropical palm, lemon and orange trees.
During midyear seasons, diverse botanical species beautify the landscape — among them narcissus, hyacinth, dahlias, rhododendrons, tulips and 20,000 roses. Also enjoy the Bernadotte family’s Baroque castle, open for art exhibitions and café luncheons beneath the palms, as well as Germany’s biggest butterfly conservatory. For youngsters, there’s the Kinderland playground and water park.
(http://www.reichenau.de) is half an hour west of Konstanz on the Untersee, reachable by bus, automobile or ferry. Fertile vegetation and dozens of greenhouses make beautiful first impressions. But its early history as an offshore haven for monks underlies the island’s stature as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In addition to folksy shops and cafés, each of Reichenau’s three villages has its Romanesque monastery church: St. Maria und Markus in Mittelzell, built in 816; St. Georg, built in Oberzell in 900, with Carolinian altar frescoes painted by monks; and the “newer” 11th-century St. Peter und Paul, part somber Romanesque, part gaudy Baroque, in Niederzell.
Named for the famous Konstanzer, this much-photographed step-gabled corner building is adorned with vivid frescoes that exemplify Germanic flair. Public areas and all 49 modestly proportioned guestrooms were lovingly renovated three years ago. Family guestrooms with four beds are available. Guests have IN TN hotspot access for their on-the-road computer networking, plus a parking space for a surcharge of about $11. Arched alcoves, curved window frames, tinted lampshades, frilly curtains and rustic furniture make the restaurant a gemütlich local gathering place.$-$$$
St. Stephansplatz 15
tel 49 7531 237 80
Proprietors Bärbel and Jürgen Wiedemann invite you to their handsomely modernized townhouse, which they’ve turned into a 3-star, 50-room hotel facing an Altstadt market square. Meals are served in the wainscoted Green Salon, its warm ambience accentuated by massive timber beams and stained-glass windows. Guests socialize in the Mediterraneaninfluenced Baudalino wine and tapas bar.$$-$$$
tel 49 7531 128 990
A red façade makes this 33-room Niederburg Garni B&B a visual standout. It overlooks a square sporting umbrella-shaded café tables clustered around a stone fountain. Cozy upper-floor rooms are squeezed inside roofline dormers with recessed window nooks. Take advantage of the attached garage if you’re traveling by car. Among the amenities are sauna, solarium and exercise equipment. Children up to 10 years old stay for free in their parents’ rooms.$$-$$$
tel 49 7531 128 260
Opened in 1995 and perfectly positioned for lake views, this family-friendly place sports a window-walled dining room, double-level deck and a beer garden that even includes a children’s playground and sandbox. Menus list fresh Bodensee pike-perch Felsen fillets. Meat eaters can pick from such alternatives as Bratwurst sausages and Wildbret venison — or you can “go genuinely Swiss” by ordering traditional Rösti potato pancakes. Dixieland jazz combos keep things jumping on weekend afternoons.$$-$$$
tel 49 7531 21126
Take a break from business by rambling northward to a grassy point of land where the Bodensee and Rhine converge. Crisscrossed by walking paths and bicycle lanes, the locale treats onlookers to splendid water and city vistas, with refreshing breezes a bonus. Dine in the restaurant/café’s glass pavilion or on the plant-filled terrace. The kitchen crew focuses its culinary talents on good old badisch-schwäbisch cookery — your cue to sample Maultaschen ravioli-type pasta or plump Spätzle mini-dumplings. Among the alternatives are Berlin-inspired Currywurst pork sausages. Then introduce your family to Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, Black Forest cherry cake.$$
tel 49 7531 367 893
Kudos to owner/chef Danielle Laboux for this petite touch of Alsace in innercity Konstanz. Reach the timber-framed bistro by taking a few steps from the Schnetztor gateway on the Old Town’s southern fringe. Tops among “Stork’s Nest” Alsatian specialties are Schupfnudeln dumplings, Reibekuchen potato pancakes, Choucroute sauerkraut with fish fillets and nine tempting versions of Flammkuchen crêpes. Countrified Alsatian cabinetry, antiques and kitschy knickknacks adorn the cheerful dining room. Closed Mondays.$$
Döbele Strasse 3
tel 49 7531 919 047
INFO TO GO
Zürich Airport (ZRH) offers optimum proximity to Konstanz. Departing hourly on weekdays from the airport’s lower level, SBB Swiss trains cover the 36-mile distance to Konstanz’s mid-19th-century Hauptbahnhof (main station) in just about 45 minutes. If you will be landing at Frankfurt am Main International Airport (FRA) instead, descend to the AirRail station’s Track 1 to board DB German Rail’s high-speed ICE (InterCityExpress) trains. The 170-mile trip south through Baden-Württemberg takes a bit less than four hours.
Stopping alongside the Italianate, neo-Gothic railroad station, a block in from the lake’s yacht harbor, Südbaden buses take on passengers for citywide and regional transportation. Here you’ll also find the tourist information office (Bahnhofplatz 13, tel 49 7531 133 030), open daily April through October. For more information, visit http://www.konstanz.de
Awareness about fair and sustainable travel continues to grow around the globe, with travelers everywhere considering a destination’s eco-friendly options before visiting. As public consciousness for this important aspect of tourism strengthens, tourists also look beyond just ecotourism and delve deeper into types of travel that allow them to respect the local culture, interact with locals and distribute benefits fairly.
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PHOTO: © ADRIAN OLSTAD
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