German beer makes me almost hallucinate-The Radler
Being American, I find that German beer knocks my on my you know what- It's served in such a big portion and the alcohol content dwarfs our beers...If you want something less strong, I suggest you try a Radler(this is what they call it in southern Germany, it's Alsterwasser in the north). Both are made with half beer and half fizzy sprite/7 Up-like lemonade.
They are quite refreshing and will not leave you lying face down in the dirt at the end of the night at the area biergarten. Whenever we hit the biergarten in Ulm it goes without saying that "Sarah is having a radler", or two, or three, or four...
Bundesfestung Ulm, once Germany’s biggest Fortress
If you look around the inner city you will notice a lot of bastions and brick walls all over the place. They are part of the Bundesfestung Ulm which was Germany’s biggest fortress when it was finished in 1859 after 17 years of building works.
The major architects of this fortress were the Prussian major Moritz von Prittwitz und Gaffron on Württemberg’s side of the river and major Theodor von Hildebrandt on the Bavarian side. Prittwitz used ideas by Albrecht Dürer and Marc René de Montalembert. The main features were long straight walls and ramparts and huge multi-storey casemates. Adjusting the walls to the topography, the fortress had no strict ground plan.
This topography was somehow ideal for defence purposes: The city is bordered by hills in the west, north and north-east (Kuhberg, Eselsberg, Michelsberg, Safranberg), so this was perfect for the outer fortification. In the flat, the rivers Danube and Blau offered the natural qualities for moats. The bastions are the connecting points of the long and straight walls. The fortification continued on the other side of the Danube. So there were several walled fortifications, which in total had six gates conncecting the fortress with the outside roads, and five well secured railway passages. The circumference was 9 kilometres.
In 1848 about 8000 people worked on the construction. 14 outer forts were built, and two more added in the 1880’s.
A Past as a Garrison Town
When the fortress was finished, Ulm became a garrison town. In times of peace 5000 soldiers were garrisoned in the barracks, and for the case of war 18,000 to 20,000 troops should be there. Had they continued building the fortress would have housed about 100,000 troops. Imagine this! It is not too long ago that this was the number of inhabitants Ulm had, now the number is at about 120,000.
The crazy thing about the fortress was that it was already outdated when it was finished. In the meantime they had invented developed canons with a triple shooting range, so the walls were not far enough from the city centre anymore. Lucky Ulm, the city was never involved in such military actions. In 1938 Ulm lost its status as Bundesfestung.
Parts of the fortress are still in use today, and by far not all for military purposes but also as club rooms and office space by businesses.
Wilhelmsburg-Kaserne (barracks), however, still houses 2000 soldiers and civil employees, the biggest part is a kind of officers’ training school. Also the military music corps, a telecommication and medic unit are part of the staff. After the war the barracks had been used for housing homeless people.
The complex is hugely impressive, and Wilhelmsburg, located on a hill named Michelsberg, is the citadel of the fortress: It covers an area of 24,125 square metres, with a patio of 1.3 hectares. The four-wing complex has more than 800 rooms.
Big parts of the fortress are relatively well preserved, as it was never involved in acts of war and far enough from the German borders to be touched by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.
A former Concentration Camp
Fort Oberer Kuhberg was renovated until 5 July 2009, right in time for the 150 year anniversary. This is hugely impressive with its 54 casemates. This fort which is the only one where you can go on a guided tour once a month, was used as a concentration camp during the Third Reich (from November 1933 to July 1935). One of the 600 prisoners was Kurt Schumacher, who re-founded the Social Democrat Party (SPD). In those early years no-one was killed or gassed at Fort Oberer Kuhberg. A club of volunteers is running a KZ documentation centre in the historic city centre north of the Münster, in Büchengasse 13 (KZ-Gedenkstätte - http://dzokulm.telebus.de/index1.html). Office hours are Mon – Thu 8am – 12.30pm. You can use the archive and library on Tue and Thu (3pm – 6pm).
Renovation and restoration is a big problem, as the complex is so huge, and some forts have been used for the wrong purposes over the years. In some of the bastions you get aware of this mouldy smell of humid buildings, and they are ice-cold.
Probably a good solution is to incorporate parts of the fortification into new projects, as they have done with the Obere Donaubastion which BTW has been excavated. This will be part of a new Academy of Communication.
At Valckenburg-Schule near the Donau (between Herdbrücke and Donaustadion) you can see the former Untere Donaubastion. Further down the river, right behind the sports grounds of SSV Ulm 1846, is another good fort (Friedrichsau). A bastion you will almost certainly pass at some point is located at Blaubeurer Tor, a roundabout you pass if you come to the city from Autobahn exit Ulm-West or when driving from the city to Blaubeuren. Part of B10 to Neu-Ulm are along a long stretch of the fortification walls (Hindenburgring).
Equally impressive is the fortification in Neu-Ulm. At Glacispark you can get very good insight into the concept.
I already mentioned the 150 year anniversary. In this special year 2009 they have many special tours and events. You find them on the:
Free Guided Tours
In less special years there are guided tours at Fort Oberer Kuhberg on every first Sunday of the month at 2pm. (No bookings required but wear sturdy shoes, bring warm clothes and a torch.)
Visits to other parts of the fortress are for groups only and have to be booked. Tours are free but donations are most welcome.
A fundraising group (Förderkreis Bundesfestung Ulm/Friends of the Bundesfestung) is heavily involved in the organisation of everything concerning the anniversary and tours.
More info and contact details on their website:
Matthias Burger, phone (0731) 159 8779
Electonic mail here
Addresses of the biggest forts:
Fort Oberer Kuhberg: Am Hochsträß (Directions: Drive towards Blaubeuren. Outside Ulm turn left at a traffic light, direction: Wiblingen (Kurt-Schumacher-Ring), left into Egginger Weg, direction Söflingen/Harthausen, left into “Am Hochsträß”.)
Photos 2 and 3 show Obere Donaubastion and neighbouring Oberer Donauturm, the latter also called Weißer Turm (White Tower).
Photo 4 displays a map/plan of the entire fortification.
Donaufest and Bindertanz (Coopers' Dance)
Apart from Schwörmontag, the City Fest in June has always been one of my favourite festivities in Ulm. However, I would not consider myself as a real expert on Ulm’s festivals and events, as I often had to work and/or travel while the rest of the city were partying, be it on weekends, evenings, nights… No, I do not complain, and I do not really love big crowds either, being jostled around, feeling other people’s (good or bad) breath around my neck, smelling sweaty armpits, queuing for food and drinks, noise, and getting out of the way of drunken folk. This City Fest in June was just a party on and around Münsterplatz, with music and international food stalls, so a celebration of Ulm’s multi-cultural society.
However, such celebrations are a good opportunity to meet friends, enjoy simple food and live music.
Every two years Ulm celebrates the Internationales Donaufest (no translation needed…). It is a ten day cultural and culinary festival of the nations living along the Danube from the spring in Germany to the Black Sea in Bulgaria. It took place the first time in 1998. . On my last visit in August/September 2010 I was in Ulm on one of the Donaufest days. There were food and arts and crafts stalls on the lawns between the Danube and the city wall, and zillions of colourful flags on the wall. Really nice to look at – but not veeery much different to other festivals in Ulm. But sure, you always need opportunities to have fun and go out, this is another one in the rich calendar of events in the city of Ulm.
The traditional Bindertanz, not to mix up with the Fishermen’s Dance in the years of the Fischerstechen, takes place every four years only. This is the dance of the coopers (cellarmen/those guys who “bind” wine barrels, thus the name Binder) and is extremely picturesque. The coopers who started the dance tradition in 1745, wear red knee breeches, white shirts, white wigs and black three-pointed hats. Their dance ritual includes freshly bound garlands, and in the procession a guy rolling a 120 litre wine barrel plays an important role.
The coopers dance on the two Sundays leading up to Schwörmontag, on several squares of the city, and also at the Schwörfeier at Weinhof on Schwörmontag. But as said, every four years only, whereas Schwörmontag is celebrated every year. They do so in the years before the Fischerstechen and Fischertanz (next time in 2009), so the last time in 2008 and the next time in 2012. (Well, really nearly too difficult to remember…)
Photos 2 to 4 give other impressions of the Donaufest area near Fischerplätzle. You can see more food and crafts stalls, as well as the very brown Danube after days of heavy rain.
Go Cycling in Ulm
Surely there are areas in the city where I would consider not cyclist-friendly. But in historic city centres and on main arteries you have limited possibility to create safe cycleways. And in a few areas cycleways are somehow hidden, only known to locals or even insiders, or do end without warning, and you have no idea where you should carry on if you do not have local knowledge.
Still I would consider Ulm a great place for cycling. As you can surely imagine, there are fabulous trails along the rivers, along the Danube, Iller and Blau. These are so great for cyclists that you have to look out for them if you are pedestrian, so they do not run you over.
I often cycled into the city from my southern suburb of Wiblingen, and also down south along the Iller and Illerkanal, to artificial swimming lakes (Baggerseen).
The trail along the Danube is part of the Donauradweg which goes from Donaueschingen (where the Danube starts at the confluence of the rivers Brigach and Breg) to Passau, and further into Austria.
You can hire a bicycle in Ulm at a site between Hauptbahnhof (Railway Station) and Busbahnhof (central bus station; just beside the Railway Station), and at a bicycle shop named Ralf Reich in Frauenstraße (Email: email@example.com). At Radstation a full day hire costs 5 Euro (as Feb. 2010).
You can download a map of Ulm’s cycleways here:
A great roundtrip from Ulm I have done over and over again is along the Danube to Ehingen, from there to Blaubeuren (Blautopf), and then through the Blau valley back to Ulm. Is about 70 kilometres, so can be nicely done in a day. You cycle through quiet rural landscape, quaint villages, historic towns, the most wonderful river spring (turquoise-green Blautopf), Jurassic rocks, and one of the best Italian ice-cream shops in the region (Eis-Bof in Blaubeuren). Just before Ehingen you have a not too difficult uphill section, the rest is rather flat. Appropriate cycling clothes, sports shoes or at least sturdy sandals. Helmet not compulsory but recommended.
On photo 2 you see cyclists on the cycleway along the Danube.
The centre of the suburb of Söflingen is a former convent of the Poor Clare Sisters.
The church and some economy buildings are preserved, as well as the general situation of the secluded monastery area encircled by walls and buildings. The cloister and abbey were demolished after the secularization of 1803.