In this journal:
- dozens of Porsche stories;
- the strange reason why this trip is still going;
- uncommon trains.
The End of the Trip
Fun fact: this journal was not supposed to exist.
After Switzerland, I hopped onto a train heading straight to Stuttgart, as I had a flight from the city airport that night to Shanghai. However, this was also the first time that I was truly bitten in my rear by the German train systems. I know the nation heavily relies on railways and assumes everything runs smoothly, while problems occur more frequently than sausagefests. This time, it hit me hard. A segment of the train tracks by the border between Switzerland and Germany lost power; while it was not a big problem to most diesel-powered German rail cars plowing the route, sadly my Swiss train was electricity-powered. This meant that my train was stuck at the border. 40 minutes of standing-still later, we were informed to hop off the train, change into a regional one onto the border town, just to get onto a district bus that ferried us to the German border town. From there, a slow local train hauled us towards north. Originally I had 2.5 hours to spare at the airport, but by the time I arrived at the security, I had 15 minutes left. I rushed through security, ran down the hallways of the tiny STR airport, while taking a look at my phone.
“13 minutes left, great, I made it for the 10 minute boarding deadline!” I thought to myself.
Nope. Not even close. The lazy boarding agents closed the gate a long time ago, and the entire boarding area was deserted. After watching my flight slowly took off right in front of my eyes, I began calling Finnair for mercy. I know they are not responsible if the trains got delayed, but honestly what else could I do? Luckily, after a few hours of negotiations, they agreed to figure out a way for me to at least reinstate my return portion of the ticket, if i agreed to paying for a one-way economy ticket from Stuttgart to Shanghai. Very convoluted, and extremely unorthodox, but hey, I would take what I could get.
Yet the story does not end there. After staying in Stuttgart for 3 days and eventually getting back to China just in time to catch some R&R before Chinese New Year, a small piece of news caught my eyes: an unknown respiratory disease was spreading in Wuhan, about 1000km from Shanghai. After seeing it being locked down just mere days after news broke out, I immediately realized something was gonna go wrong, as Shanghai may not be too far behind. 2003 SARS was still rather fresh on everyone’s mind, so I was frequently reminded of that disaster. Thankfully, Finnair quickly let me change my itinerary up to the very next flight. Within a few hours, I was on my way to Stuttgart again. You can see the business class review of Finnair A350 here.
This is how I got a few extra days in Germany. Since I moved up my itinerary, I had nearly two weeks before my original flight from Germany to Canada. I decided to slowly make my way from Stuttgart to Frankfurt, via a relatively unknown route called Bergstrasse, the Castle Route, as an impromptu trip. This part will witness the city of Stuttgart, and the next part in the beautiful Heidelberg, and the last part in a small village called Heppenheim as well as the depatrue city Frankfurt.
As a result, this journal is a combination of my few times in Stuttgart, and the gloomy weather during the entire stay reflected my dejected soul at that time. I hope you are willing to see a city that, for the first time in my life, I did not want to explore thoroughly. I have passed by Stuttgart many times, yet somehow always failed to fully discover it. Now, a strong stigma permeated my existence, thinking that I could have delved into the city any time.
Yet, the time to feel bad about my stupid traveler ego is no more! Do you know what time it is? It is time to show you what the Swabian capital can do!
Stuttgart, show me what you got!
Due to jetlag, I woke up extraordinarily early in the rainy winter. I decided to venture out while there were not too many people out and about. It later turned out to be a non-issue, who knew that nobody wanted to walk around the wet streets of Stuttgart on a freezing Sunday morning? As usual, I began with the street most familiar to me, Königstraße right in front of the central station. This shopping avenue was especially quiet at breakfast time, as only one janitor was walking down the road with me. Just a few minutes from the central station, I saw the biggest plaza of the city: Schlossplatz. It was eerily deserted this time, unlike its normal bustling commotion filled with peddlers of all kinds, children chasing each other, picnickers pouring wine, and businessmen on the phone. It was just, nothing. The plaza used to be even more hectic, though, as Königstraße used to carry the city’s heaviest traffic, before being converted into a pedestrian walking mall after an underground road was built in the 70’s.
Right in front of the plaza, sits Neues Schloss, literally means New Palace. The name derives from early rulers’ desire for this castle to replace the creatively-named Old Castle situated right next to it. This remained the seat of the counts and dukes of Württemberg until the unification of the entire German Empire. The castle were thoroughly burnt to the ground by bombs during WWII, and only the facade you see above was standing. The building narrowly escaped the fate of being razed to the ground in favor of a hotel by one single vote in 1954, and was faithfully rebuilt in the next few years. The newborn castle now houses a few government offices, and is thus closed to outside visitors when special tours are not running.
And the above is Altes Schloß, Old Castle. It was finished sometime in the 10th century, and was originally surrounded by water for better defenses. It was later filled in during 18th century, so now the castle has a wide area of clearance outside its formiddable walls. The inner courtyard also was rebuilt after some slight damage during WWII, and now the entire building is used by Landesmuseum, the premier historical museum of the region. On the other side of Old Castle sits another tourist attraction, Schillerplatz. This used to be the center of the old city, complete with the Old Chancellory, the oldest brick building in the city, and Fruchtkasten, a beautiful classic Gothic building which literally means “fruit box”. Twice a week, a small produce market is set up in the plaza, and I was lucky to be the first customer of the day.
I wanted to pay a visit to either a museum or the city market hall, but it was still too early, so I sat down by the chestnut trees on Karlsplatz, and stared into the distance. It was a cold, rainy day, and there was nobody else; I sat on the bench, with only the equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I as my company. I couldn’t help but notice my hands were shivering, so I tucked them deeper into my ripped pockets. It is okay; this is the life on the road. I may not be rich and famous, but at least I am not homeless, and sure as hell I would count my blessings for being able to do what I want without thinking too many “what”s and “if”s. The vagabond life giveth; and the vagabond life taketh away.
After god-knows-how-long, I decided to at least walk around a bit first, before freezing to death in a town far away from home. Not too many blocks later, I encountered Marktplatz, the market square, sitting right in front of the utilitarian City Hall, with a large clocktower that came straight from Soviet Union in 1980s. This is where the main twice-weekly market takes place. Colorful fruits, vegetables, and other produce from the region were bartered at temporary stands supplied by grocers’ own trucks. Prices ain’t steep, but were not too reasonable either, yet the freshness was almost always guaranteed.
However, if you prefer something a little bit more permanent and a little bit less rainy, go for the traditional Markthalle! Even though the outdoor markets in Marktplatz began in 1304, the hall itself is not just brand new either. Built in 1914, this building originally were simply a roof-over project for an old vegetable market of over 400 stalls. Nowadays, with much more regulations, as well as tourists, the establishment has reduced to 37 differentiated and curated stalls, carrying an approriate price tag. However, for a plebe just browsing (and avoiding cold winter rain), there was no better place for me to be than in front of these freshly baked bread and colorful olives.
However, as someone who is a transport nerd, how can I miss out on the Standseilbahn, also known as Stuttgart Cable Car? I have been a fan of funiculars ever since my first time riding it, and I have now experienced it in more than half a dozen countries. Here in Stuttgart, the very last one operating is a tiny pair of 1929 vintage carriages made of teak and mahogany, and the ride covers about 90 meters of long rise up to the mountain top, where a large forested cemetery sits. The cars were slow and squeaky, but imppecably clean and heartwarming, run by an old man who looked like he had practically become one with the railings and cables. I was the only tourist, and also the only passenger, on the rides, and thanks to the fact that these strangely sloped cars are operated by the local transportation authorities, my daily ticket allowed me to ride this twice-hourly service for free.
However, nothing can possibly top one of the coolest railway operating methods in the world, rack railway, and Stuttgart has the only one running in an urban environment in Germany. Rack railway is the kind of railway that mainly uses a large cogwheel as the source of friction/propulsion, because the friction based normal railways cannot ascend more than 10 degrees of incline. As you can see in the below picture, the train mainly is powering the large cogwheel that fits with the jagged rail in between the normal rails. The steepest this line, affectionately called Zacke by the locals, goes is about 17 degrees, and you practically could not stand in the cabin when it was moving fast on steep inclines. Zacke had been open since 1884, and is one of the four remaining rack railways running in the country. However, the rest 3 are all situated in touristy mountain ranges, while this humble train only carries commuters up and down the hilly slopes of south Stuttgart, complete with her plain-jane makeup and hairdo: a multi-slot bicycle carriage.
Porsche Museum & Factory
And every car enthusiast knows that the hub of German auto-making is Stuttgart, with both Mercedes and Porsche having their headquarters in the city premise. What? You are a BMW M3 guy? I can never comprehend such lunacy. What? Volkswagon? What is that? Oh, they own Porsche? Yeah, so did England colonize the entire Australian continent, and your point is? (Oh and also the first Volkswagen was created by Porsche…)
Jokes aside, I only had enough time to pick one car museum at a time, and I would always go for the brand that I had the least chances to ride in. As a result, the only way for me to properly spend a full day was at the district northwest of the center, aptly named Porscheplatz, where everything Porsche-related is located, and yes, even the train station is called Porscheplatz because only people who work at or visit the car manufacturer’s offices and factories use the station.
I started with a little visit in the museum, which is full of Porsche cars and products that spanned the years, from its inception in 1930s all the way up to current models being produced right next door. Most of the 200 cars on exhibition are of significant historical importance to the brand, if not to the car world itself, and surprisingly, nearly all of them are still in working order. The museum was originally a tiny 20-car showroom in a teensy building, but was completely overhauled after Mercedes-Benz built a gigantic museum in their own neck of the woods east of Stuttgart, so this hypermodern establishment was finished in 2009 as a direct competition to the other giant in town.
However, I was a bit hungry, so I decided to first go for a round of food in the restaurant on the ground floor. It is fully decked out in car memorabilia, from the numerous tournament trophies the racing division had won, to old posters of advertisements, as well as little car models of some classics such as 912 all the way to 991. Even the menu itself has been taken over by the current production models, with each regional special dish named after a model, from spicy currywurst named Cayenne to Swabian maultaschen called 911er.
Of course, I went for a long-time favorite thanks to my Swabian family a long time ago, maultaschen, since I am definitely a 911er. I may not be able to afford a 911 for the rest of my life, but at least I can get this one that is about the same right? After indulging myself for the unhealthy delights, I continued touring the building. I will try to introduce as many influential models as I can, but I will only point out and explain the most influential cars Porsche has ever produced, and the rest you have to google yourself.
This is likely the most iconic of the icons, 356, as it is the very first car manufactured by the company in 1948. And when it comes to that, it is literal. This very first 356 is the first car made by Ferry Porsche, because he was bored and could not find any car on the market that fit his ideals. The sleek design, open roof, 40 horsepower prototype, all produced from Volkswagen Beetle parts, made this car a quick hit, and this Austrian-heritaged car manufacturer’s career was kickstarted all thanks to this very model.
Ahhh yes, the original 911. Everyone who even has seen a car would instinctively react with the number “911” when the word “Porsche” is mentioned, because this is indeed the ultimate classic duo, like Big Mac with McDonald’s, kangaroo with Australia, and “hopelessly single” with me. There is just no one without the other! However, you should cherish this number, as the above car, the 57th 911 ever produced, was originally gonna be named as 901, per Porsche’s tradition of naming, as the entire series goes from 356 all the way up. However, this model was only called 901 for a very short period of time before Pergeot threatened Porsche with legal cases that they own every single 3-digit number that has a 0 in the middle for naming road-going cars, so the iconic name 911 was picked.
Somewhere out there, there probably are a few people who have vowed to self-flaggellate every time they mention 917 without using the phrase “the all conquering-917”. I am serious. This is the car that turned Porsche from an underdog of 20 years in sports car racing into the irrefutable champion, and carried Porsche to unbeatable glory until rules were changed. Hearing its 1100 horsepower 12 cylinder engine roaring down the racetracks of Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, and Nürburgring, McLaren wept oily tears; Ferrari cowered in trembling fear; and Alfa Romeo ditched everything and ran. These were the apex predators of their world, and during their prime, the only competition of these gods, were themselves.
And it would be a religious blasphemy for me to not mention 959, the ultimate demonstration of the superior, no, supreme, design of the rear-engine, air-cooled design. Jacked up, all wheel drive, and tuned down for the low-quality fuel available in Africa, this monstrosity effortlessly demolished the 13800km Paris-Dakar offroad ralley in 1986. The two primary cars easily took 1st and 2nd place, and an additional support 959 that carried spare parts and extra fuel somehow managed to finish 6th, while a large portion of their competitors did not even reach the end.
What about the normal 959, ya know, the “regular” road car? Well, it was about 200000 dollars when it came out, so only people like Bill Gates could afford that. And anyone who could afford it, did buy it. (Yes, including the guy with too many windows.) The normal 959 is anything but normal. It was the fastest production car in the world when it debuted, with technologies never seen before. Computer torque vectoring to perfectly direct power, sequential turbos, electronically adjustable suspension, tire pressure monitors, and much more are just the things this car brought to the brave new Earth it has just created. As a car reviewer who is as reliable as he is short, Richard Hammond once said:”Countaches and Testarosas, in evolutionary terms, they were like man first making it into space. With this , it is like man walking on the Moon.”
I also took a tour of the Porsche factory on a guided tour offered by internal staffs. However, photography is strictly prohibited in the factory, so I have to tell you my experience with words instead, while showing off some other famous models produced by the company. Here in the factory in Stuttgart city center, Porsche produces most of their iconic sports cars, as well as the newest electric Taycan, which can achieve an equivalent of 750 horsepower with instant torque. We first toured the base level of engine assembly, which is a long line of people, each in charge of assembling one engine nearly from start to finish. Porsche still values the human hand, so every worker had to stick with one engine compartment, with only a handful of the 60+ steps being processed by robotic arms. Next up was the hide processing department, which uses entirely treated cow hides and scan them on a large laser-pointer machine, and someone manually selects out any imperfections on the hide before sending it off to be cut by waterjets.
Then we moved on to internal items such as panels and dashboards. Every single Porsche is customized base on client demands, and most of the items such as leather seats and dashboards are stitched by someone actually looking at a screen showing what the customer wants and where it would go. Nowadays, nearly all the demands come from either Germany or China, and it was hilarious that some workers I talked to joked that they were processing my car. Funnily, nearly all workers in the assembly lines are men, except in the stitching department, which had no men during my entire visit.
Eventually, the tour led me to the final assembly, where electronics were mounted, and the 3-floor assembly line combines seats, doors, bodywork and engine all into one final product to be tested. Interestingly, the entire premise of the factory and nearby supporting buildings have no dedicated parking place for the newly produced cars ready to be delivered, so there is a special team that is in charge of parking the new cars in any spot available, from roadside parking to employee garages, and remember where they parked their 200000-dollar Taycans next to employees’ Renalt Clio, when it was time to deliver the finished products.
Stuttgart had basically become my home base in Germany, and now I finally had the opportunity to present this quirky city in the blog. I hope you have enjoyed the tour of this capital of southwest Germany, and thoroughly been confused by the models of Porsche sprots cars. Indeed, this is a kind of strange matter in my journals, as I never fully planned out to have this journal until the day I landed in the airport mere weeks after departing from it.
In the universe out there, it has been hypothesized that there exists a kind of matter, so stable and perfect that they are the ultimate form of existence: strange matter. It is infectious, as it converts anything it touches into strange matter themselves. I guess Stuttgart can be a type of such enigmatic space disease, as anyone who has experienced it would be converted into a part of it, and perhaps spread it around, because even though it is strange: it is irrefutably stable and permanently beautiful.