A half-naked lady and preconceived notions in Konstanz.

It’s a real shame: I have a GA travelcard but almost never use it to explore new places. That’s now about to change, but what place should I visit? “Let’s go check out Konstanz”, my friend Daniel proposes. All that brings to mind is cross-border shopping tourism. But after the suggestion comes up several times, I guess there must be something special about the city. Okay, so let’s find out.

We start with the planning of the excursion. Thanks to the companion ticket, Daniel can travel the whole day at a special low price. Along with Konstanz, we decide to add a stop in Stein am Rhein.

A day trip with the companion ticket.

Here’s how to save money when travelling together: the companion ticket is available from 27 February to 21 May 2017. If you have a GA travelcard or 1-day travelpass, for example, you can take a companion with you on a train trip for just 38 Swiss francs. Visit sbb.ch/companion for more ideas for leisure activities.

 

After arriving in Konstanz, we head straight to the harbour. Our gaze is inevitably drawn to the Imperia. No wonder, as the scantily clad female figure is wearing a robe that barely closes in the front and is impossible to overlook at a height of nine metres. Although the rotating statue was originally very controversial, it has become one of the most famous tourist attractions in Konstanz.

The harbour is lined with plenty of inviting benches and the cry of seagulls and swishing of the waves remind me of the ocean. In the spring, the harbour area is probably even nicer and would certainly make a great spot to take a break when strolling through the city.

On a treasure hunt in the Niederburg.

The atmosphere changes considerably once we enter the cobbled streets of the Niederburg district. In the oldest part of Konstanz, the colourful buildings are tightly packed together, sometimes a bit askew. Preparations for the carnival celebrations are in full swing, with innumerable fabric pennants flapping in the wind. In places like this, there’s only one thing to do: go from alleyway to alleyway and discover the surprising, unknown treasures.

The art of coffee in half-timbered house “N° elf.

We take a spontaneous coffee break at the coffee and wine bar “N° elf”. Daniel is looking for something with enough caffeine, and the barista recommends a “flat white”. Contrary to my assumption, it’s not a name invented by hipsters for a regular coffee, but a speciality similar to cappuccino. In any case, it tastes delicious and warms us up after the windy morning. Tempted by the sweet treats at the bar, we order two brownies to accompany our coffee.

More than just shopping.

Fortified by caffeine and sugar, we make our way through the old town back to the station. The streets get wider and the names of the shops become more familiar. Shopping enthusiasts would be in paradise. But there’s more:

  • The Münsterturm rewards those who climb the tower’s 245 steps with impressive views over the city and Lake Constance (price for adults: 2 euros, open from April).
  • Dessert fans should not miss Voglhaus. The old town café offers delectable cakes and specialities from local producers.
  • From Konstanz, boat service to Schaffhausen will begin operating in April. Many smaller harbours, such as Stein am Rhein or Steckborn, can be reached by boat, offering a relaxing way to discover the areas bordering the Lower Lake.

Strolling through the old town of Stein am Rhein.

The second leg of our journey takes us along the shores of the Lower Lake to Stein am Rhein, though in our case by train. Every now and then, clearings in the trees afford a lovely glimpse of the lake. “The famous part of Stein am Rhein is located on other side of the river”, Daniel explains to me at the station. Soon the picturesque historic district comes into view. As befits a medieval town, a castle sits high above Stein am Rhein.

Visitors interested in seeing Hohenklingen Castle can combine the experience with a hike. The reward: unique views and delicious food in the castle restaurant.

After having crossed the Rhine, we discover rows and rows of splendid houses. Some of the facades seem almost overloaded with their rich colours and intricate murals. No two historic houses look alike. I am entranced by all the charming details, such as bay windows and special weather vane figures, and imagine how life used to be here in the olden days.

By the way: anyone interested in how bourgeois homes looked in the 19th century should definitely pay a visit to Museum Lindwurm.

The present day also presents a different side: inviting shops and restaurants, as far as the eye can see. Three small, but special locations stood out:

  • Kafi und me, with “Kafi” referring to coffee, fresh tea and homemade cakes. The “me” stands for restored or self-created furniture pieces and other small items, which are available for sale. An irresistible mix for me, but unfortunately closed until 29 March 2017.
  • La p’tite crêperie, which I would love to try had I not already filled up on brownies.
  • The shop Ihr Fabrikat, where small gifts and individually printed fabric bags can be purchased.

The “Rheintörlein.

For our last stop, we visit St. George’s Abbey, but only from the outside because the abbey museum does not open until April. The large complex extends from the current village church to the shore of the Rhine. But what fascinates me more than the abbey itself is a small wooden gate in the outer wall. “Rheintörlein” – the little gate by the Rhine – is written above in faded letters. Just beyond the gate, a terrace awaits with a bench and a weeping willow tree whose branches hang down almost stereotypically over the Rhine. We have a little time before our train departs so we spend a few moments at this lovely spot and enjoy the sunshine, which we’ve waited for the whole day.

In summary: People who come to Konstanz just to shop will miss the nicest things about this city. A short break by the harbour or a stroll through the Niederburg does not take long and is definitely worth it. If you would like to add a visit to Stein am Rhein, you should plan your trip from the end of March. By then all the small, independent shops will again be open.

 

Photos: Daniel Schwarz

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