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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrPretty, unassuming, riverside Ulm is a town on the border between the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg , in southern Germany. Many visitors will know it as the birthplace of physicist Albert Einstein , yet fewer people will know that Ulm is also home to the second tallest church steeple and ‘most crooked house’ in the world. This city of only 120,000 boasts a lovely medieval town centre and is ideal for those who wish to admire an authentic ancient German town, without having to deal with overwhelming tourist crowds. In spring and summer, it is particularity enchanting, as the Danube River shoreline becomes a hub of social interaction.
Brief historyOld Town Ulm dates back from the 14th century, which is when the great majority of its stunning Gothic buildings, were constructed. The town was originally founded in 850 and was declared a Free Imperial City in the early 12th century. Its convenient location quickly transformed a small village into a thriving trading place, especially for fine textiles, and pivotal stop-over point for merchants heading to and from Italy. Both France and Austria took possession of the town at different times in history, and both left long-standing influences on Ulm’s architecture, tradition and cuisine.
Walled fortifications were not built until the mid-1800s when Germany regained control of the city and wished to prevent further incursions by the French. The city became a powerhouse of military and industry sectors, and consequentially was heavily bombed during the allied campaigns of WWII. The great majority of the reconstruction of Old Town occurred during the 50s and 60s.
Nowadays, Ulm is primarily an industrial city, although one would never know it - with pharmaceuticals, electronics, automotive products and heavy machinery being its most prolific products. Major firms to have headquarters here are Nokia, Audi, Siemens, BMW and EADS, the European Space and Defence Agency. Ulm University is internationally renowned for being one of the top biomedicine establishments and, despite the sheer volume of industries in the region, is considered one of the greenest cities in the country. The commitment to minimizing environmental impact of industry, and its widespread use of renewable energies, have resulted in Ulm receiving various top awards in recent years. By 2030, it is expected that one of Germany’s most industrialised towns, will be run entire on renewable energy.
City OverviewMany consider Ulm to be dissected by the Danube River, with the ‘old part’ in the north and ‘new’ in the south. Technically speaking, however, these are two very separate cities, each one in a different German State. The river is the natural boundary which divides Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. The historic centre is cradled between the railway lines on the west, all the way to Münchner Straße to the east. Further on is where you’ll find the expansive zoo and gardens, perhaps the most eastern point you’ll need to walk to. If you’d like to be within easy walking distance of the main attractions, stay in this region but don’t go much past Olgastrasse in the north.
HighlightsHere are the main points of interest in Ulm:
Ulm MinsterConstruction of the stunning Gothic cathedral began in the 1200s, took six centuries to complete and was funded by the public purse. It was the world’s tallest church until 1901 when it was succeeded by the Philadelphia City Hall. If works on the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are ever actually completed, then this would become the tallest church in the world. The Ulm Cathedral boasts a 161.5m tall steeple, complete with 768 steps. Climbing to the top grants the most breathtaking views of the city’s stunning countryside, although do pick a crystal clear day. Ulm Minster is about three blocks north of the Donau and considered the heart and soul of Old Town.
Wiblingen AbbeyNow part of Ulm University, this lovely baroque abbey was consecrated in 1099 and was home to many monks and Abbotts over the centuries. Revered and admired for its strict adherence to the Benedictine principles, and for boasting a most priceless relic of the Holy Cross. Faced with impending invasion from the north, the abbey’s inhabitants proceeded to hide the relic, only for it to be left concealed for many years, as all those of any knowledge of its whereabouts had perished from the plague. Nowadays, Wiblingen may not seem such an overwhelmingly enticing historical building, but its rooms are brimming with artwork, frescoes and stunning relics. The intricately and opulently decorated library is, by far, the best section of the abbey.
Fishermen’s and Tanner’s QuarterThis rustic little corner of restored houses, quaint cobblestone streets and bridges over narrow canals is the atmospheric part f Ulm. Brimming with restaurants, cafés and arty shops, it’s reminiscent of a mini-Venice and a delight to explore. Easy to access the Danube riverside from here a just a short walk from the cathedral, this is where you’ll find the Guinness-listed ‘crookedest hotel in the world’. Take a walking tour with a local guide and you’ll discover a plethora of hidden secrets here.
The Leaning HouseSchiefes Haus sits on the shores of the Blau River in the heart of the Fishermen’s Quarter. It was built in the 15th century and, although its precarious lean has been corrected somewhat over the years, it has recently been restored to its former, and very much crooked, splendour. Nowadays, it is home to The Leaning House Hotel.
Ulmer MuseumJust two blocks south of the cathedral is the Museum of Ulm, which displays vast collections of archaeological treasures, like the 30,000-year-old Lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel . Displays of both ancient and modern art, including sculptures and paintings are spread over various floors. Consider it a kind of virtual walking tour of Ulm’s history, if you will. Unfortunately, as is commonplace in less touristy towns in Germany, there is very little information in English. Don’t forget to check out the rooftop terrace and garden, for great city views.
City HallUlm’s Rathaus boasts a colourful façade and a 16th century astronomical clock. Most of the interior of the building, and its priceless artworks, were destroyed during a catastrophic fire in 1944, but all were meticulously restored. The exterior walls are painted with scenes of the city’s history and, overall, this would have to rate as one of the most beautiful City Halls you’ll likely ever see. You’ll find a great restaurant on the foyer which serves excellent meals and beers; it’s a great place to stop, sit, and people watch on the square.
The Oath HouseSchwörhaus is one of Old Town’s loveliest buildings and was constructed right on top of the King’s Palace in 854 AD. For more than 700 years this place holds the most important event of the year in Ulm (on the first Monday in July), when the town Mayor gives a recount of the year’s achievements to the crowd. Within the walls of the Oath House is also where you’ll find a small yet informative history museums.
Brotkultur MuseumEven if you’re wheat-intolerant you ought to make a pit-stop at Ulm’s Bread Museum, which gives a fascinating insight into the history of bread making over the centuries. Ancient recipes, leavening methods, religious practices and cultural uses, from the beginning of time right up to the present-day, the collections here are small, well placed and very interesting indeed.
WilhelmsburgThe Fortress of Ulm was part of a 5-strong system of fortification in this region and is still, nowadays, one of the largest complexes of its kind in all of Europe. Built in the 1840s, it was set to house more than 20,000 soldiers in times of war. Take a relaxing stroll around the fortress and go up to the viewing tower where the vista is all encompassing, from the city to the Danube and all the way to the lower Alps on a crystal clear day. The fortress sits atop the city on the very eastern fringes of the centre. Largely ignored by many tourists, perhaps due to simple lack of its historical value, it is one of the most relaxing places to discover in Ulm.
CuisineThe most atmospheric restaurants are found within the Fishermen’s Quarter, where you’ll find a large selection of local beer gardens and restaurants offering authentic Schwabian fare. By the Danube riverside, you’ll find a similar collection of gorgeous eateries and bars. The outdoor eating areas and chilled-out vibe make Ulm arguably one of the nicest towns in which to dine and wine.
Zur Forelle is one of the most popular local eateries, and specialises in fresh-water trout cooked in traditional herbs and spices. The Goldener Bock is renowned as THE Italian joint in town, and its Sicilian specialties are great if you’re in the mood for a taste-change.
NightlifeNot much of a vibrant clubbing scene here, yet if you like nothing more than a few drinks and a chat by the riverside, then you’ll feel right at home. Some of the beer gardens in Old Town feature live music on week-ends, yet all boast a very vibrant social scene. Considering how small the town is, the happenings and lively atmosphere after sunset is quite surprising and certainly very enjoyable.
ShoppingUlm’s residents wee renowned for their craftsmanship and the medieval centre is now home to an array of workshops and dedicated boutiques, selling art supplies, antiques, leather and wooden ornaments and hand-made jewellery. Some of the larger stores are found closer to the cathedral.
How to get inUlm is quite centrally located and easy to reach by rail from both Munich (2 hours)and Stuttgart (one hour). Special daylong tickets within Bavaria with the ICE trains allow for travel to Ulm, so even a single day-trip from Munich is very possible an affordable. The Central Train Station is within a 10-minute walk to the Cathedral. The closest international airports are in either one city mentioned above, as well as Augsburg.
How to get out and aboutUlm is very well serviced by buses and rail connections although the great majority of the attractions are within the pedestrian-friendly, medieval town centre. Relaxing sightseeing cruises along the Danube are offered and are the most enjoyable way to get your bearings when you first arrive.
AccommodationBeing a small and compact, yet landmark-brimming town, Ulm offers a wide array of accommodation options to suit all budgets.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jul 26, 2015