Tübingen, Germany. “What Is Time?”
A Trip to a Medieval Swabian Town
Music: Mantra, Bring Me The Horizon
Movie: Dark (Netflix series)
Book: The World as I See It, Albert Einstein
Far behind is colourful Bruges that keeps playing its beauty on the cinematic screen of my mind! Kilometre after kilometre I’m speeding towards south-west Germany, to the hilly region of Swabia.
Driving through Europe has an undeniable charm if you can juggle distances and tiredness. After hours and hours of staring straight ahead, I get the feeling that Germany does not have an end. It does, and I’m getting closer to the southern border. And I know it does not compare to driving across the USA or India. ‘Turn left in five thousand miles.’
How on Earth did they travel from Madrid to Moscow a century and a half ago, in horse-pulled carriages? ‘Dear X, I’ve decided to visit you. I’m leaving Madrid today. See you in five years!’ Phew!
I chose Tübingen as my last stop before heading south to Italy for a well-deserved vacation. Courtesy of Google Maps, it was easy to select this postal card gorgeous town. The pictures posted by others who got there before I helped the decision.
The last leg of the wearisome journey is along the Neckar River. Before I know it, I’m parked at the hotel, checked in, showered and out.
From the hotel, it’s just a pleasurable stroll around the town. It was not before a strong double espresso (free self-make coffee machine available at the reception) and a tasty glass of sparkling water (free tap, same location). Tomorrow morning, as I leave at three am, I’ll have five double espressos crammed in a large cup, all gone way before I pass Austria’s Brenner.
It is only a budget hotel, but this and the sparkling cleanliness are the first things I see as I step inside. I pat my shoulder for this last-second choice, literally. I’ve called the hotel while en route to check if they have any availability as I’ve changed my mind about the previous accommodation arrangement that was out of town.
OK, time to explore. In five minutes, I get rid of the moderate small-town traffic and step into the more historical part of Tübingen. Here the cars are replaced by bicycles and Germans of all ages pedal up and down the cobbled streets with such ease that you’d say this is the flattest town on Earth. It’s nothing but hills! And the bicycle users are in top physical condition. The only floppy bellies I’ve seen walking around were foreign tourists.
Tübingen is so similar to Brașov (my birthplace) that I instantly feel at home. This town is so colourful, bright, vibrant, with century-old buildings, many of them half-timbered, sporting flowers at each window. It feels so alive under the summer sun that I forget all the tiredness caused by tedious driving.
Places give me energy. Especially those I like even before I see. Intuitively, I knew I’d love Tübingen. It’s a Middle Ages gem beautifully preserved and enriched with a vibrant modern-day touch.
I’m looking around not only to the gorgeous houses but also for an exchange office. None in sight so I ask the first person on a bicycle (and thus a local) about one.
To my amazement, the guy does not for a second stop pedalling while he gives direction to the Deutsche Bank. Halfway through the explanation, he suddenly changes his mind and says “I’ll take you there if you want, it’s not far from here!”
Puzzled, I say that he’s too kind and I wouldn’t want to take his time. I have asked for directions a million times; nobody has ever offered to walk me to the place I was looking for.
This guy in his late twenties, Alexander Dreymon’s lookalike riding a bicycle, not a horse in the Last Kingdom, puzzles me more with his reply to my politeness:
“Time is the same for everybody. What matters is what we do with it.”
Dreymon lookalike and a philosopher with flawless English! I itch to ask if he has relatives in Hollywood. But you don’t ask a philosopher stupid questions!
A teeny-tiny impish demon that spends most of its days lurking dormant in the depths of my psyche suddenly swims to the surface and whispers in my inner ear: ‘you wish you were looking for Deutsche Bank in another decade, don’t you?’
Blimey! A five minutes walk can reveal lots of exciting things about people and places. And he’s the one asking more! “If you’re here visiting, you will see for yourself what this place has to offer. I want to know about your place or places.”
As any migrant, I have an accent, and I belong to more than one place: the one I was born and raised in and the one I happen to live in now. A bit confusing at first, I always get that, but it makes the dialogue more interesting.
A nomad soul randomly meets a philosopher with an ash blond rasta mane pulled up on top of his head in Tübingen, Swabia. Five minutes it’s not enough time to expand on any subject. In another life, it would have definitely turned in a lot more. In this life, as I said, I am not travelling alone.
Did I mention that he pedalled extremely slowly and with superb skill uphill without once taking his feet off the pedals? And that he kept coming back to the conversation each time an acquaintance (and there were about seven) saluted while riding up the street?
I had to admire his spirit. And shake his hand as Deutsche Bank showed up at the end of the road. He wished a heartfelt ‘enjoy Tübingen!’ as he turned his bicycle around and leisurely pedalled down the street to where his business was before I forestalled his time. That time, which is the same for everyone. What matters is what we do with it. I will remember this.
The clerk at the bank confirms what I expected to hear. Boris Johnson’s visit to meet Angela Merkel today and Brexit’s fiasco has made the exchange rate collapse. The mighty British Pound has a crap value, and I decide the Euros in my wallet are enough to take me to Italy.
I am digressing a little, but my intuition would prove right in a few days. Italy is in political turmoil right as I get there. So, what do they do? Replace the old government … to the same one!
We will do this and that for you! We will give you this and that! You will live so much better than under the previous government! What the heck?!
An image of a large septic tank lorry I passed on the motorway comes to mind as I watched the news for five minutes. The message printed on it said: “This Tank is Full of Political Promises”.
I switched the telly off and hid the remote.
Every Italian I have spoken with had the same heartfelt wishes for their new old leaders: Vaffanculo!
As expected, the Euro will have fallen a little, and the crippled Pound will have gained some of the lost power. An excellent time to exchange!
The truth is, the world could work perfectly well without the absurdity of politics. Reality is, the world thrives purely on greed, blackmail/corruption, electoral/daily basis lies and hunger for power. Hence, politics! What a massive pile of scheiße!
Enough digression, though. Back to philosophy and Germany, I had lost five minutes to get to Deutsche Bank, but that turned out to be the best five minutes I’d lost in a long time! Oh, the time theme seems to stick with me.
Now the money is sorted, or rather not, and I have walked the streets of Tübingen up and down a few times over, it’s time to eat. The only problem is that every single restaurant I pass is Italian or serves Italian food. For crying out loud! I’ll be in Italy tomorrow. I want German food in Germany!
A small, quaint place on a street corner with a few tables lined up outside has promise. The waiter shows up and hands out the drinks menu.
“Do you guys serve German food here?” My hopes are high.
“We do, but today I can only offer you drinks. The oven is not working due to an electrical fault. Our chef decided to close the kitchen for the day. If you’re looking for food, I’m sorry, but we can’t give you any.”
I appreciate an honest explanation.
“Would you know a place that serves local food, though? Every restaurant in town seems to be Italian. To me, that seems somewhat wrong. I would like to see what your cuisine has to offer.”
“If you go down this street and turn left at the end of it, there is a small square. The white building with blue shutters called Die Wurstküche makes Swabian food. You won’t get more German food than that!”
That’s all I need to know. I thank the waiter, and in two minutes I’m checking the menu at the Swabian restaurant. Lustnauer-Tor-Plättle for two was delicious and went down perfectly with a carafe of local wine and beer.
So much food requires more walking. Up and down one last time, then down to the riverbank to sit in the shade of old trees and eat ice cream. And avoid swallowing wasps as the town seems to be under attack by swarms.
A local lady and a group of five adult Americans are talking about the University of Tübingen. I pretend to watch the boats sliding down the stream while eavesdropping. What better way to get the best information about a place other than from a local?
I already know that Tübingen University is about six hundred years old, it ranks very high among the European universities and is famous for its neuroscience research programs. I can see for myself that flocks of young people roam around the town. All nationalities as well, gathered here to study at this prestigious university.
The lady speaking about the courses the university offers today suddenly goes back to history and mesmerises the Americans with medieval education, science, and lifestyle. All the while, I am waving to the crowds of tourists packed on gondolas along the Neckar, but I eavesdrop big time!
I know this syndrome. The intense fascination you feel for a place that is actually your own city or town. I suffer from it. Many times, I found myself taking pictures in the main square of my home city. Many a time, I ended up chatting for hours to foreign tourists that were expressing their awe at its beauty. And all because they’d offer to take a picture of me with the Black Church in the background before they’d found out that I’m a local.
I take one last turn on a quiet cobbled street of Tübingen just before returning to the hotel. At some distance I see a guy with an ash Rasta mane pulled up on top of his head. He’s sitting in the door frame of a vaping shop, vaping undisturbed by the touristic commotion. The shop is open; customers will turn up if they have a business there. There’s time for everything.
‘What is time?’, truly? The most brilliant German mind said it was “a stubbornly persistent illusion.” He said many things that are in books today. Who has an interest and time will read them.
The first television programme that came to mind as I was writing this was “Dark”. Watch the series. It is brilliant!