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Making life a holiday with interesting vacation and adventure ideas.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Danube Cycle Route to Ulm 

In our last post tracing the river Danube, we began our journey along its length at Donaueschingen. The next destination is Ulm which is the first major city on the Danube; strictly speaking the twin cities of the Danube, since there is Ulm and New Ulm on either side of the river. Once the site of an ancient Roman fortress and now home to the world's tallest cathedral spire, 161 metres and 768 steps- to the highest view point for those that wish to make the climb!

The old town is a very picturesque medieval city centered on the Fischerviertel (fisherman's quarter). with small well-dammed canals, red brick footbridges, old waterside houses, and a famously decorated town hall. Strangely, since the Danube separates both cities, Neu-Ulm is in the state of Bavaria and Ulm is in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Recently, Steve Fossett in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer successfully completed the first solo, non-stop round-the-world airplane flight; regarded as the last great aviation record. Legend has it that around 200 years ago, an Ulm Tailor attempted to fly on a whim but the devil lead him into the Danube to swim. The tailor was Albrecht Berblinger who built a flying machine. Sadly the trial flight was a disaster but a few years ago, students from the university built a replica which did indeed fly.Berblinger proved to be an inspired inventor and is actually father to the modern artificial limb. Another brilliant mind, Albert Einstein, was born in Bahnhofstr, Ulm.

Bahnhof in English translates to station and Ulm is well connected via the German rail network; an easy way to go directly to Ulm is to fly to Munich and then take the train to Ulm but of more interest to us is the fact that Ulm can be reached in the other direction, from Donaueschingen via the Danube Cycle Route. The route runs the complete length of the Danube between Donaueschingen and Vienna!

Between Donaueschingen and Ulm there is a notable variety of stunning landscapes. Its 190 km include the Upper Danube nature reserve, high chalk cliffs and the deep Danube valley. The route leaves the Black Forest and near Tuttlingen the river seeps underground, disappearing completely for a while before re-appearing to cut a breathtakingly steep gorge of craggy cliffs though the Swabian Alb. There are many sites of cultural interest, the Beuron monastery, Sigmaringen castle perched on a rocky outcrop and Heuneberg, a Celtic site near Herbertingen.

Passing Sigmaringen the valley widens and the route is predominantly flat as you continue to Ehingen. Then it is an easy short ride alongside the Danube into Ulm. On the banks of the Danube, on the outskirts of Ulm, there are parks with concert stages, beer gardens, miniature golf courses and exhibitions of modern art. The University of Ulm art path is particularly special; you can take a 7 km tour on both banks of the river Danube between the Adenauer Bridge and the Friedrichsau Park with more than 45 large works of sculpture by international artists. The University of Ulm also has a herb garden with more than 540 species, a park for the blind and relatively new botanical gardens founded in 1981 which are still being modelled.

In common with other German towns and cities, there are many traditional public festivals throughout the year, one of the first in the region is always the Neu-Ulm Public Festival which starts at the end of April/beginning of May. Another festival is Ulm Oath Week, Ulm's most important holiday and festivity, which takes place at the end of July and includes the big Ulm Fair at the Friedrichsau Park. Ulm's Christmas Fair is situated in the Minster Square, directly in front of the famous cathedral and attracts people from all over Southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria and even further abroad.

Smaller public festivals include the Guilder's Feast of the butchers and bakers guilds at Ulm's Saumarkt (in the middle of May), the Old Town Fete (at the beginning of July) and Neu-Ulm's original Vorwerksfest in the old fortification walls (at the end of July).

In 2005, Ulm Oath Weekend is the 16 to 18 July. This festival originated in 1397 when the mayor swore his oath of office and made a solemn pledge to be the same man to rich and poor, without reservation, in all common and honourable matters. Today's mayors repeat the oath, from the balcony of the "Schwoerhaus" (Oath House) in the Weinhof, on the anniversary of the City constitution. After the oath it's 'Let's party' as everyone proceeds to the Danube for the "Nabada", a carnival procession on the water. Tens of thousands gather left and right of the river and, after the procession, they go on to the huge Volksfest in Friedrichsau Park and to the city squares and beer gardens. Later in the balmy summer evening atmosphere the Serenade of Lights is held when thousands of tiny lights are sent floating down the Danube.

Every four years there is a very special extra to the Oath week programme - Ulm Fishermen's Jousting, a water tournament which dates back to the 15th Century. Two canoes are paddled towards each other by six men dressed in medieval costume . In each boat, a man stands in the back with a lance in his hand and each then tries to topple his opponent with the lance as the boats pass each other. At the same time as the Fishermen's Jousting, the 18th century Coopers' ribbon dance is performed in the squares of the city. I have no idea why it is every four years but I believe that the last fisherman's Jousting and Coopers' Dance was in 2004, so there is a while to wait before the next tournament.

A lot to keep tourists active. Oh, and did I mention that at the beginning of September this year, there will be a World Meeting of German shepherd dogs in the Ulm Danube Stadium (1 -4 September, 2005).



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