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Kalrsruhe. My mother can’t spell it right, I can’t pronounce it right (I think). Some people don’t know where it is, others go there only to change to/from connecting trains – and a lot of people go there because it’s conveniently located on the border to France (40 minutes by train from Strasbourg, 2 hours and 30 minutes from Paris), and it’s not far from cities like Stuttgart (36 minutes by train) or Frankfurt (1 hour by train).
I was supposed to be one of those people who would get off a train in Karlsruhe, use their public bathrooms, buy a cup of coffee and hang around the train station until my connecting train to Paris would arrive. But my curiosity was too strong to resist the urge to spend a night there instead. No, not at the train station (although that would’ve made an interesting story). I did book a hotel room. A pretty decent one too.
Here’s a guide to what to do/see and where to eat/drink in Karlsruhe.
And my personal experience.
So, First… My story
I had just spent three days nurturing the mother-daughter relationship with my mom, while visiting a city called Kassel (more on that in a later post). As much as I love spending time with my mother, I also love my alone-time. In fact, I love my alone-time so much people sometimes worry about me and think I have a problem. Maybe it’s because I don’t look like a stereotypical loner? Maybe I talk too loud to be a stereotypical introvert? I don’t know. Either way, I was ridiculously excited about my 24 hour solo trip to Karlsruhe. I had never explored anywhere in Germany completely on my own, before. I was ready for this!
To get in the right mood for all things German, I made a Rammstein-playlist on Spotify and spent the entire train journey rocking out to “Ich will”, “Du hast” and other classics.
Two hours later, I had arrived. Just across the street from the train station, there’s the Karlsruhe Zoo. I would have loved to visit the zoo immediately, but my luggage was three times heavier than normal, after my mother had filled it clothes, books and food – like she always does. That’s one of the perks of living far away from the family. Gifts.
By the time I’d made it to Karlsruhe, I had completely forgotten which hotel I had booked, what kind of facilities they offered and where it was located compared to the train station. I only remembered I’d found a great deal on Booking.com – and the reviews were great. I don’t even think I noticed while making the reservation, that it was in fact a really nice 4-star hotel (Hotel Santo). Now that’s a pleasant surprise for a goldfish like myself!
As I had less than 24 hours to discover everything I wanted to see in Karlsruhe, I didn’t wanna spend more time than necessary in my room. Turns out you can’t visit museums in Karlsruhe on Mondays, and some are even closed on Tuesdays. And when was I there? Yeah, you guessed right. On a Monday and Tuesday. So, I did a lot of research, studied the city map and the public transportation timetable, took notes, created a schedule – and within twenty minutes, I was out and ready to start exploring.
First stop; the zoo (Zoologischer Stadtgarten). I got there late in the afternoon, an hour and a half before closing time, which turned out to be just enough time for my first ever solo trip to a zoo. I photographed all the lovely animals – and happened to disturb a red panda during his dinner. He gave me a mean look. As if he was trying to tell me something along the lines of “if I catch you taking another picture of me eating, I’ll shove that camera up where the sun don’t shine”. Something like that. At least the cheeky sea lion I photographed, didn’t seem to be bothered at all.
I turned out to be one of those people that theme park employees hate. The ones who hang around until closing time and still don’t get that “we’re closing” means that they’re closing and you should get your fat butt out of there, like five minutes ago. Slightly embarrassed, I power walked my way to the nearest exit.
My stomach was growling. I realized I had barely eaten anything all day. All I wanted was a juicy veggie burger accompanied by fries and mayonnaise. And I knew exactly where to get that.
For a good variety of cool bars and restaurants – and for your ultimate shopping spree, take the tram to Europaplatz, and voila – you’re in the heart of the city center (and right next to Post Galerie Shopping Center). As I was facing the mall, all I could think was “Should I enter the mall just for a little sneak peak? A little bit of window shopping? Maybe even buy a little something to take home?”
My weak personality couldn’t resist the temptation.
The first thing I noticed when I entered this former post office converted into a mall (except from it being a post office converted into a mall) was the large amount of French people – especially teenagers and women in their twenties – carrying enormous shopping bags from Primark and TK Maxx while scouting for even greater deals in even cheaper stores (yes, I eavesdropped on their conversations).
As I had my own French guy waiting for me at home, I thought it’d be kind of a sin if I didn’t join in on the discount shopping and bring him a souvenir. So I bought him a pajama and lots of chocolate – because deep down we’re both still children and enjoy spending time in our pajamas while stuffing our faces with chocolate and candy.
My stomach was screaming for food by this time. Luckily, the restaurant (Bratar) was just a short walk away from the mall. I found it, but I had no idea where the entrance was. I found a door that didn’t at all look like it was the main entrance, but I entered anyway. The room was completely empty and led to another room – which turned out to be the main room. And the main entrance was right there, too. For some reason I’d somehow managed to miss it. I found an empty table and sat down – without using the mannerism that I usually use when going to a restaurant….such as waiting for a waiter to find me a free table. The staff looked confused, but didn’t say anything. It took a while before they eventually handed me a menu – probably because they had been wondering what on earth I was doing, entering the restaurant from out of nowhere and grabbing a table without even asking. And to make things worse, I decided to speak only German to them but had trouble understanding what they said whenever they asked me a follow-up question. So, I told them to repeat everything. Multiple times…only so I could say something that made absolutely no sense and was completely irrelevant to what they were asking. Awkward. Unlike my German language skills, the food was good!
Before returning to my room, I decided to grab a drink in the cocktail bar at my hotel. Not because I’m one of those girls who like to put on their darkest red lipstick and little black dress and sit at the bar and flirt with strange men, while sipping a cosmopolitan and looking all mysterious and edgy. No. I’m that awkward girl who doesn’t want to be noticed. You know, the one who hides in the corner, takes pictures of her drink, eats all the snacks and secretly wants to ask for more olives but is too shy to do so. The girl who becomes red like a tomato once someone looks in her direction. That’s me.
My hotel happened to have an excellent cocktail bar (Santo’s Cocktailbar) and it seems to be very popular among locals as well as tourists and guests at the hotel. They had the largest selection of cocktails I’d ever seen, and everything looked delicious and elegantly presented. It took me an eternity to figure out what to order. I ended up with a cherry margarita.
Tuesday morning, my alarm woke me up at stupid o’clock. I wanted to get up early and seize the day, but neither my mind nor my body was feeling the enthusiasm. But as a blogger, I know the importance of getting up early in order to have time to do everything, photograph everything and make the most of my time before returning to the train station to go home to Paris.
After a large breakfast, I was definitely feeling better. On Tuesdays, there is a farmer’s market starting at 7:30 am at Gutenbergplatz, which seemed like a good way to start the day. Although the market turned out to be a lot smaller than I’d expected, it was nice. Next time I’m in Karlsruhe, I might just book an apartment instead of a hotel. Then I’ll definitely return to the market and buy me some of that yummy cheese and fresh fruits and vegetables!
Moving on to Karlsruhe Palace. This gorgeous yellow palace is probably the most well known building in Karlsruhe – and is home to the Badisches Landesmuseum (Baden State Museum). I strolled along the palace courtyard and did the entire walk around the garden – which is huge. I wasn’t sure what to do next or where to exit, and I ended up taking an exit that lead me to the Majolika Keramik Manufaktur. Majolica is Italian tin-glazed pottery and from what I’d seen online, it looked pretty cool and modern.
The place seemed quite empty, the door to the museum was closed and the only person in sight was some delivery guy who had just arrived with his truck. I asked him if he spoke English. He didn’t. I tried to ask him in German if the museum was open, but I had no idea what “open” is in German, so I made some weird hand gestures and repeated the word ‘open’ several times. He pointed at an open door to something that looked like a shop.
There was a lady at the counter. She was too busy talking on the phone to even notice I was there. She looked strict and kind of scary, so I didn’t wanna bother her with my questions. I assumed I had walked into the gallery part of the majolica manufacturer and I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take photos or not, but I did it anyway. The selfie-taking chimp and the three bold lipsticks were too good to miss out on.
Since no one had paid any attention to me at all while I was there, I was left feeling kind of embarrassed. As if I had sneaked into someone’s house or something.
Next on my list was Turmberg, a 256 meter high hill and Turmberg funicular railway – the landmark of Durlach. There were two ways to get to the top of the hill; the historical railway and the stairs, also known as “the witches’ steps”. That nickname alone was enough to put me off from taking the stairs. No-uh. Ain’t doing it. Besides, I was looking forward to taking the railway up the hill.
…That was, until I was welcomed by a closed door and the timetable. So, apparently the railway was closed on weekdays – until April 1st. In other words, if you happen to be there on a Tuesday in March, you better get your butt moving up the witches’ stairs or get out of there.
I hate feeling like a quitter, so I took the stairs. Slow and easy. Granny style. I didn’t wanna exhaust myself before I was even halfway to the top, so I figured nice and slow was the way to go. By the time I had made it to the top, I was so exhausted I was literally gasping for air, like a fish on land. My polyester top and red faux leather jacket was the worst combination of fabrics imaginable, and I was sweating like a pig.
What comes up, must go down, I thought to myself before taking the stairs back down to where I started. As annoying as the witches’ steps were, at least I’d end up with buns of steel after all this effort.
I spent some time hanging out in Durlach before heading back to the city center for lunch. I saw the remains of the ancient ruins of Karlsburg Castle, visited the Schlossgarten (Royal Park) and ran for shelter to the nearest coffee shop as soon as it started raining. One cup of coffee later and I was ready to face the rain again. The tram stop was only one block away, but even one block feels like ten kilometers when you have to run like crazy to avoid getting soaked.
The tram took me kind of close to the restaurant I wanted to visit; My Heart Beats Vegan. Kind of close was not close enough, when wandering around with no umbrella in the rain. When I entered the restaurant I looked like I had gone for a swim with my clothes on. I felt like people were staring at me, but they probably weren’t. And if they were, they were probably just thinking “Holy sh… Let’s get an Uber. I don’t wanna end up like that”.
As I was feeling kind of cold, there was nothing on the menu that tempted me more than the tomato and basil soup. A nice, warm soup. Accompanied by an ice cold iced tea…
That was the last thing I had time to do before returning to the hotel to pick up my luggage. Thank you Karlsruhe. Those 24 hours were enjoyable. Next time, I’ll make sure I’m not there on a Monday or a Tuesday – or in March!
What else is there to do in Karlsruhe?
- Visit the classic State Art Gallery (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe)
- Or the modern ZKM Center for Art and Media (ZKM.de)
- Feed your brain with useful facts at the State Museum of Natural History (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde)
- When you’re done feeding your brain, feed your stomach with upper regional cuisine (Oberländer Weinstube), regional slow food (Eigenart), steakhouse (DOM) or something from trendy Vaca Verde.
- Thirsty? Have a drink with the cool crowd at Guts & Glory, on the rooftop at KINGKARL or with the sophisticated crowd at KofferRaum.
- More of a beer person? Check out one of following breweries; Vogelbräu , Hoepfnerbräu or Brauhaus 2.0.
- Got a sweet tooth? Have some chocolate at Zuckerbecker or a yummy pastry from Patisserie Ludwig.
- Stroll along Südliche Waldstrasse or Kaiserstrasse. Shop, relax, enjoy!
More photos from my trip (below)