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Ulm: combining the best of tradition and modernity.

Ulm: combining the best of tradition and modernity.

Reaching seemingly endlessly up into the sky, Ulm Minster's tower has watched over the city for centuries. After the Second World War, during which much of the city was destroyed, Ulm took the right approach to reconstruction. The city planners achieved a successful compromise that resulted in a unique cityscape of lovingly restored buildings on the one hand and breathtaking modernity on the other.

Ulm Minster, the 'finger of God' with the highest church tower in the world, is the city's predominant building. And the square on which it stands is an endlessly fascinating place that offers a great mix of historical and modern architecture. But there is definitely more to Ulm than the Minster and Münsterplatz square, and at a stone's throw away, the beautiful town hall is one of the reasons why. The oldest part of the present building was erected in 1370 and served as a trading house. It was first mentioned as a town hall in 1419 and the ornate astronomical clock was added in around 1520. In the building's stairwell, you can look up and see a replica of the flying machine built by Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger, the legendary tailor of Ulm. Unfortunately his attempts at flying more than 200 years ago were not crowned with success. On the crucial day there was no favourable wind and his 'flight' ended in the gushing Danube. Nevertheless, he is still esteemed today as an able man, and the locals' penchant for striking out in new directions – at least in spirit – is a reminder of another famous son of Ulm, Albert Einstein. A new direction, at least in terms of urban development, was taken with the design of Ulm's 'Neue Mitte' (new centre) between Münsterplatz and the town hall. Here, old and new buildings form an ensemble of striking contrasts. The first of these is the Stadthaus by New York architect Richard Meier. This internationally acclaimed milestone in modern architecture is an open house for encounters with art, culture and people – and with a remarkable city.

Its basement contains a fascinating permanent exhibition on the archaeology and history of Münsterplatz square, providing a clear contrast to the architecture of the building itself. The 'House of Senses', which features an optician's with a café on the third floor and affords fantastic views of the minster, the Sparkasse building, Wolfram Wöhr's Weishaupt art gallery, the 'glass pyramid' municipal library by Gottfried Böhm and the Obere Stube with its moving facade stand out against the nearby historical minster and town hall with their modern mode of expression – which was welcomed wholeheartedly by experts but divided opinion among Ulm residents. Further ahead, via the Weinhof – an important trading house for almost 500 years – are the ancient Steinhaus (stone house), the Romanesque Chapel of St. Nicholas dating from around 1220 and the 17th-century Schwörhaus (oath house). Every year on Schwörmontag, a public holiday in Ulm, the town's mayor stands on the Schwörhaus balcony and repeats the historic oath of 1397 to uphold the constitution. A walk through Ulm Museum is also fascinating. The archaeological collection boasts the Löwenmensch (lion man), the oldest animal/human sculpture in the world dating back approximately 30,000 years, and features alongside a collection of major European and American artworks from 1945 onwards.

A distinctive feature of Ulm's townscape are two towers that form part of the old town fortifications: the Gänseturm (goose tower) and the Metzgerturm (butchers' tower), built in 1345 and better known as the Leaning Tower of Ulm. The story behind the tower is typical of Ulm. Legend has it, the tower got its name from the butchers who added sawdust to their sausage mix. When the townspeople realised this, they locked the culprits in the tower. And as the corpulent butchers huddled together in fear in a corner upon the angry mayor's entrance, the tower is supposed to have tilted. In actual fact, the tower is leaning because it stands on a former swamp. However, you should try to stay upright when you visit the quaint fishermen's quarter, which dates from the Middle Ages, or one of the many beer gardens in Ulm and Neu-Ulm – Ulm's sister town in Bavaria on the other side of the Danube. But that is of course up to you. The main thing is that you visit Ulm.

City Highlights

The Gothic Minster has been a dominant feature in the centre of Ulm for centuries and is the town's most famous landmark. It is also known far and wide for having the tallest church tower in the world: the 'Finger of God' stretches up to the skies reaching a height of almost 162 metres. This stunning piece of architecture is complemented by a number of exquisite art treasures inside the church. The minster is also famous for its 15th century choir stalls by Jörg Syrlin. The carved busts in particular are considered masterpieces of art history.

Set in an idyllic location at the confluence of the Blau and Danube rivers is the fishermen's quarter. Resided in predominantly by craftsmen in the Middle Ages, it is the main historical ensemble in the heart of Ulm's old quarter. This is the site of the Franconian royal court established in around 800 and of Ulm's royal palace, which was first documented in 854. Its ancient lanes, winding passageways, half-timbered houses, bridges and jetties give a real impression of what medieval life must have been like. The tributary of the river Blau is lined with an array of historical buildings from the town's past.

The futuristic buildings in Ulm's 'Neue Mitte' (new centre) between Münsterplatz square and the town hall – such as architect Richard Meier’s marvellous Stadthaus, the 'House of Senses' and the Sparkasse building, both by Stephan Braunfels, Weishaupt art gallery by architect Wolfram Wöhr, the 'glass pyramid' municipal library by Gottfried Böhm and the new 'Obere Stube' – strike a deliberate contrast to the nearby historical minster and town hall with their modern mode of expression. The fascinating effect of this bold urban development still draws plenty of attention today and has earned the approval of international experts.

The Breadmaking Museum in the historical salt storehouse in Ulm was founded by the entrepreneur Willy Eiselen in 1955 as the first bread museum in the world.

It features a collection of 14,000 objects which document the history of bread, its importance to mankind and its manufacturing process. The exhibits explore the history of bread-making technology and the equipment used, models of all kinds of baked goods and the diverse relationship between bread and art – including why we still to this day use the phrase 'breadless arts'.

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