I saw butterflies the size of my fist, tried a variety of chocolates, handfed monkeys and imagined myself in a giant zeppelin crossing over the Atlantic. Around Lake Constance, I returned to my childhood and never wanted to grow up!
From Moleturm, the renowned observation deck of Friedrichshafen, I gaze at Bodensee, internationally known as Lake Constance. Behind the slowly vanishing curtain of fog, I see Switzerland right before me, Austria to the left, and the snow-capped Alps behind it. The lake, whose borders are shared by three countries, bear great importance for the region. People swim, sail and canoe in summer. The lake waters give birth to the juiciest and most delicious apples in Germany. The view inspires artists. In short, here, life is shaped by the lake.
Friedrichshafen, accessible via direct flights from Istanbul, is an ideal starting point to witness the trademarks of Lake Constance. It’s Saturday and I take a walk around the city market on Adenauerplatz. The stalls are filled with marmalades, fresh vegetables and fruit, lake fishes, flowers, and local delicacies. I buy a couple of delicious-looking pastries and head for the Zeppelin Museum.
Imagine a flying vehicle in the late 19th century. It’s four times the size of an Airbus aircraft but still as light as the air. With a force of imagination only seen in science-fiction novels back then, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin flew a zeppelin, the world’s first rigid airship, over Lake Constance. You can learn about similar achievements and how the zeppelin flew at the Zeppelin Museum -its highlight being a replica of the
LZ 129 Hindenburg, the world’s biggest zeppelin. I climb the hanging stairs on the ground floor and am immediately beamed into the 1930s! It’s a stately zeppelin which flew between Germany and the U.S. Luxury chambers, dining halls decorated in the Bauhaus style, reading rooms whose walls are adorned with the paintings of artist Otto Arpke… I am reminded of the Titanic with the high level of comfort presented to zeppelin passengers in those times. I cannot even imagine the excitement of flying inside a giant balloon above the Atlantic Ocean!
You may not find an example of Hindenburg’s luxury today but gliding among the clouds in a zeppelin is no longer a dream. German company Zeppelin NT, which has been manufacturing zeppelins since 1997, organizes private zeppelin tours for 14 people. After the zeppelin flight at the 2005 Paris Air Show, Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott said, “Just the walk on the moon was nicer.” Unless you’re an astronaut, this will definitely be one of the most extraordinary flight experiences you’ll ever have!
I come down from among the clouds and head for Salem Monastery and Palace, about 24 kilometers from the city. Founded by monks in 1134, the monastery took advantage of its vast surface area and achieved great wealth in the Middle Ages, earning the status of an imperial monastery. The wonderful architecture and furniture of the monastery (which was reconstructed in the Baroque style after the fire in 1697) and the palace reveal the significance abbots attached to art.
Another stop that deserves a visit in Salem is Affenberg, meaning “ape mountain.” This is a nature reserve where around 200 Barbary macaques can roam freely. I’m as excited as a kid when our guide tells us that we can feed them with our hands. I’ve never been so close to Barbary macaques before! I take a handful of popcorn and try to make eye contact with the macaques who I know will come closer and snatch it out of my hand. The older ones are earnest while the younger ones are impatient; before I could tell what was going on, they chunk the popcorn into their mouths and disappear between the branches jumping. Children who visit this place with their families to witness this unique feeding time are very lucky!
At every stop around Lake Constance, nature and history are designed to be experienced, not to be watched behind a glass partition. For instance, Pfahlbau (Lake Dwelling) Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Unteruhldingen takes me back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. About 3,000 years ago, the first settlers of the region lived in houses built on top of poles in water and fished, farmed, and cast bronze. A special testament to civilization, this settlement was rebuilt according to its original layout. The museum gives me answers, among others, to what people living in these lake houses looked like, what they did, what they ate or drank, or their community's social order.
Today’s route ends in history as I’m leaving prehistory behind and entering the Middle Ages in Meersburg. It’s very impressive that this town preserved its historical heritage without coming to any harm during World War II. The story goes that Switzerland, which did not partake in the war, received information enabling residents to turn off their lights before air raids. Thanks to the advantage of close borders, news traveled to Meersburg and it was able to save these impressive buildings and their semi-wooden façades without any harm. After strolling around its winding, narrow streets, I treat myself to a nice cup of coffee and apple pie in the Baroque-inspired garden of the New Palace (Neues Schloss) perched on a high location. Overlooking the entirety of Meersburg, the palace makes me feel like a guest of prince-patriarchs in the 1700s.
Almost every corner of Lake Constance has a harbor and ferries that shuttle between them. I take one of the ferries to Constance, the biggest city around the lake. First, I have a date with seahorses, sea turtles, clown fish, and piranhas at SEA LIFE. Though the aquarium aims to enable kids to explore underwater life, parents also seem to enjoy it just as much.
The Old Town of Constance has an energetic atmosphere with its cafés and restaurants with tables overflowing into the streets, cyclists making little noise on its cobblestoned streets, and stores with colorful showcases. I pick one of the restaurants to try the local pasta käsespätzle and cherry käse kirsch as dessert.
Next is Mainau, an island of flowers which can make a garden and flower enthusiast like me dizzy. Resembling a giant botanical garden, this island offers a different kind of beauty in every season but its “flower year” begins in March with the display of mystical orchids. Then comes spring with tulips and daffodils, summer with the captivating scent of roses, and fall with dahlias creating rainbows with bright colors on the earth.
On the last day of my trip, I visit Lindau, another island in the lake. Named after the fragrant linden trees covering its every inch, Lindau is the only place on Lake Constance which is a part of Bavaria. The glamorous statue of a lion, the state’s symbol, welcomes visitors. It’s a small island but it has everything from a modern congress hall to an art museum that displays temporary exhibitions. It even has a cute red train as a link to the mainland! It’s a calm but utopic place inhabited by people who like the quiet but also know how to enjoy life.
One cannot help but be surprised with how many different places s/he can see in small distances around Lake Constance. After a 20-minute car ride from Lindau, I find myself in another country. The city of Bregenz in the westernmost point of Austria offers a magnificent medley of nature with the Alps and forests in the background and the lake in front. To breathe in the mountain air, I take the cable car (pfänderbahn) and, six minutes later, I find myself on the summit of Mount Pfänder at 1,064 meters above sea level. I feel calmness take over my mind with a nature reserve of mountain goats, wild boars, wild sheep, and deer on one side; hundreds of Alpine peaks on the other; and the panoramic view of Lake Constance in front. I’m both far from everything and at the center of everything. This is how Lake Constance makes me feel. This and much more!