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Konstanz, Germany

By Michael Stone
Published March 30, 2006

Within sight of the Swiss Alps, the southwestern German university town of Konstanz  is the main cultural center on the Bodensee (Lake Constance), Europe’s second largest after Lake Geneva.

Within sight of the Swiss Alps, the southwestern German university town of Konstanz (anglicized as Constance) is the main cultural center on the Bodensee (Lake Constance), Europe’s second largest after Lake Geneva. A stylish retreat for savvy Germans, Austrians, Swiss, French, Italians and Spaniards, it doesn’t draw the tourist hordes of better-known European destinations. The Bodensee’s long history and splendidly preserved cultural heritage, its mild weather, wineries and unusual natural beauty also have drawn such noted artists as novelist Herman Hesse and expressionist painter Otto Dix.

Human history is often a tale of geographic advantage, and location has worked to Konstanz’s advantage from its beginnings. Bisected by the Rhine, which originates in the Austrian Alps and drains the Bodensee, Konstanz attracted human inhabitants long before the Christian era. Fishing peoples built stilt dwellings near Konstanz by 2000 B.C.—documented at the Archäologische Landesmuseum, a superb Alpine history museum. Early inhabitants gave way to successive Celtic and Roman incursions. The latter fortified the city’s highest point in the third century A.D., lending the Altstadt (old city) a lasting Roman feel, especially palpable in the oldest section, Niederburg. There walkers lose themselves in narrow, winding cobbled streets, perusing shops, enjoying a glass of wine in a cozy Weinstube, and studying immaculate half-timbered houses from the 12th century.

A metropolitan European trading crossroads, the medieval city hosted the notorious Council of Konstanz (1414-18), ostensibly seeking to reunite a divided church. Delegates included Jan Hus, whose reformist views threatened reactionaries who plotted his arrest, heresy trial, and local burning at the stake (documented at the local Hus-Museum). Hus was tried in the Münster (St. Mary’s Cathedral), whose construction, begun in 1052, includes Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Neo-Gothic elements. The Council deposed three popes in three years, finally appointing Martin V, the only pope ever elected on German soil. The imposing Council building still dominates the harbor, today housing a concert and convention hall and a popular restaurant, belying the structure’s treacherous history.

The 20th century exacted its own evil in Europe, but geography spared Konstanz the destruction suffered elsewhere in Germany. Situated directly on the border, it was designated an Allied no-fly zone to prevent accidental bombing of neutral Switzerland. Hence the Altstadt’s architectural charm. Closed to motor vehicles, it hosts museums, galleries, performance spaces, libraries, bookshops, boutiques, specialty shops, restaurants and cafés. Home to the Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie (Southwest German Philharmonic), Konstanz also hosts summer music events like the Bodensee Festival and Seenachtfest, where Brazil’

  Travel notes


All major airlines serve the Zurich International Airport, with regular Konstanz train connections, an hour’s trip.



Swiss Federal Railway (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, SBB)


German Railway (DeutscheBahn, DB)



Hafenstraße 6



Hotel Barbarossa
Obermarkt 8-12


Hotel Graf Zeppelin
St. Stefansplatz 15