Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance (der Bodensee) is a popular tourist resort in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg and sharing a border with Switzerland and Austria. Germans as well as foreigners visit Friedrichshafen for the scenery, casual life style, swimming, sailing, hiking, biking, and riding ferries to the charming villages on the lake. The countryside around Lake Constance is very fertile and resembles northern California with vineyards, apple and pear orchards, and hop farms. Most farms in the area are small family enterprises, passed down generation to generation.
The principal feature of Friedrichshafen is Lake Constance, a narrow, glacial carved lake bordering southeastern Switzerland, western Austria and southern Germany. The lake has very good ferry service, carrying passengers and vehicles across the lake every day to the Swiss towns of Konstanz and Romanshorn and German towns of Meersburg, Unterleiten, and Lindau in the south.
The lake is clear and calm in the summer, with colors ranging from deep blue on overcast days to bottle green on sunny days. From the German shoreline, one can gaze across the lake at the mountains and snow-capped Alps of Switzerland and Austria.
Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin
Friedrichshafen is famous as the hometown of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, the inventor of the Zeppelin air ship, which captivated the world-wide attention during the early days of manned flying machines in the early 20th century. Zeppelin was with the Union Army during the American Civil War and visited a balloon camp during the Peninsular campaign where he got the idea for a flying airship. He received a patent in 1895 for an aluminum girded airship with cells for gases to inflate the craft. It generated considerable attention in the German government, particularly for military applications for bombing and aerial surveillance.
Zeppelin made his first flight in his airship over Lake Constance in July, 1890. It stayed aloft for twenty minutes, but crashed on landing.
A prominent landmark in town is the Zeppelin Museum located next to the ferry terminal. The museum has impressive displays of the technology of rigid frame air ships, photos of early models, and footage of the Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg airships sailing to South America, Asia, and North America. One of the most sensational events filmed in the 1930’s was the Hindenburg which exploded in a dramatic fire-ball attempting to dock in Lakehurst, NJ in 1937.
Today one can ride on a Zeppelin, leaving from the Friedrichshafen airport on clear days, flying over Lake Constance to the amazement of viewers in three countries. It’s a spectacular sight.
Friedrichshafen was a center for German munitions and aircraft design and building prior to and during World War II. It was heavily bombed by Allied bombers and much of the city and its industrial areas were destroyed. The city is also the home of the Dornier Museum. Claude Dornier was employed by Graf Zeppelin to work on his airship, but then was entrusted to design airplanes. Dornier designed and built the largest flying boat of the time, the Do X, as well as other unique airplanes. But the unusual design with 12 propellers on the top of aluminum wings proved to be inefficient when faster, sleeker aircraft had better maneuverability.
On most weekends, Friedrichshafen is host for a variety of outdoor events — music, sports, gymnastics, arts and crafts. Vendors in tents dispense beer, wine, and German specialty foods — bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut, pomme frites and all sorts of desserts, ice creams, and gelato.
Exhibits set up along the Lake Constance embankment from the Zeppelin Museum to the Graf Zeppelin restaurant. We were fortunate to attend several events, strolling down the embankment, enjoying the sunny weather, sailboats on Lake Constance, and the crowds enjoying the events. Great way to spend a summer day.
One event we attended in July was Kulturufer which celebrates art, gymnasts, acrobats, jugglers, clowns, mimes, and face painters. Some of the acts were quite good, usually younger types who had perfected things like rolling glass balls around their body, juggling knives, bowling pins, and torches (no injuries, happy to say.)
One of my favorite exhibits was a talented artist who painted amazing masks for children.
One attractive feature of Friedrichshafen is how well it accommodates pedestrians. The center city is a few blocks along the embankment with limited vehicle traffic. Pedestrians can stroll throughout the city, browse in shops, and eat at outdoor cafes without the distraction and noise of traffic. The most popular walk is along the lake where restaurants have outdoor seating under umbrellas for guests who come for morning coffee and pastries to late night drinks in moonlight over Lake Constance.
We have visited Friedrichshafen because it is the hometown of our daughter-in-law, Valerie. Her father, Martin, is the owner and manager of the popular Stadt Mauer Restaurant on the wharf. Her mother, Carina, lives in Tettnang 15 minutes from Friedrichshafen. Our first grandchild, William Louis, was baptized in the Birnau Basilica on July 1st. Many family members and friends gathered for the big event which was a beautiful one hour service, followed by pictures and a baptismal lunch at the Stadt Mauer Restaurant. It was great to be with our son, Bill and his family, Valerie and William, and to share this time with all of Valerie’s family.
Visiting Our German Family
We’ve been fortunate to visit Friedrichshafen three times with a fourth visit planned for next summer. In August 2009 we spent a week for Bill and Valerie’s wedding. We were amazed at the beauty and relaxed life along Lake Constance.
We were invited to return for Christmas in December 2010 and stayed with family and friends in Munich, Friedrichshafen, Tettnang, and Schetteuregg, Austria where we spent two nights in a rustic ski chalet and enjoyed cheese fondue and schnaps the day after Christmas. Jack skied at the local resort, just a ten minute walk from the chalet. Austria has skiing resorts in mountain villages like Schetteuregg, which means short lift lines, affordable lift tickets, and plenty of restaurants and lodges to relax, have a good meal, and sample local beers and wines.
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Next destination: Lugano, Switzerland
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