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Teutonic Paradise

By J Square Humboldt

It was the last place I thought I'd see a palm tree...

After all, I was in Konstanz (or, as it's more commonly spelled in English, 'Constance'), situated on the German-Swiss border and the banks of the majestic Bodensee (aka 'Lake Constance').

I discovered this wonderful region on the way to Zurich from Holland a number of years ago. The history, atmosphere and activities there quickly made it one of my favorite stops in Europe.

Three countries share the Bodensee's shores --- Austria is the other one --- and the size of the lake is such that it is the horizon. I believe it's one of the deepest freshwater lakes in Europe; I know that small craft should find shelter if a storm arises. It's also one of the most pristine, which makes even the most jaded traveler want to hop one of the tour boats that calls on ports in each nation.

Konstanz was spared the destruction of World War II because the Allies didn't want to have any collateral damage affect Switzerland. The result is that Konstanz has an altstadt ('old town') which has stood the test of time. Fortunately, not only have the basic structures of medieval buildings been preserved, so have much of the artwork on their exteriors. Painted images have been preserved and sculpted accoutrements are meticulously kept, so a stroll along the cobblestone streets there gives you an air of a thousand years' history.

It's a rich history, too. Legendary King Barbarossa spent time in Konstanz. The papacy was united there during the Council of 1414-1418, which gives you an idea as to just how fractured the Catholic church was back then. The Graf von Zeppelin was born in Konstanz, which is why the first dirigible's flight in 1900 was above the Bodensee.

Then there's the Insel Mainau ('Mainau Island'). It's a botannical garden that dates back to 1740 and actually supports live palm trees year-round. Archaeologists have found traces of human settlements there that date back to 3000 BC and it's easy to see why. The region's climate is surprisingly mild, even in winter. Thus, I'm not surprised to learn that someone long ago deduced that a tropical icon like a palm tree could not only survive, but thrive there. The island has been in royal hands for centuries, with the current Count and Countess Bernadotte residing there as part of maintaining its environs in a protective foundation.

The University of Konstanz raises the level of life and living there. Its academic influence facilitates a palette of events that cater to tastes from the fine arts to sports to pure rollicking good times. Festivals occur on a monthly basis, from the universal Carnival that precedes Lent to the local weinfests (you're right in the middle of German wine country) and dorffests that feature local products and crafts as only Germans can present them.

You've got to be invited to the Konstanz Golf Club, but if you spend a few late nights frequenting the right watering holes, that's very possible. The course is surprisingly challenging, so have your game in form before trying it. The fairways are narrow, channeled between tall timbers and roaming rolling hills. Their clubhouse is reminiscent of a distinct and not-too-distant age in Germany, and its terraces are an excellent spot to quaff one of the region's local lagers.

Konstanz is only an hour-and-a-half by train from Zurich and two hours by train from Stuttgart. The local airport is a boat ride away in Friedrichshafen. You do not need a car once you arrive, either. Virtually everything is within walking distance from the town center, and that includes the boat terminals. Given the celebrations, scenery, unique shops, numerous restaurants featuring local fare and sidewalk gelati cafes, Konstanz is worth a weekend for both the business traveler and the tourist.

There is only one caveat. You'll have to enjoy the palm trees there with an ale in hand instead of coconut milk. Given the German proficiency in brewing, that will not be hard to do.

About The Author
J Square Humboldt is the featured columnist at the Longer Life website, which is dedicated to providing information, strategies, analysis and commentary designed to improve the quality of living. His page can be found at and his observations are published three times per week.

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