Off to Stuttgart on our usual train which arrived, as usual, rather late. We expected to visit a grimy industrial city. Instead we found a brisk, lively, prosperous city, the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz, with an upscale (Vuitton, Escada) pedestrian shopping Nine tiny brown ducklings are clustered right near the edge of the pool while the mother watches attentively Ducklings' first swim? mall stretching for many, many blocks, and many museums and a lovely large park ending in the center of the city. The park stretched out for kilometers on one side of the city. Evidently Stuttgart had been a royal city - the seat of the kings of Wurttemberg -- so perhaps the park was once part of the royal estate. The setting reminded us of Vienna, although the massive buildings of the latter are 19th and 20th century, built after Stuttgart became just another city in Bismarck's unified Germany.

Even though the city had been bombed heavily in WWII, restoration has preserved the looks of many of the buildings and has made Stuttgart a walkable, pleasant city. When you read about how many times these ancient cities have been destroyed by fire or other calamity over the centuries, you almost -- not quite -- get the impression that this was just one more. Three fire trucks respond to an alarm in a public building in Stuttgart Fire trucks respond

On our way to the State Museum we observed ducks and three clutches of newborn ducklings in a large pond that appeared to be just an immense shallow concrete dish filled with water.

Later we heard and then saw the a phalanx of fire trucks ("feuerwehr" = fire war) so naturally we followed them around behind the building where nothing much seemed to be the problem. Fire trucks often respond massively and rapidly, even to false alarms; they never know when a call coud develop into something serious.

This distracted us enough that we wandered along the shopping streets again, looking for lunch before committing to a museum visit. We ended up in the Market Hall Cafe with more Schwabian food -- goulash and noodles for Bob, fish ("seelachs," which was neither carp nor salmon) for Elsa -- a delicious moist white fish breaded and fried and served with potato salad. We shared a dessert which was strudel served with whipped cream, cranberry sauce and custard sauce and whipped cream. You take a forkful of An indoor food market reveals colorful stalls full of delicacies Market Hall strudel and dip it in one or the other of the sauces and shlurp it all down.

The couple sitting next to us -- robust and middle-aged -- sat down, ordered a beer for him and water for her, then another beer for him, then they paid up and left, greeting us in English on their way out. He really seemed to relax after the second beer; she seemed long-suffering. It was lunchtime, but they didn't order food. Perhaps the Dinkel Acker on tap is quite special there.

Market Hall has all kinds of stalls from imported gourmet foods to local products. Spargel is the German word for asparagus, but it's a kind of albino asparagus, grown (we think) in cellars, and without the prominent tips of American green asparagus. Every greengrocer was advertising the spargel.

Then on to the State (Baden-Wurtemmberg) museum, where we admired their holdings of treasures from before Bismarck. The museum is being restored so we didn't have to pay admission. There were displays of tableware made out of gold and silver and seashells, tableware made out of gold and silver and jade, cups made out of exquisitely carved coconut, the royal crown, and, most inexplicably, two Aztec feather shields. These are presumably ceremonial shields showing geometric patterns in different colors of The dish sits on a golden pedestal and is made of precious stone and gold Museum treasure feathers on a large circular backing, probably of leather. They date to before the time of Cortes, and apparently this display is only one of two in the world.

One exhibit told about the Stuffenberg brothers, aristocrats who conceived and executed the failed plot to overthrow Hitler. The coup succeeded in all the field headquarters, but since the bomb failed to kill the fuehrer, he was able to reassert his control over government, and the plotters were killed.

The royal tombs of the Wurttemberg kings were lovingly roped off and still showed wreaths from current day admirers, leading us to think that there is certainly a strong minority of Germans who might like a return to monarchy.

Leaving the museum, we wandered back towards the train station, taking in the lovely children's playthings built into the pedestrian area. It is especially nice that these playground objects are conceived and executed as artworks as well as sturdy toys. Examples: in Heilbronn, wooden boats filled with sand along the pedestrian area; in Oehringen, the running rivulet on which the kiddies can float their boats and have water play; in Stuttgart, flexible stainless steel cattails with hard cork to simulate punks (the things we used to burn as kids); in Heilbronn, again, an inverted hemisphere that kids can try to climb (and slide down onto a cushioned pad). The whole playground-in-the-pedestrian-mall concept is a perfect melding of art and social spirit. Bravo!

in the information bureau (very large, 24 hours (!), multilingual, modern) we had picked up an English pamphlet about a new The copper bronze statue depicts Duke Eberhard, sword raised astride a horse, all in full regalia.  It is inside the old castle. Duke Eberhard high-speed rail project , and proceeded to a museum a little awkwardly located in the Mercedes tower at the Hauptbahnhof where we watched the video and then some exhibits. They are planning to lay a new line through downtown Stuttgart (all deeply tunneled underground) which will go past the airport and then provide a high-speed leg from Stuttgart to Ulm (some of that track is already high speed) which in turn will be part of a Paris-to-Budapest high-speed through train.

We admired the exhibit as well as German engineering, and reflected that it is a difficult venture even in a country with a huge railroad-using population; no wonder it is so much more difficult in the U.S. where many groups actively hate the Amtrak railroads and wish they received no federal support. Yet the private railroad operators in the U.S. see no gain in trying to build a passenger network, so the U.S. remains behind Europe in passenger rail. As Germany proves, it is possible to have both a thriving public road network and private automobile industry and, at the same time, a thriving state-run rail system with high passenger traffic.