"Villingen-Schwenningen 2010" Villingen-Schwenningen by Dianthus
Villingen-Schwenningen Travel Guide: 19 reviews and 115 photos
I went to visit my son and daughter in law in Villingen-Schwenningen in the Schwarzwald area of Germany. They'd invited me over for the 2010 Fasnet Carnival.
My son and daughter in law live in the centre of Villingen - on Niederstrasse, which is only about a 5 minute walk from the rail station. Niederstrasse is a pedestrianised area and vehicles are only allowed to drive along it very early in the morning to make deliveries to the shops, so you can just amble happily along the middle of the road without worrying about dodging traffic.
Villingen is not a very easy place to get to. I booked both my plane and my train myself on the internet. I had allowed at least 2.5 hours between landing and catching the train - which is plenty long enough under normal circumstances. I flew FlyBe to Frankfurt from Southampton (my nearest airport) and then took what should have been a 3 hour train journey via Offenburg. Unfortunately, the take off from Southampton was delayed by over an hour and a half, we hit bad weather at Frankfurt and so I missed all my carefully planned rail connections in Germany. Also, although the station for local trains is under the half of the airport at Frankfurt where my plane landed, the long-distance station which I needed is under the OTHER half of the airport - over a mile away! There is a free shuttle bus and a "skytrain" which take passengers from one half to the other, but I knew that, by the time we'd caught the bus across the tarmac from the plane to the terminal, gone through passport/customs check and retrieved our bags, my train was halfway to Offenburg. I explained my plight to a very nice clerk at the Service Point at Frankfurt station and he made me out another ticket via Mannheim, connecting with my train from Offenburg to Villingen. I ended up missing my new set of connections because of a 20 minutes late train so I had to get yet another ticket from the clerk at Mannheim who told me there was not a train to Villingen from Offenburg till the next morning! Finally arriving at Offenburg at 11.30 pm, cold, tired and thoroughly fed up, I tried out my newly-learned German on a man in a high-viz jacket who showed me to a glass waiting room where I sat for over 5 hours! It wasn't very warm or comfortable, but at least it kept the wind and snow off me! So, instead of arriving at 11.30 on the night of Thursday 11th February, I finally arrived at just before 7 am on the morning of Friday 12th.
The moral of the above is that it REALLY pays to book a full-price train ticket. I paid €120 for the original return ticket from Frankfurt to Villingen and was rerouted twice with no quibbles at all. My son told me that if I had bought a cut-price one I would have had to pay extra for a new ticket each time.
The above is a photo I took from the window of my room in their apartment at about 7 am just before I went to bed after my arrival in Villingen.
I'm extremely glad I bought a basic pocket German phrase book and READ it before I went. Although people at airports and big rail stations speak English, the further you get into the heart of the Black Forest region the more you need at least some basic grasp of German. I spent the enforced delay before my flight eventually took off going over the phrases I thought I might need, such as "what platform does the train to ... leave from?" and "is this the train for ...?". This preparation was not wasted - although I couldn't always understand what people were saying to me and several times I had to fall back on "sprechen sie langsamer bitte" ("please speak more slowly"). My phrase book was also invaluable because it warned me of what NOT to say. There are certain phrases which sound as though they ought to be the same as the equivalent in English but are NOT! With the help of my trusty phrase book I neatly sidestepped saying "ich bin heisse/kalt" which means "I am sexy/frigid"! The correct phrase is "mir ist heisse/kalt" ("I am hot/cold"). That saved me a LOT of embarrassment!
However, I found everyone kind, pleasant and helpful and very patient with me when I made the inevitable mistakes. A few people even had some words of English and between us we managed to get by. My son has lived in Germany for a year now and has had to have compulsory German lessons, paid for by his firm, but he was not always with me and it was quite an adventure to go wandering around on my own. However, Villingen is a very small town and almost impossible to get lost in. This photo shows a side street in Villingen. Although all the snow was cleared off the main streets ready for the parade, the side streets were just roughly cleared in the centre.
Because Villingen is not on a main tourist trail, it hasn't been spoiled like so many other places by an invasion of McDonalds and all the other commercial "big boys" and it still has a lot of small family restaurants and cafes which serve delicious local specialities. Again, a phrase book comes in very useful when trying to decipher the menus if you do not have a German speaker with you. I strongly recommend the Lonely Planet pocket-sized German phrase book, which has a whole section devoted to different kinds of food.
The entire region goes absolutely crazy for the Fasnet Carnival. EVERYONE dresses up. As I said earlier, I sat for over 5 hours in a glass waiting room on Platform 5 of Offenburg rail station and watched people going by wearing amazing costumes - even at 3, 4, 5 am! When I finally caught my train at 5.35 am I shared my carriage with two kangaroos, four playing cards (one of each suit) and several girls with blue hair and thigh boots - and that was just the first day! It's nothing to stand at the checkout in a supermarket behind people in fancy dress. Even the babies and small children get dressed up. These two girls were in a very cheerful mood wandering around at about 8 pm.
The revels go on night and day for six whole days! They start with a children's parade on the Thursday afternoon and the whole thing climaxes after a huge carnival parade on Shrove Tuesday afternoon in which all the towns from miles around take part with the ceremonial burning at midnight on Shrove Tuesday of the straw which pads the breeches of the Wuescht (one of the oldest of the guilds - together with the Glonki and the Narri) and the ceremonial handing back of the city key to the City Council.
If you are staying in a place anywhere near the town centre during any of those six days I strongly advise you to take good earplugs! Although I knew that the bars stay open all night and was prepared for the revellers spilling out of them singing what I guessed were bawdy drinking songs I did NOT know that the bands practise at night as well! There were small groups of musicians marching up and down tootling and drumming in the wee, small hours of the morning and when they met another band they had a "play-off" and it seemed that the one which made the most noise won! Great fun during the daytime, but not at 3 am! Then there were the whipcrackers. At about 2 am one morning I heard what I thought were firecrackers. Looking out of the window I saw a group of people walking along the road cracking whips on the ground as they went. Needless to say, I did NOT get much sleep for the whole of the time I was there!
However, despite the lack of sleep, I really enjoyed my visit. It was immense fun and I hope to go again next year if my son and daughter in law are still living there then.
- Pros:Beautiful town, lovely friendly people, easy to get around in, good local train connections to places like Konstanz
- Cons:Not easy to get to, not many English speakers
- In a nutshell:Well worth a visit, but just remember your earplugs and phrasebook!
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