Germany Holidays: Tübingen’s punting parties

The Neckar river is most commonly associated with Heidelberg, long a very popular destination, but before it reaches there, it flows through the beautiful city of Tübingen, around 20 miles south of Stuttgart.

The city has a population of around 85,000, almost a third of which are students at the prestigious 500 year old University of Tübingen, which counts former Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger among its alumni. The presence of so many students has led to Tübingen having the lowest average age of any city in Germany. The youthful and vibrant feel is reflected throughout, but no more so than by the river.

Very similar to Oxford and Cambridge, punting on the Neckar is a long-established tradition. The first ever reference dates from the 16th century and there are reports of student societies indulging in it for recreation in the 19th century.

The boats, known as Stocherkahn, are a regular feature on the river during summer months. However there is a competitive edge to this otherwise very relaxing activity, when, on the third Thursday of every June, student societies take part in the Stocherkahnrennen, with over 50 boats competing for a trophy that was first won in 1956.

That year only eight boats took part, but over the years the event has grown to become one of the highlights of the summer term, with the river bank packed with students cheering along the boats. In keeping with the light-hearted nature of the event, before it gets underway, the crew sporting the best fancy dress also win a prize.

Hand to hand combat

The race takes place over a roughly 1.5 mile (2.5km) course which circumnavigates the Neckarinsel and finishes at the Neckarbrücke, and lasts about 20 minutes. Rules are rather vague, but crews consist of eight, with only one allowed a pole, the rest having to power the boat and ward off competitors with their hands. The winning team are presented with their trophy and a keg of beer donated by the city and thereafter lead the rest of the day’s (inevitably bacchanalial) festivities. Members of the losing team are compelled to drink a half litre of beer and organise the following year’s event.

The best vantage point to watch the proceedings is obviously the Neckarinsel, which can be reached by steps from the main bridge spanning the river. This is a beautiful spot offering fantastic views of the houses, all in different pastel shades, which front onto the river, with the truncated tower of the Collegiate Church of St Georg in the background. The island features the picturesque Planatenallee, an avenue lined with plane trees.

For post-event hospitality with an ongoing view of the river, the best place to be based is  undoubtedly the huge Neckarmüller Brauerei, which has a large terrace on the river bank and offers traditional Swabian fare and beer brewed on the premises.

The river isn’t the only attraction in the city. The picture perfect Markt, featuring the half-timbered Rathaus, the Schloss Hohentübingen, offering views of the river, and the Hölderlin Tower, one time home of the 19th century poet, are all equally impressive. When considering the Neckar region, vibrant and lively Tübingen is definitely worth a visit. – Mark Arrol


Looking for more? See other destinations in Southern Germany

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