Karlsruhe is a very symmetrical town. The townscape is perfect, classically-planned grandeur with all the main streets converging on a central flagpole atop the castle. Enjoyably, on the cultural side, it’s a bit rough around the edges, with a lively downtown and alternative night-life scene. Quite a big city feel for a place that has a population of only about 300,000.

Arriving after dark on a Friday night and proceeding directly to a hotel located in the liveliest part of the city, my first impressions of Karlsruhe where that is it was anything but quiet. The streets were buzzing. Mixed-aged, punk-styled groups hanging around our area with dogs and cigarettes.

The whole place looked very different early the next morning as I jogged round town. The place was pristine and very well ordered. Rows and rows of grand town-houses in the same sand-coloured stone as the beautiful little palace right in the middle of it all.

KarlsruheThe clue to the history of Karlsruhe is in its foundation date, 1715. The same year that the palace was completed. This was not a city that grew organically from the mists of the middle-ages. Karlsruhe is a ‘modern’ capital city, conceived (allegedly in a dream) and commissioned by its founder Charles William of Barden-Durlach.

He completed his palace and the city was constructed from there – all of a piece. Much of it by architect Friedrich Weinbrenner. He must have got something right, because the town became so impressive that it is alleged to have become the blueprint for Washington, DC.

Few cities in the world are as uniformly planned as this. All built to order, the original city is a perfect circle, with all the major streets radiating from the centre like spokes from a bicycle wheel’s hub. The schloss is a dainty mini-Versailles with two wings curving out from a central tower and flagpole: the hub of the city to which all roads lead.

karlsruhe2Behind the palace sits the largest part of the circle that has been given over to the gardens. The ultimate green corridor, this fan-shaped oasis can take the walker uninterrupted from the centre of the city to countryside through English-style gardens.

It’s a nice touch that the city of Karlsruhe has not one, but two Ferris wheels, one either side of the central tower, rotating in opposing directions. Such a sweet scene with the formal gardens laid out beneath them.

There was a vintage cycle tour taking place in the city that weekend. Old-timers were touring the grounds and showing off their beautiful machines in the sizzling heat.

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