Staggering around Frankenstein’s city

“THEY used to have a cannabis plant here, but tourists kept plucking its leaves. So, it’s not outside anymore,” said our guide during a tour of the University of Ingolstadt’s small but beautiful botanical garden.

My fellow motoring journalists and I, on a trip organised by car manufacturer Audi Malaysia in the southern German city, were indeed amused… and a bit disappointed for not being able to see and touch (no plucking, promise!) the plant that would get us a very severe penalty in Malaysia if we are caught with just a small part of it, let alone a whole tree. But I was more interested about the scarier part of the university – the university Ingolstadt is a setting in the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, where the scientist Victor Frankenstein, one of the university’s (fictional) students, creates his monster.

The city in the heart of the Free State of Bavaria is located along the banks of the Danube River. As of late 2014, Ingolstadt had about 131,000 citizens. It is part of the Munich Metropolitan Area, which has a total population of more than five million. It is the site of the headquarters of the German automobile manufacturer Audi and defence aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

The people of Ingolstadt like to refer to themselves as Schanzer. This nickname, which in effect means "the people from the fortifications", harks back to the city's lengthy tradition as a stronghold of many rulers, strategically located between the Danube river crossing and key trade routes. Soldiers and defiant citizens staved off many an attack from the Schanz – the fortifications. Their task was made easier by an ingenious complex of fortifications that are so well preserved that Ingolstadt today is considered a unique open-air museum of German military architecture, which contributes significantly to the city’s tourism income. The university was considered the medical and scientific centre of Europe, which housed the principal establishment specialising in anatomy and biology. The aforementioned botanical garden was attached to the school to support its experiments and treatments.

By 1755 the university has a two-story anatomical theatre, with a dissecting table on the ground floor, a gallery for student observers above, and a glass ceiling allowing overhead illumination. In the later 18th century it was considered to be one of the finest such theatres in Europe. Obviously, such a theatre would have had ample provision for the specimens required for teaching purposes – or for clandestine experiments!

An adjoining building to the university was a prison which ensured a good supply of human cadavers, and that combination got the city into literary fame via the “Frankenstein” novel. At the time of Frankenstein’s birth, the University of Ingolstadt, then a well-known medical school, would have been equipped to support Dr Frankensteins's scientific experiments. Not only did Ingolstadt provide the perfect setting as the home of the medical university, it also provided the mystery needed as the home of the Order of the Illuminati, a secret society reported to be founded in late 18th century in Ingolstadt, specifically the university.

Present-day Ingolstadt

Other than a visit to the Audi museum, if you are a petrolhead – Ingolstadt is where the carmaker is headquartered at – the city offers a much relaxed, quiet and simple kind of tourism compared to the larger and more popular German cities such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt. The aforementioned old fort city consists of very old buildings best explored on foot, since many parts of it are not so car-friendly. There are many restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and small department stores. You can spend hours admiring the architecture and quirky design motifs.

Breath-taking baroque

The jewel of the old fort is not the university but the Maria de Victoria Church, a baroque masterpiece designed and built between 1732 and 1736. Its mesmerising “optical illusion” ceiling, painted in just six weeks in 1735, is the world’s largest fresco on a flat surface. I simply sat on a bench, my eyes staring at the ceiling and my breath taken away by such an amazing sight.

Nature

Outside the old city is a typical German city – clean, orderly, law-abiding traffic, good presence of law enforcement (without being intimidating), wonderful to ride bicycles on and with colourful landscaping (unless it’s snowing!). A stroll along the Danube River itself is a very calming and pleasant experience, especially if you are excited by the sight of colourful ducks on the river and cute rabbits along its quiet and clean banks.

Ingolstadt is a green city with numerous parks, green spaces and forests. The most prominent of these is the Glacis, formerly an open space in front of the city walls, now surrounding the historic city centre. It functions as a green belt and a buffer area between traffic, residential areas and schools. You can traverse it using spacious paths for pedestrians and cyclists, with a good view of the site of the former fortifications.

The biggest forest in Ingolstadt is the Auwald. It is found on both the northern and southern banks of the Danube, and is one of the biggest well-preserved river forests in Germany, extending mainly from the neighbouring town of Neuburg to Ingolstadt with extensions to the city centre. The forest serves as a natural reserve, with parts containing unique vegetation or acting as a wildlife reserve.

Shopping!

The city is not crazy about giant, crowded and glitzy shopping malls, but all will definitely cater to your needs. There are surprisingly some attractively-priced clothes, belts, shoes and accessories for men, women and children, if you search well enough. But if you want to take it a notch higher, there’s the “Ingolstadt Village”, a spread of premium product outlets. Located a short drive away from the city centre, it seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but I am sure it is part of the town planning, since this is Germany we’re talking about.

Ingolstadt Village has more than 110 boutiques offering German and international brands – all with up to 60% off the former recommended retail price. There are also a selection of stylish places to eat and drink, plus exhibitions and glamorous evening events with extended hours to browse the boutiques. The brands represented there include Escada, Dockers, Philipp Plein, Bally, Tumi, La Perla, Lacoste, Puma, Adidas and Nike, as well as a handpicked selection of German labels such as MCM, Aigner and Porsche Design.

Why Ingolstadt?

It is a place I highly recommend you to spend at least two days (one night) at IF you happen to be in Munich, the Bavarian state’s capital with about 10 times the population size. It’s best to drop by towards the last few days of your Munich visit, as sort of a way to unwind from the busy big city and ease yourself into the idea of coming home (eek!). Ingolstadt certainly has its charms many of us can easily appreciate.

As for Munich, it will be in my next story soon ja!

Auf wiedersehen.