Please note that the configuration of Old Town Plochingen, which is the center of the town because it is not that big, follows Old Town Frankfurt's model: cobblestoned roads/walkways, government buildings close to the church, which dominates all.
The red building in the foreground is currently the library; the white building with red beams is now a museum whose first incarnation was in fact the seat of government for that small town. Centuries later, this larger Rathaus (government building) was built and serves in that function still today.
I remember reading somewhere about a law that, in Europe, no building is to sit higher than the church, for 2 reasons. 1: the church is the most important building in any community, and 2: no building other than the Church should be closer to God or aspire to the heavens. To that end, the church was usually built on the tallest parcel of land: a hill or high above the riverbank. The spire serves to 'reach God' as well as announce its location on the landscape.
If I remembered that correctly, the theory bears out: riding across German countryside on trains, the highest point and most visible icon in any town was indeed the church spire. This new Rathaus in Plochingen broke that tradition, being situated on a hill above the church and sitting higher than the church's spire.
Plochingen's older street was indeed cobblestoned; in fact it was more a pedestrian street because deliveries were only permitted before 8AM. I happened to be there around that time, and this is what it looked like:
It's sister street, more modern (and less cobbled) but no less frequented
That is pretty much the essence of Plochingen, unless you want to venture into the more mundane concerns such as schools, grocery stores and the train station – a rather bland building, by comparison to those shown here.
Sitting in the town square, enjoying the free WIFI provided by the church (I'm not joking!), suddenly the clarion chimed 10 o'clock. This charming building plays a glockenspiel (glocke = bell; spiel = play) every hour.
After enjoying it, I moved on.
whereas the feel of Plochingen was provincial, Esslingen felt like a suburb of a major city. Could well be because that's what it is. Stuttgart, the region's metropolis, is only 2 train stops away. Many people commute to the city (judging by the crowds on the S-Bahn commuter train), but prefer the slower pace this charmer of a town offers.
As with the other cities described, Old Town Esslingen centers around the church, and there is a cobblestoned pedestrian street.
A distinct difference from the other places described is the country's oldest Sekt Keller (sparkling wine 'basement' – not a basement but a whole building, dominating the town square, directly across from the church):
You might wonder about riding a bike on those cobblestones. It is not exactly a pleasant feeling: you'll note the rider is not sitting on the seat. However, I aver that Germans overwhelmingly love riding bikes! Bikes are allowed on trains, streetcars and trolleys. There are distinct bike riding lanes and even traffic lights especially for bikes. A refreshing change from risking life and limb, riding in China!
Beyond the church and the Sekt Keller, Esslingen boasts many unique architectural jewels:
The Inverted House (not its official name): each successive layer is bigger than the one underneath, but only on 3 sides.
The Melting House (again, my imagination takes flight!) seems to be sloughing off to the west.
What appears to be the last tower of the old city wall, ignobly reduced to being an ice cream store.
There's actually quite a bit to see in Esslingen – like: the water wheels, still in use and generating electricity for that portion of the city. But my favorite had to be the coffee store, because you could put a coin in the slot and pull out a drawer of your select coffee!
Two more things about Esslingen:
1. 'Ess' = 'eat' in German. Thus it became the running joke during my visit with Olaf and his family that, after exploring Esslingen, we should go to Trinklingen – 'trink' meaning 'drink'.
2. Looking up pays off, yet again! High above the mundane rooftops, nowhere near the Sekt Keller or any other remarkable building, I spotted this pass-through, presumably leading from the government building to the church's spire. Too bad we didn't have time to explore it!
Plochingen, Altbach – nothing more than a wide space in the road where my friend lives, Esslingen, Stuttgart: all in a row, now all explored. We didn't get to see very much of Stuttgart because it was time to move on to Berlin. Oh, well! The Stutt, as I affectionately refer to that city, will have to wait till next time!
On to the most anticipated leg of this trip: my old stomping grounds, Berlin.
But before that...