An artisan collects sheets of the useful byproduct created during a salt-making process in Schwabisch Hall, Germany. Lee County's Lindy Massey is spending the summer with relatives in Schwabisch Hall. Special photo
As I closed my time in Stuttgart, I had a chance to speak with local artist/activist Wolfram Isle. I asked him about something I couldn’t help but notice on the streets of Stuttgart: the ever-prevelant anti-Stuttgart 21 propoganda all around the city.
Every time I turned my head, I saw the signature yellow rectangle with the words “Stuttgart 21” in bland, black letters, crossed out by a bright red line. It was on neighbors’ trash cans, on bicycles, on cars, and some people hung banners off apartment balconies. The sentiment against the Stuttgart 21 project was strong and put a damper on the city. Curious, I asked the local artist to tell me more about it.
“We are against it,” Isle told me in his limited English, expressing his immediate reaction to my question.
He explained (and I sum up his explanation here): The protest movement focuses on a conflict between the people and the government of Stuttgart. The train station K-21 is being torn down and replaced by a subway, causing transportation problems for the people of Stuttgart in the meantime. Many people, including Isle, see the project as worthless because it is causing more harm — environmental problems, financial concerns, etc. — than it is good. Isle told me that there have been several demonstrations against the project in the past, some leading to civilian and police violence.
Now, almost 20 years after its introduction, the project still reigns over the Stuttgart people’s mindset. Residents are either for or against S-21, and it’s a pity to see a city so heavily divided.
There is somewhat of an armistice over the project, currently. Isle told me that a new set of governmental officials was elected and that they are personally against the project. However, because the previous government enacted it, the new government cannot cancel out the actions of the prior officials.
The project is still under way, but when I talked to Isle, the construction seemed to be on hold. The artist told me that there were plans for more attempts to stop the project, like public protests, and that it was possible the government of Stuttgart could work around S-21’s initial approval. When I asked him what he thought would happen, the old man sighed and turned away, looking heavily at the floor. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, and we let the subject drop, to be determined at a later date.
After leaving Stuttgart, in the coming days I traveled to other places in Germany such as Kiel, Hamburg, Nürnburg and Rust. Each city had its individual aspects and traditions; and though each place had its positives and negatives, the opportunity to see each allowed me to experience the unique culture of each place: Stuttgart, the bustling metropolitan area of the south, and then its larger counterpart, the beautiful port city of Kiel, with its complementary, impressive neighbor Hamburg, far in the north of Germany. The places, and their qualities, go on. Getting to know the people of each area is a helpful learning experience.
I, as a visitor, was able to connect to the city on a deeper level ... to better understand exactly who the residents are and what their lives are like, like talking to Isle about S-21. One thing I have learned from my travels is that a more personal approach to exploring a city leads to better appriciation and understanding of the area being visited.
One such opportunity to better connect with a German city is to attend the city’s festival. Many German cities utilize the festivals to showcase the culture of each area. Schwäbisch Hall hosted a day called “Salztag,” literally translated it means “Salt Day,” which I recently attended. Schwäbisch Hall is known for its production of salt for money, which was the means by which the city initially became a place of power.
Salt production came easily and naturally for the people of Hall. The salt that infiltrated the Earth’s water bubbled up into springs around the city. The citizens, over time, created a process of collecting this salty water, called “sole” (and pronounced “soul-ay”), and then derived salt from the water. This was done via heating the water and peeling off the salty sheets atop the water that would form during the process.
The sheets that are created, which I saw made during the fest, look like delicate sheets of ice. The sheets are peeled back with a metal plow, and the residue that forms — white, grainy fragments of the sheet — is salt. The salt was then collected and cooled, later prepared, and was then ready for its sale and use.
Salt production originally took around 16 hours, but the time spent was worth it. Because of its versatility, salt was a vital commodity to everyday life. Schwäbisch Hall gained popularity for its salt production, and this initial advantage helped the town become as stable and self-dependant as it is today.
The intricate traditions and the past and present of each place I visit in Germany are fascinating. It’s still a shock to hear about the history in some places and then to compare that to my home country. I walked into a church here in Hall that is at least 800 years old, while the U.S.A. is just shy a few years of being 240 years old since the Declaration of Independence. Each country has its own deep traditions, and Germany — all of Europe, for that matter — houses a monumentally older culture. However, I love learning about Germany as well as the U.S.A., both the past and present of each country.
I look forward to my new travels throughout the country and any others I might visit. As a result, I better understand — and appriciate — my own home.
Malinda “Lindy” Massey is spending the summer following her high school graduation visiting relatives in Germany. She is making periodic reports on her travels for The Albany Herald.