Konstanz (or some people may be more familiar with the name Constance) is a smallish town of around 80-90,000 people situated on the western shore of Lake Bodensee in the south west corner of Germany that borders Switzerland.
Boasting the start of the River Rhein, which splits the city in two, Konstanz is easily divided into three distinct zones. North of the river lies the residential area and industrial estate; while south of the river is the old town, which houses the administrative centre and shopping facilities.
Things to See
Although it is popular as a tourist destination, mostly with other Germans, the pace of life in Konstanz is somewhat akin to cycling through fudge. If you're looking for a wild time, go to Munich. If you want to spend some time relaxing in some amazingly beautiful scenery then this is the place to be. The lake is surrounded by high rolling hills covered with evergreen forests. The view of the lake from one of the small villages in these hills is fantastic, and made breathtaking by the usual early summer morning mist.
You should be able cover most of the sights and attractions in around a week. These are mostly buildings and monuments of historical interest. Konstanz was the home of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. There is a monument to him in the park by the harbour, and his former home is now a hotel and restaurant. Don't stay there though. It's quite cheap, but the rooms are dingy, which belies its very nicely painted façade.
Most of the interesting buildings are in the Aldstadt1, which is quite small if a little twisty and disorienting. There is a majestic cathedral, a couple of churches and some towers, one of which marks the starting point of the Rhein. Outside the Altstadt, take a bus to Bismarcksteig and walk up the hill to Bismarcksturm (the tower at the top of the hill that can see from most of the town). This spot is favoured by romantic types and/or drunk people as a place to sit and watch the sun set, with a nice view (again) of the lake and town.
Beyond this tower, further north, lies the university. This sprawling establishment is some kind of weird architectural acid trip of a building. The library itself is worth seeing (if you can get in) just for the fun of trying to get out again. Colditz escapees had it easy in comparison. There is a ten-minute walk to the halls of residence down which you can expect to have any attempt at conversation drowned out by the constant croaking of thousands of frogs desperate for a shag, but only in the early summer mating season.
Things to Do
As you might expect from any small industrial town, there is very little in the way of commercial entertainment in Konstanz. There's a decent array of shops in the town centre, where you'll find most things are reasonably priced, with two exceptions: booze and cigarettes. Thanks to low taxes, cigarettes are still DM5 for 19, you can buy a crate of Becks for DM18 and a litre of crap vodka for DM10. Bargain. Also, new EU customs laws mean you can bring back about as much as you can (un)comfortably carry as hand luggage.
Konstanz is a very cycling-oriented town. Most major roads have cycle lanes or divided pavements. Out of the town, there are uncountable miles of gravel tracks through seemingly endless forests. It's very, very easy to get lost if you don't have a map and a good sense of direction (or a compass). You also need to be reasonably fit, as the hills can seriously damage your legs.
If walking is more your thing, then you should start by following the coastal path out of town to the east, starting on the north side of the main road bridge. After a couple of miles you'll reach the 'beach', situated right by the 'armpit' of the lake. This beach is really just a grassy park area with changing facilities for those who want to swim and some park-type swings and roundabouts. At the back end of the beach there's a hedged-off naturist area. Avoid this if you're not too keen on unnecessarily hairy people.
Down by the Swiss border, in the Altstadt, you'll find the Sea-Life Centre, which is the local piscine menagerie. If the publicitiy is to be believed, this is the 'only inland marine zoo in Europe', although there are several Sea-Life Centres dotted around the continent.
This is pretty much your lot within the town limits.
Eating and Drinking
If you are as uncultured and as unfit as one of the Researchers of this entry, you'll be bored of the above within three days. Eating out every night is actually quite feasible even for those on a tight budget. One of the most expensive restaurants that can be found is in the hotel facing the train station. Even there, you can expect to pay no more than DM40-50 per head for a decent meal. Two doors down from this is a McDonalds. If your German is rubbish, you should still have no trouble saying 'big mac', although it's pronounced more like 'big meck'. There are far better places to eat, and they're almost as cheap. There's a good choice of styles; several Greek restaurants, a couple of Turkish, plenty of varying local places and an Irish pub (Tir na Nog in the Altstadt) that serves, or at least used to serve, fantastic steaks.
The two Turkish places, Eumel and Sedir, both in the Altstadt, serve huge portions of pizza, pasta and salads for stupefyingly cheap prices. A meal for two in either restaurant, with drinks, will cost little more than DM30. The Greek places serve equally excellent food for not much more.
Once you've finished your meal, you'll find that Konstanz offers a variety of ways to get completely plastered. Licensing laws permit all pubs to stay open until 1am, and clubs to stay open until 5am. After that there are always the vending machines, although you'll only find them behind locked doors such as in your hotel or student halls. Worshippers of the brown and foamy god will be aware of the German reputation for brewing excellent beer. Most pubs will have a good selection of draught and bottled drinks.
The Shamrock (on Bahnhofstrasse, just opposite the station), is the pub where one Researcher spent a quarter of their life and wages over the course of a year, so please forgive this shameless plug.
Tell Eoin the landlord that Terry sent you and he might even buy me a drink next time I go back. It's great place, with an incredibly friendly atmosphere, and a good selection of live music.
The Kloster Kellar is tucked down a back street in the Altstadt and has to be to weirdest pub ever seen. There have been reports that it has sold out recently but it's probably still worth a visit. It's basically an old underground bunker full of tables with a bar at one end. The roof is domed brick, and every inch of the walls is covered with Christian and classical music-based artefacts. Paintings, ornaments, sheet music and family trees all intermingle with the low lighting from strings of white fairy lights. Couple this with the fact that you'll probably be the only person in there, and it's one hell of a scary place to have a drink.
In the warmer months, the Hafen Halle opens up and is nothing much more than a couple of sheds and a vast beer garden looking out over the harbour. They serve a basic array of bottles and food, for example a small round bun and a sausage the size of your forearm. If you enjoy barbecues where someone else does all the work, then this is perfect.
Moving on to clubs, there's not really much choice as far as style goes. All the clubs in Konstanz have much the same look and feel as your average cheesy city-centre UK club, with two major differences. The music consists of everything you usually hate about city-centre clubs plus classics from David Hasselhof and numerous German acts.
For pure novelty value, there's the Tanzschiff, opposite the Hafen Halle. It's a club with the 'amazing' twist of being on a permanently moored converted passenger ferry. In the Altstadt you have Small Talk and Heile Welt, both as bad as each other. Out in the industrial zone there's Skyline, which makes your average Ritzy look like Gatecrasher. Next to it is a pub with pool tables, half decent food and a 5am license. Further north is the Kultur Laden. The music here has more of an Indie bent, and avoids the worst of the cheese to be found in the other clubs. It's generally more fun to be in, due to the fact that it's the closest real club to the university, aside from its own venues.
Most of the things you'll want to do are outside the town itself. Here's a few of the likely places...
On the north finger of the lake is an island connected to the mainland by a road bridge. The entire island is sort of like the German version of Blenheim Palace. The emphasis here is on the flower gardens, with lots of incredibly impressive displays. Entry is quite expensive, around DM20-30 per person.
A 30-minute ferry ride from the town (ten-minute, if you get the bus to the vehicle ferry first), Meersburg is a small historical castle town that's now mostly a tourist trap. Set on a steep hill, the castle, which has (yet another) great view of the lake, is apparently the oldest standing castle in Europe. Ropes and signs carefully guide you around a set path through the rooms, which are decorated in styles dating back to some time in the 11th Century. This castle was also the home of Anette von Dorste-Hulshoff, whose face appears on the 20 Mark note. While you're there, visit one of the 6,700 (or thereabouts) ice cafés all of which serve various qualities of ice cream.
The Swiss town that sits on the other side of the border is worth a visit or two, if you can be bothered to change currencies (some larger shops will accept DM though). Don't forget to take your passport. If you're lucky, you'll encounter an incredibly bureaucratic border guard, who will treat you like an illegal immigrant even though you just want to get some even cheaper booze from the supermarket up the road. Apart from cosmetic differences, however, the towns are much the same, so don't expect a lot.
Singen and Radolfzell
Both of these are a short train ride out of Konstanz. Both are much the same, very picturesque and very similar. Good for a change of scene if you're going to be around for a long time.
Further afield, Konstanz is about 90 minutes from Strasbourg, an hour from Stuttgart, and five hours (on a slow train) to Munich.
The best way to get to Konstanz from the UK, is to fly to Zurich from Stanstead, Heathrow or Gatwick (£100-£130). The flight takes around 90 minutes. Then get one of the regular trains (for around £15-20, the journey takes about an hour). Alternatively, for slightly less money you can get the Eurostar from London to Paris and take the sleeper to Stuttgart. You can then change there for Konstanz.
Once You're There
There is a regular and efficient bus service in Konstanz. They charge one price for any journey and you can buy small books of tickets in advance. The price is DM2,80 for a single and a book of four for DM10. Students can buy a bargain six month unlimited usage pass for around DM50
There are regular ferries running to pretty much all of the towns around the shore of the lake. A leisurely two or three hour cruise will take you to Bregenz, the only Austrian city, in the south east corner of the lake. Here you can take a cable car up into the ear-poppingly high hills for (wait for it) a fantastic view of the lake, and a panoramic view of the Alps to the south.
The Schones Wockenende ticket is still available, allowing you as much passage on any slow train anywhere in Germany for you and up to four other people for around DM35. The determined can make it to Berlin in 24 hours for nothing, just by cadging a lift with other groups of less than five people. To use the fast trains, you have to shell out vast sums to travel any great distance. Again the service is fast, efficient and punctual even through the bleakest Black Forest winter.
There's a good range of choice of lodgings, from the cheap (DM80-90 a night) to the expensive (DM250-350 a night) There's also a Youth Hostel out towards the beach. It's probably best of avoid the Graf Zeppelin Gebaude, it's more than a bit ropey.