Ulm is a town at the edge to Bavaria in Baden-Württemberg, south west Germany. It is home to the highest church steeple in the world (161.53 m), even higher than the Cathedral (Dom in German) of Cologne.
With a population of 118,000 inhabitants Ulm forms an urban district and administrative center of the region. Ulm, founded around 850, is rich in history and traditions as a former Free Imperial City (freie Reichsstadt). Today, it is an economic center due to its varied industries, and it is the seat of a university. Internationally, Ulm is primarily known for having the church with the tallest steeple in the world (161.53 m or 529.95 ft), the Gothic Ulm minster (Ulmer Münster) and as the birthplace of Albert Einstein.
Ulm lies at the Danube river and is surrounded by forests and hills which rise to altitudes of over 620 m, which are part of the Swabian Mountains. Because of the Danube, Ulm sees a lot of dense fog especially in late autumn and early spring. Most parts of the city, including the old town, are situated on the north-west bank of the Danube. On the other side of the river lies the twin city of Neu-Ulm in the state of Bavaria.
Around the city, there are many statues of sparrows (Spatzen). Spatzen is a nickname for the residents of Ulm and a symbol of the city. Legend says that, while building the cathedral, the workers couldn’t figure out how to get the long wooden beams into the church until they noticed a sparrow entering its nest while holding a piece of straw lengthwise, instead of sideways.
Tourists interested in architectural attractions will appreciate Ulm’s striking blend of old and cutting-edge modern architecture, often side by side. The city is also known for its many theater, opera, and dance performances; a first-rate professional orchestra; the large Christmas Market; and lively traditional festivals, such as Oath Monday and the Fishermen’s Jousting Tournament. Learn more about the best things to see and do with the list of the top attractions in Ulm.
1. Ulm Münster
Ulm Minster has the highest steeple in the world, is officially the tallest complete church in the world and coming into the 20th century it was the 5th tallest man-made structure.
From the tower, 768 steps and 143 m up, there’s a panorama of the Alps far in the distance to the south.
Ulm Minster was started in 1377, but partly because of its extreme dimensions was only officially completed in 1890. In the western portal take a moment to study the tympanum, filled with 14th-century carvings of scenes from the book of Genesis.
Down in the central column of the entrance is the Man of Sorrows by the Late Gothic sculptor Hans Multscher.
Don’t leave without seeing the 15th-century carved oak choir stalls, the apse’s stained glass windows from the same period and the 17th-century organ played by Mozart in 1763.
2. Fishermen’s and Tanners’ Quarter
Where the channels of the Blau Stream enter the Danube is the Medieval waterside quarter for Ulm’s tanners, fishermen and shipbuilders. The neighborhood reached its zenith in the 1500s when trade on the Danube was roaring.
As a testament to this high demand, the streets are tightly packed with cantilevered timber-framed houses, some so close to each other that they sometimes touch in front, like on the appropriately named Kussgasse (Kiss Alley). The quarter was also a kind of staging post for emigrants traveling down the Danube to Hungary.
They’d normally stay here for a few months to raise money before making the journey. The quarter has a lot of tales to tell, and its old wooden houses are now specialty shops, bars and restaurants.
3. Ulm Rathaus and Marktplaz
Coated with trompe-l’œil frescoes, Ulm’s majestic old town hall has an Early Renaissance design and is composed of three buildings, the oldest of which dates back to the 1370. The oldest architecture is on the southeast side of the complex, while the gables and daintily ornamented windows are from the 15th century.
The town hall has always been covered in murals, but by 1900 these were heavily weathered and were completely restored along the lines of the originals, depicting moment’s from Ulm’s past.
Spend a little time inspecting the astronomical clock, dating to 1520 and fitted with a mechanism by the Strasbourg master watchmaker Isaak Habrecht in 1580.
4. Stadtmauer (Old Town Walls)
Most of Ulm’s 15th-century town walls have been well preserved and provide an excellent means of exploring the old town. Built in 1482 along the banks of the Danube, the walls — originally designed as a deterrent against invaders — circle the town from the Lauseck Bastion, taking in the Fishermen’s and Tanners’ Quarters and the boat landing stages. Along the way, you’ll find the 36-meter-tall Metzgerturm, or Butchers’ Tower, which leans several feet off the vertical. You’ll also find many wonderful cafés and restaurants, as well as quiet riverside spots ideal for picnics.
5. Schiefes Haus
What could be the cutest building in Ulm is the Schiefes Haus, a rickety inn from the start of the 15th century. This corbelled, half-timbered house was used by Ulm’s shipmasters for hundreds of years.
At an incline of between 9 and 10° the Schiefes Haus looks like it’s just about to collapse, but is still going strong 600 years after it was built. Adjustments have had to made over time, especially after the side facing the river started sinking in the 1600s.
According to the Guinness Book or Records it’s the most crooked hotel in the world (literally, not figuratively!). If you’d like to book a room you can rest easy knowing that your bed will at least be flat; the furniture adapts to the slope, which can be as much 40 cm in each room.
6. Einstein Fountain
While fountains are a common sight in many European cities, as are monuments to famous native sons, none is more unusual that Ulm’s Einstein Fountain. The cast bronze sculpture depicts a large snail (chosen to represent nature and wisdom) standing on a rocket (representing the scientist’s studies in time, space, and atomic theory) that shoots the water from its base. Emerging from the snail is the head of Einstein in the famous pose with his tongue stuck out and hair in wild disarray.
The fountain, which sits at the 16th-century Zeughaus arsenal, was created by Jürgen Goertz in 1984. Einstein was born in Ulm, but lived here only the first year of his life.
Ulm’s zoo might be on the small side, but has a variety of regional and exotic animals for kids to get close to.
Best of all is the Danube aquarium, which has a glass tunnel surrounding you with the freshwater species that make their habitat in the famous river. Also inside are terrariums for iguanas, turtles, poison dart frogs, chameleons and giant African snails.
Outside, the park’s brown bears have been a fixture at the zoo for decades and have an enormous enclosure, while there are also emus and ostriches, massive Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and a habitat for goats that kids can walk inside.