Karlsruhe used to be one of the most beautiful cities in Germany before the war. Its name is connected to its history. It actually means “Karl’s repose,” and according to legend, the name was given to the new city after a hunting trip when Margrave Charles III William of Baden-Durlach woke from a dream in which he dreamt of founding his new city. A variation of this story claims that he built the new palace in order to find peace from his wife.
The above is information I found on Wikipedia, but many years ago, as I was translating my beloved Thomas Hardy’s A Laodicean from English into Greek, I had stumbled upon a description of Karlsruhe and had learnt what its name meant. Back then my knowledge of the German language was inexistent, so I wouldn’t know what “Ruhe” meant if Thomas Hardy hadn’t explained it.
Similarly, I wouldn’t know what “Fächer” meant. «The city was planned with the palace tower (Schloss) at the center and 32 streets radiating out from it like the spokes of a wheel, or the ribs of a folding fan, so that one nickname for Karlsruhe in German is the “fan city” (Fächerstadt).» (Wikipedia)
Of course the palace and a large part of the city was heavily bombed at war, so what we see today is actually restored. The ribs of the folding fan are still there and the Schloss, which now houses a museum. The gardens of the palace are beautiful and a small train runs through them on holidays during the spring and the summer months.
Karlsruhe seemed unremarkable to me (and most probably to Thomas Hardy if we judge by his description in his book) the first three times I visited it, but I am slowly warming up to it. The fact that the city has a very interesting art museum, many art galleries, a museum of natural history, some good theatres and a famous technical university, as well as many cafes and restaurants, render it lively and pleasant.
Nearby, the town of Bruchsal is home to another big palace and the town of Ettlingen is an attractive place. France is not very far if you want to visit another country, so Karlsruhe has an international air somehow. There are many shops downtown as well as some busy shopping centres. Something that will disappoint a tourist visiting Karlsruhe are the street works in progress everywhere, which have to do with the transport network. These works are lasting a bit long (a good number of years) and aim at securing more space for pedestrians in the future.
But let us get back to Thomas Hardy and his description of Karlsruhe:
«To Carlsruhe they went next day, after a night of soft rain
which brought up a warm steam from the Schwarzwald valleys,
and caused the young tufts and grasses to swell visibly in a
few hours. After the Baden slopes the flat thoroughfares of
‘Charles’s Rest’ seemed somewhat uninteresting, though a busy
fair which was proceeding in the streets created a quaint and
Exactly. Somewhat uninteresting at first but with an unexpected liveliness at second sight. Yes, Karlsruhe is getting better and better every time you see it.