After being squeezed from the great sausage-casing in the sky that is modern air transport, what one notices upon landing is the first thing one sees, that is, what he can't help but notice: the airport. Our wildest movies about future utopias don't equal the present good sense and design featured even in 2nd-rate cities like Stuttgart. Immediately, everything is calm and beautiful. The passport control officer is kind and gentle, without the trace of sarcasm and suspicion and boredom that mark his American counterpart.
But the goodness starts even before that transaction. Here, the boarding gate--what is that tube called that rolls up to an aircraft door?-- has windows and smart metal railings so that, instead of the anxious shuffle toward who-know-what-fate, the passengers disembark in a leisurely cantor, looking up at the sky, watching the men at work below.
And even before that, we knew that entering the EU was entering a different sort of place; seen from the sky over Baden-Wurttemberg, villages huddle in crevices and along rivers without a trace of sprawl, and this is not some romantic idyll, or town treasured for being picaresque. Stuttgart is a manufacturing hub: the head of Mercedes, Porche, Siemens, Bosch, and several other international conglomerates. What would be in America a huge warehouse district is here perfectly-squared fields. There is literally corn growing right up to the edge of the tarmac.
Once off the plane it is all leather seats and trim people in sexy clothes, glass walls and orderliness everywhere. Instead of a McDonald's, there are fresh sandwich shops with subs piled up, overfilled with colorful vegetables. All things bright and beautiful, indeed. Then, the stupefyingly gorgeous car rental stands, then the sane and talented drivers--quick and controlled--as our cab (itself a Mercedes; they all are here) whipped us out to suburban Bad Canstatt, where our sensible, if a bit rural, hostel is found.
They let us check in five hours early and we use all of them for sleep.