Heidelberg is a bucket list German city for Boris and I. The cruise line offered an optional afternoon excursion and attending was the a no-brainer choice for us. Until 2013, Heidelberg was the headquarters of the American forces in Germany. Today the city is 20% students. 56 noble prize winners have come from Heidelberg. The University and tourists are the biggest business draws to the city.
Our bus guide differed from our city guide; the people in our bus were separated into two groups. Going into town, we passed the site of a nuclear plant. There used to be 29 in Germany; there are only 7 now in operation and they hope to have all shut down by 2025. The guide said they were big on green energy, particularly solar panels and windmills. The windmills are so successful that they are often turned off because they deposit too much energy into the system. However, energy is not cheap. Gasoline prices are at least double to what we pay at home and include a 75% tax.
After passing the energy belt, we passed the “social accommodation belt” where housing was constructed after the war to provide homes for refugees. But it is upon coming into the city that you see the beautiful homes lining the river. My pictures, that had to be shot out of the bus windows, do not do the view justice.
The city sits along the Neckar River and is most famous for its University. “Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination due to its romantic and picturesque cityscape, including Heidelberg Castle and the baroque style Old Town.” It is bordered by the Holy Roman Mountains, Königsstuhl and Gaisberg. If there was any doubt this valley floods, one only has to look at the markings on the bridge towers showing water heights and dates when the Neckar severely overflowed.
After entering the city and driving along the river front, our first stop was the castle. It is a winding road up to the top and our motor coach driver was most impressive to make it successfully in that large vehicle. I enjoyed the ride up though, peering into the town below as things became smaller and smaller. From the old city, you can also take a funicular up. The drop off point is right next to the castle ticket office and entrance. The funicular continues up to the summit of Königsstuhl Mountain.
As we left the coach parking lot and before entering the castle, our new guide told us about the University fraternities. In the 1800s almost all University men were members of these organizations, now it is only about 10%. Seven fraternities still practice the old method of dueling and scaring of the face. Most still employ the drinking games; led by the President, members consume about 40 drinks a night. Heidelberg University does have one fraternity for women.
The castle is a mix of various architectural styles, often butting up again one another. The courtyard is a photographer’s dream, as long as you are ok shooting around all the people. On one side we saw ruins set for a theatrical performance with the undamaged building serving as the backdrop. It was very hard to keep up with the dialog of our tour guide.
The castle has been built and rebuilt suffering major damage both during the 30-years war and by lighting on multiple occasions. You’ll notice the same red brick in the city below as at times the castle grounds were used as a quarry for building materials. The castle as a tourist attraction has been popularized by Americans. Mark Twain wrote glowingly about his visit to the castle and its situation on the hillside overlooking Heidelberg and the overgrowth adding to the mystique. “Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it.” From A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain.
After visiting the exterior of the castle and the courtyard, we visited the wine cellar and the exceptionally large wine barrel inside. It was interesting viewing and we were all happy to be out of the heat and have a chance to sit down. This is a great spot for a break with toilets and refreshments available. The Heidelberg Tun is the world’s largest wine barrel, holding 58,124 gallons of wine. Staircases allow you to view the barrel from all sides and the top platform can even be used as a dance floor.
Once outside again, we went to the castle terrace for more incredible views of the river and city. There is also a deep footprint and the accompanying story of a suitor jumping from a window. With my 9 1/2 or European 41 (shoe size) foot, it was a perfect fit.
Leaving the castle, we once again rode the coach. This time we went down to river to a drop off stop for our free time in the old town. Our guide walked us in and then pointed us in several directions we might pursue for various sites. Boris was determined to find himself some dueling swords. I wanted to see the University and the Jesuit church. We split up at market square between the Rathaus and The Church of the Holy Spirit for our short free time in Heidelberg. (I suspect this square is the spot for the Christmas Market; this spot would be perfect and customary for this holiday tradition.)
I wandered into several churches, eventually passing the Jesuit church, just off the main thoroughfare. I decided to go down a little further and make my way back this direction. I did visit a University Chapel with some very interesting modern stained glass windows; I was fortunate that the caretaker let me in since I arrived just 5 minutes before closing. I walked a bit through the University area and then backtracked to the the Jesuit church with its stark white interiors. All the churches I visited were different from each other and lovely.
The walk into the old town and out again afforded us wonderful views of the castle. I didn’t do any real shopping, as some of the ship’s guests did, but I did make a stop into a bakery for some of the wonderful meringues I saw in the window and added a almond pastry as well. My friend Sharon found a wonderful linen shop by the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Neckar; she was our “go to girl” when looking for linens. Boris didn’t find his dueling swords, but was happy to share my purchases.
Heidelberg did not disappoint. This is a place to return to; perhaps during the holiday markets?