Heidelberg: The Very Image of Romantic Germany
View from the Philosopher's Walk, showing the old bridge and, beyond it, the Old Town, crowned by the Heidelberg Castle.
How about a prison that everybody wanted to stay in, at least once?
My wife and I found it in Heidelberg,
An old stairway took us to what was surely the world's oddest and most fun penitentiary. The cells are completely covered with graffiti -- initials, names, and silhouetted portraits of the students, even poems. One cell bears the inscription "Palace Royale" over the doorway, and an extraordinarily high wooden toilet seat is named the Royal Throne. One of the poems reads:
"One for all, all for one!
Because we as five honest people
Simply found bricks in the street,
And kindly delivered them to the police,
By throwing them in through the window -
Here we are, martyrs to our honesty!"
If the poem encapsulates the spirit of the Karzer, Heidelberg itself presents the very image of romantic Germany.
To begin with, the setting is just perfect, especially as seen from the Philosophenweg, or Philosopher's Walk, on the opposite bank of the River Neckar. From there, after a steep climb, you turn around and see below the old bridge spanned by two spitzhelm towers (so called because they look like Prussian helmets), and beyond it the
Add to this the exuberance of student life. Founded in 1386,
Apropos Mark Twain, he arrived here in 1878, intent on finishing "Huckleberry Finn" and, after the success of "Innocents Abroad," to start another travel book titled "A Tramp Abroad".
Planning to stay in Heidelberg for only a day, he so fell in love with the city that he extended his visit for three months.
Heidelberg features big in "A Tramp Abroad". Describing it from the vantage point of the
"One thinks Heidelberg by day -- with its surroundings -- is the last possibility of the beautiful: but when he sees it by night, a fallen
Dueling, of course, was then alive and well, and Twain made quite a study of this particular obsession, drawing pictures of the swords used, and marveling at the pride students took in having their faces disfigured with scars -- "...so prized that youth have even been known to pull them apart from time to time and put red wine in them to make them heal badly and leave as ugly a scar as possible."
Like all visitors before and after, Twain toured Heidelberg's old castle. Now, as we followed in his footsteps -- choosing to hike rather than take the one-stop ride on the funicular -- our local guide led the way, infecting us with her enthusiasm for the city's historic past. The word Neckar, she told us, is a Celtic word meaning "wild man." Of course, the Celts left the region a long time ago -- well before the Romans came in 40 AD, constructed a fort, and stayed for about 200 years.
A short climb, and we stood in the middle of an inner courtyard, surrounded by not just one castle, but several palaces, each highlighting a different period in German architecture, from 14th-century Gothic to High Renaissance. For 500 years this was the residence of the powerful counts of the Palatine, or the Prince Electors, each one of whom contributed his own architect and building style. Pointing to a richly decorated arch, our guide told us that this was Elizabeth's Gate, a birthday present from Prince Elector Friedrich V to his young bride,
Perkeo has now become a symbol of joy, a Heidelberg hero. As we went back to exploring the
Wandering about, we were treated to everything one would expect in a romanticized German town: multicolored narrow houses with dormer windows and flowerboxes, market squares with fountains and bronze statues, cobblestone streets, and any number of outdoor cafés and restaurants. Speaking of romantic Heidelberg, in one of the narrow streets, beneath a cascade of flowers, hung a café sign showing a picture of a student kissing a girl. The café is the oldest in the city, and the sign is an ad for a chocolate created by
It was time for lunch and, following our guide's recommendation, we went to the nearby
Although Heidelberg was miraculously spared from Allied bombs during World War II, it was not so lucky when Louis XIV invaded it during the Wars of Succession in the late 17th century. That hostility left few buildings standing, a notable exception being Haus zum
Once again Mark Twain enters the picture. If I understand it correctly, the boat trips he took while staying in Heidelberg so triggered his imagination that, after a three-year writer's block, he was suddenly able to finish "Huckleberry Finn". Our little excursion 129 years later, though far from that momentous, was quite enjoyable. Gliding up and down the river in a silent, emission-free so-called Solar boat added new camera angles and proved extremely soothing.
As we learned more about the city, we were amazed at the number of famous poets and composers who either studied here or, like Twain, came and fell in love with Heidelberg: Goethe, Schuman, Eichendorff, Longfellow, Tennyson, Holderlin, Ginsberg ... the list goes on. And, of course, this is the setting for Romberg's operetta "The Student Prince," and where Weber wrote his Romantic opera Der Freischuetz.
Our visit to Heidelberg came about on an impulse. We had had some business in Scandinavia, and were to continue on to northern
Generally, I disapprove of squeezing too many places into one's travel schedule, but what a fortuitous thing our stopover in Heidelberg turned out to be. Back on the train and heading for
Small wonder people have been attracted to Heidelberg for a such a long time -- judging from the jawbone of Homo Heidelberginesis, the first human being known to have set foot in
Heidelberg is located between
WHERE TO STAY:
We were very comfortable staying at
A HIGH-END ALTERNATIVE:
Der Europaische Hof, Fredrich-Ebert-Anlage 1, D-69117 Heidelberg, www.europaeischerhof.com.
FOR THE BUDGET-MINDED:
Hollander Hof, Neckarstaden 66, 69117 Heidelberg, www.hollaender-hof.de.
-- Solarboat Trips, www.HDSolarSchiff.com.
-- Sights: www.cvb-heidelberg.de.
German National Tourist Office,
Heidelberg Tourist Board, Ziegelhauser Landstrasse 3, +49 (0) 62 21-14 22-0, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(c) 2010 Bo Zaunders
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