Heidelberg

After our lunch stop in Aachen, my German friends and I continued our journey to the south of Germany.

Here’s a question: What happens when you put a Canadian in the passenger seat of a German-made car driven by a car-mad German down the German Autobahn?

And here’s the answer: She giggles hysterically when it hits her how impossibly fast 214 km/h is after sneaking a glance at the speedometer.

Happily, the hysteria lasted only for a moment. And even at those speeds, it still took us much longer than I expected to reach our destination just outside of Heidelberg. (Remember, I’m the Canadian who thinks all European countries are tiny.)

Which meant we arrived after dark. But that made the end of the journey the most magical part of the day. After turning off the Autobahn, we drove through the countryside on what in Canada we call secondary roads. Suddenly, we were driving through the centre of Heidelberg. I’d been to Heidelberg before and knew, even in the darkness, roughly where we were. I looked up.

Yup, there it was. High above us, illuminated with floodlights, was the Heidelberg Schloss, or Heidelberg Castle.

It was quite the view on my first night in Germany.

Heidelberg straddles the Neckar River. From the hillsides on either side of the river valley, you have a pretty awesome view of the city. This is the view of the Old Town from the Philosophenweg, or Philosopher’s Walk. That’s the Castle behind the Old Town, up the hill a ways.

Here is the view of the Old Town from the Castle.

And here’s a better look at the Castle from the Castle Terrace.

The Castle is built out of Neckar Valley sandstone. The first structure on the site went up around 1300, and the prince-electors began to use it as a palace about a hundred years later. They added more buildings, all facing an inner courtyard and all representing different time periods and different styles of architecture from Renaissance to Rococo.

This wall is all that remains of the Renaissance Palace.

The castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), and then completely destroyed by lightning in 1764, after which it lay in ruins for many years. People began hauling away its stone to build their houses, a custom that was stopped in 1800 by a Frenchman named Count Charles de Graimberg, who began restoring and preserving the castle.

Here’s a closer look at the bridge that crosses the Neckar.

It’s known simply as the Alte Brücke or Old Bridge, but its official name is Karl-Theodor Brücke after the fellow who arranged to have it built (this version, that is, which went up in 1788). Karl Theodor was a prince-elector. (Fun fact: The Holy Roman Emperor was not a hereditary title, but an elected one, and he was elected to that office by the prince-electors. The things I learn doing research for this blog.)

It seemed like every time I turned around in Heidelberg, I bumped into Karl Theodor. Not literally, of course, but figuratively as his likeness is everywhere. Here he is on the bridge he had built.

This is the view of the Bridge Gate from the bridge. The gate dates back to the Middle Ages, making it much older than the bridge itself, except for its Baroque spires, which were added in 1788.

The Old Town of Heidelberg is a lovely place to wander through. Its buildings are mostly in the Baroque style.

This house was built in 1592 in the Late Renaissance style, and is now a hotel.

Heidelberg is very much a college town. Heidelberg University is Germany’s oldest (founded in 1386) and most prestigious. A quarter of the city’s population are students. A fun place to visit is the Studentenkarzer or Student Prison, which was in use until 1914. Students were detained for unseemly conduct like public drunkenness (or what we call a typical Saturday night on campus), but were allowed out to go to class. While locked up, they took out their pens. Here’s some of their graffiti.

Heidelberg is one of Germany’s most visited cities and I’m not surprised. This was my third visit and I keep going back as it’s quite lovely.

On the flip side, Germany is the top source of tourists to BC from continental Europe by quite a margin. This too does not surprise me — I keep bumping into them in our parks. I think they like our mountains.

But what surprised me as my friends and I flew down the Autobahn is how much forest cover there is in the country. The Autobahn is bordered on either side by woodland. Heidelberg is surrounded by timbered hilltops. My friend’s house backs onto a forest.

And here’s another fun fact I learned while doing research for this post: the Brothers Grimm lived not far from Heidelberg.

Romantic castles and enchanted forests indeed.

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