Above/featured: From Philosophenweg: across the Neckar, over the Altstadt, and up to Königstuhl – 21 May 2016 (HL).
Some have called this place “scenic, natural, and spectacular”; some call it “boring, provincial, and extortionate”. I could be referring to Vancouver, but that’s a subject for another time. I’ve long struggled with questions of place: what defines “home”? Can those definitions and qualities change with time? Do people have choice(s) and do they apply their choices in their search? Can people find meaning with “home”? Must “home” be restricted to only one place, or can different needs be met from different places?
Images can provide access to memories of having lived in a new country, experiencing the shock of the new, and settling into the mundane. I remember advice someone once gave me which became constant companion and reminder: that I was inhabiting a place at the same latitude as my birthplace, 8000 km in distance and 9 time zones apart on the other side of the planet, a place that’s seen its compact share of activity with flair and impact.
Most recall is naturally connected to sight. Occasionally, it’s a rush of the senses: the quick breeze on the skin, the ankle-spraining undulations of the cobblestone, how fog clings like a cold clammy cloak, the sing-song of birds among tall trees in the forest on the hill, the smell of grilled sausages in town by day, and the satisfying late-night noms of a spicy Dürüm Döner with a cool Ayran. And other times, human history leaps out and buries its claws, when the unthinkable must be acknowledged and understood in a synapsis of memory and senses.
In the autumn of 2001, I moved to Germany and Heidelberg: both sight unseen and without having learned any of the language. I stayed in town for a little under two years. What’s astonishing is I have no pictorial record of my time in Heidelberg, Germany, and Europe: I had no camera before the dawn of the smart-phone.
I have some great memories, even if time is casting long shadows. What I lost (no, gave away) was some part of me that actually has little to do with the “Schlager” hit song “Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren“. It might be a piece of the heart, a part of the soul, or simply a scrap of good sense; but what it is precisely still remains undefined and shapeless. Finding solid answers about what I’ve surrendered might take years. And so, for the sake of clarity, I’ve returned many times since leaving town in 2003. A sharper focus comes through the post-departure blur whenever I step off the train in town.
I couldn’t have possibly known the experience of moving to and living in Heidelberg would be life-changing. Time so far has been kind, because it didn’t take long for me to adopt Heidelberg as “home”.
Ich rüm dich Haidelwerg
The university town of Heidelberg is about 90 kilometres (55 miles) south from Frankfurt am Main and only 20 kilometres (12 miles) east from Mannheim. Heidelberg is squeezed next to the Neckar river, sandwiched between two hills. Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university as well as many research institutes, including the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ), and four institutes operated by the Max Planck Society. For a total population of over 160-thousand people, the town receives over 10 million visitors per year, perhaps a legacy of family and friends brought over by post-war US troops stationed in town for decades.
Others can provide a short history and detailed timeline, but from the very beginning I asked myself: what’s in the name? Although the area had early settlements by Celts and Romans, what we recognize as a contemporary version of Heidelberg begins in medieval times with the earliest known written mentions of the town’s name. “Heidelberch” and “Heidelberg” were on record in the late 12th- and early 13th-century (e.g., “Burgus” and “Castrum“). Tirolian poet and composer Oswald von Wolkenstein visited Heidelberg in 1428, and he paid tribute to the town in his poem “Kl. 86 O phalzgraf Ludewig” with the line “Ich ruem dich Haidelwerg” (Ich rühme dich Heidelberg) which translates to “I praise you, Heidelberg“.
This explanation for the origin of the town’s name is wonderfully concise:
HEIDELBERG, HD [Ort, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland, Europa]. Die HEIDEL (mundartlich für Heidelbeere) dürfte den erst spät belegten Namen (1196 Heidelberch) dieser altehrwürdigen Studentenstadt bewirkt haben.
HEIDELBERG, HD [location, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Europe]. The HEIDEL (vernacular for “blueberry”) may have brought about the name (1196 Heidelberch) for this venerated university city.
HD and the High Docket
I present over 35 highlights with images and personal observations. Because this post is massive, I recommend clicking between list at large and individual items at your convenience, leisure, and pace. Directly below the list is a map with marked locations.
- Alte Brücke
- Alter Synagogenplatz
- Kurzpfälzisches Museum
- Neuenheimer Marktplatz
- Obere Neckarstrasse
- Peterskirche & the UB
- Schleuse & Staustufe
- Untere Strasse
1. Alte Brücke
The Old Bridge (Alte Brücke) is easily one of the city’s landmarks. As motor vehicles are banned from this bridge, it’s always worth noting residents use the crossing over the Neckar River by bike or on foot between the Old Town (Altstadt) and Neuenheim. From the north shore of the Neckar, photographic opportunity presents itself, especially in afternoon light, of the Old Town, the Old Bridge, and Castle (Schloss). The best time to visit is first thing in the morning before visitors arrive, and late in the evening after most (daytrip-) visitors have departed.
2. Alter Synagogenplatz
I don’t exactly remember when I discovered this tiny oasis and memorial to the Jewish community. I’d been wandering around and exploring on foot the compact Altstadt. From the river, I turned a corner, and stumbled on this little square near the University. This was home to the Old Synagogue (1878) before its destruction on Pogromnacht in 1938. A new synagogue in Weststadt was inaugurated and consecrated in 1994.
Months after settling into a daily routine, frequent walks through the Old Town no longer required a frenetic pace. I began to slow down and to satisfy my curiosity. From Bismarckplatz, Hauptstrasse tightens through a curve before opening up to a small square called Anatomiegarten. There’s a monument to Robert Bunsen and a building which once housed the university’s various science departments including physiology and anatomy. Opposite the garden is a building called “Haus der Riesen” (Hauptstrasse 52). Inside this building Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff determined the chemical composition of the Sun with a newly developed experimental technique called spectral analysis or spectroscopy. Using optics known in the day, they spread out sunlight into a “solar spectrum”, and compared the latter with known laboratory spectra of known chemical elements to identify which elements were in the sun. My mind now twisted in time-travel whiplash, I appreciate (later) how my scientist training was now directly and tangibly connected with some of its historical origins. (This is gonna happen a lot in Germany: the whiplash, that is.)
Before the modernization updates mandated by the European Union to bring the entire transport up to specs, I would ride the funicular’s “old creaky wooden shed on metal wheels”, and I’d look back down the steep slope through fog on a cold wet day and think: what if this thing lost tension and rocketed down the hill in an uncontrolled slide? This wood cabin would splinter into a million pieces, and they’d have to scrape the rest of me off those very same pieces. Fortunately, I remained in one piece after countless funicular trips, before and after refurbishment.
The Bergbahn funicular on Königstuhl hill consists of two stages: the “modern” lower-funicular between Kornmarkt and Molkenkur, and the “traditional” upper-funicular between Molkenkur and Königstuhl. The upper section is the oldest electrically operated funicular in Germany. At the summit, you can see Heidelberg’s Altstadt, the Alte Brücke, both Michaelsberg and Heiligenberg across the river, and on days with very transparent atmospheric conditions, where the Neckar flows west towards the Rhein river, flatlands surrounding the Rhein, and the city of Mannheim.
For a brief time during weekday mornings, the Bergbahn was a form of transport to reach my place of work for a two-year period.
In 1919, Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925) was Germany’s first democratically elected head of state and first President of the new Weimar Republic. In Old Town on Pfaffengasse is the house where he was born which now serves as museum and memorial to Ebert. After World War 2, Wrede-Platz was renamed Friedrich-Ebert-Platz. On the north side of the square is the building at Plöck 55 which once housed the university’s natural sciences institute (Institut der Naturwissenschaft) and also served as the living quarters for the university’s chemists Robert Bunsen, Victor Meyer, and Theodor Curtius. The square is also home to a farmers’ market three times each week.
Café Gundel on the Hauptstrasse at Karlsplatz is a sentimental favourite, because it’s one of the first places my friends introduced to me shortly after I moved to Heidelberg. A smaller version of Gundel is at the west side of Universitätsplatz; business traffic is mostly takeaways by university students and staff. For examples of what’s available from Gundel during Christmas season, click here.
Coming west from Bismarckplatz to the Alte Brücke, I’d often detour onto Untere Strasse, and then onto Haspelgasse instead of Steingasse to reach the bridge. There were far far fewer people in the way, until I reached the bridge proper. And if I was around in good weather at the correct time of day, the sun might shine straight down along this north-south lane to illuminate and highlight Michaelsberg across the river: a visual temptation to go for a walk up on that hill.
A fond childhood memory was a school-sponsored field-trip where we piled onto a steam engine trundling between North Vancouver and Squamish and hugging the narrow shores of Howe Sound. Trains exert a romantic and elemental power on the unsuspecting, which I’ve known since a wae lad. In Heidelberg, I realized quickly the extensive nature of German intranational rail and European international rail. I soon purchased a discounted rail pass, because I knew I’d have many train trips: nearby Mannheim, Stuttgart, Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt’s international airport, and beyond to Cologne. It’s a fact of daily life for people living in outer towns and villages commuting between home and work in Heidelberg, a picture that’s repeated throughout the country. By comparison with much larger cities, Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof is relatively small in size, total passenger numbers, and total train movements. But I recognized, learned, and appreciated the organized bedlam, the ebb and flow within the station, and the do’s and don’ts on trains and in train stations. The station is the town’s Verkehrsknotenpunkt: the central hub for rail and bus connections to the region, state, and the rest of the country.
So when I see the signage after alighting the train, when I climb those stairs and step onto the main passage and concourse, I welcome the surge of memories. The station ain’t fancy, but it’s compact, low-key, and familiar: it’s home.
I love it, I hate it, and often, it’s equal measures of both.
Even if the label isn’t entirely accurate, I’d call it the miracle mile, the royal mile: full of places readily available to relieve anyone of their hard-earned cash. A mile that winds through the Altstadt, that by midday is busy with visitor and resident. There is the slow wander, but not by someone who needs to get to the bank or has to pick up that one thing in a store located in the middle of that dreaded stretch. There is the quick jink and jive, but not by someone who’s new to town absorbing the atmosphere then has their head down to their mobile for crowdsourced tips.
The Hauptstrasse (Main Street) is about 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) long, and access to the street is limited to pedestrians and service vehicles. The street is lined with shops, cafés, and restaurants. Love it or hate it, most will use this “main street” as the central route in and out of the Altstadt. Many residents quickly figure out Plöck is an east-west alternate to traverse the Altstadt, on foot or on bike. The west end of the Hauptstrasse is defined by Bismarckplatz which includes a junction for buses and trams connecting the Altstadt with other parts of the city and suburbs. Beyond Kornmarkt and Karlsplatz to the the east, the Hauptstrasse narrows and the number of people drops on the approach to Karlstor. There’s satisfaction in having completed the walk of the Hauptstrasse from end to end.
A late Roman basilica was first mentioned in 1239. In 1398, it was replaced by a large church building whose central nave was constructed in the typical style of the late Gothic period. The chancel was completed by 1410, and the building of the nave was done in 1441. There was also a delay in the construction of the church tower which started again in 1508.
The Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) is a Protestant church which bolsters the western end of Marktplatz (Market Square) and is one of the city’s landmarks. A place of worship at this location was first mentioned in 1239, and the present-day church building was completed between the 15th- and 16th-century. The church began Catholic, but for over two centuries, the church held separate services for both Catholics and Protestants with a physical barrier in place to separate the congregations; the barrier was taken down in 1936. The church also gave birth to the Heidelberg (Palatinate) Catechism, first printed in 1563 AD/CE.
And on a completely different note …
Peregrine falcons are threatened with extinction in the area around Heidelberg and throughout Germany. Recently, falcons have gone high up in the church tower to create a “nesting box” for the birth and care of nestlings. A group of humans have been tracking falcons for a number of years, making repairs and clearing out the box when necessary. There are now webcams for all to see. The months March, April, and May are critical: precious new eggs hatch, adult falcons mind and feed the tiny chicks, and within a matter of weeks, the nestlings lose their fuzz, grow out their feathers, and mature into young falcons ready to fly, leave the nest, and fend for themselves in the grand competition.
Sometimes, my morning commute to work meant traversing the Altstadt on foot to the Bergbahn station at Kornmarkt. Sometimes, it seems I was intruding upon relatively quiet empty streets, especially before 9am. Present with their precious cargo were delivery trucks, welcomed with open arms by shop owners eager to receive their goods. Antiquity and boutique stores and little bars and restaurants provided most of the landscape along Ingrimstrasse, a short narrow pedestrian and bicycle road in the eastern half of the Altstadt. Curiosity always piqued, there was never enough time to see what was behind every closed door. Countless passes through this tidy stretch became very familiar, and to me, every shop or doorway contained a little individual pocket of mystery.
By this point along the Hauptstrasse, crowds disperse and the number of visitors diminish. Perhaps, they’re told there’s not much to see beyond; perhaps there’s no time for them to explore on their own. Or, they got tired and the temptations from Gundel were too much to ignore. A quiet break on a bench equipped with pastry and a coffee or tea is well-earned with an open view of the Castle looming above. Named after Grand Duke Karl Friedrich of Baden, the spacious “Karl’s Square” or Karlsplatz was once the home of a Franciscan monastery until 1803. A fountain is dedicated to 16th-century German cartographer, cosmographer, and Hebrew scholar Sebastian Münster who spent time at the monastery. The north and south sides of the square are occupied, respectively, by the Boisserée Palace and the Grand Ducal Palace (home to the Heidelberg Academy of the Sciences). I spent time at Karlsplatz more often during Christmas season: as one of many seasonal markets “conveniently” situated along the Hauptstrasse, the Christmas market at Karlsplatz seemed less frantic than others.
The structure marking the end of the Hauptstrasse and unofficial boundary to the Altstadt is the “Charles’ Gate” built late 18th-century in the style of a Roman triumphal arch. Shown in the picture below is the arch’s east side with the Pfalz (Palatine) coat of arms surrounded by two lions. When I chose to brave the crowds walking the entire length of the Hauptstrasse west to east starting from Bismarckplatz, the arch said this was the end.
At an elevation of 568 metres (1863 feet) above sea-level, the hill called Königstuhl (King’s Chair) is personally significant: it’s where I came to work every day to the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA). Between 2001 and 2003, bus service up the hill at the time was infrequent, and if I missed the final bus of the morning, the alternative commute would be: a taxi (too expensive), get a ride from my MPIA colleague if they hadn’t already made the ascent, or something a little more complicated. The latter meant getting to the Bergbahn’s Kornmarkt station by bus or on foot, riding the two-stage funicular, followed by a trail hike from the Bergbahn’s summit station through the tall evergreens of the Kleiner Odenwald forest, past the historical State Observatory, and to the “future is calling” cement complex of the MPIA institute. On good days, there were many post-lunch hour-long walks around the institute to work off the sustenance, talk shop, and clear the mind.
Kornmarkt was often an area to pass through on the way to and from the Castle or on the way to and from the Bergbahn station. The central part of this modest square is occupied by a 1718 statue of Madonna and Christ child, built by Jesuits as persuasion tactic to (re)join the Catholic fold. The Heilig-Geist-Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit) and the accompanying chapel stood at this location from the 13th century until the hospital’s demolition in 1557; an outline of the former chapel is embedded as white stone into the cobblestone pavement. The hospital and chapel were demolished at the end of the 16th-century to create “Neuer Markt” where agricultural goods were collected and traded. By the late-17th century, the square was renamed Kornmarkt, translated as “corn market” or “grain market.”
16. Kurzpfälzisches Museum
Every time on the Hauptstrasse, I’d see the sign at the building entrance and pass by: too busy, too distracted, and perhaps, not enough curiosity. On a return visit a few years ago, my curiosity and compulsion drove me into the modest Kurzpfälzisches Museum (Palatinate Provincial Museum) for the first time. The museum’s collection includes traces and artifacts left behind by the Roman Empire and by centuries of political and sectarian intrigue among a variety of European forces and families. A central piece of the collection is a copy of an early 3rd-century AD/CE Roman Jupiter column, which was unearthed in nearby Ladenburg. The Heidelberger Kunstverein also hosts travelling exhibits of contemporary art and photography within the museum’s available galleries. I now view the museum space as quiet refuge from the Hauptstrasse.
After some time for introspection at Alter Synagogenplatz, a small jaunt east along Lauerstrasse takes me to Dreikönigstrasse. There are a couple of places here for a sip and nosh, but it’s the memorial plaque for “Judentor” (Jewish Gate) that catches my eye. The plaque tells me a former Jewish quarter was once behind the old medieval city wall which stood between the 13th- and 18th-century.
The market square is the town’s key central area with the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) and the Rathaus (City Hall) bordering the square (as “church and state”). A farmers’ market is held here every Saturday. Our “al fresco” experience consisted of many summer evenings and countless hours sat here on rickety chairs on uneven cobblestone, supplied with and galvanized by beer, coffee, and even some food. We watched other people sat in areas staked out by neighbouring cafés and restaurants. We watched others walk past with envy on their faces, eyeing our premium spots. Good thing we weren’t leaving anytime soon, because it’s perfectly acceptable in Germany to stay at a table for hours.
It was always the appearance of the rounded corner tower which gave it away. I didn’t visit the Marstall as much as I thought I would, but university students are here regularly at the university’s Mensa (cafeteria) for inexpensive food, coffee, and the beer garden. As new resident, we came here occasionally to hang out outdoors for the beer, but we eventually moved inside to other venues when the weather turned colder.
Many visitors will ride the Bergbahn funicular and some will ascend the entire length to the Königstuhl summit. The funicular is separated into two sections at Molkenkur between the lower-section “new-style” funicular and the upper-section “old-style” funicular. Molkenkur is also a good place to disembark and begin exploring and hiking the many trails: to the Kohlhof clinic, Gaiberg town, Neckargemünd town, up the hill to the top, or down towards the Castle and return to Heidelberg.
It might surprise some newcomers there’s not a lot of green space in Heidelberg. Presumably, with the town squeezed among river and two hills, the forests on the hills are the greenery. But physical space in town to account for and build up accommodations and residences is a premium; Heidelberg has some of the most expensive housing costs within Germany. What does pass for some flat green space are the Neckarwiese: small meadows along the Neckar on the north or Neuenheim side. Warm sunny days in spring and summer mean people flock to the river with outdoor blankets, picnics, and pets.
22. Neuenheimer Marktplatz
I think it’s worth making your way to Neuenheim on the north side of the Neckar river. The market square in Neuenheim hosts twice weekly a farmers’ market which offers great food locally, from Germany, and from Europe. Bright colours and delicious scents surround you from all sides: so go ahead, and nibble on an apple, a peach, some sliced Wurst, and perhaps, a slice of cake. Proximity to Alsace-Lorraine means strong French influences, and if you’re still hungry, La Flamm Boulangerie Pâtisserie will tempt your sweets with croissants, macarons, tartes, and more. And if you’ve been wondering about the “Heidelberg Heidelbeere” connection, blueberries grown regionally and nationally are in season from June to September.
23. Obere Neckarstrasse
Only 70 metres (230 feet) from the Hauptstrasse, Obere Neckarstrasse slides past apartment blocks to the south tower of the Old Bridge in the distance. The street is another east-west alternate to bypass the Hauptstrasse. Although the city’s second tourism information office is around the corner at Neckarmünzplatz, there doesn’t seem to be many people lingering in the area. Not that I’m complaining …
Sure, Charles III Philip (Elector Palatine) brought Clemens Pankert from South Tyrol in the early 18th-century to Heidelberg Castle to be the elector’s tutor and to play the part of court jester. Sure, it might have been strange to bring in a person of small stature to be in charge of the wine reserves at the castle. Sure, Pankert loved wine and adopted “Perkeo” as his nickname. At events for the imperial court, he was asked if he wanted another glass of wine and he’s attributed to having replied with “perché no?” (“why not?”). Sure, there’s a statue of Perkeo on the side of the eponymous hotel and restaurant on the Hauptstrasse. What is not sure is who exactly is responsible for the statue in town, thought to be a 20th-century version of a similar statue inside the Castle.
25. Peterskirche & the UB
Hauptstrasse avoidance can often mean bicycle-dodging on Plöck. Towards the end of Plöck, looming closer and larger are St. Peter’s Church, the oldest church in town, and the Universitätsbibliothek (UB), the oldest university library in Germany. The library is home of the Bibliotheca Palatina (Palatine Library), one of the most important historical collections of the German Renaissance period. What I always liked was how these two very different buildings seemed to complement each other visually.
From here, slipping deeper into the Altstadt often meant the journey onto side-streets meant quiet, if not sweet silence. That is, until the next bicyclist stormed down the cobblestone with flying colours …
I wait for the Wettervorhersage (weather forecast) to provide sage advice for the appearance of the sun. Adding knowledge of appropriate sun angle depending on the time of day and the season, I’ve got that itch for the slopes of Michaelsberg and Heiligenberg for a nudge and look. Approaching from the west, the path on the slope is paved, if a little steep, going past the university institutes for (experimental) physics and theoretical physics. But the trail levels off, and up ahead there’s hint of a clearing beyond the trees. Over the last hump, the view and story unfold behind the leafy pages of the forest. This is the Philosophenweg: the Philosophers’ Walk where great thinkers arrived for fresh air, fresh views, and perhaps, fresh ways of thinking. Higher up and over to the next bump, the summit of Heiligenberg is home to the ruins of a monastery and an outdoor amphitheater with a very dark history.
With the clarity of memory fast receding into the haze, it’s difficult to know or remember which street I walked most to traverse the Altstadt: Hauptstrasse or Plöck. It’s probably a “draw” or “tie”. South from and running parallel to Hauptstrasse, Plöck is a narrow street; there are fewer pedestrians, far more bicycles, and it’s clear the street is populated by residents who want to avoid the mosh of visitors and shoppers on the Hauptstrasse. The west-east extent of Plöck begins behind the Kaufhof department store at Bismarckplatz and winds its way to Grabengasse with Peterskirche and the UB (Universitätsbibliothek) as “bookend”, and the Universitätsplatz just around the corner. Oh, I like the Zuckerladen candy store (Plöck 52), and I like the easy and comfortable dining environment at Essighaus (Plöck 97).
People often said: go to Italy if you want “real” Roman ruins. That’s obvious, but their statement leaves behind and perhaps ignores the physical extent of the Roman Empire. In the early part of the 1st millennium AD/CE, Romans established a presence in Neuenheim and in Ladenburg. There’s little present-day trace remaining in Heidelberg, but there is a modern street called Römerstrasse over the former Roman road, and the “Roman roundabout” or Römerkreis, which happens to lie at the boundary between neighbourhoods Bergheim and Weststadt. I frequently crossed “borders” here at the Kreis between the two neighbourhoods. The former Roman road crossed the Neckar river with the Neckarbrücke bridge (wood construction, c. 100 AD/CE; stone construction, c. 150 AD/CE). The bridge’s location is marked with a memorial stone on the south flank of the Neckar in Bergheim and another stone on the north flank in Neuenheim.
South of town proper is primarily residential areas bordering the former US military base which is presently languishing under dust and indecision. (Given there’s a housing crunch in town, a solution seems obvious, but f$#%ing developers wanna grab and get paid.) But many friends who worked in town lived here in Rohrbach, and even if it wasn’t their cup of tea in the long-term, I enjoyed hanging out with them here in Rohrbach: the area was quiet, and easy to travel to and from Heidelberg proper with trams 23 and 24.
30. Schleuse & Staustufe
Next to Karlstor east of the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) is a water works structure on the Neckar river, including ship locks (Schleuse) and a low dam or weir (Staustufe). This is allllllll the way at the very eastern end of the Altstadt. I’m interested to watch ships passing through the locks. It’s also convenient the ship locks and weir are only 200 metres (660 feet) from train station Heidelberg Altstadt. But if you can’t handle any of the walking, bus service is easy, provided by RNV routes 30, 33, 34, and 35. Heidelberg’s city authority has also built waterworks here to generate electricity from water turbines (Amt für Neckarausbau (WSV) – Wasserkraftwerke HD).
Heidelberg’s Schloß (Schloss, Castle) is another of the town’s enduring landmarks. With the German sharp-s “ß” (Eszett), how often did we refer “the Schloß” as “the Schlob”? “Frequently” is the answer: example, “today I’m gonna make the schlep to the Schlob.”
From the Altstadt, there might be the huff and puff up the steep path called Kurzer Buchel, or you can lazy the sweat with the cool ease of the Bergbahn. The Schloss is in essence a set of romanticized castle ruins after strong pushes to sack, burn, and destroy in the late 17th-century. However, the town and the ruins managed to escape bombing in World War 2, despite best attempts to demolition in an eastward retreat. What’s remarkable today is how deep the ruins are and how far the castle grounds encompass; after a full walk-through, it’s a little easier to imagine what the castle must have been like in its full glory. Yes, there’s a gigantic wood barrel (Großes Fass, Heidelberg Tun); and yes, there are great views of the Altstadt from the Castle terraces and former gardens. Three times each summer, the Schlossbeleuchtung is a big deal when the Castle at night is illuminated by lights and fireworks. What I don’t overlook is the German Pharmacy Museum: (1) aspirin was invented in Germany when Bayer chemist Felix Hoffman created in 1897 a pure form of salicylic acid, and (2) Magdalene Neff became the first woman licensed pharmacist in Germany in 1906.
Every side street seems like a gentle quiet detour from the salmon run on the Hauptstrasse. Bauamtsgasse is particularly important because one place in particular on this narrow road almost feels like its whole existence is almost entirely for residents. Not quite, because I’m no longer a resident, but a mere (but frequent) itinerant. I can’t forget they make good Schnitzel, and while I can’t get true “Wiener Schnitzel”, they offer slabs of pork or turkey made in the “Wiener Art” (Vienna style): meat pounded to a thin sheet, breaded, and fried crispy. Whenever I’m back “home” in the HD, I try to get back to this place, get cozy with “ein Bier auf einer Bank” (a beer on a bench), and relive that first introduction over 15 years in the making.
From the Hauptstrasse or from Marktplatz, many visitors amble behind the Heiliggeistkirche onto Steingasse and to the Alte Brücke. Steingasse is a lane that is only 105 metres (345 feet) in length, but somehow seems to squeeze in as many people as possible. Steingasse could very well have the largest linear (and areal?) density of people per (square-)metre in Heidelberg, especially in the hours between noon and 9pm. Whether you think it’s worth the effort to squeeze your way through the crowds is entirely up to you. People-watching from a table outside is excellent entertainment, and there’s also on-site brewed beer at Vetter Brauhaus.
The fastest way to reach Neuenheim on the north side of the Neckar is the Theodor Heuss Bridge, whether it’s by bus, by tram, or on foot. From the Heidelberg side, this bridge got me to Philosophenweg, Neckarwiese, and the Saturday market at Neuenheim Marktplatz. There’s a great view from the bridge in afternoon light east to the Alte Brücke, the red roofs of the Altstadt, and the Schloss on Königstuhl. As guests of the Max Planck research institutes will attest, visitors staying at the Max Planck Guest House in Neuenheim learn quickly about RNV bus 31’s route directly through Neuenheim’s commercial centre and over the Theodor Heuss bridge into the Altstadt.
Heidelberg is home to what is commonly acknowledged as the oldest university in Germany. Founded in 1386, Universität Heidelberg (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg) dominates the town’s intellectual and cultural landscape with over 31-thousand students enrolled. University Square is surrounded by buildings of the Alte Universität (Old University, 1712-1735) and the Neue Universität (New University, 1930-1934). Commonly called “Uniplatz”, University Square is a large open space ideal for students, residents, and visitors to meet and hang out, and for more formal and organized gatherings. Dotted about the square are memorial plaques, including the former Augustinian monastery where Martin Luther’s disputation took place in April 1518, and book burnings by Nazis and their supporters in 1933. The warning by German-Jewish writer and poet Heinrich Heine in 1823 seemed prophetic: when books are burned, people are next.
36. Untere Strasse
Known to most as “die Untere“, bars and cafes line the narrow street, making things easy for a pub/tavern crawl. For a compact university town, that means actual stumbling distance for most isn’t very far. Unless there’s a bus or tram involved, and well, the longer the trip, the messier it gets. For many, the Untere is directly associated with overdrinking and tiny poorly ventilated places with sufficient smoke exposure (which should be) ranked as “health hazards”. Me, I’ve got daylight hours to burn which means I’ve got Pop or Burkardt in mind, and I’ve a need for cold beer in hand outside on the cobblestone. Making the jig onto Heumarkt off the Hauptstrasse, I still use “die Untere” as a short cut to the Alte Brücke in daylight hours.
Few stray this far to the edge of the Altstadt, where you’ve got the Karlstor, the Schleuse/Stauufer, and an unusual bridge. At the eastern end of train station “S-Bhf Heidlberg-Altstadt”, a set of stairs leads to an pedestrian overpass over the railway tracks and onto a dirt path called Valerieweg which heads up Königstuhl and converges with other trails sprawled around the hill.
This is “meine Stadtteil“, my neighbourhood. Rohrbacher Strasse was my address of record, and a Wohngemeinschaft flat in an Altbau (old-style multi-storey building) is where I lived for two years. I didn’t have to wander far to thrive in areas and spots away from high traffic areas. When I walked the neighbourhood, when I dropped by the bakery or grocers down the street, everyone I encountered were residents. Once in awhile, we’d nod at each other in eventual recognition. Not only does the Jewish community gather at the New Synagogue (inaugurated in 1994), a central point for Weststadt is St. Bonafitius church and Wilhelmsplatz where a farmers’ market is held twice weekly. Fridges are small in Germany; gotta shop frequent and fresh at the market or at the grocers.
Arrival by train
Heidelberg can be reached from:
- Mannheim in about 20 minutes with S-Bahn Rhein-Neckar or Deutsche Bahn (DB) regional trains,
- Frankfurt am Main in about 50 to 90 minutes with DB InterCity or regional trains, and
- Stuttgart in about 40 minutes with DB EuroCity or InterCity trains.
Except for two Wiki images (MPIA, Römerbrücke), I made all remaining images on multiple visits between 2006 and 2017. Aller meinen Fotoaufnahmen sind mit Wasserzeichen versehen worden. My thanks to Heidelberg Marketing and Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr for their support in 2014. Inspired by Tricia Mitchell’s recollections from the HD, this post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-3MU.
Why “HD” is a common abbreviation for Heidelberg:
In Germany, Autokennzeichen or license plate identifications for motorized vehicles begin with one to three letters representing the nearest registry location. Plates registered in the country’s five largest cities are: F for Frankfurt am Main, K for Köln, M for München, HH for Hansestadt Hamburg, and B for Berlin. If you’re wondering why H isn’t Hamburg, it’s because H is Hannover. So, the next time you see an advertisement for Audi, BMV, Daimler-Benz, or Volkswagen, check out the car plates: IN for Ingolstadt, M for Munich, S for Stuttgart, and WOB for Wolfsburg, respectively.
Some proficiency with the German language comes in handy:
- Heidelberg excerpt, from “Höfe und Residenzen im spätmittelalterlichen Reich: ein dynastisch-topographisches Handbuch“, by Werner Paravicini (Thorbecke, 2003).
- “Von Aachen bis Zypern: geografische Namen und ihre Herkunft. Anekdoten, Fakten und Vergleiche; mehr als 3500 Namen aus aller Welt“, by Hugo Kastner, p. 133 (Schlütersche, 2007).
- The Poems of Oswald Von Wolkenstein: An English Translation of the Complete Works (1376/77–1445), by Albrecht Classen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
- “Deutsches Ortsnamenbuch“, ed. Manfred Niemeyer, pp. 251 (Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2012).
- “Northern Europe: International Dictionary of Historic Places“, by Trudy Ring, Noelle Watson, Paul Schellinger (Routledge, 2013).