Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chapter 13: Heidelberg's Ancient Walls

Today we celebrated finding an apartment by taking off east in our little rented Mercedes to the ancient city of Heidelberg on the banks of the Neckar. The drive is a little over an hour from Ramstein. The oldest evidence of human life was found near Heidelberg, and later it was settled by ancient Celts and eventually by the Romans. The old bridge that stands today is actually quite new in the context of the city's long history. Heidelberg has a beautiful old town which escaped the ravages of World War II allied bombings, and it has been reserved for mostly pedestrian and bike traffic. The steep hills and cobblestones call for some pretty hardy biking, which the young students and even older faculty of the University of Heidelberg appear to handle effortlessly.

The highlight and most conspicuous marker of the old town is Heidelberg Schloss (Castle) which sits majestically on a steep cliff over the river. It is accessible by car or tour bus, trolley or, in our case, hoofing it up some remarkably steep cobbled streets. It's a pretty good climb and well worth the effort. Once on the castle grounds you get a marvelous view of the city. Unfortunately, we did not get to see much of the inside: that is only available in a reserved guided tour.
We explored the exterior of the castle, whose towering ruins inspired most of the great figures of the Romantic period who viewed it on their Grand Tours. Goethe was especially fond of the site, and there are frequent markings in the city advertising Goethe's presence at particular locations, including one at a hotel/restaurant, Goldener Hecht, where we ate some apflel strudel and drank some strong German coffee, which I have come to love.
Up to the castle
The University of Heidelberg is one of the oldest in Europe. It was an important center during the Reformation where Luther proclaimed his doctrine of salvation by grace. We entered several of the large cathedrals and I was struck by the relative plainness of the interiors when the outside often looked more ornate; evidence, I assume, of the Calvinist iconoclasts who sometimes whitewashed ornate Catholic interiors during those fanatical times.
University library

Goethe drank beer here
Heidelberg is a stunning historical city and a gentrified tourist and hip academic locale. Fortunately, we were able to see it off season, so we found parking downtown by the river with no problem, and the streets were pleasant and relatively quiet. Old town started to become busy about the time we left, but we enjoyed sitting outside a Turkish owned cafe, eating Sophia Loren pizza, sipping Beck's beer and later Turkish coffee, and watching people and their children enjoy the splendid environment. The weather report had predicted some rain, but the weather remained perfect the whole time we were there, with scattered clouds that cast interesting lighting across the expansive cityscape. The air was comfortably cool, invigorating for climbing to the castle summit, yet mild enough to dine outside. It really could not have been improved upon. A wonderful day trip.
The old town bridge

Goethe was here, too, at the castle

Heidelberg Schloss

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