An old town on the Neckar River, Heidelberg offers a variety of interests but is most widely known for its enormous castle and the university. Many Americans are familiar with Heidelberg because of the U.S. Army Base nearby.
Part of the appeal of Heidelberg, and something that gives it a different feel, is that it is one of the few German cities not destroyed during World War II air raids. Strolling the narrow crooked streets and squares you’ll see original buildings from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, baroque and neoclassical eras.
Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) Walking up the path to the castle was the first of many challenging hikes on this trip. But, like all the others the reward was worth the effort. Along the way we enjoyed views of Heidelberg, the Neckar River, and the surrounding countryside. Three hundred feet above the city, you can feel the history within the old sandstone walls of the castle, parts of which were built beginning around 1300. The castle has a sort of haphazard look with varied roof lines and different styles of architecture representing hundreds of years. One of my favorite views of the castle is half the tower that broke apart and slid down as if it’s on a hinge, giving us a peek inside. In 1800, Count Charles de Graimberg began the difficult task of conserving the castle ruins. Up until then, the citizens of Heidelberg had used the castle stones to build new houses! For more about the history of Heidelberg Castle click HERE.
Heidelberg Tun One of the many interesting features inside the castle is The “World’s Largest Wine Barrel”, which was built in 1751 by Prince Elector Karl Theodor to house the wine paid as taxes by wine growers. It is almost 23 feet high, and 28 feet wide, holds 58,124 gallons of wine, and has a dance floor built on top of it.
Castle Gardens Constructed around 1616 the Castle Gardens were considered a masterpiece of their time. They were built on several terraces and made up of flower beds, mazes, arbors, sculptures, a heated greenhouse with orange trees, large fish ponds, waterfalls, and a man-made grotto for musical water arts. Most of that was destroyed except the terraces and fountain statue. If I closed my eyes real tight I could see and smell the beautiful gardens.
Main Street (Hauptstrasse) Nearly a mile long, the pedestrian-only street is a dizzying blend of historic buildings, elegant shops, boutiques, bakeries, pretzel stands, street vendors, artists and sidewalk cafes. The longest pedestrian zone in Europe, Hauptstrasse is great for people watching. We gave our feet a much-needed rest over lunch near the Marktplatz (main square) before continuing on.
The Old Bridge (Alte Brücke) One of the most famous images of Heidelberg after its castle, the old bridge really is a site to see. After four previous wooden bridges were swept away in floods or destroyed by ice, Karl Theodor Brücke was the first to build a stone bridge in 1786-88. The bridge has nine arches made of red sandstone, the same material used throughout the old town. Marked on these arches are the heights and dates of historic floods in the Neckar Valley. The medieval gate from the old town wall was incorporated into the design and a small gate to the side of the bridge was used for cattle to access the river for drinking water. The bridge was bombed in WWII in the last few days of the war but the citizens quickly rebuilt it.
Bridge Monkey (Brückenaffe) A popular stop near the bridge is a sculpture on the right side of the bridge towers, a remake of the first famous Heidelberg Bridge Monkey. The modern sculpture of the bridge monkey relates to an ancient relief on the bridge showing a monkey with a mirror which, according to legend, symbolizes the fact that neither the city-dwellers nor the people who lived outside the city were better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as they cross the bridge to remember this.