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Because when I saw for the first time a panoramic photo of the Old Bridge and the historic Old Town, felt that I must visit it some day.
Watching the spectacular view of the river Neckar, the Old Town and the castle, surrounded by the Odenwald forest hills, it’s easy to feel and realize why this place was inspiration for the poets, philosophers and artists that gave birth to the German Romantic movement.
Before going to my list of must sees, my first mention has to be for the Altstadt -Old Town- as a whole.
In spite of being a constantly growing city homing important and modern enterprises and industries, the biggest appeal of Heidelberg is the old town area, where you’ll find the traces of the long city’s History.
It is one of the few major German cities that spared the destruction of the World War II -apart from the bombing of the old bridge- alternating nowadays the medieval spirit of its streets and buildings with the youthful atmosphere brought by the numerous students of the University.
The more convenient way to explore the old city is to start at the Bismarckplatz and entering through the Hauptstraße, the 1,5 kilometer-long pedestrian street crossing the length of the Altstadt.
-Let me tell you, I love to use the German font “ß”, instead of the double “s”-.
Here you can find cafés, wine bars, breweries, pubs, food and delicatessen shops, restaurants, tiny fashion shops and many more appealing places -don’t miss Käthe Wohlfahrt, an amazing Christmas shop at the corner of Hauptstraße and Grabengaße-.
Interesting to see, during cold weather, animal furs are suitable disposed on the chairs by the outdoor tables of the bars, so customers can protect theselves from the cool.
Now, without further ado, let us take a look at the main highlights of the town.
1. Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit)
The biggest Gothic church in the region, and one of the few buildings to survive the many wars the city suffered during the past centuries, was built from 1344 to 1441 on the basements of a late-Roman basilica, although its tower was not completed until 1544.
During the centuries the church alternated its religious denomination, being used either by Catholics or by Protestants. Today, it is a Protestant Church.
Leaving the church we take to our right, until we find Steingaße, the narrow street leading to the riverside. We’ll have at sight our next destination, about a hundred meters away .
2. Karl Theodor Brücke (Bridge)
Also known as the Old Bridge, this spectacular stone construction dates from the 18th century. Was bombed and destroyed by the allies in World War II, but completely rebuilt in 1947.
The imposing and unique twin towers, remains of the medieval gate, were possibly the main reason of my love at first sight with this city.
We pass between the towers to walk along the bridge, stopping by the statues of Prince Elector Carl Theodor and Minerva/Pallas Athena, and then reaching the opposing river bank to get some of the most picturesque views of the bridge, the old town and the Castle.
Back to the Old Town, just to the right side of the towers is the “Bridge Monkey”, a bronze sculpture of a monkey holding a mirror. The story behind it tells that you’ll become wealthy if you touch the mirror. I did so, but I’m still waiting…
3. Marktplatz (Market Square)
Back to the Heiliggeistkirch, we turn left to find the main square of the district, where an open market takes place twice a week.
In the middle of it, a statue of Hercules on a column, built between 1703 and 1706, symbolizes the heroic efforts of Heidelberg’s habitants to rebuild the city after the devastation of the “9 Years War” and the Palatinate succession war.
The statue currently displayed is a replica of the original, preserved in the Kurpfälzisches Museum.
Due to its location and importance, this square is not particularly quiet, but is a great and fun place to sit at one of the cafés, to have a drink and watch at the surrounding buldings and the people going by.
4. Rathaus (Town Hall)
It was mainly constructed between 1701 and 1751. Due to a fire had to be rebuilt in 1908, and was later enlarged.
Not an amazing building to my eyes, but there it is.
5. Zum Ritter Sankt Georg Haus (Knight Saint George)
Built in 1592, was one of the very few houses of the town to survive the demolitions during the Wars of Succession.
Considered between the most impressive monuments of the late Renaissance period, it is named after the sculpture at the top -yes, Saint George with a helmet-.
I know almost nothing about architecture, but this is definitely one of the city’s buldings I prefer most.
6. Kornmarkt (Seed Market)
Once used for the collection and trade of agricultural goods, this square homes a Madonna statue from 1718, atop a fountain pillar, originally meant to attract Protestants to return to Catholic Apostolic Church, as part of the unsuccesful efforts of the Count Elector to bring his subjects back to the “true faith”.
With no cafés or restaurants around, it’s much quieter than the nearby bigger squares and a suitable place to take a sit on any of its benches and enjoy the unparalleled view of the Castle.
7. Karlsplatz (Karl’s Square)
Named after Grand Duke Karl Friedrich of Baden, it also provides a clear and direct view of the Castle.
Its most remarkable point is the fountain dedicated to Sebastian Münster, a cosmographer of the 16th century, topped by an unusual sculpture representing an Earth globe with oversized figures of human beings in different positions, said to symbolize birth, death, and technical progress.
8. Schloss Heidelberg (Castle)
The main character in almost any panoramic view of the city, standing about 80 metres above the Neckar river on the slopes of Königstuhl mount.
The easiest way to get there is to take the two minute Bergbahn funicular railway, that runs from Kornmakt to the top of the Königstuhl, passing by the Castle.
You may also choose a 15-minute walk from the old town.
This time, let’s take the funicular.
Built of red neckar-stone, the castle is described as a mix of styles, from Gothic to Renaissance.
Entering the courtyard, we can see at our right the Apotheken Museum -Museum of Pharmacy- displaying Antique pharmacy instruments, manuscripits and furnishings.
But our main destination here is the impressive building at the back of the courtyard, with its richly decorated facade : the Friedrichsbau, a residential palace named after Elector Frederick IV who order its construction in 1601.
We enter the palace heading to its cellars, where we’ll find the tourists’ prime photo spot: the Großes Fass, the Great Tun.
You will soon find a big wooden barrel, but don’t let you be deceived, that is not the famous one.
You have to keep going further down, and finally discover it: a seven metres wide, over eight metres long wooden barrel with a capacity of exactly 221,726 litres. A “wine-cask as big as a cottage”, in the words of Mark Twain.
Once we’ve seen the enormous barrel and took the mandatory photos, we go outside -again- following to the north walls, to see the balconies, terraces, towers and arrow loops, which give a wide and unobstructed view to the Neckar and the Old Town.
Finishing the visit to the Castle, we go back to the funicular to take it towards the higher station, where we’ll find an ideal place to drink a coffee or a cup of hot wine, and take a rest on one of the chairs around the terrace.
While slowly tasting our drink -of course, I obviously chose the wine- we may enjoy the peaceful environment, or walk to the balustrade and benefit of another view of the city, the Old Bridge and the Heiligenbergb -the high hill beyond the Neckar-.
This timely pause has to come to an end, since we should take the funicular down to the Kornmarkt, to find the following highlights in our list.
9. The University “group” : Alte Universität (Old University), Universitätsbibliothek (University Library), Universitätsplatz (University Square), Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) and Studentenkarzer (Students’ Jail)
A few blocks from the Holy Spirit Church we find the Grabengaße, where we turn left to find the University, the main building s related to it, and its square -usually filled with bycicles during class’ times-.
Founded in 1386, it is the oldest university in Germany, the third established in the Holy Roman Empire, and the fifth oldest one in Central Europe.
A few of the many thinkers, chemists, and scientists who blazoned the University’s History are George Hegel, Robert Bunsen, Dimitry Mendeleiev, and the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
St. Peter’s Church, located opposite of the University Library’s entrance, is the oldest preserved one in the Altstadt, since it is assumed that was built during the 12th century.
The University Library, finished in 1905, is said to show a unique combination of the “Deutschmanierismus” -an architectural German style of the late 16th century- and the “Jugendstil” -art nouveau style-.
I’ll have to trust in that…
The student’s prison, located in Agustinergaße, was used from 1778 until 1914, the times when the university authorities wielded the authonomus and legal right to detain students at this facility, mainly due to the so called “Kavaliersdelikte” -minor felonies, it can be translated to “gentlemen’s offense”.
During their detaining time the students filled the walls with paintings and graffitis, still preserved and open to visitors.
10. Hauptgaße higlights : Providenzkirche (Providence Church) and Kurpfälzisches Museum (Palatinate Museum)
Housing the oldest organ in Heidelberg, the church was built between 1659 and 1661, by command of Prince Elector Karl Ludwig,who also decided its name.
Destroyed in 1693 during the war, it was rebuilt in 1700, and its distinctive tower added in 1717.
The Palatinate Museum, founded between 1878/1879, occupies the Baroque “Palais Morass”. It’s home to a varied collection including art, archeological artifacts, and a cast of the lower jaw of the 500,000 year-old “Heidelberg Man”.
11. Kongresshaus Stadthalle (Convention Center)
Completed in 1903, this splendid, spectacular “German Renaissance” building is one of Heidelberg’s most distinctive landmarks, together with the Castle and the Old Bridge.
Huge, amazing and imposing, even if you are like me about architectonic knowledge.
Out of the list : Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Walk)
If you’re going to spend a few days in Heidelberg, you may want to take the long walk through this astonishing pathway located on the north side of the Neckar, along the side of Heiligenberg -the Saints’ Mountain-.
It’s not hard to undrestand its attractive: the views across the Neckar to the old town and the Castle are the most touching and amazing.
You were expecting some food references?
Well, this post is already too long, so you’ll find them on a future one, when I’ll also go back in time and share with you my very first and awkward experiences in Heidelberg during my honeymoon…
Just remember : “Life is about the journey and not the destination”.