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Germany: Berlin, Frankfurt, Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Germany: The charm preserved
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
During World War II, Heidelberg was almost completely spared allied bombings which destroyed many of Germany's larger inner cities. As a result, Heidelberg has retained its baroque charm of narrow streets, picturesque houses and of course the world-famous Schloss (castle ruins). With hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to the city annually, Heidelberg is truly a culturally diverse and international destination, despite its small size.
A jewel among German travel destinations, Heidelberg is in the Neckar river valley right where the legend-rich Odenwald (Forest of Odes or Odin) opens up towards the plains of the Rhine Valley. Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany that was established in 1386. With 28,000 students, the Ruprecht-Karls-Universitat is one of Germany's larger academic institutions and boasts the full spectrum of an ancient academy, from Egyptian Studies to Computer Linguistics.
We boarded an Intercity Express (ICE), Germany’s fastest railway system that notches speed of over 300 kms per hour from Frankfurt Airport station. We alighted at Mainheim and took a connecting SBahn that brought us to Heidelberg. The total journey from Frankfurt was an hour and five minutes. The return ticket cost us EUR 100.
It was about 10 AM. The plan was to spend the next few hours in Heidelberg and take the ICE back so as to be in Frankfurt at around 5 PM. That being the case, it made sense to make the most of the time on hand to spend exploring Altstadt (old town) and the Schloss castle.
We boarded bus number 32 (even 33 works) and alighted at Bismarckplatz, the busiest junction of Heidelberg. The Hauptstrasse (Main Street) leads from Bismarckplatz across the old town. Approximately one mile in length, it is reputedly the longest pedestrian shopping street in Germany and certainly quite charming. Here begins our walk.
From 1392 until the first city expansion, this street, at that time considered the upper street connecting with the lower street, showed the doubled east-west-axis of the city. The shopping mile offers Baroque and Renaissance facades, department stores, boutiques, pretzel stands, street vendors, beggars, artists and beautiful street cafes.
After exploring the main street and many of its beautiful bylanes, we arrived at Kornmakt, the base station of the funicular that would take us to the castle. The castle stop is midway, the upper end is the summit of Konigtuhl.
The Heidelberg castle is a mix of styles from Gothic to Renaissance. Prince Elector Ruprecht III (1398–1410) erected the first building in the inner courtyard as a royal residence. The building was divided into a ground floor made of stone and framework upper levels. Another royal building is located opposite the Ruprecht Building: the Fountain Hall. Prince Elector Philipp (1476–1508) is said to have arranged the transfer of the hall's columns from a decayed palace of Charlemagne from Ingelheim to Heidelberg.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Prince Electors added two palace buildings and turned the fortress into a castle. The two dominant buildings at the eastern and northern side of the courtyard were erected during the rule of Ottheinrich (1556–1559) and Friedrich IV (1583–1610). Under Friedrich V (1613–1619), the main building of the west side was erected, the so-called "English Building".
The castle and its garden were destroyed several times during the Thirty Years' War and the Palatine War of Succession. As Prince Elector Karl Theodor tried to restore the castle, lightning struck in 1764, and ended all attempts at rebuilding. Later on, the castle was misused as a quarry; stones from the castle were taken to build new houses in Heidelberg. This was stopped in 1800 by Count Charles de Graimberg, who then began the process of preserving the castle.
Although the interior is in Gothic style, the King's Hall was not built until 1934. Today, the hall is used for festivities, e.g. dinner banquets, balls and theatre performances. During the Heidelberg Castle Festival in the summer, the courtyard is the site of open air musicals, operas, theatre performances, and classical concerts performed by the Heidelberg Philharmonics.
The castle offers spectacular view of the town below, the old bridge, the church and the Neckar River.
Back from the castle, we crossed over the Neckar using the Old Bridge – another Heidelberg icon. The Karl Theodor Bridge, popularly called the Old Bridge was erected 1786–1788. A medieval bridge gate is on the side of the old town, and was originally part of the town wall. Baroque tower helmets were added as part of the erection of the stone bridge in 1788.
On the northern side of the Neckar is located the Heiligenberg (Saints' Mountain), along the side of which runs the Philosophers' Walk with scenic views of the old town and castle. Traditionally, Heidelberg's philosophers and university professors would walk and talk along the pathway. Farther up the mountain lie the ruined 11th-century Monastery of St. Michael, the smaller Monastery of St. Stephen, a Nazi-era amphitheater, and the remains of an earthen Celtic hill fort from the 4th century BC.
To be honest, I had no energy to walk up to the walk and chose to sit in one of the cafes, sipping coffee, by the banks of the Neckar, as my son Anuj galloped away. By the time he came back after conjuring his philosophical thoughts, we boarded a bus to the Heidelberg railway station.
A combination of SBahn and ICE transported us to Frankfurt at 5PM.
Heidelberg Image Gallery Photo viewer
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