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Heidelberg in general
I recently came back from a week in Heidelberg in Germany and so thought I would share my experiences with you.
Heidelberg is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany and is located in the Southern part of the country, near to Frankfurt. It sits on the Neckar River and so is a really picturesque city with beautiful views up and down the river. It is also a university town, the University of Heidelberg being one of Europe's oldest educational institutions. It was founded in 1386 and I believe is actually Germany's oldest university. This was actually the main reason why we visited Heidelberg. My mother had been a foreign exchange student there 40 years ago and so for her 60th birthday we took her back for a surprise visit to Heidelberg.
We stayed in a hotel in Bismark Platz which is a big square with lots of shops around it. It gave us really access into Heidelberg old town which is where most of the touristy locations are. You walk down a pedestrian-ized street which is lined with shops, restaurants, tourist shops etc. When it came to eating lunch and dinner we mainly stayed close to this street as they offered a nice mix of cake shops and traditional restaurants. Most of the food was what I would describe as typically German, especially in the pub type restaurants. Examples include lots of meat dishes, stodgy food, German noodles, apple strudel etc. I found the food very filling and after a while a bit too rich for me but they did do salads and pasta, pizza too if that is too much for you.
The old town is where you need to head to find the tourist points of interest. We firstly decided to take a scenic walk up in the hills to get a beautiful view over the city, the river, the castle and the historic Heidelberg Bridge. The walk is called Philosophenwe, translated as The Philosophers Walk, so called because Heidelberg's philosophers and university teachers are said to have once walked and talked here. It can be found on the northern side of the Neckar. It's quite a steep walk in places, especially at the beginning so not for the faint hearted but I managed it when I was six months pregnant so I guess it's not too bad. You don't need hiking boots or anything like that, it can be done in trainers or flip flops. You do get some beautiful views. There are some places to stop along the way, including a garden with benches which is nice to just sit in for a while to recover from your initial trek. There are some information signs along the way too to tell you what you are looking at. At the end it leads you to the Heidelberg Bridge.
The bridge is a stone bridge which was erected from 1786 to 1788. There is a medieval bridge gate on the side of the old town which was originally part of its town wall.
From here we visited Heidelberg castle, most of which is in ruins. Even so, it is quite a striking building. It is located on the side of a hill and so has some beautiful views from the top. The castle is a mixture of styles from Gothic to Renaissance. There is a special train you catch which firstly takes you to the castle. You then pay an entrance fee to go in which if I can remember rightly was about 6 Euros per person which in my opinion was not too bad. There was not too much to see. There of course are the views and a few exhibitions inside but as most of it is in ruins this is all you see. There is a beautiful park on the outside of the castle and inside you can buy refreshments, drinks etc.
The train which takes you to the castle also includes a funicular railway which you can take further up to see even more spectacular views. I definitely recommend this, even just for the train ride. The train is on of course on a cable and is pulled up at a very steep angle. The angle is quite incredible to watch and go up and it's very high when you get to the top. The air is actually quite thin at the top so I wouldn't recommend going up there for long although there is not much to see apart from that.
We also visited the various university buildings as my mum showed us around. There is a university museum. It's not very big but you do see some old photographs of the university and also see how it has progressed in recent years. The sciences are very prominent here and The University of Heidelberg was actually attended by Robert Bunsen, creator of the Bunsen Burner. You can actually see an example of his early work in the museum which is quite interesting. We were given a mini tour by one of the museum employees who took us into one of the old lecture halls and he had a great many stories to tell.
Another nice tourist activity is a boat ride down the Neckar. We took a 4 hour boat ride which cost about 12 Euros each. It was a big passenger boat with an open top which is where we sat. I have to say that 4 hours was probably a bit too long but it was nice just to relax and sunbathe for a while without having to walk around looking at things. The boat gave information over the PA system in both German and English pointing out different things to see on the shore. The Neckar has a number of locks and they were quite fun navigating them.
In conclusion I would say that Heidelberg is a nice city to visit, something different from the ordinary. The people were very friendly, they all spoke English and made you feel welcome. A week is definitely enough time to be there as you can see everything very comfortably in that time.
Heidelberg is an ancient university town nestled in the hills on the Neckar. A peaceful, even idyllic setting yet the small city is only one hour by train from the international centre (and airport) of Frankfurt.
Living up to the stereotype, German transport generally is reasonably efficient and there are bus and train connections across Germany and further afield. Watch out for Happy-Weekend tickets where 5 people can travel anywhere in Germany using local services for only 35 euros. Similarly there are deals where connections to France, Hungary, Italy and other destinations are available for as low as 29 euros-making heidelberg extremely cheap to reach and travel on from. The closets airport with a ryanair service is frankfurt hahn where it is a two hour busride to the centre of Heidelberg.
Once in Heidelberg the old city can be navigated by food but the rest of the city has an excellent tram system. Grab a map from tourist information and this is a cheap and easy way to get around.
The old town of Heidelberg can be comfortably walked around and holds most of the tourist sights. The principle attraction towering above the city is, of course, the castle. Now a ruin but in renaissance style the castle is perched up on the hillside above the old town. 3 times every summer to commemorate the 3 times it has burnt down a light show immitating the burning castle is shown. The exact dates change every year so check online.
The Old bridge (Karl-Theodor Bridge) is the second symbol of the city and has a medieval gate on the town side. the bridge was reconstructed after WWII in keeping with it's previous design. This is a good place to take photos of the castle.
Heidelberg is known mainly as a university town and one of the oldest in Europe at that. The buildings are scattered across the old town but some in particular are worth taking an extra look at. One is the library, an ornate and beautiful building on Ploeck street and the second is the old university jail.
The Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) is a fantastic building started in the 14th century in late-gothic style (although not completed until the 16th century). An architectural wonder and working church it is a calm and fascinating place to see.
Heidelberg bursts at the seams with famous names who have been born, lived, studied and died here particularly in the philosophy area. On the opposite side of the Neckar banks from the town is an area where groups of philosophers used to walk to relax and think and so has become known as the Philosophenweg or Philosopher's Walk. A nice stroll up the hill incorporating gardens and parks this also leads up to viewpoint of the castle which is perfect for phototaking.
The old town is scattered with restaurants and pubs many in 'ye olde' German style where you can try endless beers, sauerkraut and sausage (and some very good German dishes!) but if this doesn't appeal then there are Thai, japanese and Indian and other international restuarants. Prices may be a little higher here than in an average German town but 10 euros would get a main dish and drink in all but the most expensive places.
After 5 years of German lessons and numerous visits to the country, Heidelberg has still managed to escape my attention, and when I moved here in august last year I really did not know what to expect. Factoring in various holidays, I’ve spent around 10 of the last 11 months here, and as you’d expect, I’ve come to know the town pretty well. Heidelberg has everything you could want from a tourist destination – an ancient castle, a charming old town area, a river running through it with luscious green banks on one side, a renowned Christmas market and a usually pleasant climate. It’s no wonder that the Americans and Japanese flock here in their thousands each year. I spent most of the last 20 years living in a tourist resort in the UK, so the masses don’t really phase me, but if you’re looking for an authentic German holiday where you get to see how the locals live and practice your language skills ordering your “Bier, bitte”, this probably isn’t the right place. But then, in this case Bonn, Munich and Hamburg wouldn’t be all that much better. If, however, you want to spend some time in Germany without having to speak anything other than English, Heidelberg’s a good choice. And it sure is prettier than Berlin. GETTING THERE AND SETTLING IN Flying into the area, you’ll probably end up in one of the Frankfurt airports – Hahn for budget airline flights, International for the others. Neither is more than a couple of hours away from Heidelberg, and public transport links are excellent. The simplest (though not the cheapest) option is the direct shuttle bus, which drops you off somewhere in town. If you’re watching your pennies, the train works out cheaper, though you will have to change somewhere on route. You can find more price details and timetables on the Deutsche Bahn website before you set off at www.bahn.de If your accommodation has not b
een booked in advance, there are two main options: doing it yourself in your best Deutsch or begging the tourist office (handily located at the main station, a point where some of the shuttles also drop off). Heidelberg has a good selection of accommodations, from the youth hostel up near the uni halls of residence to budget, mid-priced and luxury hotels. However, it is a popular place, and rooms get booked up well in advance. One of the most reasonably priced places is the Ibis at the station, where a double room will set you back about 40 GBP per night without breakfast. The further into town you go, the higher the prices rise, and for the fanciest central hotels you will be looking at several hundred Euros per night. If you want a nice enough hotel at a lowish price, you need to look outside the center. Many of the suburbs and nearby towns (Kirchheim, Rohrbach, Sandhausen, Leimen) have cheaper places to stay, and none are more than 30 mins from the center. If you’re a sports fan, the latter might be of special interest to you as it’s the one-time home of Boris Becker, or “Baby BoBo” as my German friends like to call him. The parents of his partner in crime Steffi Graff have a house in one of the most prestigious areas in Heidelberg too, on the river bank with a great view of the castle. Housing sorted, it’s time to start exploring, and a good place to begin is Bismarkplatz, the central transport hub and, handily, one end of the main street. Getting around the center is best done by foot, but if you’re staying outside the area, you need to grab a bus or tram in to start with. Tickets can be bought on board or from the machines at the stops, and a simple, one-way journey costs from 1 Euro for one person. Day cards are also available and if you plan on traveling quite a bit, or find a lot of walking difficult, these can be a sensible option. The numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 11, 12, 29, 34, 41 and 42 among others all pass through B
ismarkplatz at some point – as soon as the large Woolworths store sign comes into view, it’s time to get off. Taxis are readily available and all are metered rather than fixed priced. They’re usually not worth taking though, unless you arrive in the hours of darkness and don’t fancy wandering aimlessly in search of your hotel. For excursions outside the town public transport in the form of busses and trains is by far the simplest and cheapest choice. The ticketing staff at the station all speak English and the printed timetables are easy to understand and mostly bilingual – yellow ones show departures and white ones arrivals. Popular choices for trips are Speyer (v. bon cathedral), Schwetzingen (v. bon palace) and Mannheim (v. bon shops). All are 30 mins – 1 ½ hours away, and make perfect day or half day trips. SHOPS AND SIGHTS Back to the Woolworths branch and, if you cross the square towards H&M, you find yourself on the Hauptstrasse, or main street. This is the main shopping area in the town, and most of it is pedestrianised. It’s also home to numerous cinemas, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as department stores, retail chains and individual shops. Galleria Kaufhof, of which there are two branches within 5 mins of each other due to some silly take-overs and mergers in the past, is the local equivalent of Debenhams, and if there’s something specific you’ve forgotten to pack, from flip flops to knickers, this would be the place to go. The main branch on Bismarkplatz is usually the meeting place for friends in town. They have fancy external elevators (like the one at Boots in Blackpool if you’ve ever been) and “meet you at the lifts” is a phase repeatedly uttered here. Assuming you’ve not come to Germany to shop (and if you have, then Heidelberg is *not* the destination you should have chosen) you’ll be wanting to know what else there is to
do. Along the Hauptstrasse and down several side alleys you’ll find most of the town’s museums. The packaging one is tiny but interesting if adverts are your thing, and is the only one of its kind in Europe. The two art galleries, handily located side by side, have a mix of permanent and visiting exhibitions, with both classical and modern art on display. I was at the Heidelberg Kunstverein at weekend and, I have to say, it’s balls. Literally. Bouncy balls and footballs and tennis balls all stuck together with sellotape and called “art”. The neighbouring Kurpfälzisches Museum was a little better, but still contained what I thought was an odd mixture of 15th Century art work, almost roman looking artifacts, recreated music and dining rooms and some, erm, Warhol works. Just off the main street is the town’s old student prison. In the past the police liked to leave punishment of studious types up to the university itself, and their solution to any problems was to lock up the students for days on end. The prison’s no longer in use but the art work from the time remains, and it’s a fascinating place to visit. If you carry on walking along the street, passing these museums and continuing for a few minutes you come across the Heiliggeistkirche , one of the oldest, and tallest, churches in the town. For a mere 50 cents (~30p) you can climb to the top of the tower for some great views over the town. Unlike with cathedrals in most cities, this isn’t that well known and as such is very rarely crowded. There is also an amazing lack of graffiti, both in the stairwells and at the top on the viewing platform. You can climb the tower every day the church is open except during concerts. The castle is one of the main focal points of the town and is situated high up the hillside. You can walk up to it, either by road (the long way) or steps (quicker, but steep), but a much more fun option is to go on the
Funicular railway. With my transport season ticket I can make this trip as often as I want and I must confess to going up there rather more than was strictly necessary, just for the fun value of it all. The tickets also let you take guests with you for free at weekend, and in groups of 3 or 4 this does soon add up, so if you’re planning a trip it’s worth quickly flicking through your address book to make sure you really don’t know anyone now living here. The funicular has 3 stops, and two of these are more than purely functional – one is the Castle, and the other is Königstuhl, right at the summit. Here you can find a fairytale park (our verdict: don’t bother. And if you do go, and don’t have kids with you, expect funny “what have they been doing in there?” looks when you emerge from a spell hiding in the wooden huts), and various paths for walking through the forest. There’s also a US army telescope here, but that’s really no surprise: Heidelberg has one of the biggest American military bases in Germany. Back down on the initial level, you have more walking paths through the castle grounds, most of which can be accessed without you needing to pay an admission. If you do want to go in and see, among other things, a stupidly large wine barrel it will only cost you a few Euros. With the ticket you also get access to a really rather boring Pharmacy museum. It was most unmemorable, and the only small thing that sticks in my mind was that it smelt funny when we visited on Christmas Eve. Heidelberg isn’t packed with things to do or places to see, and as such the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed than other cities. You’re more likely to see people spending a couple of hours sitting in the sun drenched terrace of an ice cream café than rushing from museum to museum. When the weather’s up to it (pretty much from March to November) there’s nothing nicer than an afternoon spen
t down by the river, perhaps renting a boat, having a picnic, generally relaxing. You can swim in the Neckar but it’s a bit, well, brown. If you’re a water baby a better option is one of the outdoor pool complexes – either the Tiergarten pool (near the zoo, hence the name) or the Thermalbad near the station, a wonderful place where the water is heated to 27 C for your bathing pleasure. There isn’t much of interest across the river from the town, except for the Philosphenweg, or Philosopher’s walk. This is a path high up the mountain side which offers amazing views of the town area below. The only disadvantage is the climb up to it – either a steep winding path or a steep winding road depending on which end you start at. Best to go early in the morning or early evening (I was there at 7.30am on Easter Monday) to avoid both the crowds and the mid day temperatures. EATING AND DRINKING Whatever your cuisine of choice, you should be able to eat well in the town. Among other things we have 3 McDonalds, a Hard Rock Café and various All-you-can-eat-Chinese-buffets. The department stores have self service restaurants, offering good food and low prices, and there are various take away stands along the streets. My favourite two restaurants can be found at the base of the Heiliggeistkirche . Both have similar (Italian) menus and offer astoundingly large, tasty portions for scarily low prices. Wherever I go I rarely end up having 3 restaurant meals a day, and some of my most enjoyable dining experiences have involved supermarket bought food and impromptu picnics. Heidelberg center has various food shops (bakers, delis, butchers, greengrocers) but many are quite pricey for what you get. Luckily there are also 2 large supermarkets available, Lidl across from the main station, and Penny Markt down a side street from Bismarkplatz. Both have in store bakeries, fresh fruit sections and good choices of genera
l groceries. If you’ve buying bottles or cans of drink from one of these (or indeed any shop or stall) don’t be surprised if it’s more than twice the marked price. Since January this year sales of these items come with a legally required “Pfand”, or deposit. Which is only refunded when you return the empty container to the place you bought it from (usually with the receipt). Even if for some reason you don’t / can’t get back there, you won’t be too much out of pocket as the drinks still work out cheaper than at home – a can plus deposit at Penny Markt usually costs 43 cents, or around 30p. YOUR HOME FROM HOME If you live here and are home sick, or are on holiday but already missing the comforts of home, you’re in luck in Heidelberg. Due to the large English speaking population (all the Americans, plus a million translators and other professionals working for various corporations who have their headquarters near by) you can usually find your “needs” catered for. There are various British shops selling everything from imported crumpets to Walkers Shortbread, and all the large book shops have English language sections. Papers are available on the date of publication from the newsagents in the station. There are half a dozen Irish pubs in the center, serving among other things “proper” Guinness to all day breakfasts, and chains like Subway and Pizza Hut mean that you can even get your usual (un)healthy fast food choices here too. Heidelberg very much caters for non-German tourists. Almost all restaurant menus are in English as well, and many shops boast the rather worrying “English speaked here” signs. Guides for museums are available in various languages, and there’s also a bilingual town magazine published seasonally. This includes info of the Heidelberg Welcome Card but this is not really worth buying for the benefits it offers unless
you’ve not booked your accommodation in advance and also enjoy dining in fine restaurants (both of which attract discounts for card holders, but not so much that I’d recommend you take the risk of not booking your lodging in advance). Even without the care, Heidelberg is not an expensive destination. Museums cost less than 5 Euros (~ 3 GBP) for adults, and concessions can gain access for 60p or so. Restaurants have pretty similar prices throughout the town and 10 Eur (~6 quid) will get you a filling main course and your choice of (non)alcoholic drink. HEIDELBERG THROUGHOUT THE YEAR The town is a place you can enjoy all year round. Summer and autumn differ slightly in temperatures and tourist numbers but both are pleasant. By November it’s getting quite cold but this is the month when the Christmas market opens which just gives you another reason to come rather than stay away, and then we’re back round to Easter and the joys of springtime. It’s a year round tourist destination so unless you’re desperate to make it to the markets, the best time to come is whenever is most convenient for you. All year round there are different events and attractions here and nearby. This coming weekend is Speyer’s annual Brezel festival, and in August and September many neighbouring towns and villages have wine and sausage festivals. 3 weekends during the summer (in June, July and September) we have the Schlossbeleuchtung, or fireworks display after which the castle is illuminated for a while so that it glows brightly in the night sky. There’s also an annual film festival, and open air shows (opera and ballet as well as movies) take place in the summer months. From February to November the surrounding suburbs and neighbouring towns have various Strassenfest and Kerwe style celebrations – basically any good reason to have mini fairgrounds and stands selling goodies. In February we have Fasching, a carnival para
de where everything shuts for a day and most people get the day off work to dress up in colourful costumes and, well, get very drunk. CONCLUSION Heidelberg has everything you’d expect, but on a smaller scale. So while there are various art galleries, for example, you’d be hard pushed to spend a morning in them, a stark contrast with, say, the Met in New York where I could happily live for a few days. But then you don’t come to Heidelberg for the art, do you? You come for the atmosphere. For the people. For the ice cream. For the scenery. For lots of little things that truly make Heidelberg a place worth visiting. For more information, see the websites below or any guide book on Germany. Or leave me a comment or guest book message, and I’ll reply to you, and update the op if necessary. www.heidelberg.de www.cvb-heidelberg.de/ **** **** **** **** **** **** **** Final Note: Does familiarity breed contempt? There are two conflicting theories circulating in my head at the moment. The first is that the more contact you have with someone or something, the better you get to know them. The other is that over-exposure leaves you unable to see what’s really there. This one is best highlighted using a word, say “tortoise”. Repeat it to yourself over and over again. And then some more. What often happens is that the word in question stops making sense. It looses its meaning and becomes just a clump of sounds. I’m thinking about this, because when I arrived in Heidelberg, I thought I’d wait until I was back in the UK a year later before I wrote an op on it, reasoning that I would, at that point in time, know the most about the town. But the other night I was walking back home when I saw one of the cities landmarks. Or rather, I didn’t see it. It’s always been there, and I must pass it at least half a dozen times each week,
but just that is why I don’t really notice it anymore. It’s familiar, not special. It’s part of everyday life. It’s barely worth mentioning in an op. Except of course it is, because 99.9% of people reading this don’t live here (damn you, John, for messing up my stats). Which is my rather roundabout way of explaining why, although I’m not done with the town just yet, I’ve written this op now.
As you may have read in the other reviews of Heidelberg, it is an beautiful, old town that is very popular with tourists from all over the world and has a very cosmopolitan community. In the build up to Christmas the town is swamped with visitors wanting to visit it's Christmas Market, where you can buy many handcrafted things, eat a metre long sausage and drink hot, mulled wine. The tiny huts which are used as stalls are nicely decorated and the cold biting air adds an extra effect to the occasion. One of the higlights for me in this town though is New Year's Eve and it was with ten friends we made our way into the busy Bismarckplatz around 10pm. The square which is the main transport area for trams and buses was full of revellers and also groups of teenagers. Unfortunately this was not a good mix. In Britain from late October up to November 5th, we are inundated with advertisements warning everyone, especially children, the full dangers of fireworks. In Germany there is no Bonfire Night so there are no safety films aired on this subject. But fireworks are still available, and at this time of year many are sold as people celebrate the new year. That is why Heidelberg can be off putting on New Year's Eve to some people. As we made our way down the cobbled Hauptstrasse, past the impressive shops towards the bars, the noise was deafening. All around fireworks were being let off. The sky looked fantastic as rockets exploded into the night, brightening up the darkness over the top of buildings that have stood there for centuries. But as with everything, there always seems to be an element that try and spoil it and for every rocket that was exploding in the sky, it seemed that a firework was exploding only just in front of us. The different groups of teenagers were throwing fireworks at each other and at passers by, scaring many revellers as they dodged the rockets, and cowered from the noise. Maybe the firewor
ks were not as close as they appeared but the first reaction was to cover our faces as smoke filled the air. We made our way into Cafe Coyote which was full of happy people wanting to see the New Year in peacefully. The atmosphere in there was great, but this was a pub crawl so on we went to the next bar. As midnight approached we found ourselves in Pepper's which is one of the trediest bars in Heidelberg. We made our way onto the street outside and celebrated the arrival of 2002, with Champagne as the fireworks filled the sky. Thankfully these were being let off sensibly and the scene was stunning as the rockets exploded over the top of a church which dates back to the Middle Ages. The pub crawl continued including one of Heidelberg's three Irish bars, Napper Tandy's. This is the cheapest of the three and was packed to the rafters of people dancing on tables and singing to every song played. The friendliness of everyone was great in such a tightly squeezed place as pelple took it in turns to climb onto their stools to wave their arms around in pure happiness and drunkiness. Eventually we could take no more and we set off into the freezing cold night to try and get a taxi. The sky was clear and no bangs could be heard anymore, except for the ones in our heads, saying time for bed, you've had enough.
I’ve been meaning to write this article ever since I started dooyooing but I keep avoiding it as I have a feeling it’s going to be long!! This should be a handy guide if you intend to visit the area, so you might want to print it out. Why am I qualified to write this article? I’ve been living in the area for a year now and go out in Heidelberg at least once a week. I have gained a pretty good insight into what there is to do in this very busy town – and also what should be avoided. Is another article on Heidelberg necessary? The other articles I have read on this site about Heidelberg are not 100% up-to-date and either provide a history overload or give a decidedly bloke perspective, focussing on the variety of drinking establishments etc available (of which, admittedly, Heidelberg has more than its fair share, and upon which I shall also provide further elaboration). My intention here is to offset the balance and give a girl’s view on the choice of sights, restaurants, cafes, bars and of course shops that Heidelberg has to offer. But first of all... What is Heidelberg like for non-German speakers? I would here and now like to lay to rest any language worries you might have: if you don’t speak German, it won’t be a problem; Heidelberg is probably the most international German town I have ever been to - everybody and his dog seems to speak English (yes, speaking dogs...). In fact, as a German speaker, it is quite annoying for me, because as soon as someone realises that I am English, they immediately insist speaking it! Most of the menus in Restaurants are multilingual too and if you happen to be given a German-only menu, they usually have English versions available if you ask. What are the sights worth seeing? Heidelberg, is, without a doubt, gorgeous. It is quite a large town set in a valley in the pretty, hilly Rhein-Neckar triangle region of Bade
n-Württemberg. The fast-flowing river Neckar runs through the centre of the town and is part of the reason Heidelberg is so beautiful. The other reason is the castle, which no self-respecting tourist can leave without visiting. The castle is situated on a hill at the far end of the Hauptstraße (main pedestrian precinct where all the shops are situated). I don’t want to bore you with history, so I won’t, but there are tourist brochures you can buy, which will provide you with all the necessary information. What is there to do as a tourist? On a sunny day, taking a boat trip down the Neckar is a good plan. I went on one just last week with a group of people from work. You get to see Heidelberg and the surrounding region from a completely different angle and the view is wonderful. A two hour return boat trip will set you back about 20DM (≈ £6.50). Trips depart every hour or so in high season, so you shouldn’t have to wait around too long. If you fancy something slightly more active (but only slightly), the canoe club will hire you out a pedalo that you can use on the river for half an hour or more. This is quite popular in nice weather but is great relaxing fun. A half hour trip costs just 10DM for two to three people – bargain! If you’d like a different kind of challenge, why not take a walk (or hike) up the Philosophenweg – this is a path up into the mountain on the opposite side of the river to the castle. It takes a couple of hours to walk to the top, and is quite steep in parts, so remember to bring comfortable shoes. The view from the top is spectacular and there is also an outdoor amphitheatre there from the times of the 3rd Reich (I don’t think this is advertised in the tourist brochures, due to general German embarrassment about the Nazi history). As already touched upon, a trip around the castle is a must. The cost to walk around the grounds is 4DM per adult and the t
ape recorded guided tour (where you wander around the grounds listening to an automatic contraption that looks a bit like a telephone with a battery power pack – very amusing sight for those not participating) is about 6DM (two quid approx.). I haven’t been on this guided tour as I feel you can see enough of the castle by yourself (and have no patience with poorly translated history bumph), but if you want to learn more about the history and see more of the building, it might be worth it. There is also an apothecary museum on the castle site (with lots of old-fashioned medicines in it) which is worth seeing if the weather isn’t so good. And don’t forget to visit the “Großer Faß” (big barrel) – this is a gigantic beer barrel and is one of the big tourist attractions of the castle. If you can bear to squeeze past the hordes of Japanese and American tourists, it’s quite impressive (despite having been almost completely covered in graffiti) although I don’t think it is something you’d want to see more than once. Where to eat I actually intend writing a separate op on restaurants in Heidelberg as there are far too many to cover in this overview. Suffice to say that there is a vast choice of local and international specialities alike. My favourites are Le Coq, Cafe Journal (although this is, to be fair, one of a chain of cafes found all over Germany), Der Bierkrug, The Indian Palace, and the Dimitrius Greek restaurant (information on locations and prices will shortly be found in the aforementioned review). Where to drink There are a plethora of bars here that again suit a variety of tastes. If you like cocktails you should try Havana’s, Ziegler’s, Merlin’s, or Hemmingway’s. Havana’s and Hemmingway’s are both located on the road running alongside the river (the town centre side) and they are both very popular. What they have to offer is a grea
t atmosphere (especially Havana’s with its up-beat Latino vibes) and great drinks, although because of this, service is very slow, especially if you order food – I waited over an hour once for nothing more than a filled tortilla. Merlin’s and Ziegler’s are set slightly away from the others, although still well within walking distance of Bismarckplatz, so you don’t have to wait quite as long. If you want a more typical German pub atmosphere, you could try Vetters, which is opposite O’Reilly’s Irish pub although it is not really my style, what with no music and not a great selection of drinks. If you manage to find Untere Straße (which runs parallel to the Hauptstr. in the Altstadt area of town), wherever you go, you’ll find somewhere decent to drink. If you’re missing home, there are a couple of decent Irish pubs that are always filled with a mixture of Americans, British, Irish and Germans – O’Reilly’s and Napper Tandy’s are the ones I usually end up in. If you like pub quizzes, O’Reilly’s does one on a Monday from about half past eight, and Napper’s on Tuesday from nine, and if you like Karaoke, you can sing to your heart’s content every other Saturday at O’Reilly’s. Whatever you do, don’t bother with Sean Og’s on the Hauptstraße. For some reason, it seems to attract a rude, arrogant clientele and the service isn’t so great either. What about night-clubs? Unfortunately Heidelberg (like a great many towns in Germany) is not ideal for clubbers. There are only two worth mentioning; Nachtschicht and Schwimmbad, and neither are much to write home about. Nachtschicht is very close to the train station (next to the Lidl supermarket) and is not much more than a large warehouse. Music varies depending on the night between R&B, special event nights and general pop. Schwimmbad has three floors that on a Fr
iday or Saturday night each play varying music types. I went one night and there was a floor playing Trance, a floor playing Reggae and a floor playing more general house. What shops are there? Germany is becoming increasingly like the U.K. in that there are a few standard chain stores which pop up in every town. Heidelberg is no exception and has the usual two H&M stores, a C&A, two Kaufhofs (large Germany-wide department stores), two Douglas perfumery stores, a Body Shop, a Benetton etc etc. It does however also have a selection of more unusual individual stores. The street called Plöck, for example, (which is a long narrow street running parallel to the Hauptstraße) has a variety of smaller independent stores, including great bookstores and shoe shops. Ok, so what are the drawbacks? Heidelberg, especially in high season, is always chock-a-bloc with tourists – I have never seen the castle without first having to fight my way through hordes of Japanese and American tourists. Because of the tourists, this also puts the prices up in the touristy cafes and bars – another good reason to try places that are a little off the beaten track. Another thing people may not realise is that Heidelberg is not beautiful everywhere. It is almost a town of two faces, part industrial, part cosmopolitan – the company Heidelber Druckmaschinen (large international printing press firm) is based here which means that some parts of the town are quite industrialised. If you arrive here by train, this is the first impression you will receive, which is a shame because there are parts of the town that really are beautiful. I would recommend spending about a week in the area, in order to spend a few days in Heidelberg, and then a few days in surrounding towns such as Schwetzingen (for the stately mansion), Weinheim (for the quaint streets, breath-taking park, and courtyard of picturesque restaurants), and Speyer (for the ca
Follow me, I want to show you one of the most beautiful German towns. I think you can trust me as a guide, I lived , loved and studied in Heidelberg for six years.
You're not convinced, you think I'm prejudiced and all this talk about Heidelberg being romantic and picturesque is just 'ad speak' to lure the tourists and you'd like to hear a different opinion before you embark on your journey? No problem, just listen to this:
"Truly, Heidelberg is a place of all exceeding loveliness. Here the romantic ruggedness of the German landscape unites in perfect harmony with the delicate beauty of Italy."
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
"I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives."
Mark Twain, Heidelberg, 1878
Do you believe me now?
I don't want to bore you with too much history and start with the 'Heidelberg Man' who lived in the area about 600 000 years ago and whose remains were found in the nearby town of Mauer; let's skip some millenia and pop into the 14th century when the world famous castle was built.
As we have to do a lot of walking to do later in the day, we'll take the funicular up to the castle. It's only a ride of two minutes and quite disappointing because you are in a tunnel all the time. Our sightseeing tour starts at a stone gate which stands forlornly on a piece of grass, not attached to a building. It's just a gate 'per se', a gate in its own right, so to speak. When I studied in Heidelberg I had a room in a house in the street running above the castle and in summer when I slept with the windows open I didn't need an alarm clock, because at 8 o'clock sharp I would wake up to polyglot cries of "Ah's" and "Oh's" - the guides always start their tours there and explain that the gate was built in one night as a birthday present for a princess.
We then look to the left and see a big round tower which extracts cries of excitement only of British visitors who know about their cultural heritage. In 1613 King Frederic V married Elizabeth Stuart, the eldest daughter of King James VI and on the occasion of the wedding Shakespeare's "The Tempest" was performed here. A wonderful setting indeed!
The castle is in ruins, but it was not destroyed during the Second World War as so many tourists assume!! Mostly this presumption is correct when you see ruins in Germany, but not here. The castle was first destroyed in the 30 Years' War and then, after its reconstruction, again in the second half of the 17th century by the French in the course of a war of succession between the kings of the Palatine and the French. For some time it was misused as a quarry to build new houses in the town. Some buildings which weren't destroyed too much were renovated and now you can find all kinds of festivities there: dinner banquets, balls, concerts, theatre performances. You can even rent the courtyard for a festivity, fireworks included. Think about it!
Now let's enter the castle proper and admire the 'most beautiful Renaissance buildings north of Italy'! You can make a guided tour through the interior, you can have a look at the biggest wine barrel of the world (221 726 litres), but you MUST have a look from the terrace. Go find the devil's footprint which he made when he had to jump out of a maiden's room in order not to be discovered! You look down at the river Neckar, see the Old Bridge, the narrow streets, the houses nestling round the Holy Ghost Church, see the buildings of the Old and the New University. After this you may stroll through the gardens to the Great Terrace and look at the castle from a distance and beneath it the town.
Now I'd like to take you to the centre, to the Old University, to be precise. We continentals find the way your universities are organised very difficult to understand and think that our way is quite simple. There is just one university in Heidelberg (as in all other German towns), this university has different faculties and that's it. No colleges over here.
The university of Heidelberg is the oldest in Germany. For centuries what is now the 'Old' University was THE university, today the sciences are in the suburbs and only the philosophical and philological faculties are in the centre. But we don't want to see where the students study, we want to visit the 'Student's Prison'. (At the back of the building, Augustinergasse 2) From 1778 to 1914 the administration of the university had the legal right to detain students from 3 days up to 5 weeks! The reasons for detention were minor transgressions which the students - mostly members of the fraternities - considered matters of honour, of course: excessive drinking, loud singing at night, urinating at public buildings, insulting official authorities etc. etc. They were allowed to attend lectures during their detention, they got food from restaurants in case their parents had enough money, it was really a good life. And while they were inside they painted funny and silly graffiti on the walls, that's what tourists go to see.
Are there still fraternities today? Yes, very much so, they thrive and flourish, with duels and everything, meaning scarves in the face the owner of which is proud of. Not my beer, as we say in German, they give me the creeps. In English someone is 'not my cup of tea', in German something is 'not my beer'. So, looking at the language we can learn something about a people's character, too!
Now it's high time we ate something. There are so many good restaurants in the main street, the longest pedestrian precinct in Germany by the way, that you'll
certainly find something. If it's the season you might like to order an asparagus dish, the area is known in Germany for this vegetable.
You haven't really walked so far, just strolled along, let's do that now. We'll take the ferry boat across the river Neckar and climb up the 'Schlangenweg' (serpent's path). So many steps. But it's a good exercise after your meal and you'll be very proud of yourself after arriving at the 'Philosophenweg' (philosophers' walk). We are now on the hillside opposite the castle and can admire the full view of the whole town and the castle towering above it. Innumerable artists were there - Turner painted the castle, too - and now you! It is beautiful, believe me. The gardens on either side of the Philosophenweg are full of flowers, subtropical plants even, the climate being one of the mildest in Germany. In early spring the almonds blossom, just like in Italy! We sit on a bench and just enjoy and start planning our evening.
I don't know your preferences, I (written with a capital letter and underlined) find it extremely absurd, weird even, to go to a foreign country and then look for pubs where I can find my countrymen. But, as a guide, I have to please my clients, of course! If you want to hear and speak English and sing along with your American cousins, go to the 'Seppl' and 'Roter Ochsen' (Red Ox), both on the Main Street, one beside the other, more or less beneath the castle. If you want to meet real Heidelbergers, students, go to the Untere Strasse (behind the Holy Ghost Church) or walk through the narrow alleys and just look around. The beer will be good, wherever you're going to sit down. In autumn you can find new wine (tastes like cider, can be very strong, so be careful) and onion cake. Give both a try!
I think that's enough for a day. Maybe you feel like joining the terribly schmaltzy 'Student's Prince' and sing with him (and me, of course!): "Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren" - I lost my heart in Heidelberg.
If you're arriving in Heidelberg by train, the town does not seem particularly inspiring as you step outside the Hauptbahnhof - hemmed in by the main road and the tram lines with new offices rising all around, this does not seem to be the beuatiful mediaeval city the tour guides rave about. Take the number 1 tram to Bismarckplatz however, and you will begin to see what everyone was going on about - the wooded hills soar high up to your right, and as you walk down the Hauptstrasse to the old town, the castle looms out of the mist, perched high on the hillside overlooking the old main square and the tangled mass of cobbled alleyways that constituted the Heidelberg known to the electors of the Holy Roman Empire. The Alte Bruecke (Old Bridge) still spans the River Neckar, painstakingly rebuilt after its destruction on the last day of WW2, and from there you can find any number of local bars and restaurants withing a few minutes' walk. Good place to seek out are Vetters restaurants, typical German hostelries serving large locally-brewed beers and serving good, hefty portions of pork, steaks, wurst and sauerkraut. Try the new Kulturbrauerei for similar fare, or on the Hauptstrasse itself you can find the Biermuseum, which prides itself on having the widest selection of beers (bottled and on tap) in Europe, as well as Sean Og's Irish Bar, a popular haunt for expats which is open until 3am at the weekends, as is Napper Tandy's, just a minute's walk from the Old Bridge. The Untere Strasse is host to a wide selection of bars that are popular with the town's large student population, and are therefore cheap and normally busy. If you want to recapture that old student union atmosphere, seek out the Bar am Marstallhof, just round the corner from the Marstallstrasse bus stop, which offers food and drink at ridiculously subsidised prices and is open to all, no student ID is required... If you're after more nightlife, the Nachschicht nightclub (near the
station) offers cheesy tunes most nights, or if you are feeling brave get a cab to the Schwimmbad club and mingle with the GIs from the Patton barracks! If you feel the need to walk off the excesses of the night before, then the obvious place to visit is the castle, easily accessible by the Bergbahn (funicular railway), or by a 10-minute walk straight up the hillside. It is worth a visit though, if only to see the largest wine vat in the world! In conclusion, Heidelberg is a beautiful place to visit, it can be a little on the small side but it is within striking distance of Mannheim, which has much more to offer in the way of retail therapy, and Stuttgart and Frankfurt are only an hour away by train. Come to Heidelberg for a relaxing weekend break, and experience some real German culture!
Heidelberg is a large town in South-West Germany near Mannheim. The nearest airport is Frankfurt and it is easily reached by car from other areas of Germany by the autobahn or by the railway. Heidelberg is set by the River Necker in a stunning location surrounded by the lush country side of the Rhine Valley. The dominant landmark is the red stone castle above the town on the summit of Jettenbuhl. The castle was built and modified from the 14th to 17th Centuries but is now in ruins. Despite this you can still see clear evidence of the different architectural styles used including Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque. The castle has a well stocked and famed wine cellar and a museum. There a re many impressive stone bridges over the River Necker. Heidelberg is a stunningly beautiful town and everything you imagine fairytale Germany to look like. The intricate stonework of the buildings in Baroque and Gothic style is breathtaking. In the Marktplatz is the gothic church of the Holy Ghost (Heiliggeistkirche) which is worth visiting. The town is dominated by the sprawling university which dates from the 14th century and was Germany's first university. It was the setting for the 'Student Prince' and remains an important centre of international study having many important scientific research facilities. Much of Heidelberg's history is linked with the university and student tales. Of special interest to visitors is the student jail. From the early 1700s till 1914 students did not fall under civil jurisdiction so if they committed a crime it was up the university to reprimand and punish them. The student jail has walls covered in graffiti of students who misbehaved. There was also a culture of dueling amongst the students. The hotel Zum Ritter is a very quaint building and a good place to stay but being small it is easily booked. Even if you don't stop there you can still eat in the restaurant. The food in Heidelb
erg is superb. I found there was a wide choice and whilst many of the menus were full of traditional Germany meat based meals it was possible to find good and interesting vegetarian alternatives and foreign cuisine restaurants. With a city as large as Heidelberg you can shop around for a bargain though on the whole eating out isn't cheap but the portions were amazing and the quality good. Obviously Germany is famed for its beer and deservedly so! If there's a group of you look to buying jugs of beer - it's cheaper. Heidelberg is close to many vineyards so don't forget to try some local wine too. There is a McDonalds and the great fun is finding it - I'm not giving away any clues only to say it is the most tasteful McDonalds I have ever seen! If you like people watching Heidelberg is a great base. Sit in one of the many outdoor bars Heidelberg and watch the world go by - it's bustling town full of locals, tourists and students though surprisingly it doesn?t feel claustrophobic or overly crowded. Sat in the square on which the Zum Ritter looks on to you can see the Town hall where there's often a steady stream of weddings especially on Saturdays - a tradition is to cover the couples car with flowers whilst they are getting married. There are many shops in Heidelberg with everything you'd need or want as well as art and crafts stalls in the streets and market places. Wood products are a good buy and you can find some unusual and original wood gifts, especially near Christmas time. Heidelberg is an interesting city/town based holiday especially for a long weekend. It would be a good base to explore into the Rhine Valley. The large student population keeps the place lively, always mixing the new with the old, I suppose it that respect it is rather like Germany's answer to our Oxford or Cambridge.
"Heidelberg is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, halfway between Stuttgart and Frankfurt. As of 2005, 140,000 people live within the city's 109 km² area. The name Heidelberg is an adaptation of Heidelbeerenberg (the German for Blueberry Mountain). Heidelberg lies on the Neckar at the point where the river leaves its narrow, steep valley in the Odenwald to flow into the Rhine valley where, 20 kilometers Northwest of Heidelberg, it joins the Rhine at Mannheim. The old town, in German Altstadt, is long and narrow and is dominated by Heidelberg Castle which perches 80 metres above the Neckar on the steep, wooded side of the Königstuhl ("King's chair" or throne) hill. This hill is surmounted by the TV Tower and surrounded by a park where the famous poet Johann von Goethe once walked. The Heidelberger Bergbahn funicular railway runs from Heidelberg's Kornmakt to the summit of the Königstuhl via the castle. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), and several Max Planck Institutes (MPI) - the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics and the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law reside in Heidelberg."