“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.” Mark Twain – ‘A Tramp Abroad’
Heidelberg has an iconic status as a centre of Germanic history and culture. In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Emperors of Austria and Russia and the King of Prussia formed the ‘Holy Alliance’ in Heidelberg and later in 1848, the year of revolutions, a German National Assembly was established here. During the Nazi era the authorities built a large stadium on the edge of the city where the SS would parade and have massive rallies. Luckily the city avoided destruction during the war, it is said because the US army rather liked the look of it and fancied setting up shop there but in fact, as Heidelberg was neither an industrial centre nor a transport hub, there was nothing worth bombing and Allied air raids focused on the more important nearby industrial cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.
Although not an industrial centre one thing that Heidelberg is famous for is the manufacture of high quality printing machines used in the newspaper industry.
Next to the car park was the terminus for the city Heidelberger Bergbahn funicular railway which runs up the side of the Königstuhl hillside and stops off at the City’s famous castle on the way, so we bought a combined ride and entry ticket and took the short trip to the castle entrance.
The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps but lays mostly in ruins because it has only been partially rebuilt since its demolition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1537 a lightning-bolt destroyed the upper castle before damage by later wars and fires and in 1764 another lightning-bolt destroyed some rebuilt sections and it was abandoned as being cursed by bad luck.
It was lovely walking around the ruins in the sunshine and under a blue sky the red roofs of the houses spilling down the river made a dramatic vista. Inside the castle there was a museum of apothecary but with the sun shining we wanted to be outside so we didn’t stay long and when we had seen as much of the ruins as we wanted too we walked back down to the city centre and made for the Marktplatz.
The market place was another of those German picture book town centres with half timbered medieval buildings painted in gay colours surrounding an immaculate cobbled square with a central fountain and statue. On the northern side and facing the sun there were restaurants and cafés with pavement tables and chairs so we selected one and sat in shirtsleeves in what was by now surprisingly strong sun and we had a drink and watched the World go by.
Before we left I paid a visit to the gent’s bathroom and I mention this not to be indelicate or to provide any unnecessary details but just to say that German lavatories must be, after Switzerland, the cleanest in Europe and so spotless that I almost felt that I need to wash my hands on the way in. Toilets in Greece would come bottom of any list and there wouldn’t be many Loo of the Year awards being handed out in France or Spain either.
After the short break we continued our site seeing by walking to Heidelberg’s famous bridge which sweeps across the River Neckar close to the market place.
The double-armed bridge gate dates from the late middle ages but the first stone bridge, supported by eight posts, was built by Karl Theodor in 1788 which explains its official name ‘Karl-Theodor-Brücke’. The towers served the bridge keeper not only as an apartment, but also as a dungeon for prisoners.
In 1945 parts of the bridge were destroyed by the retreating Nazis (they enjoyed blowing things up)* as they retreated from the advancing Allied army and both rooms above the gateway were subsequently refurbished as artistic apartments. We crossed over to the other side and then back again and slipped into the busy main shopping street which runs parallel to the river.
The day was slipping away now and we were mindful of the journey back down the A5 to the Baden Airpark for our late flight home so before we left Heidelberg we needed to find somewhere to eat. I wanted to return to the restaurant we had used at lunch time but Kim seemed determined to find somewhere else, which at four o’clock in the afternoon was difficult as this is not a popular time for eating anywhere.
She found a likely looking place and we went inside but immediately she didn’t like it so we stopped only for a drink and then she gave in to my plan and we went to my preferred choice. It was empty of course but the food was excellent and our final meal in Germany was just as successful as all of those in the past four days.
* Except for the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy which is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only one in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating Nazis as they abandoned Italy in 1944 towards the end of the Second-World-War. Knowing just how much the Nazis used to like to blow things up this must have been a one-in-a-million fluke!