Hello from Heidelberg

“We’ve made a huge mistake,” I thought as our train sped down the Rhine Valley. The three nights in Bruges already seemed like a distant memory, and we’d barely scratched the surface after two days in Cologne. Yet here we sat, already on our way to Heidelberg.

Rhine 1020747 BLOG

The fuzzy landscape became a visual metaphor. There was so much history and culture whizzing past us, but we were barely grazing the highlights. “Church!” Esteban would exclaim, or “Castle!”

Town and castle 1020765 BLOG

Rhine castle 1020781 BLOG

I knew it would be like this when we established our itinerary: We were following the wake of the famous Rhine river cruise lines — which are designed for snapshot-seeking tourists, not culturally curious travelers.

But I felt better by the time we arrived in Heidelberg. Its cobbled streets rang familiar as we made our way through the fog to the Irish pub we’d chosen as our hotel.

Heidelberg street 1030247 BLOG

Heidelberg courtyard 1020963 BLOG

Dubliner 1030325 BLOG

If the archaeological evidence is correct, humans have lived here since 550,000 B.C. The Celts later settled along the Neckar river, and then the Romans. But it wasn’t until 1303 — when the first castle was built overlooking the city — that Heidelberg began taking on its current form. (The castle merits its own post; more on that soon.)

Heidel pano 30169 to 30174 BLOG

Heidelberg castle and bridge 1020926 BLOG

In 1386 Prince Elector Ruprecht I founded Heidelberg University. And in 1518 Luther came here to defend his theses, which in 1563 were codified as The Heidelberg Catechism and became the textbook of the reformed faith. To this day Heidelberg is a center for both religious and academic thought.

You still very much get this sense as you stroll through Heidelberg today; the town seems to be populated mostly by college students and churches.

Heidelberg towers 1020954 BLOG

Heidelberg Neugasse 1030296 BLOG

Today, however, Heidelberg’s biggest trade is tourism: Its beautifully preserved, mostly Baroque Altstadt draws some 3.5 million tourists each year.

Heidelberg Hauptstrasse 1030300 BLOG

Heidelberg street 1030405 BLOG

Heidelberg signs 1030397 BLOG

The city owes much of its preservation to one particularly notable visitor, who liked Heidelberg so much that he forbade its bombing during World War II. Ironically, General George S. Patton later died in the city he helped save.

Esteban and I spent many happy hours strolling along the mile-long, pedestrian-only Hauptstraße, which offers everything from big multinational brands to tiny boutiques peddling antiques and local handcrafts.

Heidelberg bookstore 1030395 BLOG

Heidelberg Hauptstrasse 1030313 BLOG

But, for us, it was at night that Heidelberg became truly magical. (Granted, the festive Weihnachstmärkte — Christmas markets — and holiday lights may have helped.)

Heidelberg market 1030280 BLOG

Heidelberg market 1020825 BLOG

Heideliberg market 1020811 BLOG

Heideliberg market 1020798 BLOG

Heidelberg street 1020866 BLOG

Heidelberg markt 1020834 BLOG

In the end, though, I left Heidelberg a little disappointed. Not because the city had any failings or flaws — but because I was so dazzled by the lights that I missed much of its history and culture. I left a little disappointed because, in hindsight, I realized I’d taken only snapshots and seen only the well-trod tourist path.

Oh, well. Hello from Heidelberg. Prost …

Heidelberg toast 1030332 BLOG

… and goodnight.

Heidelberg street 1030336 BLOG


    • That’s my favorite picture too, Louise! It was one of the very few little courtyards I was able to explore — sadly, many of the homes here are hidden behind large doors (rather like in Paris) — so it feels like a small triumph every time you’re able to peek behind the scenes.

  1. It was my favourite stop in Germany when we traveled through in 1998. I loved it and always vowed to go back! I still haven’t but must. The Castle ruins, cobbled streets and wonderful ambiance are still fresh in my mind. Thank you for the reminder!

    • If you plan a return trip, dear Rochelle, I recommend going during the holiday season: The atmosphere really is magical! And if you don’t mind a bit of rowdy student noise, I can recommend the Irish pub for lodging. It’s quite inexpensive, considering it’s right in the middle of the Hauptstraße. For my “charming Germany” money, though, Freiburg is still king. I’ll be writing *a lot* about it soon, so perhaps I’ll make you a fan as well. 🙂

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