Heidelberg is nestled in the neck of the Neckar River, Germany. ‘Nestled’ is a term often used to describe its geographical location, and is apt, for the Altstadt (Old Town) really is tucked away. The Altstadt is part of the much larger, modern Heidelberg, but unlike other cities, where the town centre is also the historic centre, Heidelberg’s Old Town is situated at one end of the whole. This aloofness in terms of layout enables much of Heidelberg’s old-world charm. If you walk from the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station), you will feel as you inch along that you gradually step back in time. Step by step the buildings change so that eventually you are standing in the tangle of medieval streets and original Baroque buildings which give Heidelberg its delightfully quaint feel.
Stolpersteine: History as you Walk
I would recommend walking from the Hauptbahnhof to the Altstadt. It takes roughly thirty minutes, and is interesting from the perspective of seeing how the place has grown and evolved over time. As you walk along, look out for small square bronze plaques set amongst the cobbles. Typically found outside a house (although many locations now no longer resemble places of residence), these are Stolpersteine (stumbling stones). They are found all over Germany, and in other parts of Europe, and commemorate the lives of victims of the Holocaust, detailing their name, date of birth, and what happened to them. While there are countless memorials, plaques, and heritage sites relating to the plight of the Jews, Poles, Sinti and Roma, Homosexuals, Intellectually Handicapped, and other minority groups during Hitler’s reign of terror, I find these small and easily unnoticed reminders particularly moving. They relay the events of this genocide from a personal perspective, showing that the people affected were not just a number, but millions of individuals just like you or I, who each had a life, identity, and place of abode.
Somewhere to Stay, Something to Buy, Something to See
Life Around Burgweg 3
I stayed at Lotte, the Backpackers. This hostel is small and comfortable; located in a historic building around a tiny central courtyard, it makes you feel as if you are staying in someone’s home rather than in paid accommodation. There is a cosy living room and kitchen area, with free tea and coffee making facilities. The dorm rooms are large and secure, and I was lucky that mine overlooked the street below. The hostel is conveniently central. It is located on Burgweg 3, at the foot of the path that leads towards the castle, and opposite the funicular that goes to the castle and then towards Molkenkur and Königstuhl. Nearby, on Bremeneckgasse 2 is the Sinti and Roma Museum. It is free of charge and definitely worth a visit, but more aimed at detailing the history of the Holocaust from a general perspective rather than its specific relation to the Sinti and Roma people.
In The Old Town
If you head down Burgweg, you will reach Kornmarkt and then Marktplatz – the historic market place, and old town centre. Sweep around to the right of the church and down Steingasse, heading towards the river. At the end is the Alte Brücke, but before you reach it turn into a small driveway on the right hand side and check out Joya Schmuck + Accessories (Steingasse 9). It’s a lovely wee design store selling a selection of jewellery, clothes, art, and cards – well worth visiting if these things interest you. On your way towards the Alte Brücke, stop again, just to the left of the bridge, behind the monkey statue. Etched into the first of the bridge supports is a series of dates, which mark the various flood points of the Neckar over the centuries. The last was fairly recently; although since then a dam has been installed further along the river to prevent it from happening again.
Up the Heiligenberg: Monasteries and Mountain Fun
Two Monasteries and a Nazi Amphitheatre
When I visited Heidelberg, I had come straight from London and a solid couple of months of work and big-city bustle. So I crossed the Alte Brücke on my first day with the intention to ‘see what I could see’, and naturally ended up atop the Heiligenberg next to St Michael’s Monastery. It’s a ruin, with the earliest structures on the site dating from 870 AD. There are two monastery ruins in fact; the other, called St Stephen’s, dates from 1094 AD, and features a tower. Make sure you climb the tower. It is structurally sound and is a prime vantage point over Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley. Situated between the two monasteries is the Thingstätte, a 1935 Nazi amphitheatre, built for Hitler to hold political rallies. It is enormous, eerie, and rather sickening when you consider its historical function, but there is some consolation to be found in the fact that it is somewhat overgrown and seemingly disused and that, tagged onto a wall beside the entrance, someone has written ‘Nie wieder Faschismus’: No more fascism.
So there is plenty to do on the Heiligenberg. If you don’t feel like venturing so far up, at least go as far as the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Walk), a well-paved and well-trod section of the hill, which runs parallel to the river and again offers excellent views. You can access this walkway from the Schlangenweg, a steep pathway which is found directly across the road from the Alte Brücke on the opposite side of the river from the Altstadt. If you do wander further, there is a comprehensive network of trails on the mountain. I didn’t consult a map, just followed my nose and weaved my way up and made it, but if you wanted to plan a more thorough route, I’m sure you could make a day of it.
Food and Thoughts
I didn’t have any life-changing restaurant finds in Heidelberg, though, to be fair, I didn’t really seek them out. It was such beautiful weather that I was living off frische Erdbeeren (fresh raspberries) for breakfast, then snacks throughout the day, and finding something proper in the evening! I did have a meal at Gasthaus ‘Zum Roten Ochsen’. Perhaps better suited to a snowy, winter evening, this pub’s atmosphere is great: carvings on the tables, pictures adorning every inch of the walls, delicious warming Gulashsuppe, and cider. When I next visit, I will aim to eat more in the modern part of Heidelberg, as I expect there will be some interesting tastes to be discovered off the beaten path.
There is lots to do in Heidelberg. I would quite happily stay for a week, a month, whatever (although I do say that about most places I go). This article contains my highlights, the first things that popped into my head when I recalled my recent visit. I hope you discover many more places for yourself and have a wonderful time there.