Today we caught the train from Munich to Heidelberg first thing in the morning. It was an uneventful 3 hour journey. From the train station we needed to catch a taxi to our hotel but we had a good location right on the edge of the old town on Bismarckplaz. We stayed at the Denner Hotel which on the surface looked amazing – the biggest hotel room we’ve stayed in.
Once settled we headed into the old town along Hauptstraße, a fabulous pedestrian walkway filled with shops & cafes. By the time we had a quick bite to eat, glanced in all the shop windows & then found the funicular rail to the castle in Kornmarkt Platz we decided that we would be better off visiting the castle with a whole day tomorrow.
Instead we went in search of Karlsplaz for the Cabrio-sightseeing bus that would give us a tour of the town. It was a little open topped minibus with a large, rude, unhelpful driver. We arrived about 15 min before the bus was due to leave & were told in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t do the tour for just the 2 of us. He then went & sat under a tree, far from the bus, while people streamed through the square looking at the bus & moving on as it was unattended. Finally another couple approached the bus & we grabbed them to let them know it would opperate with enough people. With 4 of us standing at the door of the bus the driver reluntantly got up & directed us aboard. Apart from the driver it was a good orientation to the town, showing us things of which we weren’t aware that we wanted to see & giving us a bit of history. We drove past the “S-Printing” horse which at 13m high & 90 tons is the largest equestrian sculpture in the world. It was installed in 2000 on the forecourt of the Print Media Academy & symbolises various processes in a print shop.
We were starting to feel a few drops of rain as we came to the end of the tour but it was only light. We asked the driver for a map of where he had taken us so we could find our way back to various sights but he said ‘no map’. I then noticed an A-frame sign with a map near the bus departure point which I pointed out to the driver & so he reluctantly climbed back into his bus & got me a copy of the map. You wonder why some people take the jobs they do.
After our tour we headed straight for Karlstor as it was the closest site we wanted to revisit. The triumphal arch in honor of the Prince Elector Carl Theodor was erected from 1775 until 1781. It is a neo-classical arch following the tradition of Roman triumphal arches, crowned by four lions, the traditional symbols of the “Kurpfalz” (Electoral Palatinate). The triumphal arch was never fully completed, although we couldn’t tell. Just as we arrived the light drops of rain turned into an absolute deluge! We were so pleased to have a little shelter. The rain finally stopped & we ventured out from under the arch. It looked so pretty to see the low clouds on the opposite bank of the river.
We then headed along the river Neckar back to the old bridge (Alte Brücke). The Karl Theodor Bridge is a famous stone bridge that crosses the Neckar River. It connects the Old City with the eastern part of the Neuenheim district of the city on the opposite bank. The current bridge, made of Neckar Valley Sandstone and the ninth built on the site, was constructed in 1788 by Elector Charles Theodore.
Just next to the old bridge tower gate you’ll find a bronze monkey that was installed in 1979. Apparently the story of Heidelberg’s bridge monkey dates back to the 15th Century. Even then, the story goes, there was a monkey sitting in the tower of the old bridge. The tower, which then stood opposite Heidelberg’s old town, was intended to instil feelings of fear & respect in anyone arriving in the town. The monkey, however, was particularly meant for mockery. Grasping his bare backside he showed the ‘Electoral Palatinate greeting’ to people walking past. His backside was pointed in the direction of the opposite river bank toward the town of Mainz & so his ‘greeting’ was rather pointedly addressed to the Bishops of Mainz. This is how the people of Heidelberg made it clear that it was the Electors of the Palatinate, & not the bishops in Mainz, who held the power. The mirror in the monkey’s hand was intended to encourage passers by to engage in critical self reflection. Today you can still see the poem by Martin Zeiller (1589-1661) which was written beside the monkey in the 17th century.
“Why are you looking at me? Haven’t you seen the monkey in Heidelberg? Look around & you will probably see more monkeys like me”
It was amazing to see, both on a bridge pylon & on a wall along the river bank, the high tide marks from years gone by. There have been some pretty scary floodings over the years by the look of things. The highest flood level was attained in 1784.
Our next stop was the Church of the Holy Spirit. It is apparently the most famous church in Heidelberg & it stands in the middle of the market place (Marktplaz) in the old center. On the outside it is surrounded by market stalls filled with souvenirs where we picked up a couple of nice things. It’s quite lovely in its simplicity on the inside & we were fortunate to go in at a time when someone was demonstrating the features of the organ. It sounded fantastic to hear all the different sounds & its amazing range. You could feel the low notes & we were sure the dogs would come running with some of the higher notes. The Church is first mentioned in a manuscript from 1239. In 1398, the foundations of the current late Gothic church were laid on the site of a late Romanesque basilica which, in turn, had been erected in the place of an even older church. Thus the current church is the third sacral building on the site.
From there we made our way to St Peter’s church which is the oldest church in Heidelberg, and was built sometime during the 12th century. Outside the church is an old cemetery, with tombstones dating over five centuries old, and an oak tree which was planted in 1883 on the 400th birthday of Martin Luther.
Across the road from the church was the university library, a stunning building built in 1905 that houses over 3 million books. Heidelberg is essentially a university town with lots of lovely university buildings. There were so many bicycles parked out the front if the library, it was quite a site to behold.