Some places you visit because you are drawn to them throughout your life, others wantonly sell themselves to you.
Some places you stumble across whilst heading somewhere else, and others you visit as way of sharing an experience with people who care about you, and you about them.
Heidelberg was that for us. Earlier this year we lost a good friend, Peter, our ‘old boy’. A 20th century adventurer he travelled in Europe and Australia finding work to fund his way. His beloved Germany stayed with him in his dreams and in his animated talk of Hamburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Heidelberg.
For us it was time to visit Germany’s oldest university town and walk in the steps of Peter and the earlier German Romantics, Goethe, Eichendorff and Höldelin.
Heidelberg’s ruined red sandstone castle dominates the forested skyline above the town, an example of renaissance architecture it stands squatl and proud on Königsthul hill.
Its impressive Romantic heritage boasts Goethe, Eichendorff, Mark Twain and our own William Turner amongst its many enraptured fans. We trundled up the steep stone walkway past workman labouring to repair broken walls and tour groups piling out of the funicular railway.
The old town itself maintains its tightly packed and cobbled streets, three big university campuses from 1386 onwards form the its heart with a merry collection of beer halls, upmarket hotels, bistros, fashion and art houses and historic churches adding to the mix. What a place to study!
Mark Twain, visiting in 1880, had lots of insightful and gently humorous thoughts to share about the culture of boozy students and their preference to declining drinks rather than German adjectives. The worst and most inebriated offenders were cast into the student prison, studentenkazar, for at least 24 hours and fed only bread and water… inevitably a stint in the slammer became a badge of honour.
Today’s students mingled amidst a lively backdrop of music posters for concerts, recitals and performances as well as dance shows and art exhibitions. The English style pubs and micro-breweries are candle lit and wooden panelled, and refreshingly, you order and pay for your beers at the bar!
We scrambled up the steep and snaking Schlagenweg to former terraced vineyards now allotments facing back to the Old Town. The German romantic poets and thinkers walked here. We bumped into an overheated American family lamenting their earlier lunch of kebabs. Chuckling, we left them panting behind for spectacular views back across to town.
It was a lovely day in a very lively and enjoyable town, busy with modernity but unashamedly wearing its romantic history on its sleeve.
We sipped a bottle of local beer on the Altebrucke with views back to the castle and university whilst watching the local rowing crews practice their sculling. William and Kate were due to arrive to soothe ruffled EU feathers and allay Brexit concerns. We still had our own, but for now raised a Heidelberger each to Peter, a good friend, sorely missed.