Heidelberg is picture perfect, well preserved and a working town. There are alleys, boutiques, cafés, restaurants, stunning churches, statues and history at every turn, but slow down and take a walk around the streets, stop for coffee and cake, and enjoy your day. Shop in pedestrian-only neighbourhoods that will transport you to a gentler time, while you admire the beautifully ornate buildings.
Heidelberg is a romantic and historic city on the bank of the river Neckar in south-west Germany. It is famous for its castle, and Heidelberg University is Germany’s oldest. Heidelberg’s library, founded in 1421, is the oldest public library in the country.
In 1537 the castle, located higher up the mountain above the town, that we now see mostly in ruins, was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion. The castle and its garden were destroyed several times during the Thirty Years’ War and other conflicts. Prince Elector Karl Theodor attempted to restore the castle but lightning struck in 1764 and further reconstruction was put on the metaphoric back burner.
The castle became a handy quarry and stones were taken to build new houses in Heidelberg. In 1810 the French revolution refugee Count Charles Graimberg started to reconstruct the palace ruins and establish a historical collection. In 1815 the Emperor of Austria, the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia formed the “Holy Alliance” in Heidelberg. The refurbished interior of the castle is in Gothic style, although the King’s Hall was not built until 1934. It is used for celebrations, banquets, balls, theatre performances and concerts. The castle stands in a park where the famous German poet Goethe once walked.
Symbol of Heidelberg
It’s thought that Heidelberg escaped bombing during WWII because the U.S. Army wanted to use the city as a garrison after the war. Heidelberg didn’t have any military importance so was not a target. On December 9, 1945, US Army General George S. Patton had a car accident in nearby Mannheim. He died in the Heidelberg US Army hospital on December 21, 1945 and his funeral ceremony was held at the Heidelberg-Weststadt Christuskirche.
Since 1979 there has been a bronze sculpture of a monkey at the end of the Old Bridge of Heidelberg. The monkey is a symbol of the town and was mentioned as far back as the 15th century. The original monkey stood with a mirror in one hand and touching his behind with the other. He was mentioned in the poem of Martin Zeiller in 1632 which is still written beneath the new sculpture of the monkey on the bridge. These days the monkey continues to hold a mirror but his other hand now forms a sign to fight off the evil eye. This sculpture has been a magnet for lovers of the selfie, as the head of the monkey is in the form of an ‘audience-participation’ mask.
There is a very charming spot with delicious history in the Old Town: Café Knösel is in the beautiful centre. Fridolin Knösel was a master confectioner who was very popular with the student body, and in particular the young ladies attending Heidelberg´s finishing schools. Chocolate was the draw here and the girls were frequent visitors. The young men from the university would come for the chocolate but also in the hope of meeting the girls.
In 1863 Fridolin created a chocolate which he called the Student´s Kiss. It’s a rich chocolate with a wrapper showing the silhouette of two young lovers exchanging a romantic kiss. The wrapped chocolate was given to young ladies as a love token, which was deemed acceptable by even the most hard-hearted governess.
Fridolin Knösel’s descendants continue the family tradition in the little shop on Haspelgasse. They still hand-make Student´s Kisses according to the original recipe of praline-nougat-chocolate filling on a wafer bottom, and coated in dark chocolate, and they are made fresh several times a week. With the distinctive design these chocolates make a unique souvenir of Heidelberg and of its student history.
But where were the lads when they weren’t chasing girls at the chocolate shop? Heidelberg’s famous Student Pub and Inn Zum Roten Ochsen – The Red Ox Inn – has been around since 1703. It is now into the 6th generation of a family that has worked here for 170 years. Anne and Philipp Spengel look after this truly charming and original student pub.
Thirty guest books give testament to the history within these walls. There are signatures from such worthies as John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and those from further back such as Bismarck and Mark Twain. Zum Roten Ochsen is the kind of German pub for which one searches and mostly in vain. Here it is and here it will stay, complete with drinking horns, music and warm conviviality.
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Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018