This is the deal (sorry Makya, had to steal that!). Most Americans, Europeans, and tourists from countries other than Germany get the name of this city mixed up. Heidelberg means a city with mountains and hills (-berg), whereas Heidelburg (which doesn’t exist, by the way) refers to a city with a castle (=burg). Short introductory German course, here. To complicate matters, aside from Heidelberg having a few hills it is also popular for its medieval castle. For some reason especially Americans always think lovely H-town is called Heidelburg; but I believe this slight misunderstanding can be led back to problems in pronouncing German words. You want to know the right way of intonating this city’s name? Hide-l-bark.
Anyhow, Heidelberg is one very beautiful town. I used to spend 2 and a half years in this city because I completed my school degree there and have come to love the town instantaneously. It’s a mix of people, geography, historic sites, and of course the weather that has fascinated me from the very first week I moved here. You should know that the warmest spot in Germany lies only 30km (half an hour drive) away, thus making Heidelberg a truly sunny, warm, and sometimes humid spot during the summer while casting a relatively mild climate onto the city during winter months. Now I am no one to complain about German weather. But after living in Florida and then in Heidelberg for an extended period of time, I do wish I could be around this weather a bit longer, especially from December to March.
Aside from the climate, Heidelberg offers unique bits and pieces of history. It is home to the oldest university in Germany, which was founded in 1386, and its campus is spread all over the old parts of town and the Neuenheimer Feld, which you can reach by bike when you pass the bridge.
The Altstadt is my favorite part about Heidelberg. You find many historic churches, museums, small entry-ways, cute cafés, fountains, and other statues here that make it hard to choose what to take in first. Much history lies in those few streets, and I recommend going off the beaten paths. The Haupstrasse is the longest continuing shopping street in Germany (the longest, not biggest!), and it leads past many shops, restaurants, theaters and souvenir shops. Don’t hesitate to take that left or right turn and to sneak down a seemingly empty cobble street to see what could and will surprise you.
Now to the castle: Built before 1214, it has been ruined from the 16th century on by natural disasters and wars, and its remains continue to look impressive on top of its hill, which is a slope leading to another historic site called the Kaiserstuhl. Germans happen to differentiate not only between a hill and a castle but also between different sorts of castles: Schloss and Burg. Since the English language does not make a significant difference between either, I’m struggling to explain it to you. A Schloss has more ornate elements, is beautifully made up, and was invented for purposes of pure representation while a Burg is a rough-looking building simply meant for defense and was built a few hundred years before they came up with the idea of a Schloss. Here are two pictures emphasizing the difference:
As you might not be able to tell, Heidelberg has a Schloss, not a Burg, but it looks like a Burg because its Schloss was ruined during various ages which have left it destroyed to a good amount of deal. So every summer the city celebrates its castle with something called the castle illumination (Schlossbeleuchtung) for three whole times from June to September. The castle looks quite beautiful when glamoured up by a fake fire inside its ruins and firecrackers breaking the silence over the old bridge. I consider this event a magical moment.
Aside from the hills, the town is also likely to be called the Philosopher’s Town for many poets, writers, and thinkers have made it out here at one point in their lives. There is a path called the Philosopher’s Walk which leads around Bergheim all the way on top of a hill and from there you have a beautiful sight onto medieval churches, old buildings, and the aforementioned one and only castle of Heidelhill. I hiked this path once with my friend who was visiting me and who was eager to do the walk. I don’t think I’ve ever been in so much pain when slouching uphill before. But the scenery unfolding in front of us was really worth the battle! So if you ever want to do something you might feel proud of, do this!
My time in Heidelberg was limited during my last visit. I only had four days of time to meet up with old coworkers, old friends, old students, and folks I didn’t know existed until I had to bitter-sweetly say my good-byes again. We managed to go out on almost every night I was there, even on a Thursday, which I had rarely done before. I guess the party is happening where we are because we had an excellent evening filled with fun events. I managed to visit my old work in the Rohrbach part of town and was happy to see how things had changed and how they had stayed. Since I had worked in the wine industry, my former boss even gave me a good bottle of wine, which I happened to forget at my pregnant friend’s house, but she will surely use it to celebrate her baby’s birth. Or so I hope!
I didn’t think I would have such a good time in the old city and I cannot wait to go back for another visit, maybe for a bit longer the next time! Among the towns to see in Germany, I consider this to be on the very top of that list (after Munich and Berlin perhaps) because it offers so many historic sites on one spot.
And who knows? Maybe one day you will lose your heart in Heidelberg… And get a student kiss or two! Mwah!