HeidelBERG not HeidelBURG

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.

Heidelberg's pedestrian zone
Small cobble stone side street leading to another historic church

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:

Schloss Schönbrunn in Wien/Vienna
Burg Eltz at Koblenz

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.

Heidelberger Castle during one warm summer day

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.

Heidelberger Bismarckplatz
Random street

The Old Bridge

And who knows? Maybe one day you will lose your heart in Heidelberg… And get a student kiss or two! Mwah!

Heidelberg Student Kiss retail store
Historic tram at the Bismarckplatz

8 thoughts on “HeidelBERG not HeidelBURG

  1. Hello Laura, glad you stopped by my website, as it resulted in me finding yours! I enjoyed reading your posting on Heidelberg – what a great way to introduce one of the most picturesque cities in the world (and its history) to others! I’ve lived in Heidelberg for 10 years and have also lost my heart there, as they say. 🙂 I will be leaving Germany in about a month to go on a sabbatical through Asia. I hope our adventures brushing shoulders with special people in that part of the world will help make our transition away from Heidelberg easier. All the best to you as you explore the USA!

    • Dear Tricia, I wish you all the best on your sabbatical through Asia and that you will find what you’re looking for and are able accumulate many valuable experiences. However, I do think that Heidelberg is a city which will always be worth coming back to, so I am sure this is only a “short” good-bye from the area for both of us.

      I appreciate the time you took to read through my post and I am also very glad to have found your magnificent pictures on the Heidelberger Herbst…!

      All the best to you and your future adventures!

  2. I came across this post doing a search for Heidelberg. I’m excited that my move there is less than a month away. While I knew how to spell it, I didn’t know *why* it was that way. So that was very interesting. I actually lived in FL for a few years as well and look forward to the fact that Heidelberg doesn’t seem to be as cold as other parts of the country.

    • It’s not, you’ll see for yourself! The weather is actually one of its best assets…Guess you will be moving during the winter, which is an AWESOME AWESOME time, as you will experience the Christmasmarket or how we call it: Weihnachtsmarkt! Glühwein and hot chocolate for you!
      Yes, the spelling of Heidelberg – it confuses many foreigners! 🙂

  3. Yep we’ll be moving in November. My friend in Bitburg actually mentioned the Weihnachtsmarkt and having me try Glühwein. I’m not really a fan of wine so it being served warm sounds even less appealing, but I’ll try anything once. Now, hot chocolate, I love. So I am looking forward to that.

    I bet. Since there are other German cities that use ‘burg’ and actually some American cities as well, it’s probably easy to get confused. I posted a link to your entry on my Facebook page so hopefully at least people I know will check it out and your explanation gives a way to remember it and a little history too.

  4. […] Heidelberg by itself has a lot of history and several interesting cultural sites. I am not trying to take away the beauty of this student city to anyone who has never been or who loves it there. But another good thing I have come to appreciate about Heidelberg is its proximity to other amazing villages, towns, and cities. Take Frankfurt International Airport for example. It’s a one hour drive away, and so is the Schwabencapital Stuttgart. Mannheim with its historic castle, high nightlife, and other attractions is a rough 20 minutes by car (depending on speed and traffic). […]

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