Since Coronavirus changed everybody’s life plans, more and more people have cancelled their trips abroad this year and chosen to explore their own countries (or adoptive countries, in my case) instead.
As I approached the charming city of Heidelberg by tram, I felt thrilled. Five years had passed since I last visited the city. Back then, I went only to see the castle and strolled along the main street, a 1.8 km stretch popular among tourists and shoppers. I remember it was a rainy, rather cold September day. This year though, temperatures reached 36 degrees.
Probably the most well-known landmark in Heidelberg is the Heidelberg Castle which is first mentioned in 1225. I reached the cable train station which is located in Kornmarkt, but when I saw the long queue, I chose to walk the steep alley, which brought me to the castle’s outer garden. There is a third way to reach the castle consisting of around 300 stairs, a route I took on the way back. Once I reached the top of the steep alley, I found myself in the green garden of the castle.
The entrance to the castle’s garden is free of charge. If you take a left towards Scheffelterrasse, you get a beautiful view of the Neckar River, the Old Town and the Old Bridge.
Afterwards I went to buy my ticket, where I had to write my personal data on a sheet of paper along with the duration of my visit. Mask on, I followed the indicated lines and bought my ticket. For 8€ you get a two way ride with the Bergbahn from Kornmarkt to the castle and back, entrance to the inner courtyard, the barrel cellar and the German Pharmacy Museum. If you want to visit the interior of the castle, you have to book a guided tour.
I noticed people were still adjusting to the new way of travel during the Corona pandemic, filling registration papers, wearing masks, keeping adequate distance and trying to stick to the two-way lanes when all they want to do is rotate their bodies 360 degrees to take in the beauty of the place.
I wandered around the inner courtyard for a bit, searching for instagrammable corners and then went to the barrel cellar. There you can find the world’s largest wine barrel, possibly larger than your friend’s flat in central Paris.
Before leaving the castle, I took a break on a stone bench situated on the castle’s wide balcony and imagined myself living there, hundreds of years back in time, looking at the forest and the small plot of vineyard on the other side of Neckar. “Imagine autumn here”, I told myself. I would recommend visiting Heidelberg in autumn or the beginning of spring, when you might catch the cherry blossoms blooming.
I spent more time at the castle than planned and went back to the Old Town for lunch. On my way back, I chose to take the steps, which offered me nice, intimate glances in neighbouring houses’ courtyards.
After lunch, I went to see the Bridge Monkey (Brückenaffe). Legend has it that the monkey sculpture comes from the Middle Ages, when there were power clashes between the church and the electorate.
The monkey shows it’s arse towards the city of Mainz, where the bishops resided. The people of Heidelberg were trying to make it clear that the Electors of the Palatinate held the power and not the bishops. You’ll see that the monkey holds a mirror in one hand, encouraging passersby to self-reflect. Close to the sculpture there is the inscription of a mocking poem which, translated into English, would be something like: “Why are you looking at me?/ Haven’t you seen the monkey in Heidelberg?/ Look around and you will probably see/ More monkeys like me!”.
Strolling along the Neckar River, passing by palm tress, pink oleanders and girls wearing flowing summer dresses, I felt as if I were actually somewhere on the Mediterranean Coast.
If you have a date there and want to be extra romantic you can go across the Old Bridge (coming from the castle) then take a right on the stairs and you will find the Heidelberg Love Stone (Heidelberger Liebesstein), where lovers hang inscribed padlocks.
In case your date is too shy to initiate a kiss, you can buy a Student’s Kiss (Heidelberger Studentenkuss) from Cafe Knösel, which is a handmade chocolate of nougat filling, a waffle base and dark chocolate exterior and give it to him/her.
On the afternoon of my second day I went to see the Prinzhorn Collection. I paid 5€ for a regular ticket but if you want to visit the museum you should make a reservation in advance because they now limit the number of people allowed inside. As a former Psychology student, I was impressed by the exhibition currently on display there. I spent around an hour and a half marvelling at various artworks, all created by men and women who suffered from mental disorders. From detailed ornaments, religious symbols, liturgical books, paintings and drawings of spirits and mythical creatures to a portrait made of human hair, the exhibition was abundant with creativity.
If you want to escape the tourist crowds and feel more like a local, then I suggest you check out the Untere Street (known as Die Untere). Die Untere, parallel to the Hauptstraße, is full of bars and side streets with ivy houses. Being used to Leipzig, which is mostly flat, I really enjoyed seeing the green hills surrounding the town. During my wanders through the side streets, I encountered many people who were stopping by to greet each other (mainly students), a sight that gave me the feeling of a city with a small, friendly and intimate vibe.
As the sun was going down, I went on to the Neckar meadow (Neckarwiese) to see the warm colours of the sunset blanket the castle and the Old Bridge. While I was sitting there a bevy of swans joined me.
On the last afternoon, I decided to walk the Philosopher’s Way (Philosophenweg) to find some more awe-inspiring sights and to ask myself some deep questions. Many teachers and students were drawn to the Philosopher’s Way where they would have serious talks and insights, hence its name. That late afternoon was rainy and cloudy, but the rain stopped five minutes after I got off the tram. I started ascending the steep street and felt relieved that I put on my sneakers that day instead of sandals. I passed by university buildings and posh old-styled villas. A lot of runners passing me by. I made it to the Philosopher’s Garden in around fifteen minutes, walking slow, admiring the surroundings. The garden invited me to enjoy its exotic mix of flowers and plants, some of which originate from subtropical regions but have found a home here due to the welcoming weather conditions.
I walked to the Snake’s Path (Schlangenweg) and on the way found the most awe-inspiring panoramic view of the castle and the Old Town. I was delighted to see the sun’s rays emerging and giving warmth to this scene. It was the golden hour indeed! After I let myself be enchanted by the view, I reached the narrow, cobbled Snake’s Path and made my way back to the Old Town. I was amazed by the number of terraced gardens surrounding the path.
In the end, as the famous song states „I lost my heart in Heidelberg”, I must admit that part of mine was lost there too.
Other things to see/do:
- Visit the Student Prison (Studentenkarzer). Did you know that the oldest university in Germany is located in Heidelberg? It’s name in German: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität;
- Write a prayer in the Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche);
- Ride the cable train to the King’s Throne (Königstuhl);
- Visit the Thingstätte and the ruins of St. Michael’s Monastery (Michaelskloster).
By Loredana-Alina Păcurariu
Loredana-Alina Păcurariu is a highly sensitive person and an amateur psychotherapist, interested in spirituality, human behaviour and blown away by German castles. When she’s not contemplating the meaning of life you will find her wandering around town, reading Haruki Murakami or dancing her heart out.