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Heidelberg

Published Wed 31 October 2007 01:15 (+1300)
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The day after my big walking around in the Black Forest was a bit more relaxed.

I took the trains up to Heidelberg, a medium-sized University town on the Neckar river famous for its romantic ruined schloß.

In fact the castle has made it one of the most popular destinations for English-speaking tourists in Germany – we pretty much swarm the place during the day.

Being touristy it's not the cheapest of towns, but since it was the last night of my trip I shelled out a little more than usual for my hotel and stayed up at Cafe Molkenkur, which is up on the hill directly above the castle.

You go up and down this hill via the funicular (basically, a covered cable-car railway).

First though I had to get to the bottom from the train station, which means negotiating the bus system. After wandering about with my pack a bit in the heat getting a bit irritable trying to decipher the not-quite-consistent route maps and sort out the ticket, I decided it was too much of a pain in the ass and that an apple donut was a much better investment.

That made things a lot easier and after that I decided that going to the “tourist info center”: and getting the Heidelberg Card, which covers public transport, funicular tickets, the main castle entrance fee, and a bunch of other crap, was more sensible.

So, after getting that, missing the bus by a few seconds, and a long wait for the next one, followed by bit of confusion about where to get off, I went up to the funicular and checked in to the hotel.

No time to muck around though, there's a castle to see.

A bit of history

The castle dates back to the 13th century, with the construction ending in the early 17th century.

(Actually, the whole castle deal in the town was apparently a two-tier setup at one point – there used to be a castle further up from the current site, around Molkenkur hill where my hotel is; that was destroyed in the 16th century, done in primarily by lightning.)

From the end of that construction period, things kinda went downhill, as the castle got blown up a couple of times.

First it was badly damaged/destroyed during the Thirty Years War, after which it was rebuilt.

French forces marched in in September 1688 during the War of the Grand Alliance, and before withdrawing in March 1689 they burned the castle (and a fair bit of the town) and blew up the Fat Tower, aiming to prevent Heidelberg being a base for counter-attack.

But this wasn't enough; when the next Elector Palatine acceded in 1690 he had the walls and towers rebuilt, and they proved strong enough to hold the town against French attacks in 1691 and 1692. However, they again reached the city gates in May 1693 and this time after 4 days they took the town. The castle held, but they destroyed the town and the castle capitulated.

They blew it up again, and this time it stayed that way.

The castle today

Model of the Heidelberg Castle ruins
Model of the Heidelberg Castle ruins
Model of the Heidelberg Castle ruins (opposite side)
Model of the Heidelberg Castle ruins (opposite side)
Heidelberg Castle's Powder Tower
Heidelberg Castle's Powder Tower

The wooden model in the first two photos shows the castle as it is today, and the next photo is the Powder Tower (the blown-off bit is in the fore to the right of the open tower).

The courtyard

Entrance to Heidelberg Castle's courtyard
Entrance to Heidelberg Castle's courtyard

You enter through the gate tower and find yourself in the courtyard (where you can swap/upgrade your normal ticket to the interior tour ticket).

Ottheinrich's Building from the Heidelberg Castle courtyard
Ottheinrich's Building from the Heidelberg Castle courtyard
The Ludwig Building from the Heidelberg Castle courtyard
The Ludwig Building from the Heidelberg Castle courtyard

In the courtyard you can see the facade of Ottheinrich Building (its walls stand but its roof is long gone), and to its right the Ludwig building with the fountain in the foreground.

Friedrich's Building

Friedrich's Building from the Heidelberg castle courtyard
Friedrich's Building from the Heidelberg castle courtyard

The other very notable building on the courtyard is Friedrich's Building, which you go through on the interior tour.

The statues on the facade are of the series of kings & rulers of Heidelberg; they're reconstructions, the extant originals having been moved for preservation reasons (some are inside and you'll see them on the tour).

A stove/heater in Friedrich's Building
A stove/heater in Friedrich's Building
Stove/heater hatches in the hall in Friedrich's Building
Stove/heater hatches in the hall in Friedrich's Building
A stove/heater sitting-place in Friedrich's Building
A stove/heater sitting-place in Friedrich's Building

I'd seen these big ugly green things in a number of castles and palaces around Germany, but finally found out what they were on this tour: they're stoves, or we might rather call them heaters.

They are wood-burning but closed to the room; the little doors in the second photo are the hatches through which servants add more wood – they're on the opposite side of the wall, so the servants don't have to intrude into the room to do this.

The other ugly green thing is the same again, but instead of being for just heating the room, this one has a place for a soggy royal to sit and dry out after spending time outside. If their clothes got wet they could also hang them around to the left (as seen from here) to dry out promptly.

Ornate door inlays in Friedrich's Building
Ornate door inlays in Friedrich's Building

It didn't photograph so well but there was some exceptional woodwork in this building, the inlays on some of the interior doors were quite impressive, some having using nearly a dozen different woods (with different colors & patterns) imported from all over the world, and carefully carved and laid together – the smaller fruit in this carving are say 5mm across, so it's very precisely done.

Outside the buildings

Advanced toilet technology
Advanced toilet technology

Of course, castle life wasn't all glamour; here's a picture of the toilets.

This was actually highly sophisticated technology for the time – formerly everyone used chamber pots.

And these toilets have been wisely placed on the building that gets the prevailing winds, which means that when it rains the walls below get washed clean.

Looking carefully, you can see that this is actually two toilets, for two floors above us – the long drop for the higher one running parallel to the lower floor's.

The second-generation moat
The second-generation moat

Below these toilets was the older, smaller moat; a wider, deeper moat was built later.

The tour takes you around and through the buildings around here, and the entertaining tour guide was stocked well with historical stories and some (I'm sure) myths about the royals and the castle itself. Definitely recommended.

That's not a keg. THIS is a keg.

The giant keg
The giant keg

After the tour you'll be advised to visit the giant keg in the cellars (don't stop at the keg when you walk in, go around the corner for an amusing surprise).

Take a close look; that's a person down the bottom of the frame!

This keg was used not for beer but for wine, specifically the wine taxed from the surrounding region.

There's one problem with doing this: you've got one keg, and you've got both white and red grapes. Hmm…

So, they just went ahead and poured both in there, and added a bunch of herbs and stuff which I think was mainly to try and improve the flavour of this pink (?) slush.

This all worked fairly well the first year, when there was a good harvest and the keg was nearly filled.

IIRC however the second year was poor and the keg was mostly empty… and when giant wood constructions which aren't particularly carefully made dry out, the wood shrinks a bit, warps a bit, and your big barrel gets big cracks in it. So, it leaked the third year and that was the last year they tried to use it.

They do wine tastings in the cellar there, if you have time.

Down to the old town

Heidelberg Altstadt & Alte Brücke
Heidelberg Altstadt & Alte Brücke
The Heidelberg Castle, from across the river
The Heidelberg Castle, from across the river
Heidelberg from across the river
Heidelberg from across the river

After the tour and a wander around the castle I went down the walls and down into the town. Over the Alte Brücke (old bridge) over the Neckar – which I guess technically means I was in Handschuhsheim rather than Heidelberg – got nice views of the town and castle on the hill.

In that second photo towards the right you can see the blown-up tower that's in the far corner from the Powder Tower; the intact-looking building to the left of center is Friedrich's Building, from the opposite side to that you see from the courtyard.

Heidelberg Castle in the fading sun, early autumn (stiched panorama)
Heidelberg Castle in the fading sun, early autumn (stiched panorama)

I walked down to the other, more modern bridge, and looped back up through the town and walked up the hill through lovely peaceful residential streets, past the back of the castle, and up through nice tree-arched roads.

Random findings in Heidelberg
Random findings in Heidelberg

Lots of nice old buildings mixed in with everything up there, most of which seemed to be people's houses.

And up Königstuhl

The older funicular to the summit of Königstuhl
The older funicular to the summit of Königstuhl

Finally, with the light just starting to fade, there was time to take the second, much older funicular up from Molkenkur to the summit of Königstuhl.

Heidelberg at dusk, from Königstuhl
Heidelberg at dusk, from Königstuhl
Heidelberg sunset, from Königstuhl
Heidelberg sunset, from Königstuhl

From there I sat and watched the sun going down over the town and the Neckar, trying to burn the whole thing into my memory as one of the momentos of the trip.

Dinner and an early night

Rabbit
Rabbit

I ate a nice rabbit dish (more research, nominally, not that I know how to do that) in the Molkenkur restaurant, did a little blogging, made plans for the next day – I fly out at the end of the day – and turned in early.