Monday, 4 May 2015

Ich Hab' Mein Herz In Heidelberg Verloren!

Heidelberg viewed from the Philosophenweg, taken by Andie Gilmour

Heidelberg is an old university town and one-time seat of the Electoral Palatinate of the Holy Roman Empire. It is situated way over the other side of Germany from Berlin, in Baden-Württemberg, and straddles the River Neckar which is a tributary of the Rhine.

River traffic on the River Neckar at Heidelberg, taken by Andie Gilmour

Heidelberg is certainly not a feasible day-trip destination from Berlin, being about 650km SW of the German capital. It took us about seven hours to get there, and that was by using the fast ICE trains, changing at Hannover and Frankfurt (Main). But, if you really really wanted to visit, as we did, then it is worth the trip over a long weekend.

The main attraction is probably the ruined castle, once the residence of the Prince Electors, which stands high above the Altstadt.

Heidelberg Castle, taken by Andie Gilmour

The castle is a bit of a mish-mash of styles, from naive mediaeval gothic through to a strange renaissance proto-neo-classicism. The castle has been bashed around a bit over the years, notably during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), and then the Nine Years War (1688-1697), until finally being abandoned by Prince-Elector and Count of Bavaria Karl Theodor in 1777 when he moved his court and the Palatinate seat all the way to distant Munich. It was left as a source of re-recyclable building material for the house-builders of Heidelberg and so began its slow decline into a romantic ruin.

Visitors can take a funicular up to the castle from the town centre, and wander around the ruins (now partially restored) and go on a guided tour. There is not an awful lot see on the tour to be honest, but the guide we had was entertaining and informative about the history of the castle. Also, it was raining at the time we were there, so it was good to get inside.

Courtyard in Heidelberg Castle, taken by Andie Gilmour

From a British perspective, we were interested to find out about Elizabeth Stuart, eldest daughter of James VI of Scotland (James I of England) and grand-daughter of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was Elizabeth Stuart who Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plotters planned to put on the throne as a catholic queen after blowing up her father. She was married to a protestant in the end, to Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine, on Valentine's day 1613 in the royal chapel at Whitehall Palace, London. It seems that going against the trend for royal marriages, they actually loved each other. John Donne wrote a poem to commemorate the 'union of Thames and Rhine', Epithalamion, in which the couple were likened to two phoenixes 'Whose love and courage never shall decline / But make the whole year through, thy day, O Valentine.' Elizabeth couldn't speak German though, and Frederick had only rudimentary English, and it is speculated that they must have conversed together in French.

Comical sculpture at the entrance to Heidelberg Castle, taken by Andie Gilmour

The married couple departed England with a large English entourage to live a luxurious lifestyle in Heidelberg Castle. Six years later in November 1619 they were crowned King and Queen of Bohemia in a coup attempt to gain protestant supremacy in the Holy Roman Empire. This led to the defenestration of Prague and the beginning of the terrible Thirty Years War, and after just over a year the catholic Emperor Ferdinand III expelled Elizabeth and Frederick from Bohemia and his forces seized the Palatinate and Heidelberg castle. For their short-lived reign, Elizabeth and Frederick were afterwards called the Winter Queen and Winter King, though probably not to their faces.

So began a life of exile for the couple in The Hague, where Elizabeth's beauty and courage earned her the epithet 'The Queen of Hearts' amongst protestants. Anyhows, her beloved Frederick died in 1632, and her son Charles Louis regained Heidelberg and the Palatinate in 1648, but Elizabeth remained in Holland. She returned to England at last in 1661 after her nephew Charles II had been restored to the throne (her brother had been the executed Charles I), and died the following year in London. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

After Heidelberg Castle had crumbled into a ruin in the 19th Century, it began to draw the interest of Romantik artists and writers. JMW Turner for example came here and sketched and painted the castle and town. Here is a link to the Sothebys catalogue for 'Heidelburg with a Rainbow' painted by Turner c.1841. It was sold for $4.5 million in 2013.

Mark Twain also visited here in 1878, and you can read about his entertaining account here in 'A Tramp Abroad'.

The current-day restoration programme may be making the castle more tourist friendly, but it is losing a lot of its romantic atmosphere.

The funicular railway (Bergbahn) continues up from the castle to the Königstuhl 567.8m above the river below. Alternatively you can take bus number 39 there from Bismarckplatz in Heidelberg town centre, which takes longer but follows an interesting steep winding road past the Atomic Physics centres and stellar observatories of Heidelberg university, Or you can go up on the bus and down on the funicular as we did. Whatever, the views from the Königstuhl are stunning, and there are lots of nature trails around the peak and back down into Heidelberg.

Heidelberger Bergbahn at the Königstuhl, taken by Andie Gilmour

Way-stone at the Königstuhl, Heidelberg, taken by Andie Gilmour

Unusual sculpture on the nature trails around the Königstuhl, taken by Andie Gilmour

 Back down in Heidelberg again, the Altstadt itself provides compelling exploration, starting at the magnificent bridge with its towers and statues.

The hardest sculpture to photograph is of a baboon, hard to photograph because every tourist is directed there by the tour guides to put their head inside and wear it as a mask. There has been a monkey sculpture on the bridge since way back when, on a tower at the other end of the bridge, now demolished.

Baboon sculpture, Heidelberg, taken by Andie Gilmour

This sculpture dates to 1979 and quotes a poem by Martin Zeiller in 1623 about the original monkey.

"Was tust Du mich hier angaffen, 
hast Du nicht gesehen den alten Affen? 
Zu Heidelberg, da schaue hin und her, 
da findest Du wohl meines gleichen mehr."

Translated, it means something like:

"What you gaping at me like that?
Haven't you seen the old monkey?
Look around you mate at Heidelberg
There you'll probably find more just like me."

To which a nearby gift-shop provides the answer:

'Fuck off' car plate, Heidelberg, by Andie Gilmour

There aren't many monkeys around Heidelberg, but there are certainly a lot of tourists, and other gift-shops to provide for their souvenir needs.

Heidelberg is a wonderful small town. It is perfect for a whistle-stop tour of Europe as a distillation of German culture, though risking becoming a caricature of lederhosen, dirndl's, cuckoo-clocks, Bratwurst and beer taverns. Our own brief weekend stay served us an appetiser for returning for a full course of rambles around the surrounding hills, excursions to other towns in the region, and sight-seeing along the Rhine valley. Heidelberg might be small-town compared to Berlin, but it has a romantic charm that Berlin's brashness lacks.

Farewell then Heidelberg, and as I have touched the fingers of the bridge baboon I will surely return (according to the tour guides).

Heidelberg by night, taken by Andie Gilmour

Postscript: The title of this post comes from a popular German song composed in 1925 (and a 1952 West German romantic musical directed by Ernst Neubach). It translates as 'I have lost my heart in Heidelberg'.  You can watch it sung here actually in Heidelberg if you want, but I really don't recommend it! No, really really really don't click!

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