Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Heidelberg - Around Town

Most of the places in Heidelberg are walkable if you like walking or cycling. The town is pedestrian and cycle friendly. We opted for the bus since we were in the suburbs. A day ticket is the best deal - it lets you use the bus or tram as many times during the day as you want.

We walked along the Neckar River (meaning Wild Water). It is a pleasant walk, with picnic spots, or for water sports. It has a clear view of the picturesque Castle and Old Town. You can spot some creative graffiti or stop for a chat with the ducks on the shore.

Going further along the river, you'll see the old Bridge which was built in 1742. The statue of Prince Elector Karl Theodor is there to honor him for building of the bridge. Once you get off the bridge towards the old university, you'll see another statue - the "Brückenaff" (or bridge ape). The legend surrounding this curious statue tells us that it symbolizes the fact that neither the city-dwellers nor the people who lived outside the city were better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as they cross the bridge to remember this.

Hauptstraße is the main street in the Old Town, lined on both sides with shops and restaurants. About a mile long, it is supposed to be Germany's longest market street. We were there at a time when they were celebrating the 400th anniversary of the marriage of Frederick V to Elizabeth Stuart.
On Valentine’s Day, the 14th February 1613, Frederick V of the House of Wittelsbach and the English king’s daughter Elizabeth Stuart got married in London at the age of 16. In the same year, they left England by ship and traveled over Den Haag, where Frederick visited his uncle Moritz of Orange, to Heidelberg. Frederick's return home with his bride was an event of international standing at the time. The couple was welcomed by the cheering population of Heidelberg and a celebration of several days’ duration took place at the Heidelberg Castle, which also included a huge fireworks display. This is the starting signal for today’s illuminations of Heidelberg Castle. (Source)
The town had been decked up with old world style markets and people in period costume. The tents showed how people traded in ancient times, and there were some games to play as well. There was even a display of some magnificent birds of prey.

We sampled as many varieties of food as we could handle - fries,apple chips, wienerschnitzel, and gelato. There are numerous stores selling books new and used (it is a university town after all), and since it is a pet-friendly country, don't be surprised to see dogs browsing in stores or resting comfortably under the table at a restaurant.

There are different market squares in the area.

The Marktplatz has a fountain with a statue of Hercules on a column, built between 1703 and 1706. This hero of Greek myths, known for his strength, symbolizes the heroic efforts that Heidelberg’s residents made to rebuild their devastated city in the years after 1700. The Hercules statue in the fountain today is a replica, however; the original is in safekeeping in the Kurpfälzisches Museum. There are several outdoor cafés and in pleasant weather is a good place for a beer.

 The Kornmarkt (Corn Market), this market square, as its name implies, was once used for the collection and trade of agricultural goods. It is home to the Madonna statue that was erected in 1718 by the Jesuits, to try to motivate the people of Heidelberg to switch to Catholicism. The Count Elector had been, since 1685, trying to get his subjects to come back to the Catholic faith, and the Jesuits were very supportive; they published leaflets, organized pilgrimages, and put up other statues of the Virgin Mary as well. The Count, try as he may, was unable to persuade many of the Protestants, who chose instead to emigrate to other areas of the country rather than changing their beliefs.

The large building complex of the University Library was erected in 1901, previously it had been a monastery. The main sights, the facades pointing to the east and to the south, are abundantly decorated by sculptures, structuring architectural details and plant ornaments extending all the way up to the roof. The two sculptures flanking the main entrance at the "Plöck" were created by Prof. Hermann Volz (Art Academy of Karlsruhe). They both symbolize the intentions of the University Library: Prometheus (left) gave mankind fire and knowledge. The woman and the child (right) stand for the passing on of wisdom from one generation to the next. The two masks, one laughing and one crying, symbolize comedy and tragedy. An inscription refers to Grand Duke Friedrich of Baden who, being sovereign, also was the university's chancellor and thus sponsor and promoter of the new building. Baden's coat of arms therefore had to be included in the building's architecture. Portraits of the Prince Electors are to be found above the windows.

The Church of the Holy Spirit is located in the marketplace. The Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost Church) was built from 1344 to 1441, its tower completed in 1544. It was the burial place of 55 Prince Electors and hosted the famous Bibliotheca Palatina until 1623. The church frequently changed its religious denomination and was used at different times by Catholics as well as Protestants. Even a partition barrier was erected in 1706 because both denominations wanted to hold service here. For 230 years, the barrier stayed in its place until it was removed in 1936. Today, the Church of the Holy Spirit is a Protestant Church.

We were to attend an organ concert here, but we arrived exactly 2 minutes late and found the gate closed. But could hear the music which sounded entrancing.

The Zum Ritter St. Georg hotel is the oldest building around and one of the few houses of Heidelberg to survive the demolitions during the Wars of Succession. . The cloth dealer Carolus Belier and his wife Francina had it build in the year 1592; today, the venerable gable house of sandstone, full of fluted columns and ornately carved window blocks, is a listing building. 

There are other interesting things to spot in nooks and crannies and the narrow lanes - like the statue of Madonna with child embedded in a building, or the building that marks the water levels during the floods in the area. If you have the time and patience, there are many things to explore even in this tiny place.

The street ends at Bismarckplatz which is the hub for trains and trams as well. This is a more modern area and has larger stores, a mall, and some restaurants. It's a good place to sit and watch the city, especially towards the evening.

Be prepared to walk a lot here, and wear comfortable shoes with god cushioning for the stone-paved streets. There is no better way to explore this town than by walking. Language wasn't a big issue especially in the popular sites since it is a student town with many speaking a splattering of English (but then we were with people who spoke German so don't take my word for it).

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