I’ve wanted to come back to Heidelberg for a very long time. I came here first in the mid-1970s when I was in the Navy stationed in Naples and my brother was in the Army in nearby Wiesbaden. I remember it as this beautiful old college town on the Neckar River.
Fast forward forty-plus years and I finally made it back. I certainly didn’t see anything that I remembered as it’s at least possible that things change over the decades. It is, though, still a beautiful old college town. The University of Heidelberg was founded in 1386 and thus is one of the oldest universities in the world. Its nearly 40,000 students account for a quarter of Heidelberg’s residents and as a result the city has a wonderfully youthful sense about it.
From my perspective there were two main attractions here, the old castle and the Philosophers’ Walk. The old castle looms over the city. Built originally in the early 15th century it was variously expanded and destroyed as peace and war alternated in the 16th and 17th centuries. When the local prince tried to rebuild the castle in 1764 lighting struck – literally – and ended any efforts to restore the castle. Today the ruins are evocative and even romantic. So romantic, in fact, that while we were wandering around the gardens a guy next to us knelt down and proposed to his girlfriend! (She said yes….)
The other highlight was the Philosophers’ Walk. Across the Neckar from the old town but on the university side of the river, the pathway offers great views of the city and castle and is supposedly where the ancient university’s scholars would walk and talk. Today the path leads to the top of Heiligenberg, the hill opposite Heidelberg proper, to ruins of an 11th century monastery. It made for a wonderful climb on a summer afternoon.
Not such a highlight was the University. I was expecting to find some campus with beautiful old buildings that had withstood all the turmoil Germany experienced in the 20th century. Maybe it’s there somewhere, and there are pictures on the web I can find of beautiful old buildings, but the part of the campus I found was as ugly as anything one could imagine. Just these horrible 1970s- or 1980s-era buildings with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Sad.