The Windows of Heidelberg, Germany

A collage showcases 9 decorative windows in the Altstadt (or Old Town) of Heidelberg, Germany

The German city of Heidelberg is perhaps best known for its romantic castle ruins, its highly esteemed university, and its Old Town, which is studded with mostly baroque architecture.

Having lived in Heidelberg for 10 years, the city means additional things to me though.

It’s where I held some of my first real world jobs, where I came to know myself, and where my husband and I were married. The city also served as the backdrop for introductions to new friends, as well as meet-ups with loved ones from back home who made the journey overseas to see me. It was my launching pad for exploring new lands, my window on the world for an entire decade.

I left Heidelberg in 2011, and for six years, I didn’t return “home.” However earlier this month, Shawn and I made a return visit to this special city on the Neckar River.

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Into the Forest: Watching a Wild Deer Feeding in the German Alps

Sitting on the wooden benches of a rustic shelter, our group waited patiently. We shivered quietly and watched for signs of life in the frosted forest before us. It was twilight, and we had come to watch a feeding of wild deer in the Graswang Valley in the German state of Bavaria. These feeding sessions, called Wildtierfütterung in German, are a popular local tradition, and just one example of Germany’s penchant for respecting the environment

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A Valley Ablaze: The König-Ludwig-Feuer in Oberammergau, Germany

For more than 125 years, residents in the tiny German town of Oberammergau have commemorated the eve of the birth of the fairy-tale Bavarian King Ludwig II with a dramatic and fiery bonfire display, called the König-Ludwig-Feuer.

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Curvy Exhilaration: Riding the Alpine Coaster in Oberammergau, Germany

Zipping down the foothills of the German Alps in an alpine coaster, I screamed out of fear and fun. And Shawn quickly learned a new German word: Bremsen (brakes)!

Seeking an Alpine adrenaline rush in Oberammergau, a tiny town situated in Upper Bavaria, we’d come to the right place – the Kolbensattel Alpine Coaster, a summer luge course of sorts.

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A Guide to ‘Losing Your Heart’ in Heidelberg, Germany, My Home for a Decade

I lost my heart in Heidelberg…so goes a line from a famous German song of the same name (Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren).

Heidelberg has romantic castle ruins, cobbled riverside walkways, and a gorgeous setting nestled between two leafy mountains. With these charming attributes, it’s no wonder why visitors often “lose their hearts” in this southwestern German city.

I called this fairy tale community home for ten years, so I’m often asked for advice about things to do in Heidelberg. In response, I created this guide for first-timers who want to best enjoy this graceful city on the Neckar River. I’ve covered everything from historic tidbits and tasty eateries to shopping spots and places to soak up the best views.

All recommendations are within walking distance of Heidelberg’s Old Town (Altstadt). The Hauptstrasse (Main Street) is the Old Town’s epicenter.

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A Peek at Germany’s Ettal Monastery

Spying the elaborate dome of the Ettal Monastery for the first time, I was surprised to see such ornate architecture dramatically rising out of the countryside, juxtaposed with the area’s modest Bavarian homes. The monastery, located in the village of Ettal, is not far from the mountain village of Oberammergau, which is well-known for its Passion Play, held every ten years.

Founded in the 1300s, but completely rebuilt in the 1700s following a devastating fire, the complex features Baroque and Rococo architecture. Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian had it constructed so that it could house knights and monks. For many years, the monastery’s monks have brewed their own beer and made their own straw-colored liqueur using mountain herbs, and today it’s still possible to purchase both.

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Slap Happy: Dancing the Schuhplattler in Bavaria

One of the joys of exploring Germany’s Bavaria region is witnessing the people’s penchant for preserving tradition. In the village of Oberammergau, where we’ve spent much time visiting my parents, it’s not uncommon to spot an older gentleman wearing a loden green, woolen hat, with feather, during a grocery-shopping trip. On holidays, ladies often don vibrant Dirndls (dresses with poofy sleeves and aprons finished off with a pretty bow). And, during festivals, dancers of all ages take to the stage to show off their dancing skills, looked on by revelers with mugs of beer, a lively brass band, and an occasional yodeler.

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A Bavarian Horse-Blessing Ceremony

As we sauntered closer to the steeple-skylined village of Unterammergau, Germany, horses trotted past us, their highly decorated manes and tails blowing in the late autumn breeze. Not to be outdone by the animals’ distinguished appearances, the horse owners also sported fine Bavarian attire: the men wore grey woolen jackets finished with deer-horn buttons, and dark green or brown Lederhosen, while the ladies sported Dirndls with colorful flowing skirts, and button-down sweaters to protect them from the chilly air. As someone who adored coiffing her My Little Pony figurines’ hair as a child, I was instantly in shutterbug heaven.

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