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.
With romantic castle ruins, cobbled riverside walkways, and a gorgeous setting between two leafy mountains, it’s no wonder that people often “lose their hearts” in Heidelberg, Germany. In fact, there’s even a famous German song that attests to Heidelberg’s many charms.
I called this fairy tale city 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 explore 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.
In parts of Germany three weeks before Easter, it’s customary to celebrate spring’s return with a Sommertagszug or summer procession. Though this year’s round of such fests was held last Sunday, for me, the 14th of March will forever be synonymous with Sommertagszugs since ‘Pi Day‘ 2010 is the date my husband and I first met and then enjoyed the Sommertagszug celebration together in Heidelberg, Germany. The fest has been celebrated in Heidelberg for more than 500 years.
Believed to have pagan origins, the fest celebrates spring’s return and winter’s banishing. Children take to the streets with sticks adorned with colorful, ruffled ribbons, topped with pretzels and eggs. In Heidelberg, they walk along the city’s long pedestrian street, the Hauptstrasse, until they reach the Market Square (Marktplatz), where dancers (dressed as winter and spring) theatrically battle it out on stage. Finally, a paper effigy of winter is torched. The best part of the celebration is, of course, the pretzels that are handed out to onlookers, and the realization that spring has returned.
For the ten years I called picturesque Heidelberg, Germany home, I was lucky to have a bird’s eye view when Fasching festivities took the university town by storm, as I’m sure they did today.
Fasching, Germany’s equivalent to Mardi Gras or Carnaval, includes pre-Lenten activities celebrated between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. My former apartment, housed on the fifth floor of an 18th-century building, offered the perfect spot to glimpse the crazy characters and floats as they passed by during the city’s annual Fasching parade.
The parades usually took place on days that I had to work. Alas, when I returned to my Altstadt (old town) neighborhood shortly after the parade had plowed through, I found the streets adorned with confetti, streamers, and wrappers that hinted at the goodies that had been tossed from floats. Some years, unable to resist being part of the fun, I took a vacation day and watched as men dressed in medieval garb twirled flags bearing Heidelberg’s crest, and fluffy blue beings powdered the noses of onlookers (yours truly included), and men sported Pippy Longstocking-esque braids. Here’s to more memories…
“The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us from the mystic realm of color. Our entire being is nourished by it. This mystic quality of color should likewise find expression in a work of art.” -Hans Hoffman
Two lovely and talented photographers nominated me to submit entries into the Capture the Colour Contest whose entries have been sweeping the world. Thank you, Marina Chetner, and Vielen Dank, Cornelia Weber for your nominations. I’m honored and flattered!
The Heidelberg Castle grounds are one of my favorite spots to stroll. When I was just a young babe in a Kinderwagen, my mother posed for a now-iconic family photograph at the castle’s main overlook spot (Scheffelterrasse), with me in tow. Twenty years after that shot was snapped, I moved from the United States — back to Germany — into a Heidelberg apartment almost visible among the terracotta roofs in that original photograph.
Realizing my connection to this romantic spot, my husband proposed atop an elegant stone bench nearby several years ago. Later that year, we were married in the castle’s chapel following a Doctor Zhivago-esque snowfall. My teeth still chatter thinking about it, but I’m warmed by the memories of that incredible night.
With a golden sun overhead yesterday, Shawn and I ascended to the Heiliggeistkirche’s platform. I hadn’t made the climb up the 600 year-old Gothic church’s curvy staircase since 2002 so I was pleasantly surprised by the splendid panorama!
On the sandstone perch overlooking the Altstadt or Old Town, ladybugs congregated. Swallows soared. The Church of the Holy Spirit’s bells tolled, as if to summon Old Man Winter, who was eagerly waiting in the wings so late into the crimson and gold season.
Autumn was in all her glory yesterday, though – the trees of the hillsides cradling the Altstadt were painted in vibrant fall hues. Crispy leaves danced on the cobblestoned streets below. People soaked up the sun’s warmth at outdoor cafés.
We left the roost feeling very lucky – not only for having mingled with so many ladybugs (they are considered to be a good luck symbol in Germany) but also for having chosen the perfect day for an ascent over such a glorious city!