Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Heidelberg is a gem in Germany's crown of "enchanting towns." According to our many German guidebooks, tourists regularly fall in love with Heidelberg's winding streets, the riverfront and the towering Schloss (castle). Most of the guidebooks, however, fail to mention that Heidelberg also has Germany's most confusing bus system. After finally making it to the Altstadt (which is almost a mile away from the Hauptbahnhof!! Clearly an oversight on the part of medieval Heidelbergians), we walked around the local Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) and noted that the local handmade crafts sold in the little stalls were surprisingly similar to those found in Mainz, Frankfurt and Weisbaden. Must be a regional thing. Surely they don't just buy all these beeswax candles and tiny nativity scenes from factories in China.

Heidelberg is a truly beautiful city, though. At least, the older section of it is. The town covers both sides of the Neckar River, which makes for a great waterfront, but the highlight is clearly the huge Schloss. The castle sits above the town part way up a tall hill, which is now capped by a large tv tower. The Schloss is no longer inhabited and quite a bit of it is ruins. But, it is nice to see the different stages of building that took place as parts of the castle were destroyed and reubuilt over the centuries. In fact, the castle was, at one point, used as a quarry and much of it was carted down the hill where the stones were used to build houses in the Altstadt.

Apart from a very interesting Apothocary museum, the Schloss is also home to the world's largest wine barrel. The pictures don't really do this barrel justice--the thing was enormous. The curators were very clever, too, in properly setting you up to appreciate the size of the Gross Fass. When you first walk into the hall you see a rather large wine barrel and take a few pictures with it, secretly thinking to yourself "well, it isn't really that big." Then you turn a corner and feel like a fool because the Gross Fass in front of you is so large that it requires its own personal staircase. If you go up the staircase, you'll find a nice little patio area on top of the Gross Fass, where, one imagines, you either perform vinological experiments on the quality, color and aroma of the local brew, or you set up some chairs and tables and have a snack and a chat while sipping wine that came out of the very barrel you're resting on.

My other impressions of Heidelberg: cold. Very, very cold. Especially cold on top of the hill near the tv tower where a horde of Germans were out for a daily constitutional in the Wildpark. We figured the place would be deserted (there being snow on the ground, after all) but we kept having to move off the path to make room for mountain bikers.

The Gross Fass and some guy we don't know, for scale.

J!, Arr! and some girl who walked into the picture.

Heidelberg Schloss

J! and I on Heidelberg's main street.

Beautiful Heidelberg


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