Germany’s most popular castle ruins withstood centuries of repeated brutal attacks, yet went unscathed during both World Wars.
In the heart of Germany, Heidelberg rests over the Odenwald mountains divided in two by the Neckar River. Mark Twain wrote “I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives” in his book A Tramp Abroad and it still rings true.
Heidelberg did not suffer any damage during either World War, save for when the German military blew up the bridges to keep invaders from having access. They were rebuilt quickly.
The Heidelberger Schloß (Heidelberg Castle) is the most frequently visited castle ruins in all of Germany. At one point, there were two castles but lightning burned the upper one in the 1500s. The existing one we see today, built in 1214, was struck in the 1700s.
Only one section, the Friedrich building, has been completely restored. Both castles were stricken with fire and lightning bolts many times over.
My song for this entry is Talking Heads “Burning Down the House”
The worst damage to the castle was during the Nine Years War. In March of 1689 the French military attacked and were advised to destroy the land, leaving only scorched earth.
Rumour has it that a French general fell in love with the castle town and secretly spared it from total annihilation by directing citizens living at the foothills to start fires and create lots of smoke to make it look like the army had burned down the houses.
Reconstruction began immediately but the French army kept returning with more severe orders. The newly fortified walls of the castle successfully prevented them from entering, so they destroyed them with mines.
Here is a Youtube video estimating the damage:
You can purchase your ticket and walk up the mountain, but I prefered to take the train and funicular. In Kornmarkt square, there is a Bahn station that goes directly to the castle. You can purchase a single ride up the mountain at the booth.
When you exit the train, follow the path that takes you past the tourist center, then you will see Elizabeth Gate to your left.
Friedrich V commisioned this gate to be built in a single night as a surprise for his wife Elizabeth Stuart back in 1615.
When you pass through Elizabeth Gate, you will reach the Bridge House where guards check your passport and tickets.
You can then walk through the Clock Tower and the courtyard.
The Heidelberg castle is the most prominent Renaissance castle outside of the Alps, and it sits nearly 300 feet above street level.
The Heidelberg Tun is the world’s largest wine barrel and holds nearly 60,000 gallons. Visitors can climb the stairs and walk over the top of the barrel, which stands 23 feet tall and nearly 28 feet wide.
Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, Washington Irving, Jules Verne, Herman Melville, Mary Hazelton, and other great writers have made references to this gigantic barrel in their work.
As you leave the courtyard and walk toward the garden, you have a great view of the towers.
In the Upper Prince garden there is a large fountain with Vater Rhein casually lounging.
At the front of the castle there is a giant terrace overlooking the town.
Here is a much better quality video I found on Youtube:
The Heidelberg Funicular
After touring the castle you can either return to the town level, or continue going up the Heiligenberg Mountain on the Heidelberg funicular that leads to the Königstuhl at the top. The funicular has a separate connection platform at the Molkenur station.
Heidelberg’s electric funicular was built in 1907 and runs almost one mile, making it the longest track in Germany. It is made primarily of wood, a major contrast to the modern Bahn train that runs to the castle.
Riding up the steep 45 degree gradient felt like we could flip backward with the slightest shift.
This photo was taken about 2/3 of the way up and I could just faintly make out details of the Alte Brücke bridge.
Königstuhl (The King’s Seat)
Station Königstuhl has the energy and appearance of an abandoned, haunted Soviet space station. Here you are, more than 1,800 feet above sea level and 1,400 feet above the city.
There is a small outdoor cafe, the Tinnunculus falcon viewing park, the Forest Adventure nature park, Paradise park, an exhibit on the Bergbahn, and some other interesting looking places I did not dare enter.
However, I found the Maschinenraum (Machine Room) below the station and got to check out all the gears and levers as they were cranking and pulling.
The Tinnunculus falcon viewing park looked like it would have been brilliant in warmer weather, but in the middle of February the birds had all taken shelter out of sight.
A trail of sculptures leads to the Forest Adventure park and Paradise park accessible by car, but there was no activity today due to such cold weather.
The difference in temperature this high up was a bit painful. My limbs were starting to get stiff and my teeth were chattering, so I passed on taking the full hike upward.
Only two or three others were brave (or crazy) enough to hang out on top of a mountain in the middle of February, but they had began coughing and gasping also.
We eventually made our way back down and I sunk into the nearest cafe to thaw out with some tea. Only then could I thoroughly appreciate the beauty of this castle, now lit up after dark.
Here is a super short clip showing a timelapse transition during the holiday market:
For more about Heidelberg, check out my blog Heidelberg, Schön War’s!
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