Friday, October 19, 2012


The next stop on our family cruise was Heidelberg. For some reason, just the name "Heidelberg" has always seemed exotic and beautiful to me.  The actual city did not disappoint.

The oldest university in Germany, my mother's alma mater, is in Heidelberg. Mom told us that right after the War, after passing an ability test with flying colors, she was awarded an emergency credential and sent to the country to teach a 7th/8th grade combination class of 58 students.  She was 19 years old, and it was the beginning of 32 years of teaching.  Many of the universities, which had all been closed during the war, were re-opened in 1946. Although Mannheim, which is only 10 miles from Heidelberg, was almost completely destroyed during World War II (it was a major industrial center), Heidelberg was largely spared, and after a year or so of teaching, Mom was sent to the University of Heidelberg to attend two semesters at their pedagogical college before returning to the classroom.  She taught for a total of four years in Germany before emigrating to the United States.

Unfortunately, we only saw the University of Heidelberg from a distance, but it was fun to imagine Mom walking the city streets, seeing some of the same places we visited. Heidelberg's skyline is dominated by an ancient castle, and I can picture Mom hiking up to the ruins with other students for a picnic.
The earliest structure on the castle hill was built before 1214, but most of the buildings standing today were built during the 1500s and 1600s.  Parts of the castle were frequently destroyed and rebuilt during the frequent wars of the day, but in 1764 the castle was struck by lightning twice. Many saw that as a sign from heaven that it should not be rebuilt.  In the ensuing years, repairs were made here and there, but it remained largely a ruin.
 In spite of its condition, it was well-known throughout Europe and has been the subject of many idealized, romantic paintings:
By German artist Carl Phllip Fohr, 1815
By Englishman J. M. W. Turner, 1844-1845 (This version looks a bit like Brigadoon or Shangri-La)

Even Mark Twain got in on the act, devoting several pages in his 1880 book A Tramp Abroad to a description of the castle: "Heidelberg castle must have been very beautiful before the French battered and bruised and scorched it two hundred years ago. . . . A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed.  It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.  Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect."


The building below was the first Renaissance building in Germany:

This fanciful gate, with little stone creatures crawling up the posts, is the Elizabeth Portal, a private entrance for the queen built in a single night in 1615 as a surprise from her husband on her 19th birthday:

The two angels below, an embellishment above one of the courtyard doorways that dates back to about 1400, are holding two compasses and a wreath.  The angels are said to be the twin sons of one of the master builders of castle.  One day while visiting their father, they fell to their deaths from a high scaffolding.  Heartbroken, their father put down his tools and all construction work ceased.  Day after day, the grieving father wove white roses into wreaths and placed them on the graves of his two lost sons. Finally, one night he had a dream in which two large angels appeared in his room. They told him his sons were well and happy, and that they were anxious that he finish building the castle about which they had been so excited. When the master builder woke up, he found a wreath of red roses at the foot of his bed.  He promptly returned to work and finished his part of the castle, adding this remembrance as his final touch:

Walking among the crumbling walls, visitors can't help but feel they are in another time, another world.  It's the kind of place that has an almost magnetic draw on cameras stashed in pockets and backpacks:

This fuzzy pink plant is called a "wig tree."  The blossoms look and feel somewhat like hair.  They were dried and used to fill in wigs during the Renaissance:

 Heidelberg Castle is definitely a place for a Kodak Moment:

 (The statues below are fill-ins for the DeLongs and Jackmans. Where were they? Probably off in the crowd somewhere with Waldo.)

The most famous tourist attraction on the inside of the castle is the Heidelberg Tun, built in 1751 to hold wine paid as taxes by local vintners. Jules Verne wrote about it in his novel Five Weeks in a Balloon, Herman Melville mentioned it in Moby Dick, and Victor Hugo referenced it in Les Miserable. Mark Twain even included an illustration of it in A Tramp Abroad:
"Everyone has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun," Twain wrote, "and most people have seen it, no doubt.  It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels.  I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake, and the other is a lie. . . . Some historians say that thirty couples, some say thirty thousand couples, can dance on the head of this cask at the same time."
Front view
Rear view
In reality, the Heidelberg Tun is the world's largest wine cask.  It was built from the trunks of 130 oak trees, holds 58,124 gallons, and does indeed have a dance floor on the top. Wine and beer were the common drinks in the 1700s, and the average person, children included, drank two liters per day, beginning at breakfast with a dish called "beer soup."  I guess a regular keg just wouldn't cut it.

The thought of all that wine naturally turns Mormons to thoughts of their own particular vice, and how odd it was to find a decidedly American vendor at this quintessentially German spot:
 However, apparently one may purchase, but one is not allowed to partake--at least in some areas:

Next, our guide took us to view an unusual indentation in the stone just outside the castle walls:

He directed our eyes to the windows on the very top floor in one of the few sections of the castle that appears to be intact.  These were the rooms of  kings and queens.

Apparently one queen had an affair with one of the knights, and when the king came home early and found them together, the knight leapt out of the window, landing hard enough on the stone pavement to leave his footprint before he ran away.  Legend has it that those who step into the knight's footprint will, like the knight pining for his love, one day return to Heidelberg.

Hmm, I guess that means me!

Next: Heidelberg Part 2


  1. Fun to see the outside references to the castle and the tun. It would have been fun to see more of the school.

  2. Interesting to read Mark Twain's views of the castle. It was fun to think of Mom wandering the castle, wasn't it?

  3. I'm hoping that one day Crafton will build a gate just for me. What do you think? Enjoyed this post!