Heidelberg, Germany: Synagogue Square, Food and Lodging
The Synagogue SquareAs a visitor who is Jewish, I wondered how the city of Heidelberg handled its Nazi past. And I confess to a bit of trepidation since I am often asked about the origin of my Germanic-sounded last name. In fact, Heidelberg has a Jewish population, a new synagogue, an Institute for Jewish Studies, and a memorial square.
There is little left of the original Jewish presence in Heidelberg, but a new synagogue has a committed congregation. Central Archives for Research on the History of the Jews in Germany was founded in 1987 and offers the Jewish communities an opportunity to store old records and documents. Although little is left of the pre-1945 community documents, there are collections of family papers going back to 1850 plus photographs of headstones in Jewish cemeteries. Contact them for permission to visit.
College for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg established in 1979 confers doctorates in the field. But the school is not just an academic institution. It is the first institution in Germany's history entitled to train teachers of the Jewish religion to degree level.
Synagogenplatz is a memorial based on a synagogue that was burnt down during the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938. It follows the original layout of the synagogue (built in 1877). Paving stones indicate the walls and twelve stone cubes show the location of the pews and stand for the twelve tribes of Israel. It's a serene and calm spot and people sometimes sit there as much for the quiet as for the remembrance. It is located on the corner of Lauerstrasse and Grosse Mantelgasse.
Food, Drink, and LodgingWe stayed at the Hotel Villa Marstall, perfectly located in Old Heidelberg on the Neckar River. Opened in 2006, the rooms are European luxury class - some are made for romance all have a view of either the river or the old part of the city. From our room we could see the river, the city, and look up at the Schloss as well. Beautiful Brazilian cherry wood floors, light and airy rooms and modern bathrooms. It was a perfect place to stay. Breakfast is available downstairs in The Vault a warren of stone rooms that manage to be cheerful and welcoming. The buffet style breakfast is also European sliced meats, cheeses, eggs, breads and cereal and yogurt predominate. Amenities included comfy mattresses, refrigerator, television and free internet access (LAN cable provided upon request).
At Franziskaner Weissbier I had discovered my favorite German dish -- pork steak, with fried bacon, onions, and potatoes. Delicious. It has a welcoming pubby atmosphere at Hauptstrasse 145.
Note: Readers might notice that I did indeed just say I enjoyed pork. I am Jewish, but more a Unitarian Universalist with Jewish heritage. I doubt that clears things up, but it is the best I can do by way of an explanation.
Zum Weissen Schwanen, the White Swan, is one of Heidelberg's oldest restaurants, opening in 1398, although as with much of the city, it was rebuilt in 1778. Try the Schwartzbier. This dark beer had a smooth and deep flavor, with a hint of sweetness.
There was actually one building that survived the devastation of the troops of Louis XIV. Today it's the Hotel zum Ritter, but it started out in 1592 as the family home (and then home and business) of a cloth dealer who found religious tolerance in old Heidelberg. He constructed one of the most beautifully ornate buildings in the city. Inside you'll find one of the city's finest and most elegant restaurants, with excellent food and service.
For a sweet treat as you stroll the Hauptstrasse stop by the Gelati Caffe at 141 Hauptstrasse try one of these delish frozen treats. Then, stroll like locals and tourists alike, gelato in hand.
We took a pastry break (who could resist true European pastries) at Grand Cafe Apricot at 160 Hauptstrasse. Ed's mission in Europe (and especially Germany) is to try all the Kassekuchen (a German cheesecake). Both my Sacher torte and his Kassekuchen were excellent.
ShoppingMarketplatz on Saturdays and Wednesdays fulfills its name. The chairs and tables come out and the stalls of flower, fruit, and other merchants fill the historic space. The Marktplatz is also souvenir central with tiny shops clustered around the wall of the church.
Our favorite find is Obstbrände und Liköre a brandy store on Hauptstrasse. The name translates to "fruit brandies and liqueurs" and it is well named. They make their own brandies and liqueurs -- around 20 of each and even a form of the famous "green fairy" absinthe. There's also seasonal flavors including baked apple liqueur in winter. Perhaps the most fun part, is that these are available for sampling. "We want to ensure that our customers like what they are buying," explained the saleswoman.
At Universityplatz, corner of Grabengasse and Hauptstrasse is Kathe Wohlfahrt where you can buy Christmas items all year long.
For More Information
Learn more about visiting Heidelberg at Visit Heidelberg. They also have a Heidelberg Card which we found helpful and convenient.