Situated along the Neckar River, Heidelberg has had a rich and complex history, including being burned to the ground in 1693 by the troops of Louis XIV. Although almost nothing is left of its
origins, the last 450 years have provided everything from a student prison to a semi-restored magnificent Schloss (castle) that manages to be an impressive ruin and a meticulously restored palace simultaneously.
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Alt Town and Hauptstrasse
As a true believer in the joys of roaming through a city, Heidelberg was perfect for strolling discoveries. The Hauptstrasse (Main Street) is a
delightful walking street connecting Alt (Old) Town and the thoroughly modern West part of the city -- center of commerce and transportation.
We started in Bismarkplatz and followed the road back in time. Modern shops and stores with familiar names (Swatch, United Colors of Benetton) began to
give way to pubs, inns, sidewalk cafes and gelato places. At Hauptstrasse 50 near Brunnengasse we even found a tiny marketplace.
Along the way, we explored charming side alleys and street, looked up at the mountains, or caught a glimpse of the river.
The true heart of Alt Town is the town square -- the Marketplatz, which we chanced on market day. On Saturdays and Wednesdays chairs and tables appear and the stalls of flower, fruit, and other goods fill the historic space.
Heidelberg university was founded in 1386, making it one of the oldest universities in Europe, and certainly the oldest in Germany. Only Prague and Vienna
precede its founding. It sprawls across the city from Alt Town to the edges of the city.
The success of the fledgling university was almost guaranteed by an unfortunate, but sadly not uncommon event. Plague. Shortly after its establishment
plague broke out in Prague. Students sought an alternative university. Vienna, the next logical choice, was deemed to close to the lethal outbreak, but
Heidelberg was far enough away to avoid to avoid the contagious disease.
After the town was leveled, the University was eclipsed by other centers of learning. But it regained prominence in the early part of the 19th century
when it once again became a magnet for professors and students and developed a reputation for its natural sciences.
One of the highlights is a visit to the Old Lecture Hall, located in the "new" building. It was built in 18th century but redecorated in 1886 for the
500th anniversary of the founding of the university.
Visitors are free to walk in and explore. Highly decorated and ornately carved, there are ceiling
panels depicting women as the embodiment of the four courses of study. Names of famous professors are inscribed on small wood panels. Balconies are
placed in the middle top of each wall used by students in former years when debates were conducted. Presiding over it all is the professor's lectern,
at the head of the room. It speaks of a completely different time in education when even lecture halls were places of beauty, and more intimate than
One of the most unusual places to visit in the city is the student prison. In the early years, universities had their own jurisdiction. When students
acted up, the university had the ability to incarcerate them. One of the common offenses had to do with getting drunk and releasing the pigs of the
nearby farmers into the town. Squealing and defecating pigs running through the streets were not appreciated and the perpetrators were incarcerated.
Although the rooms/cells are austere by today's standards, they were not considered harsh conditions for the time, and students were allowed to bring
whatever they needed for a comfortable stay. In theory they were restricted to bread and water, but like much of the institutions of the time, food was
brought in, or sent in by family and friends. Because this was a time when the drinking water was not safe to drink, the necessities students brought
with them often included a keg of beer.
The students were well-treated and some fraternities kept rooms for their members. The incarcerated students were also allowed to attend university
lectures, via a special door into the hall, so that they didn't miss their studies. When not drinking, or attending lectures, one of the popular
amusements was to create their own graffiti on the walls. Although periodically whitewashed, the most recent layer of 19th century wall art has
Romance and Talk to Her in Chocolate
With its cobblestone streets, historic buildings and a profusion of flowers, Heidelberg is a city made for romance. The Heidelberg Kiss, is both a
confection and a bit of fascinating history. One cafe in particular caught the fancy of the men and women of the city, Cafe Knosel. Respectable young
women, accompanied by guardians went there, as did the young men attending the university. And, in the 1800s, these two groups were not encouraged to
meet. They had to content themselves with side glances and secret smiles. But Fridolin Knosel, the pastry chef, was a bit of a romantic and soon
developed a chocolate delicacy called the Student Kiss -- a chocolate praline nougat, thin wafers, covered with a layer of chocolate. Now the young
men could give the young women who caught their attention, a chaste but delicious kiss.
Cafe Knosel still exists, although owned by a different family, while the Knosel family maintains a chocolate shop at Haspelgasse 16 specializing in the
delicious "sweet-talking" Heidelberg Student Kiss.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author