It’s hard to imagine anything more romantic than Schloss Neuschwanstein, Mad King Ludwig’s dreamy castle in Bavaria, but for my money, Schloss Heidelberg comes a close second and is far more steeped in “real” history, having grown organically over centuries.
Frankly, Neuschwanstein is a “Johnny-come-lately” among Germany’s plethora of castles, dating back only to 1869.
Ever since the football world cup took place in Germany in 2006, it seems the world has suddenly remembered what an amazingly beautiful country Germany actually is.
In the years prior to the 2006 Soccer World Cup there were virtually no travelogues published in the UK’s Sunday papers on holiday destinations in Germany – with the exception of Christmas markets and trips down the Rhine river, which were typically availabel as coach tours for the elderly.
However, the football coverage on worldwide TV came clearly as a revelation to many people and ever since then there has been a marked increase in international tourism.
If you’re planning a visit to Germany next year, be sure to put Heidelberg on your list. August and September are particularly good months to visit, as the Heidelberg Castle Festival takes place in August, which is followed by even more celebrations in September, when the Heidelberger Herbst (Heidelberg’s Autumn Festival) is in full swing.
Much of Baden Württemberg is wine-growing country, a fact aptly honoured by many wine festivals throughout the autumn.
The most convenient airport to fly into is Stuttgart. Go down to the lower ground floor, where the metro train station is located and buy a Länder train ticket for the Federal State of Baden Württemberg, which is the cheapest way to travel.
These tickets come as “singles” (for one traveller) and “group” tickets, where up to 5 people can travel on the same ticket during a 24 hour period.
Take the metro train from the airport to Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and board one of the many regular train services to Heidelberg. The journey time is roughly 45 minutes from Stuttgart to Heidelberg and 30 minutes from the airport to the main train station. A taxi also takes 30 minutes to arrive, but is naturally far more expensive.
Heidelberg is located approximately 130 km from Stuttgart and is home to Germany’s oldest university and one of its most stunning castles. Unfortunately, the 30-years war took its toll on Heidelberg in 1622, when most of the ancient city was erased and then demolished again, when French troops invaded Germany in the late 17th century.
Still, Heidelberg has plenty of amazing architectural treasures left to see and is regarded as one of the country’s most romantic places to visit.
Thanks to its 32,000 plus students the city has more pubs, bars and clubs than a tourist could possible manage in a week’s pub crawl. Heidelberg is very touristy and rather expensive, but the city at the Neckar River is a tourist destination not to be missed by anyone exploring the country’s many castles.
Schloss Heidelberg (Castle Heidelberg) sits on a forested hill called the Königstuhl (literally the king’s throne) overlooking the Neckar and has its own museum, cafe, garden terraces and spectacular views to offer.
The Gothic-Renaissance fortress may be largely in ruins, but its magnificence can still be seen today. Initially it started life as a much smaller castle, built around 1214. Some king moaned about it being far too small to home his troops – who were forced to camp outside – so later the original castle was turned into two castles, built around 1294 and eventually combined into one large castle complex in the intervening centuries.
It was at one point home to a branch of the house of Wittelsbach, the Bavarian royal family and its oldest recognisable parts date back to the 13th century, when building works began for the castle complex as seen today.
Most of what is left now are actually remnants from 1693, after the castle had been rebuilt and destroyed again, but there are still plenty of 14th century examples of architecture around.
When viewed from the Old Town below, the castle’s red sandstone stands out and dominates the hilly landscape – but standing in the castle courtyard overlooking the river and the city is frankly breath-taking.
I visited during the hottest summer ever recorded in Germany (July 1983), when there wasn’t even the slightest breeze drifting up from the river and sun worshippers lined the embankment in their thousands – mostly in the nude, which was rather foolhardy, given that sun factor 50 is about the highest one can buy and delicate “cheeks” were left mainly unprotected against the sun’s rays.
At 9 am the thermometer had already climbed up to 47 degrees Celsius and by mid-day it was 49 degrees Celsius. It was so hot that scampering about in the castle complex was incredibly strenuous and had to be interrupted by frequent rests to drink gallons of mineral water. I remember virtually falling asleep when leaning against a wall and snatching a little shade. Girls from the cool Baltic climate simply can’t cope with African temperatures at the Neckar River!
With its impressive Pulver Turm at the eastern side of the entry (where the gun powder was kept = the tower actually exploded) and a viewing terrace overlooking the river, its Grosses Fass (an enormous 18th century keg allegedly capable of holding more than 220,000 litres) and its contrasting Kleines Fass, which is neither small nor less impressive, there are enough tourist attractions here to keep you riveted all day.
In addition, Schloss Heidelberg is home to the Deutsches Apothekenmuseum, the German Pharmaceutical Museum. Anyone interested in the origins of European pharmacy and “witch doctors” of days gone by should definitely pay a visit to this fascinating museum.
Since Heidelberg is one of those places that does get plenty of international visitors, you’ll be able to get an English-language guide and map.
You can reach the castle either on foot from the Old Town, using a path that runs along the eastern side of Karlsplatz, past the statue of Goethe (that bloke of Faust fame) and a nice fountain.
The walk takes around 10 minutes, but is quite steep, as you’re climbing more than 200 ft. upwards.
If walking through the ancient cobbled streets has left you somewhat footsore, you can also take a ride up the hill on the funicular railway that starts from lower Kornmarkt.
If you’re into fairies and Brother Grimm, stay on the funicular and travel up to the TV tower on top of the hill, where you’ll be greeted by the Fairy-Tale Park, where small kids will have a wonderful time seeing some of their favourite fairy-tale characters come to life.
Here are some useful English-language websites with more information:
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com, source of photos Wikipedia)