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City of Beauty and Romance
By Chris Millikan
For Travel Writers' Tales

The Scenic Emerald carries us down the Rhine River on a leisurely fifteen-day itinerary. Sightseeing in old Heidelberg on day three introduces us to one of Germany's most beautiful cities.

Our explorations begin at Heidelberg's famous castle, perched high on the Konigstuhl hillside above the Neckar River. Only partially rebuilt since ruined by lightening, wildfire and war during the 17th and 18th centuries, this landmark displays an unexpected architectural mix.

Our guide Ingrid takes us to the corner of the terrace. Identifying Church of the Holy Spirit rising above a sea of red tile roofs in the old city below, she tells us that Mark Twain also greatly admired this striking view.

Near the castle's entrance stands Elisabeth's Gate. According to legend, in 1615 Friedrich V built it in a single night, a surprise birthday present for Elisabeth Stuart, his English princess. Delicate flowers entwined in whimsical leaf work on the pillars greatly impressed her-and now delight us. And inspired years later by Gingko trees in surrounding gardens, Goethe penned a love poem for Marianne von Willemer, complete with heart-shaped leaves attached.

Passing through embellished Gate Tower, Ingrid points out two opposing structures, "In the 16th century, Ludwig V refortified Heidelberg Castle founded in 1214. He added this decorative, heated, well-lit library holding 1,000 medieval manuscripts…and also built that starkly contrasting Ladies' Building for his wife and daughters!" Shifting from Gothic to Renaissance architecture, son Friedrich II created the first Hall-of-Mirrors.

In the large inner courtyard further along, two magnificent palaces come into view. This complex projects the wealth, power, sophistication and priorities of its monarchs. Completed about 1560, the Ottheinrich Palace represents Germany's finest Renaissance façade. It features sculptures of Zeus, Roman goddesses known as the Virtues and includes biblical notables Samson, Job and King David.

The Friedrichsbau Palace of 1607 displays decorative Baroque elements incorporating the Electors-Palatine family tree; builder Friedrich IV stands pompously above the archway among resplendent statuary honouring Charlemagne and subsequent Holy Roman Emperors.

Downstairs in an adjacent cellar, we ogle the world's largest wine cask. Made of 130 oak trees, it holds 221,000-liters when full. Intended to store taxes paid in wine, this Great Tun cask was rarely ever used.

A walking tour throughout old town then takes us to Germany's oldest university, established in 1386. In a small lane behind the University Building stands the Student Jail, a curious reminder of a renowned academic past. Between 1778 and 1914, mischievous students were incarcerated here for drunkenness, womanizing and disturbing the peace. Some impudently stripped in the University Square's fountain, inciting arrest just to get free room and board! Serious offenses like dueling meant weeks in cramped cells. To while away time, they used candle smuts or coloured chalks to decorate walls with pictures and inscriptions, since preserved. A small University Museum and elegant Old Hall built to celebrate the University's 500th anniversary in 1886 are located nearby.

Coming to a little shop selling Student Kisses, we are charmed by Ingrid's 'sweet' story. "Heidelburg's earliest café opened here in 1863, quickly becoming a favourite meeting place for respectable citizens, university professors and students. Even lovely young ladies attending renowned finishing schools came for Kaffee und Kuchen…accompanied by their severe governesses. Under watchful eyes, they were unable to do more than secretly flirt with handsome students. To help them, the café's pastry cook created 'student kisses.' Brash students sneaked these delicious chocolate, praline-filled pastries to pretty fraulein; soon, even the strictest of governesses accepted them as well!"

Beyond the City Hall built in 1700, we pass student taverns steeped in traditions and hijinks immortalized in The Student Prince, a 1925 Broadway musical hit that made Heidelberg a North American household name.

At the Old Bridge, a cheeky brass monkey sculpture prompts several zany photos before we proceed through the gateway towers, originally part of the town's wall. At least eight bridges have graced this site; sculptures of builder Karl Theodor and Minerva, helmeted goddess of wisdom, adorn this version constructed in 1786.

Once across the river, we enjoy postcard views of the bridge, city and castle set against green wooded slopes. Some climb further along a narrow, winding pathway to Philosopher's Walk for even more spectacular panoramas. Others locate the ruined 11th century Monastery of St. Michael and remains of an earthen Celtic hill-fort at the top.

Long inspiring artists and poets, Heidelberg's magical castle, old town and university continue to reveal a splendour and romance that captivates curious history buffs like us.


For complete Scenic Tours itineraries:

PHOTOS: by Chris & Rick Millikan

1. Heidelberg's old town: overview from Heidelberg castle's terrace.
2. At Heidelberg's famous castle: decorative baroque Friedrichsbau Palace of 1607.
3. At Heidelberg castle: Renaissance façade on Ottheinrich Palace of 1560.
4. Heidelberg castle's Great Tun, made from 130 oak trees.
5. Heidelberg's famous castle overlooks a city square in old town.
6. Heidelberg University Square: Germany's oldest university was founded in 1386.
7. Heidelberg Church of the Holy Spirit.
8. Heidelberg cheeky monkey sculpture embellishes the old bridge.
9. Heidelberg: overview of the bridge, castle and old town.

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