On Sunday, we woke up for a short trip to Heidelberg in the state of Baden-Wurtemberg. It was a sunny and warm day, so once we got off the bus and saw the landscape, with the river Neckar, the green forests, the blue sky and the castle on top of a hill, we were too thrilled! Ahmad, an ISU member who was accompanying us, had already lived for a while in Heidelberg, so he suggested us to go first to the Old Bridge and then to the Castle of Heidelberg.
The charm of the bridge are its red bricks, which are quite uncommon in other cities that we’ve visited in Germany. In fact, Heidelberg is one of the cities that was the least affected during the Second World War, which is why it managed to keep its beautiful architecture. We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed the sun for a moment, before heading to the cable car that would take us to the castle. Once at the top, it was still early so we had around one hour to eat something (guessed right, it’s Bratwurst time!) while we waited for our guided tour to start.
Built in the 15th century, this was the residence of the prince-elector of the region. He built it on the side of a hill, as a king of natural defense system (there is a good reason why a cable car exists in order to climb up…) This castle has been destroyed three times, and almost four! Our guide went through all of the dramatic stories around these destructions.
- It all started with Frederick V, elector palatine and Protestant. When he became King of Bohemia and Holy Sacred Emperor, he didn’t imagine that it would trigger the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. Friedrich had to escape with his family to the Netherlands. The Heidelberg castle, that he built up to be magnificent for his wife, was burned after two years. Aftermath of the Thirty Years War: out of 8 million people, some fled while others died either in war, or of famine.
- The second destruction came shortly after this one. After that war, his son, Karl Ludwig I, came back to the castle. He married his daughter to Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe d’Orléans, in order to maintain good relationships. But when the latter died, the palatine crown fell into the hands of a distant Catholic cousin of his, who seized the castle and destroyed it again before leaving it 4 years after.
- But happy stories are short. In the 18th century, Karl-Theodor built a new palace in Mannheim and it became the new capital of his land (Palatinate and Bavaria). The Heidelberg castle was therefore only used for the storage of gunpowder. One stormy night, a lightning struck… and there again the castle was almost completely destroyed.
The castle was never completely reconstructed, and it was abandoned until the 19th century, where it was saved by a French aristocrat, Charles de Graimberg, who fought for it to be preserved. Thanks to him, nowadays we can enjoy a delightful visit to this castle on the heights of Heidelberg.
An interesting fact about Frederick V is that the current English monarchy descends from him. The last daughter of Frederick V, Sophia, almost became Queen of England (because she was Protestant). Instead, her son was crowned as King George I and ever since, the line of succession has never been broken.
The region of the Palatinate is and has always been famous for its wine. Taxes were paid in wine, and all that wine would be put into giant barrels and served in the feasts. Nothing to be jealous of, our guide explained to us that mixing different kinds of low quality wine (because obviously the producers kept the best wine for their business!) did not offer a very tasty wine in the end. But people at that time actually had no choice. The Neckar was an open air sewage, so wine was actually cleaner than water from the river!
There is still one of these giant barrels on display at the cellar. We didn’t really believe our guide until he told us to go there and check it with our own eyes after the guided tour. And indeed: 200 228 L of wine in a HUGE barrel. There are stairs for climbing to the top of it, where there is like a small dance floor! That’s why this wine barrel currently holds the title of the world’s largest wine barrel.
This guide was one of the youngest and funniest we had so far. He was at the same time studying a Master in History, which explained why he would tell us all the hidden stories behind the nobility which such passion.
Free time at the city center
After the visit, we still had some hours before the bus would pick us up. So we decided to grab something to eat or drink and spend the rest of the sunny afternoon in the charming old Heidelberg. Even if it was a Sunday, Heidelberg’s city center is crowded, the ice cream stores and cafés are humming with activity. With this weather, nothing is more refreshing than a Radler, which is 50/50 soda and beer and ice-cream (the official ISU dessert). We could lounge in a table at the terrasses at a café, and after a short stroll, try another terrasse. Terrasse/Stroll/Ice cream repeat. A pretty way to end our weekend in beautiful Baden-Wurttemberg.