Old and New in Heidelberg
Heidelberg is a city in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany. It is located in the Neckar River Valley where the Odenwald forest opens up towards the plains of the Rhine valley. The city is part of a densely populated region known as the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. It is famous for its many-faceted historical heritage, from the famous castle to the university, its library, and many more.
Oldest educational institution
Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany. The Ruprecht Karls University, commonly known as the University of Heidelberg, is one of Europe’s oldest educational institutions. Founded in 1386 by Rupert I, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, the university has been home to many prominent thinkers and inventions for centuries. Karl Drais, who invented the bicycle in 1817, was a student; nicotine, as the active component of tobacco, was discovered there by chemists, Posselt and Reimann; and the most famous inventor associated with the university is Robert Bunsen of the renowned Bunsen Burner. Bunsen was a professor of Chemistry at the University of Heidelberg and he became known for his inclusion of used match sticks for his experiment that led to the invention of the Bunsen burner. The city’s residents like to tell the story of a cleaner who was found striking packets of matches and keeping the sticks; when asked, she said ‘the professor likes using them like that’ – or words to that effect. Bunsen was also known for his vast knowledge, as one of those individuals that put Heidelberg on the world’s map. Heidelberg is known as a university town because of the institution’s educational facilities scattered around the historic town. The university is famous for its research in the fields of science, medicine, theology, and philosophy. Our guide, Charlotte, explained that, unlike other parts of the world where you find universities fenced into a structured environment, Heidelberg is not like that. Everywhere you go in the town is part of the university. Many of its structures that house different faculties and classrooms are to be found all over the town. Then there’s Heidelberg’s library, founded in 1421; it is the oldest public library in Germany and still very much intact. Martin Luther King defended the 95 theses in Heidelberg a few months after its proclamation in April 1518.
We also had a good view of the ruins of Heidelberg’s famous castle. Although some part of the castle is being renovated in a preservation effort, there is no major work been done on it. The ruins are being left largely the way they are because of their historical appeal. In any case, any attempt to do any major work would lead to the structure’s total collapse, due to the wearing away of the sand-like soil that was used in the original construction. The castle is a mix of styles, from the Gothic to the Renaissance. Prince Elector Ruprecht III (1398–1410) erected the first building in the castle’s inner courtyard as a royal residence.
The castle and its garden were destroyed several times and the first preservation effort was started by Count Charles de Graimberg in 1800. Although the interior is in the Gothic style, the King’s Hall was actually not built until 1934. Today, the hall is used for festivities, including banquets, balls, and theatre performances.
During the Heidelberg Castle Festival in every summer, the courtyard is turned into the site of open air musicals, operas, theatre performances, and classical concerts performed by the Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra.
The famous poet, Goethe, once walked in the park surrounding the castle. The poet had a strong association with Heidelberg; and one of his women came from there. It is possible to walk from the town to the castle, but this is not encouraged. There is a cable car service that runs from an underground station to the top of the castle. We were told about some students who walked all the way up the castle and on getting to the top, were still made to pay the cable car fee.
The Church of the Holy Spirit, located in the town, has a real history to it. It was desired by both the Protestants and the Catholics faiths at the same time; and both denominations have made used of the church at some point or other. By way of resolution, four doors were built for the church, at the front end and at the back side; and a dividing wall was erected in the middle. Two denominations worshipping in the church; this was a real challenge to me. If only all conflicts were resolved like this.
The first Jesuit movement started in Heidelberg, and the magnificent Jesuit Catholic Church still stands in the city. However, the oldest church in Heidelberg is the St. Peter’s Church, now Lutheran, built sometime in the early 12th century by early Catholic missions.
Later on our tour, we were shown the famous Hotel Ritter. Built in 1592, it is now 418 years old, to the amazement of our group. As we walked down the cobblestone streets of Heidelberg, there are beautiful sights to behold on either side. Almost every turning has a building of historical significance. Friedrich Ebert, the first president of Germany, was born in Heidelberg, and we were shown the house where he grew up.
We ended the tour at the bridge crossing the Neckar River and it was a beautiful scene. The ‘Bridge Monkey’ next to the gate catches the eye. Heidelberg is a merging of the old and the new. Its distinct uniqueness can be sensed from the sleek fast cars passing by, to the array of shops that line the streets.
The older generation is not affecting the growth of the younger generation; instead, its builds on the fusion of the two, telling different stories but each great in their own rights.
This article was first published in 234Next.com on September 16, 2010