Walking the Old City of Heidelberg…Part 1

From Cologne we stopped off at Koblenz in the state of Rhineland Pfalz and onto Heidelberg in the state of Baden Wurttemberg. This time our city for the next two nights is on the Neckar River. The city is famous for its universities, particularly in the area of the sciences. We were staying at the Holiday Inn Express Heidelberg which was a very comfortable place. One of its attractive qualities was that it had guest-parking, something that most hotels didn’t have, particularly if they were close to the old town area. (allstadt)

The tourist area of Heidelberg is the Alstadt area that runs along the banks of the Neckar River. The centre of this area is the Kornmarkt area near the Heidelberg Rathaus. This is at the end of Hauptstrabe that starts at Bismarckplatz and goes all the way down past the Rathaus and stops at the memorial city gate, Karlstor. We did this slow walk down to the Kormarkt area on both days we were in Heidelberg and it was such an interesting street that the length of the walks there and back were no great drama. The map to the left shows approximately where out hotel was with the black dashes arrow showing our route to the Hauptstrabe.

For much of the first half of Hauptrabe, this street is a modern shopping street, but many of the buildings are from an earlier age. One of the first really eye-catching buildings we encountered was the Haus zum Riesen, described as a ‘modern’ palace built in 1707-8. The curious aspect of this building is that it was constructed from the stones from the blown-up tower of Heidelberg Castle. The builder must have been a popular guy because the statue in the middle of the façade represents the builder. The house is owned by the University of Heidelberg and it headquarters various institutes of the university.

Just off the main shopping street there is an even more impressive residential palace built between 1601-1604 for the Elector Freiedrich IV. As can be seen on the image of the palace to the left below, the façade  of Friedrichsbau has a series of sculptures of various powerful relatives who ruled Germany for centuries. Like the castle that overlooks  Heidelberg from the mountainain on the right, this ‘Schloss’ was destroyed during the French Invasion in 1693. It was finally renovated in 1900.

In the square in front of the palace is a statue of Robert Bunsen (1811-99), a German chemist whose discoveries in his field deserve more fame than being remembered by many generations of science students just for his ‘Bunsen Burner’ that that has sat on every science lab bench for the last 130years.

Not far along from Friedrichsbau there stands Providence Church, built in the years 1659-61 for a small Lutheran Community. Like Friedrichsbau, it was destroyed by a city-wide fire caused by the onslaught of the French army in 1693, the so-called war of the Palatinate  Succession or Nine Years war pushed by Louis XIV of France. On the right below are images of some of the many statues of Our lady that were very popular in corner niches of the buildings along this main street. I suspect they must have been pre-reformation buildings as I am sure Lutherans wouldn’t be inserting graven images in such prominent public places.

Eventually we arrived outside the largest church in the city, the Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche). It sits on one side of the Marketplace, the centre of the old city; on the opposite side of this square is the city’s Rathaus. The Church was constructed between 1398 and 1515 and was planned as the burial place of the rulers of the Kingdom of Germany (915-1803). This building was another major church that suffered senseless destruction during the nine years war (1688-1697). Rather than the building being destroyed, the princely graves inside were destroyed.

The following day when we went to visit Heidelberg Castle, it was a great place to capture photos of the centre of the Aldstadt from way above the roof of the church in photo below.

On the second day of our time in Heidelberg, we went on a guided tour of the old town and one of the places we visited was the Church of the Holy Spirit. Our guide explained that ownership of this church has been a major source of conflict over the centuries. It was originally a Roman Catholic Church but has been moved between Catholics and Protestants ten times since the Reformation. Our guide took us through a door in the centre of the long side of the church and explained that for around 300 years, a wall was placed between the nave and the choir so both Catholics and Protestants could use the church at the same time. The wall was removed in 1936 and the church is now available just for Protestant ceremonies.

It would come as no surprise that the original town hall of Heidelberg in the Market Place was destroyed during the French invasion of the city in 1689. It is said that only 150 people were left in Heidelberg after this terrible period and they were apparently the inspiration for the Fountain of Hercules that sits in the centre of the square; they decided it would be a Herculean task to rebuild Heidelberg. Surprisingly the new Rathaus was built between 1701-3.

Across the road from the Market Place there is a very attractive five story building called the ‘Haus zum Ritter” or the Knight’s House. It was built in 1592. Given that much of Heidelberg was burnt down a little over 100 years after this house was built, it is amazing that any building survived. This house is the survivor. The house is also well known because of the writings of Victor Hugo (1802-1885), the French writer and politician. He spent significant time in Heidelberg and he was particularly impressed by the Knight’s House.

“In the morning I go and first (forgive me for an extremely bold expression, but it reflects my thoughts) to give my spirit breakfast, I pass the house of the knight Saint George. It really is an amazing building.”

Next door to the Knight’s House is Karlsplatz, the site of a Franciscan monastery that was pulled down in 1803. There are buildings at the back of this square that are associated with the local university. The square was redesigned in 1978 when an underground car-park was built nearby. The Sebastian Munster fountain in front of the Palais Boisserée was built at this time. The other reason for spending time in Karlsplatz is the great views of the Castle that sits on slopes above and behind this area.

We had noticed an excellent bakery over the road from the Marketplace on our first expedition on our first afternoon in Heidelberg. We determined that this would be our target for morning tea the next day…we were not disappointed. We sat at an outside table in the sun in a piazza called the Kornmarkt, the centre of which was dominated by another beautiful statue of the Madonna and Child, created by Peter von den Branden in 1718.

By the time we finished wandering the streets of old Heidelberg on our first day, the light was starting to fade but it was still sufficient to enjoy the cascading fountain that marked the turnoff to our hotel.

Walking the Old City of Heidelberg…Part 2.

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