People were losing their hearts in Heidelberg long before there was a Tony Bennett or, for that matter, a San Francisco. It is a city with a hearty allure. Indeed, few towns bring this writer back with such frequency and fervor—and always there are new discoveries to behold.
Heidelberg has had a reputation as a "romantic" city since the early 1800s. Joseph von Eichendorff, the German Romantic poet who studied there in 1807, could be speaking today: "Heidelberg itself is a magnificent romantic city; there the spring entwines the houses and courtyards and everything ordinary with vines and flowers, and castles and forests tell a wonderful fairytale of times past."
The city's most memorable image—and, for tourists at least, one of its primary draws—is its Castle, maintained as a ruin rather than as a restored piece of history. The sprawling castle sets the mood for the city—not of a town lorded over by a powerful castle, but of a town that integrates elements of the ancient and medieval into daily life. Powerful elements take over when the sun turns the red sandstone aglow, or when spotlights each night create magic from stone. It's one of Germany's most powerful symbols of Romanticism.
That magic extends to the city's Old Town as well, where history and tradition live on with reminders on every block and along each narrow alleyway. The hilly and wooded surroundings and the roiling waters of the Neckar River, just 10 miles (18 km) short of the Rhine, draw in the power of nature to add even more life to the town.
The city's vibrant student life (about 20 percent of its 135,000 residents are students) flows into a sense of whimsy and playfulness in the city's streets and in its citizens. Life is youthful in Heidelberg. Its age-old student pubs attract young people from four generations, as 90-year-olds sing along to old fraternity songs and local hymns.
The best time to visit Heidelberg is when the tourist throngs (about 3.5 million during the last year) are gone—or diminished—and the university is in session. The students bring a sense of vitality and tradition to a city that often seems a tad commercial.
Some visitors find the town overly commercial, but that's only at its most superficial level. Heidelberg is much more than the sum of its attractions; it's the overall atmosphere. Open your minds, put on your walking shoes, and explore.
- Alt Heidelberg
- Am Schloss
- Crowne Plaza
- Der Europäischer Hof
- Goldener Hecht
- Heidelberg Walking Tour
- Heidelberg: Gemütlichkeit Review 1995
- Heidelberg: Gemütlichkeit Review 1999
- Hotel Holländer Hof
- Hotel Leonardo Heidelberg
- Prinzhotel Heidelberg
- Schönberger Hof
- Vier Jahreszeiten