Heidelberg Germany is a University town. So it has a lot of energy for sure typical of college towns in the US. And just as is true of any major (or minor) European city, there are so many wonderful and fun things to do here. But if you only have a couple of days such as I did on my last trip here, do THIS! Hike up the Heiligenberg to Thingstätte, via Philosophy Way (Philosphenweg). Then hike down the other side to the Old Bridge (Alte Brücke) of Heidelberg. On the second day, you can finish out your exploration of Old Town which you started the evening of your arrival, as well as visit the famous Heidelberg Schloss in all of its glory. Note: Pack water and snacks on this hike. A light backpack is more than enough but don’t go without water.
Day 1 The Heiligenberg is a large wooded hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg. My friend Rebecca and I were en route to Thingstätte, an open-air theatre (amphitheater) nearing the top of the Heiligenberg and beyond that, the Monastery of St. Michael; (Michaelskloster). But along the way we were overwhelmed with the beauty of the forest and all the extra finds.
Disclaimer: If you have mobility issues, then hiking Heiligenberg may not be an option for you. But don’t worry. You can drive up. There is ample parking available at the forest restaurant and Guest House Waldschenke just near Thingstätte. Address: Auf dem Heiligenberg 1, 69121 Heidelberg, Germany
We set out by taking beautiful Philosopher’s Way trail (Philosophenweg) along the way to our destination. The name “Philosophers’ Way” can be traced to the fact that Heidelberg’s university professors and philosophers found this path a congenial place where they could talk seriously and contemplate while enjoying the charming view of the Neckar River.
Accessing Philosophenweg: Our hotel was located Southwest of Old Town, so we walked north crossing the river on Theodor Heuss Bridge; Not long after crossing the bridge we turned right on Brückenkopfstraße, then left onto Bergstraße and then right onto Philosophenweg.
Our first stop along the way was Bismarckturm. The Bismarck Tower was built in 1903 as a monument to Otto von Bismarck. It is one of the Bismarck towers constructed after Wilhelm Kreis’ design, intended to have a flame lit at the top. It is on the south slope of the Heiligenberg overlooking the Philosophers’ Way. There is believed to be about 240 of them in existence.
Back on the trail of Philosphenweg…headed to Thingstätte.
Thingstätte, is an open-air theatre which was built during the Third Reich for performances and events as part of the Thingspiel movement. Apparently Hitler even used many of the ancient stones from the Monastery of St. Michael to build Thingstätte. On the other hand, both places are quite beautiful, calming, and serene-whether that was the original intent of the amphitheater or not. Time and seasons change. Physical places have a way of absorbing all of the elements of those seasons so gracefully and beautifully-often in spite of mankind. Thank goodness.
The Monastery of St. Michael German: Michaelskloster, on the Heiligenberg was a branch of the nearby Lorsch Abbey. The ruined complex that can be seen today was built beginning in 1023. The monastery was occupied successively by several religious orders before it was abandoned in the 16th century.
Back on the trail to Old Town, from Thingstätte, we took the path away from Waldschenke restaursnt, the opposite side from where we had first arrived, which connected us to Schlangenweg (Snake Path) on our way to the Alte Bridge. DON’T WORRY. There were no snakes. Just a breathtaking off the chart beautiful piece of nature! The Old Bridge: The Karl Theodor Bridge (German: Karl-Theodor-Brücke), commonly known as the Old Bridge (Alte Brücke), is an arch bridge in Heidelberg that crosses the Neckar river. It connects the Old City with the eastern part of the Neuenheim district of the city on the opposite bank. The current bridge, made of Neckar sandstone and the ninth built on the site, was constructed in 1788 by Elector Charles Theodore, and is one of the best-known landmarks and tourist destinations in Heidelberg.But since the 13th century there have been 8 bridges, updated, renovated and sometimes nearly replaced.
DAY 2 And just like that, we are down the hill and back in town after our adventure to Thingstätte and St. Michael’s Chapel. Continuing on to Old Town and the Heidelberg Schloss. Heidelberg Schloss (Castle) is a ruin in Germany and landmark of Heidelberg. The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The castle has only been partially rebuilt since its demolition in the 17th and 18th centuries. If you need it, you can take a funicular up to the Schloss. The lower railway, one of Germany’s most modern funicular railways, starts at Kornmarkt in the old town and runs via the Castle (Schloss) station as far as Molkenkur. From there you can continue with one of the oldest electric funicular railways to the Königstuhl, the town’s highest point at more than 550 metres. But if you can make the walk, the meandering beauty of your route to the top is not too taxing and you’ll be ever so glad you did.
The Hauptstraße is the main road through the Old Town (Altstadt,) and is where most of the shopping is centered. A worthy shopping note here. Shopping rarely makes the top of my to do list when I am in Europe. But Heidelberg is a great shopping town. Lots of unique stores and wonderful window dressings. Book shops galore. Other points of interest that can be found in the Altstadt include the Marktplatz, the Kornmarkt, the Church of the Holy Ghost, the Palatinate Museum, Synagogue Square, The University, Marstall, Heuscheuer, the Friedrich Memorial, and of course the Old Bridge.
Please take special note of the picture below of the gold plates in the ground. These represent Jewish families who lived here in this place (house or apartment) leading up to WWII and were either subsequently deported by the Nazis or they fled of their own accord (forced) Notice the children’s names who were part of a transport of Jewish children to England. Yet their parents went to Auschwitz and died there. Apparently they sent their kids to relative safety ahead of their own deportations.
That’s it. Two unforgettable days in an unforgettable city. Now go find your own way up and down that magnificent Heiligenberg. Happy traveling.