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Morning mist in Heidelberg

It drapes the city like a blanket, cloaking its spires in a veil that blocks out the sun. I exhale, my breath a fragile puff of vapour that dissipates in the November chill.

I am walking down the Hauptstrasse, the mile-long main street running through Heidelberg’s old town, or Altstadt. I join a steady, purpose-filled stream of students on their way to class, clutching books and folders as their footsteps echo on the flagstones. The cold bites at my bare fingers as I hold the camera up close, releasing the shutter with an audible ‘click’.

Sandwiched in a narrow valley, Heidelberg occupies the point where the Odenwald forest meets the floodplains of the Rhine. By all appearances it’s a handsome university town, a fitting home for Germany’s oldest institute of higher learning. Heidelberg University was founded back in 1386 as the third such institution of the Holy Roman Empire, and its long and storied history includes the likes of Martin Luther, sociologist Max Weber and philosopher Karl Jaspers.

Eventually I find myself on the Alte Brücke, the 18th-century bridge that spans the Neckar River, whose historic flood levels have been faithfully recorded on red sandstone. Its famous gateway is a remnant of the town wall, with two black domes as an added Baroque flourish.

Heidelberg’s ruined castle (or Schloss) sits 80m above the river, on the wooded slopes of the Königstuhl – aptly named the ‘King’s throne’. Only partially restored since its destruction in a series of wars and lightning strikes, followed by two centuries of gradual decay, the Schloss gained newfound popularity with the onset of Romanticism.

Victor Hugo came to love the ruins of this castle, and while on a visit in 1838, he wrote excitedly in a letter, What times it has been through! Five hundred years long it has been victim to everything that has shaken Europe, and now it has collapsed under its weight.”

The view from the castle terrace, looking out over the city, is magnificent even in the fog. Today a rebuilt portion houses the German Pharmacy Museum, with a collection spanning two thousand years of medical science. But a big part of the castle’s allure lies in the fact that so much of it is still a ruined shell, leaving plenty to the imagination – especially the untold splendour of its halcyon days. In his book A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain wrote of the Schloss:

“Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage… rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers – the Lear of inanimate nature – deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful.”



Road to the castle

Overlooking the Altstadt

Vision in the mist


Wine barrel in the castle cellar


German Pharmacy Museum

Fountain detail, Marktplatz

Approaching the old bridge, Alte Brücke


High water marks

Crossing the Neckar River

Old town street scene

Looking across the river

30 Comments Post a comment
  1. baileyaj #

    Heidelberg is a beautiful city.

    December 12, 2012
    • It really is – next time I will have to visit in the summer.

      December 12, 2012
      • baileyaj #

        If you do try to time it with the Castle Illumination, it is a pretty incredible scene with fireworks overhead.

        December 12, 2012
      • Wow, now that would be something to look forward to. Thanks for the tip!

        December 12, 2012
  2. Beautiful pictures James! I remember this town and its lovely castle and wine cellar.

    December 12, 2012
    • Thanks Nicole! I imagine you must have done a bit of hiking around the area.

      December 12, 2012
      • Actually we didn’t as we were doing a big driving trip of Germany and were only there for one day. Next time, right! 🙂

        December 12, 2012
  3. The third picture is definitely my favorite. It’s like a road you take when you embark on an adventure, not knowing where it will take you. Makes me think of “Lord of the Rings”, for some odd reason:-)

    December 12, 2012
    • What a great interpretation Sofie – I hadn’t thought of it that way!

      December 12, 2012
  4. Gorgeous post! I adore the photo you took near the old bridge. It looks like a filming set. Lovely, lovely pictures!

    December 12, 2012
    • Makasih Robin! The fog made things very atmospheric.

      December 12, 2012
  5. It looks so… empty! But I really can’t compare it with the time when I went in summer 2007. I was there on a Saturday afternoon and Hauptstrasse was very crowded. However I remember bumping over some Indonesians students there – curiously asked me if I come from Indonesia. By the way, I really like your first picture. Truly atmospheric!

    December 12, 2012
    • It was very empty! I was one of a small handful of visitors there, but even then the castle was busy with a sizeable Japanese and Chinese contingent. And I thought most tourists would be deterred by the cold weather!

      December 12, 2012
  6. Hey James, Lovely pictures! I went to Munich last week and would really like to visit Germany more! 🙂

    December 17, 2012
    • Ah, Munich! I haven’t been there yet, but judging by how much my mother and sister loved it I know I will too. Someday perhaps! 🙂

      January 3, 2013
  7. Reblogged this on Resort & Luxury Real Estate, Co..

    December 22, 2012
  8. jonathanochart #

    I used to live in Heidelberg, and although I wasn’t a huge fan of the freezing winter weather, the scenery maintains its breathtaking nature. Your photos are beautiful – thanks so much for sharing, and making me feel like I’m there once more!

    – Jonathan I

    December 28, 2012
    • It’s my pleasure Jonathan – thanks in turn for leaving these kind words. I think I would have stayed longer had I gone during the warmer months!

      January 3, 2013
  9. Now this I have seen! 😀
    But my memory seems as dim as my fading photos. Except for the unforgettable sight of the castle draped across that hill! Fabulous shots James! Love every one of them.

    January 3, 2013
    • Thanks Madhu! I wasn’t too happy with the fog at first, but it added plenty of mystery and a beauty all its own. 😀

      January 3, 2013
  10. I love how thoughtful and beautiful your writing is. And great photos too ; ))

    July 5, 2013
    • Thank you for the kind words. 🙂

      July 5, 2013
  11. You know we only live about an hour from Heidelberg. Although I have come through the town a couple times (on the train) I never took the time to actually see the city. Your post inspired me to go there and explore the city. 🙂

    July 8, 2013
    • Well, I only spent half a day there at the most – being a chilly November day, I wasn’t too keen on staying outdoors that long! Next time I’ll have to go across the river and walk Philosophenweg. My father was there a few months back and he was raving about the views. 🙂

      July 8, 2013
  12. Gorgeous city! My partner cycled through Heidelberg on one of his trips to Germany. I also had a German employee from Heidelberg work for me on a Vancouver engineering project when I lived in B.C. I worked for German firm. (Yes, life is full of coincidences. The firm had no idea my partner was originally from Germany.)

    I got the impression from some younger Germans that the wonderful architecture that we North Americans love, is well, old stuff to them,….like wallpaper. Familiar.

    So she was a direct ex-pat employee. She must have found …Vancouver such a contrast to Heidelberg.

    October 18, 2013
    • Unfortunately I often feel the same way about Chinese temples and Buddhas… perhaps there are so many in Hong Kong that I just end up being blasé.

      Funny that you mentioned the young expat German – on my recent trip there I met a number who had previously studied and lived in North America. Almost all of them told me they would have liked nothing better than to go back!

      October 18, 2013
  13. Yes, Heidelberg goes on my ‘cities to visit-list’ as well! 😉 Gorgeous pictures!

    November 4, 2013
    • Thanks again! It was bitterly cold the day I went, but the fog lent Heidelberg a certain air of mystery. 😀

      November 4, 2013
  14. Very well done! The writing is so very lyrical and captures perfectly the atmosphere in Heidelberg during autumn. We were there in late October a few years ago with our young daughter. The mist you describe wove a magical spell around the place which only made the trip more fun for all of us.

    June 28, 2014
    • I wasn’t thrilled about the mist when I first arrived there, but you were right – it lent the place a magic all its own! Thanks too for the kind words.

      July 2, 2014

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