Two hours later, we arrived. I recognized very little at first; the bus depot and the surrounding area are the sort of “guts” that look the same in every city. Once we got into the Altstadt, it started looking a bit familiar, but I never got the flood of deja vu I was expecting. It was absolutely gorgeous, though. A tour guide informed us that, unlike Freiburg – or most German cities, really – Heidelberg was spared extensive bombing in WW2 because a US general had, by coincidence, just spent a holiday there before the war and could not bear to destroy such a beautiful city. Thus, many of the old things you see are original, dating back to the 1600’s. The city is much older than that, but most of it was destroyed around that time in a war following a royal succession crisis.
One of the first places we visited was Heidelberg’s Universitätsbibliothek (University Library). It looks great on the inside too, but beyond a certain point bags and backpacks are forbidden so that no one steals books or other valuables. It sounds weird to say, but libraries like this in Germany are actually libraries; you go there to look at physical books, not to check them out or to just search for virtual entries on a website.
Afterwards, we headed towards one of the big destinations on our journey, Heidelberger Schloss; a castle that looks like something straight out of Lord of the Rings or Dark Souls.
I remember visiting the castle when I was here last, but few specifics. You can tour the outer walls and the courtyard, but much of the castle is in ruins. The Heidelberger Schloss is one of the few Rennaissance-era castles in Germany that isn’t being rebuilt or restored; rather, it’s being kept in its current state. Further damage is prevented and fixed with repairs, but you will soon see that the castle itself is being kept as a crumbling ruin. For that reason, it is a very unique sight.
Even getting to the Schloss is an ordeal, however. You have to climb around 400 steps, many of which are steep and uneven. Along the way are houses, some of which I think are owned by the city, but others are actually private residences.
Once your legs are thoroughly destroyed by the ascent, you reach the castle ramparts. Behind the walls is a massive courtyard, which these days is mostly grass, walkways, and benches, but once upon a time was filled with massive, elaborate gardens.
If you go further back, you can see the crumbling buildings. To be entirely honest with you, I actually really appreciate that they aren’t rebuilding or restoring the castle. This aesthetic captivates and inspires me, in ways that a pristinely maintained recreation wouldn’t. It brings me back to playing Dark Souls, exploring how even the mightiest things fall to the ravages of time.
The crumbling castle was probably my favorite part, to be honest, but I think the main reason people come here is for the view of Heidelberg. It’s worth the climb by itself.
You can enter the castle’s inner courtyard for €7. It’s a total tourist trap, but I figured I may or may not ever come back, and I wanted to see it. There’s also a pharmaceutical museum, historic bakery (i.e. hugely-fancy restaurant far above our pay grade), and a gift shop in there. We skipped the bakery but saw the rest. I’m really glad I did, because that’s where all the memories came flooding back.
You can continue along the ramparts going all the way around for a beautiful view of the castle overlooking the city. These also used to be gardens and staging areas in the castle’s heyday. You know what’s really surreal? Looking at historical paintings and drawings of this place from hundreds of years ago. They depict the exact same view you’re looking at, but with the gardens full to bursting, and (most of) the walls intact.
We chilled out on the river bank for a while, took a free 2-hour tour of the city with a group, walked up the illustrious Philosopher’s Walk, and grabbed hamburgers at a restaurant. I’ll show you some of my favorite shots below.
Overall? I think I still prefer Freiburg. But there’s a reason Heidelberg is so romanticized; cities like this are absolute gems to be treasured, even when they do get touristy at times. I hope I can come back some day.