Heidelberg Charming Old Town

Heidelberg Charming Old Town, Heidelberg, Germany (A)

Heidelberg, well-known world-wide, is nestled between opposing hillsides where the Neckar River flows into the Rhein Valley. Artists and poets have been inspired by its beauty, songs have paid tribute to its charm. Many noteworthy scholars are connected with Heidelberg where they enriched the world with their intellects at Germany's oldest university. This tour will take you to some of the most important sights in this charming city.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Heidelberg Charming Old Town
Guide Location: Germany » Heidelberg
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: Horst Schenk
Author Bio: I was born in Germany, grew up and was educated in the USA. I spent almost 23 years in the US Air Force as a meteorologist, then almost 20 more years developing software for military and meteorological applications. I now live in Germany and write books, articles and computer programs.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Bismarckplatz
  • Hauptstrasse
  • Robert Bunsen Statue
  • Providenzkirche
  • Kurpfälzisches Museum
  • Universitätsplatz
  • Universitätsbibliothek and Peterskirche
  • Karzer
  • Hotel Ritter
  • Marktplatz
  • Kornmarkt
  • Karlsplatz
  • Alte Brücke
  • Marstall
  • Stadthalle

1) Bismarckplatz

Welcome to Heidelberg! Our tour today will take us to some of the most well-known sights in this city.

This square, known as the Bismarckplatz, is Heidelberg's most important transportation hub. From here one can reach every part of the city by bus, streetcar or Taxi.

In the middle ages the western-most portion of the wall along with a moat, which protected the city, were located where the Sophienstrasse, which runs from south to north alongside the Bismarckplatz, is found today. Somewhere buried under the Bismarckplatz lies the city gate that allowed access to the city from the west.

Prominently in the center of the Bismarckplatz is a fountain whose wave-like silver arms seem to reach in all directions. A few steps to the north a bigger-than-life statue of Otto von Bismarck, designer of the German Empire in 1871, who became its first Chancellor and dominated its affairs until 1890, for whom the square is named, can be found. Where the statue of Bismarck keeps watch today, a large harbor was once located where ships that traveled up and down the Neckar River could dock. But, because the entrance to the harbor was narrow, little fresh water entered and the harbor began to turn into an ill-smelling swamp so that the citizens of Heidelberg decided to fill it in. Legend has it that all sorts of waste material was used to fill in the harbor, including an entire layer consisting of old beer mugs.

(Source: City of Heidelberg)

2) Hauptstrasse

The Hauptstrasse is the main street in the old part of the city. With its 1.6 kilometers length it is the longest pedestrian zone in Germany. Starting in 1885 horse-drawn carriages transported passengers up and down the Hauptstrasse and after 1902 an electric streetcar took over. In the course of modernization in the 1970s the Hauptstrasse became a pedestrian zone and the streetcars disappeared entirely.

As you go down the Hauptstrasse, take a look down the various side streets and into some of the hidden courtyards to get the flavor of Heidelberg. Also worthwhile is to look up at some of the architecture where you may discover intricately carved ornaments and figures. Along the way you will also find plaques that remind us of famous people who lived there in the past.

At the entrance to the St.-Anna-Gasse you can see the "Reader" on a wall reading his newspaper, even in the worst of weather. The design of the street lights along the Hauptstrasse is a reminder of the past when in their places were gas lanterns that had to be lit by a lamplighter each evening.

(Source: City of Heidelberg)
Image Courtesy of Avi1111.
Robert Bunsen Statue

3) Robert Bunsen Statue

Here, at the so-called Anatomieplatz, we find a bronze statue of Robert Wilhelm Bunsen who lived from 1811 to 1899 and who, among other discoveries, perfected the Bunsen burner, which is a common piece of laboratory equipment that is still used in laboratories around the world. Due to his friendly, outgoing manner, Bunsen was very popular with the local populace during the almost 50 years he lived and worked here. It was natural that the citizens of Heidelberg were happy to have his statue grace their city.

The statue of Bunsen shows him, as is expected of a deep thinker, with somewhat tilted head and a scroll in his hand. This makes him look so stern that the sculptor tried to lighten things up a little by giving Bunsen's coat a missing button.

To the right and left of the statue of Bunsen are sculptures of stone. The veiled-one on the left symbolizes the unknown and yet to be discovered laws of nature and the bound-one on the right that what man has uncovered so far.

Behind the statues is the building in which Bunsen caused one or the other small explosion with his many experiments.

(Sources: City of Heidelberg; Wikipedia)
Image Courtesy of Ribax.

4) Providenzkirche

The Providenzkirche, in English "Church of Providence," was built from 1659 to 1661 on a lot where a house had been destroyed during the 30 Years War. After the destruction of Heidelberg by the French in 1693 the church was re-erected at the same location. Its name is derived from the ruling Prince Elector's motto: "God will provide."

Originally a Lutheran church, it had no steeple. In 1717 it was decided that a bell tower was to be added which enhanced not only the church but provided a point of reference on the Hauptstrasse.

The Providenzkirche contains Heidelberg's oldest organ.

(Sources: Heidelberg, Günter Heinemann, Prestel-Verlag München 1983; Wikipedia)
Kurpfälzisches Museum

5) Kurpfälzisches Museum

The Kurpfälzische Museum, in English: "Palatine Museum", is situated in the building that is known as Palais Morass. The building was built around the year 1710 by Johann Phillip Morass, a professor of law and high official at court.

In 1906, the collection of "Antiquities" that Charles, Baron of Graimberg had gathered was put on display in the Palais Morass, thus founding the Palatine Museum. Here the visitor can find paintings and copperplate engravings showing the castle and its electors as well as a plaster cast of the lower jawbone of "Homo Heidelbergensis," the oldest find relating to prehistoric man in Europe. There are also stone tablets dating from Roman times and two complete tombs dating back to about 600 A.D. The pride of the collection, however, is Tilman Riemenschneider's "Windsheim Altar" dating back to 1509 which depicts the Twelve Apostles.

The picturesque courtyard and garden have been carefully preserved. In the courtyard the Heidelberg Art Association has for many years successfully given new impulse to the city's cultural life by organizing regular exhibits on topical themes or exhibiting the work of contemporary artists.

(Sources: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993; Wikipedia)

6) Universitätsplatz

The oldest city wall and a gate were located here where the street that runs along the Universitätsplatz or University Square now is found. The oldest part of the city starts here, and extends in the direction of the castle. Behind the Löwenbrunnen (Lion's Well) stands the baroque building that is known as the Alte Universität or Old University. It was built from 1712 to 1735. The University Administration and the University Museum are located inside along with the principal lecture hall, the Aula, which was restored in 1886 for the 500th anniversary of the University and is used for special occasions.

When the city wall and the integrated gate were removed, the citizens of Heidelberg insisted on retaining the clock that adorned the gate tower and had it placed on top of the Old University.

On the south side of the square is a rather plain-looking building which was built in the years 1930/31 with money collected by American friends of Heidelberg. The driving force behind the fund drive was US Ambassador to Germany Jacob Gould Schurman after whom the building is named. The building is also known as the Neue Universität or New University. It has lost its significance since the university created a campus with modern buildings in an area on the right bank of the Neckar, known as the Neuenheimer Feld.

(Sources: City of Heidelberg, Heidelberg City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993; Marco Polo, Heidelberg, Reiseführer mit Insider Tips, Mairs Geographischer Verlag,1994; Heidelberg, Günter Heinemann, Prestel-Verlag, München, 1983)
Image Courtesy of Stateofthings.
Universitätsbibliothek and Peterskirche

7) Universitätsbibliothek and Peterskirche

The Universitätsbibliothek, or University Library, is the central library of the University of Heidelberg. Together with the 83 decentralized libraries of the faculties and institutes it constitutes the University Library System. The University Library holds special collections in literature concerning the Palatinate and Baden, Egyptology, Archeology, the histories of art and South Asia.

The massive sandstone building housing the University Library was built in 1905 in a style that is representative for that time. Its famous handwritten manuscripts represent only a fraction of those belonging to the Biblioteca Palatina which were removed during the 30 years war and taken to the Vatican. Eight hundred and ninety of these scripts, most of which are in handwritten German, have been returned to Heidelberg by the Vatican.

Behind you, opposite the library, is the Peterskirche, or St. Peter's Church. Its predecessor at this spot was mentioned in official records in 1316 and, although it lay outside the city wall, was nevertheless Heidelberg's parish church. The building we see today goes back to the 15th century. The entirely open nave was free of pillars until the 19th century. In the small cemetery and in the inner and outer walls of the church there are monuments to the memory of professors and prominent citizens dating from the 15th to the 19th century, among them that of the first woman university professor in Europe who died in 1555.

(Sources: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König-Verlag, 1993; Wikipedia)

8) Karzer

Here at the back of the Old University is the student prison called the Karzer. For a small entrance fee one can look around this historical place of student confinement. The walls are adorned with graffiti with which the incarcerated students commemorated their stay there. It was used from 1712 until 1914, during which time the University administration had a legal right to detain students.

Students could generally be confined to these quarters for up to 14 days for such offenses as a combination of drunkenness and playing practical jokes as well as disturbing the peace, especially at night. Skirmishes with the police resulted in four weeks of incarceration. Such offenses were generally looked upon as ungentlemanly behavior and no self-respecting student wanted to miss being put up for a time here. After two to three days on a diet of bread and water, inmates of the jail were allowed to accept food from the outside. They could attend lectures and also be visited by other prisoners. The names of the rooms, such as "Grand Hotel," "Sanssouci" and "Throne Room" (for the toilet) show the attitude of students toward their imprisonment.

(Source: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993)
Image Courtesy of Stefan Kühn.
Hotel Ritter

9) Hotel Ritter

What today is the Hotel Ritter was built in 1592 as a private home by a wealthy cloth merchant. The location, size and rich ornamentation were a sign of his wealth. He lived in the house until his death in 1618. It is the only private house that survived the devastating fires of 1635, 1689 and 1693 because it was built of stone. From 1693 until 1703 it was used as city hall after which it became a hotel, what it has remained without interruption until this day.

The splendid Renaissance facade is regarded as one of the best in Germany. A knight's bust (Ritter means knight) which crowns the facade is responsible for the name of the building. Richly-sculptured decoration is concentrated for the most part on the bay-window area in the central part of the facade. The gable is inscribed with two Latin texts of religious character which loosely translated mean: "To God alone the honor," and "If God does not build the house, then it is built in vain." However, in the middle one detects the cheerful heathen exhortation: "Stand firm, unvanquished Venus!"

(Sources: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993; Heidelberg, Günter Heinemann, Prestel-Verlag, München, 1983; Wikipedia)

10) Marktplatz

This is the Marktplatz, or Market Square, and as the name implies, was and still is used for market activity. In the 15th century, the burning of witches and heretics took place on this site. Up to the year 1740, approximately where the fountain is today, the "Twister," a cage in which people were placed for petty crimes, once stood. It could be spun around, much to the delight of onlookers.

On one end of the Market Square is the Rathaus or Town Hall which dates back to about 1700. In front of the Town Hall is the Hercules Fountain which was erected in the 1700s as a symbol of the reconstruction after two terrible wars.

The other end of the Market Square is dominated by the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Ghost). The foundation stone for the church was laid in 1400. In the course of its history, the church was used by both Catholics and Protestants, even simultaneously. Starting in 1706, a partition was used so that both congregations could hold their services without any mutual disturbance. In 1936 the separating wall was removed and the church is now exclusively Protestant.

The little shops on the outside of the church today sell souvenirs, but in the middle ages bread and pretzels were sold here. Even today one can see the outline of pretzels carved into the wall of the church. If a pretzel didn't conform to these measurements, the baker could be placed in the "Twister."

(Sources: City of Heidelberg; Heidelberg City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993)

11) Kornmarkt

The Kornmarkt, or Corn Market, with its Madonna, which was created in 1718, presents us with a spectacular view with the castle ruins in the background. Up to a few years ago the Prinz Carl, Heidelberg's noblest hotel, stood on one of the corners. It was well-known during the second half of the 19th century and served many noble and famous personalities including Mark Twain in 1874 during one of his many visits to Heidelberg. In 1915 the owners of the hotel gave up and a few years ago the building was torn down.

In the house Kornmarkt Number 5, Baron of Graimberg once lived in the 1800s. He was the founder of the Palatine Museum and the protector of the world-famous Heidelberg castle ruin.

(Source: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König-Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993)

12) Karlsplatz

The Karlsplatz (Charles' Square) was named for the Archduke Karl Friedrich of Baden. Once a Franciscan Monastery stood here. In this monastery the geographer and teacher of Hebrew, Sebastian Münster, worked from 1521 to 1529. The city dedicated the recently created fountain, with a globe at its center, to him. The sloping levels beneath it and the curved form of the play of water symbolize the elliptic paths of the planets.

On the south side of the square, beneath the castle, the comely proportions of the baroque Großherzögliches Palais or "Archduke's Palace" strike the eye. It was built in 1707 and until 1805 served as the Heidelberg residence of the Archdukes of Baden. Today it houses the Academy of Sciences.

Opposite, we discover a plaque commemorating Goethe's visits to the Palais Boisserée. The world famous poet and thinker lived in this house for two weeks in 1814 and again in 1815.

On the north-eastern corner of the Karlsplatz we come across two of the most well-known historical student pubs, the "Seppl" and the "Rote Ochsen" or "Red Ox". Generations of fraternity students have been guests in the 1643-built "Seppl" and in the 1703-built "Roter Ochsen" right next door.

(Source: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König-Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993)
Alte Brücke

13) Alte Brücke

The bridge that is known to everyone as Alte Brücke or "Old Bridge" is officially called Karl-Theodor Bridge. The inner part of the two picturesque towers forming the Bridge Gate is actually part of the city's medieval fortification and goes back to the 13th century. The western tower contains three low, dark dungeons; the eastern tower contains one dungeon and a spiral staircase. In the middle section there are two brightly lit confinement cells with a view of the river, the town and the castle. Here debtors were incarcerated while more serious offenders languished in darkness.

Next to the western tower squats the bronze statue of the Bridge Monkey (Brückenaffe). His predecessor sat in a square tower at the north end of the bridge and greeted strangers coming into the city with a sneer. In his place today's Bridge Monkey holds a golden mirror in the face of visitors and greets them with the words (loosely translated):

"What are you looking at?

Have you never seen the old Monkey of Heidelberg?

Look around and you'll find many more!"

Next to the sneering figure of the monkey two small bronze mice cling to the wall. They are a reminder of the wheat loft that once stood near here.

Up to the year 1784 the river was spanned by a covered bridge supported by stone pillars. Drifting ice, high water and war made it necessary to repeatedly rebuild the bridge until it was built entirely of stone.

(Source: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König-Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993)

14) Marstall

The Marstall, as the name implies, "Stable of Mares," housed the stables for the horses of the inhabitants of the Heidelberg castle. It was totally destroyed in 1693, but the name was transferred to the adjoining fortress-like building that is today called the Marstall. It was originally situated outside the city walls and served as an arsenal. With its 135 meter-long front it is one of the few buildings in Heidelberg that survived intact from the late middle ages. It probably was built around 1510 in preparation for war and at that time the wall you see in front of you touched the unrestrained waters of the Neckar River. On each end of the building are defensive towers with gun ports. The building today is used as a cafeteria by the University.

(Sources: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König-Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993; Wikipedia)

15) Stadthalle

Although the name of this building is Stadthalle, which can be translated into "City Hall," it really is a conference and cultural center. The Stadthalle, which was built between 1901 and 1903 is decorated with the coats of arms of famous Heidelberg citizens. In 1981 it was renovated true to its original style and equipped with all the facilities necessary for a modern conference center. Along with this function, it serves the city as a place for gala events, a place where concerts are performed, and as an exhibit hall. The central feature of this building is the 3500-seat concert hall with an organ from the early part of the 20th century.

This concludes our tour. I hope that you enjoyed it and that you will continue to have a pleasant time in Heidelberg! Auf Wiedersehen.

(Sources: Heidelberg, City Guide in Colour, Edmund von König-Verlag, Heidelberg, 1993; Wikipedia)

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