When in Heidelberg, you will see the Heidelberg Castle. I’m pretty sure it’s a rule. You can’t miss it, and it’s easy to get to, whether you walk up to it from the old town or take the 1-minute ride on the Bergbahn. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to take the tour at first, so I walked around the courtyard and the grounds for a while, and enjoyed the gardens and the spectacular view of Heidelberg from the large balcony. Here’s a picture of part of the castle from within the courtyard:
In the end, I opted for the tour, and I’m glad I did. I ended up being the only person on the German-language tour, though the English-language tour 15 minutes later was packed. My tour guide was a languid guy who kept his words to a minimum, lest I force him into euro-English. You know I wasn’t going to do that, and if anything, I babbled on in German more than he did. “Hey, these stairs are steep! How do handicapped people take the tour?” I asked. “Hey, how come the king depicted in that statue’s so short? Was he a dwarf?” “Hey, how come one of the stag heads is just bones and the other is covered in papier mache? What’s up with that?”
He’d just answer me as concisely as possible. “Yup, this is a model of the castle before the French blew it up.” “Yup, that’s the duchess that caused all the trouble.” “Yup, the French Catholics stole the books, and now all we have is these replicas.” “Nope, the guy in that painting isn’t Henry VIII of England, it’s an unrelated king who dressed the same.”
He was rather chagrined to have to use his euro-English when two Japanese tourists trying to ditch out the English-language tour and run through the castle alone, ran into us instead. We herded them back to their tour, and I wish I’d been more myself. If so, I would have told them next time they ran off we’d herd them into the dungeon instead. And he was perfectly pleased to leave me to the French people who ran up to us and started questioning us in French as we ended the tour. I staggered along hopelessly on the ragged remnants of my high school French as he just moved away safely off and looked amused. I’m sure the French people didn’t understand a word I said. When I got back to him, dazed at my attempt, he told me I could go see the Apothecary Museum, it was free.
So anyway, here are some quirky highlights of the castle:
Most of the rooms weren’t heated by fireplaces, but rather with these large ceramic ovens. Servants would light fires inside them and the ceramic tiles would radiate heat to make the rooms livable.
This lion is the symbol of Heidelberg. Once my guide had pointed this out, I noticed how it was everywhere within and around the castle, and even in Heidelberg itself.
I was surprised to see Roman emperors depicted on the ceilings alongside the German kings. My guide told me the Germans saw their empire reaching right back through to the Roman empire via Charlemagne.
The bottom of the castle doesn’t actually have a dungeon in which to stick errant Japanese tourists. It has an obviously Romantic-era chapel. You can even make arrangements to get married there, if you’d like.
This massive wine barrel used to be the main beverage supply for the castle. It even comes with a legend. Once upon a time, a dwarf named Perkeo lived in the castle. He could drink anyone, but anyone, under the table when it came to drinking wine, and the king who lived in the castle won many a bet that way. Perkeo never suffered an ill day in his life, not even a hangover, until one day he drank a glass of water. Then he got sick and died.
I thought the castle had been blown up by cannonballs, but actually the French did their damage in a different way. They packed the walls with gunpowder and set the gunpowder on fire. That was effective, and probably a lot more accurate, too.
By the time I finished touring the castle I was thoroughly pooped. But my adventures in Heidelberg weren’t destined to be over yet.