As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will arrive in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg on Thursday, 20 July, I thought I would finally share photos from my exchange year of Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg or Altes Schloss). Although the Cambridges are unlikely to hike up to visit the Castle ruins, I am sure they will see it from the Altstadt (Old Town), especially as they wander around Marktplatz (Market Square) before heading to the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge). I wonder if the Cambridges will be told that the famous English painter, J. M. W. Turner, painted Heidelberg many times, at least one of which is at Tate Britain.
When I first heard that the Cambridges were going to visit Heidelberg (it is a twin city of Cambridge, UK), I was beyond excited as I had left my heart there many years ago… as have many people for decades if not centuries. It’s such a beautiful town, I have many happy memories there, and even though I didn’t have a sweetheart there, it was the perfect place to be for a naive 20 year-old.
Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren
I lost my heart in Heidelberg
This popular German love song was composed in 1925 and is still the theme song of Heidelberg. When renowned Dutch conductor, André Rieu, went to Heidelberg to perform with his Johann Strauss Orchestra in 2009 (after I had left!), it was a no brainer to include this song, sung by Australian soprano, Miursia Louwerse.
But, I digress. Back to the Castle.
Heidelberg Castle should be on all castle lovers’ top 10 castles in Germany (if not the world) to visit. The Castle is partly in ruins, thanks to Louis XIV (scroll to the bottom ‘The Castle is on fire!’ to see why) and a lightning strike in the 17th and 18th Centuries, but this Gothic/Renaissance Castle has maintained its charm.
The first castle on the site was built before 1214. By 1303, there were two castles but the upper castle was destroyed in 1537, leaving the lower castle (this Castle) for the Elector Palatine rulers to inhabit.
Fast forward to 1613. Elector Frederick V has just married Princess Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I/VI and Queen Anne of Denmark on Valentine’s Day. The young lovers moved to Heidelberg two months later and Frederick, being the perfect husband, goes about beautifying the Castle and garden for his beloved wife. The Castle now has a monkey house, a menagerie (fancy term for zoo), and an Italian Renaissance garden, the Hortus Palatinus, once deemed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. On the tour I attended, we were told they spoke French with each other.
Elizabeth gives birth to three of 13 children at Heidelberg Castle, one of whom becomes the father of Elizabeth Charlotte, better known as Liselotte. (Elizabeth also gives birth to Rupert who was the first governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.) Liselotte was born at Heidelberg Castle but grew up with her aunt, Sophia, (her son becomes George I) in Hanover. She was married off to Philippe, Duke of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV. Thanks to Liselotte’s extensive letters, we know that she considered Heidelberg as her home and had happy childhood memories of the Castle.
Unfortunately, the Castle was destroyed at least twice by Louis XIV’s troops and eventually, the Castle fell into ruins. Elector Karl III Philipp would have redesigned the Castle had he the money but since he did not, he moved to Mannheim and set up his court there. He supposedly asked his court jester, Perkeo, to guard the wine.
His son, Karl Theodor wanted to bring the court back to Heidelberg and tried to renovate it but when the lightning started a fire in 1764, he thought, ‘I better not mess with God.’ In 1777, Karl Theodor won the dukedom lottery of Bavaria and moved to the Residenz in Munich – much nicer than any palace he’s ever lived in.
At one point, Heidelberg Castle was in danger of becoming more than just ruins. Had the government of Baden succeeded, there might not have been anything left of the Castle and God knows what would be in its place. Thanks to Charles de Graimberg, a former French count who escaped the French Revolution, he practically became the first person to conserve the Castle and to promote the ruins for tourism. I cannot emphasise how important it is to have Graimbergs in the world.
The Castle is on fire!
Thrice a year on the first Saturday of June, July, and September, the Castle is illuminated and is followed by spectacular fireworks. The Castle is illuminated to look as if it is on fire (with dry ice to look like smoke) as it had been burned down in 1689 and 1693 by the troops of Louis XIV of France (viewers of the TV series Versailles might remember this episode although Heidelberg Castle was not mentioned). There is then a 10-15 min firework display from the Castle and Alte Brücke. Apparently the tradition of having firework displays first began in 1613 as a grand welcome for Elector Friedrich V’s new bride, Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of King James I/VI). Very romantic!
Der Studentenprinz (The Student Prince)
Imagine being in romantic Heidelberg and falling in love with a prince who also falls in love with you. Wilhelm Meyer-Förster wrote a play called Alt Heidelberg (Old Heidelberg) about a prince from Sachsen (Saxony) who studies at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university and one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and falls in love with Käthie, an innkeeper’s daughter. Unfortunately, the romance does not last as the prince’s father dies and the prince becomes king. This play was first performed in 1901 and has since been adapted into at least five films and an operetta.
One of the songs from the operetta is ‘Deep in my heart’. German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and American/German soprano Dawn Marie Flynn sang the duet in the courtyard of Heidelberg Castle.
While there is no shortage of German aristocrats studying at Heidelberg University, I for one never had the fortune of lovely Käthie. Just as well for I was a very silly girl.
Address: Schlosshof 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 8:00 – 18:00
Entrance: 7€ for adults or buy the Schlosscard to see more castles and palaces in the Baden-Württemberg state).