Friday, February 11, 2011

Germany Day 6

As I walked out of the hotel room this morning and saw that it was raining I was really worried about how much fun it was going to be. While I wasn’t drenched by the time I made it to the train station I was thoroughly damp. Luckily however, when I got off the train in Heidelberg it had quit raining. Thank goodness. I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the transit system in Heidelberg and then I hopped on bus #33 and headed for what I hoped was my stop. As it turned out I stopped a few stops too early but the extra quarter mile that I had to walk did me good.

The next problem that wasn’t really a problem is that the Heidelberg castle is on the side of a mountain and the bus dropped me off at the bottom of the mountain. They do have a trolley the will take you up the side of the mountain but the “all city” bus pass that I bought didn’t include that trolley (cheap) and I figured I needed the exercise anyway so I headed up the mountain.  

Now you might think I was on a hiking trail but no, these people built roads and houses on the side of this mountain and it was pretty cool to see how they did it. I’d be walking on the sidewalk next to a twenty foot high retaining wall made out of rock blocks and then you’d see a door in the retaining wall. I’m still not certain if the house was behind the wall or of the door led to stairs that went up to the top of the retaining wall and the house was up there. On the other side of the street you would see cars parked on a wooden deck overlooking the valley with stairs leading down from the deck to a house below.

I finally made it up the castle and after scouting around outside the castle I paid my 5 euro’s and went in. This was a pretty fancy place in it’s day. So let me give you a bit of a history of the Heidelberg castle before I go into my tour.

Today I learned that the significance of Heidelberg goes back to more than 500,000 years ago. The jaw bone of a man was found in some guys wall. It is the oldest known human in Europe and I guess they use the world human loosely because this guy was an early Neanderthal. They call him a Heidelbergensis.

The Heidelberg castle is first mentioned in a 1303 document. Prince Elector Ruprecht III expanded it during his reign from 1390 to 1410 and if you’re like me you’re asking yourself what a Prince Elector is. Maybe you already knew but I didn’t. Apparently Germany back in those days actually voted who their next king would be. Of course not everyone got to vote, just a few special princes who were called Prince Elector’s. I think the woman said there were seven Prince Electors.

Much of the castles present glory was built during the reign of Prince Elector Otto Heinrich from 1556 to 1559 and the buildings he added are considered some of the best examples of Renaissance building.

In 1622 Rome got mad at Germany because they were listening to Luther and for thirty years Heidelberg switched back and forth between Catholicism and Lutheranism. During this time the castle was severly damaged and their entire library of 3,500 manuscripts and 5,000 prints were carried off to the pope.

In 1648 Prince Elector to control of the castle and rebuilt it. He also granted religious freedom to the Lutherans. It didn’t last for long however since the French conquered the castle and burned the town in 1693. The French tried for a long time to break through the walls of the tower but weren’t able to so when they finally did get into the castle they were so mad that they found all the gun powder they could and tried to blow it up. All they managed to do was to crack one of the towers in half. The walls of this castle are 25 feet thick. You can this tower in the picture above. Check out how thick those walls are. This tower was actually their armory where they stored all of their explosives.

Once again the town rebuilt but this castle is just not a lucky place. In 1764 lightning hit the castle and it burned to the ground. Now when I say it burned to the ground that doesn’t include the stone walls. I guess I should say it gutted the place. It burned for three days and four nights.

It laid in ruins until the 1800’s when the prince electors of the day started to preserve the ruins. Many of the villagers had been using it as a quarry and several of the houses in town are made from stones carried from the castle. Today about a third of the place has been restored.

When I walked in and checked the place out I was quite upset. I was only allowed to see a portion of the castle and most of it was off limits. I was thrilled with what I saw but I really wanted to see more. One of the cool things I saw was the wine cellar. I had heard that the worlds largest wine keg was in the castle and when I walked into the cellar I was impressed. This barrel was about 15 feet tall (laying on it’s side) and maybe thirty feet long. I then walked around the corner and saw this mother. It is 25 feet across and can hold over 220,000 liters of wine. I first assumed it held water but nope, it was filled with wine. They actually have a hand pump in the dining hall so they can pump wine directly from the barrel to the hall. I guess they typically drank about 200 liters of wine a day.

This picture is taken from inside the courtyard facing east. This wing of the castle has been fully restored. This building is actually the building where the lightning struck and started the fire. So after I entered every door that wasn’t locked and realized that there was a guided tour you could pay for and they went into portions of the castle that were not open the regular guy. I was then able to see pretty much all of the castle that has been restored but there is so much of this castle that hasn’t been restored. It was huge and I really hope they fix up the rest of it.

Do you see the broken down tower in this view? That is called by the locals the "Rarely Empty" tower. That is because it was the dungeon. This tower had no doors and the prisoners were lowered down on a rope through a door in the floor. Most of the prisoners were peasants who didn't pay their taxes and most never came out.  

I was able to get out onto this balcony and see a stunning view of the town and the river below. 

The wing of the castle facing us is fully restored. I was able to walk through most of the other two wings but only on the ground floors since the upper rooms haven't been restored. The broken tower on the right was destroyed by the French. It isn't the armory that was blown in half.

This view is looking at the south wing of the castle from the gardens. I was able to walk through the gardens. On the bottom floor of this wing is a pharmacy museum. It was very cool and there is a lot I didn't now. Did you know that up until the 1700's all medicine was based on the assumption that the health of the human body was all based on a balance of the four fluids in the human body. Blood, phlegm black bile and yellow bile. I'm sure glad we've figured out germs and stuff. The museum was fascinating.

I then made my way to the bottom of the hill and came back to Mannheim. I noticed that it sure gets dark early around here. It was four o’clock and already dark. I don’t think I realized that Germany was that far north. I guess I should have from how cold it is.

Back at the hotel I went for a swim and sweated a gallon of seat in the steam room and then shocked my body in the pool again and now I just realized that I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I’m hungry. The problem is, after the wonderful steaming I’ve had I really don’t want to go back outside. The only thing close to the hotel is a McDonalds and a Burger King. I am amazed how many Burger Kings there are here. I’m used to seeing McDonalds all over the world but not Burger Kings. I think there are more Burger Kings than there are McDonalds. It’s crazy. I don’t want to walk far so I think tonight it’s a Big Mac.


Lynn said...

WOW. This makes me want to see Germany all the more now. I MUST make it there some day. I must I must. It's wear my ancestry is from. I need to see it before I die.

Kira said...

I get more jealous every day I read your blog! That looks amazing!

Lisa said...

That castle is beautiful!!! It was fascinating to read the history. I'm glad you made the effort to go.

Kathy Marx said...

Ah, the Heidelberg Castle... that's where I went to two high school Proms!