What do you do to bring visitors to your castle? You light it up… or set it on fire. However, if a real fire seems too cumbersome, but you still want something nevertheless spectacular, use Bengal lights and fireworks.
The technique was developed and proved very successful in the picturesque German town of Heidelberg to commemorate the Heidelberg Castle’s very eventful history. The fascinating spectacle of flames and light is called Schlossbeleuchtung – castle illumination – and is done in memory of the three times in history when the castle went up in flames. The first two times were due to wars with the French in 1689 and 1693, and the last time when the castle was hit by lightning in 1764. In case you’ve missed the original three events of Castle Illumination, don’t worry: they are recreated with fireworks every Summer – the first Saturdays in June and September, and the second Saturday in July.
The magnificent ruins of Heidelberg Castle are no less impressive during the day. Built as a fortress with towers and moats in around 1300, this castle is perched high above the town as a symbol of the feudal power. To get them through the turbulent times, it’s likely that the lords of the castle made regular use of the royal wine cellar, which is home to the biggest wine barrel in the world. Made from 130 oak trees, it is seven meters wide and over eight meters in length. The Elector Karl Theodor once employed a dwarf to guard the barrel – as if something that big really needs to be guarded.
As breathtaking as the castle is from the city, so is the view of the city from the castle. While I was standing on the top of the hill admiring an amazing view of Heidelberg, the Neckar River, and the Neckar Valley far into the Rhine plain, I knew it would be hard for me to describe it. But when it comes to Heidelberg, I have the professional support of a famous writer. As Mark Twain put it, “I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives.” It looks like the celebrated author shared my fascination with this charming town: it must have been the reason why, after having come to Heidelberg to spend a day, he instead stayed for three months.
Out of the many things Mark Twain loved about Heidelberg and found worthy to write about, one is still relevant today: it’s a university town atmosphere. Not just any university, but the oldest in Germany established in 1386. Contrary to popular belief, not everybody enrolled in university exclusively for the dueling, drinking, playing jokes on authorities and freeing local pigs. However, for those who did actually prefer the aforementioned scientific activities, there was the Student Prison. Imprisonment would last from three days to four weeks. Students were allowed to attend lectures, but were required to return to jail at the end of the day. In absence of TV and Internet, they spent time decorating the walls with drawings. Those art works were preserved for future generations, and, judging by wall inscriptions, many prisoners found their stay in Studentkarzer very entertaining.
One thing you will not miss in Heidelberg is the Old Bridge. Though not particularly old – built in the 18th century – it has inspired numerous poets and artists. And what you’ll not miss on the bridge is the bronze sculpture of the Bridge Monkey holding a mirror. Legend says that if you touch the mirror you’ll be provided with a good fortune, and, if you’ll touch the fingers of the Bridge Monkey it would ensure your return to Heidelberg. Well, the mirror looked pretty polished, so it must be working. I’ve gently tapped the bronze creature’s hand in hope of returning: one day in this lovely place was not merely enough.