Tales from the River – Heidelberg, Germany, Oct 3, 2011

Today, we docked in Frankfurt but, since it is a national holiday (the reunification of Germany) and Frankfurt is a business town primarily, we took the bus tour to Heidelberg. It was about 1.5 hours to drive there but what a fascinating town! On our way, we stopped at the Heidelberg train station, a pit stop before reaching the castle. This is a university town, the oldest one in Germany no less, and there are bicycles and students everywhere, especially the train station!

We drove up the mountain in the bus, on a very narrow street, but the view from the castle was beautiful. There were homes lining the street, where wealthy people have lived. Some of them had been turned into a house for multiple people and you could tell those by the individual doorbells on the front of the house.

Watching the bus driver park the bus was amazing. I do not know how she did it. She had to pull into the single-lane parking lot, turn the bus around and drive back the way we had come, and then back up to park in a space. The turning around part was tedious; up to the castle wall, reverse and turning a little, up to the castle wall again, reverse and turning a little, etc. We applauded her when she completed this process and again after she had backed into a parking space.

There was a moat but it was a dry moat. It used to have water in it but one owner decided to drain it and, to still protect the castle from invasion, he put hungry bears in the moat. It seemed to work. Later still, another owner put deer in there so that they could have a deer hunt whenever they wanted it.

One of the most interesting things I saw was the wine cellar. Taxes could either be paid in cash or in whatever you produced each year. Well, this is wine country so many people paid their taxes from part of their harvest. Each time a tax was paid, the wine was just dumped into the vats with everyone else’s wine. It didn’t matter if it was red wine or white wine. Of course, in order to make it easier, the town’s people sometimes added a little water to their tax wine in order to have more wine to sell in the marketplace. Heaven knows what the tax wine actually tasted like by the end of tax season!

While the bus had driven us up to the castle, we were to take the funicular back down to the city center to have lunch. I don’t think it was still a cog wheel train any more but they still called it that. We were one of the first to enter our train so we got the seat of honor at the very front of the train. The ride took all of 78 seconds from our stop to the bottom.

We had lunch at the oldest building in town, the Hotel Ritter, and then were free to wander about. Since this was a national holiday, many of the stores were closed but I can verify that every souvenir shop and restaurant were open!

If you have heard of the movie “The Student Prince,” the story is true and was based upon the events in this town. They even have an annual production of it in the castle.

Another story that we heard was about university boys and local girls going to the chocolate shop to get something to eat and drink. Unfortunately the girls always had their governesses with them so the boys could not easily talk to the girls. The chocolate store owner felt so sorry for the boys and girls that he created a cookie with the silhouettes of a boy and girl kissing. He would sell them to the boys who could then give it to the girl of their choice and the governess had no reason to complain. The chocolate store still exists today and they use the silhouette as their logo on everything from their bags and boxes to their chocolates and cookies. I did visit this store and will be bringing home some chocolate!

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