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From the Rhône to the Rhine: Heidelberg

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Our apartment in Zornheim had seemed like a drab basement when we had arrived after dark but daybreak brought substantial improvement. It was our first Airbnb that provided breakfast which was welcome as there wouldn't be any markets on Sunday. It was just bagels, jam, and cereal but it saved us the trouble of a stop. We also realized that what seemed to be a basement from the front was garden level at the back and we had a very pleasant view over a patchwork of fields in the surrounding countryside. Our hosts had taken a great deal of care in making their garden a pleasant spot to enjoy the morning sunlight and we could hear them upstairs enjoying breakfast on the rear balcony.

I included Heidelberg in our itinerary because I had been there almost thirty years previously on my spin through Germany after completing medical school. The visiting student from Germany I had befriended at medical school wasn't there at the time but I was hosted by two close friends of hers who were medical students at the University of Heidelberg. My memories of the visit are a little blurry but I have fond recollections of downing one silty hefeweizen after another on a bar crawl in an old town that seemed alive with energy, all beneath the glow from a beautiful castle above us.

The main road into Heidelberg passes along the southern bank of the Neckar, a long tributary of the Rhine. Soon after we turned inland onto Hauptstrasse to look for a garage in the old town I came across an unexpected parking spot. We walked the rest of the way to the center of the old town past a series of attractive cobblestone plazas underneath the majestic ruins of Heidelberg Castle on the hill behind the city.

By the time we arrived at the red sandstone Church of the Holy Spirit in the Marktplatz the streets were busier with tourists. Despite its small size Heidelberg is one of the most visited cities in Germany, thanks to its preserved architecture and romantic literary history.

One of the most enjoyable features of Heidelberg was its variety of beautiful and elegant Baroque and Renaissance architecture. It was a sharp contrast to the medieval and half-timbered style of the Rhine cities which we had enjoyed but were starting to tire of a little. Many of the buildings in Heidelberg were more reminiscent of Florence or Paris than they were of other cities in Germany.

We continued on Hauptstrasse for a few more blocks but the atmosphere grew very commercial and we became surrounded by midrange clothing stores and fast food outlets. We doubled back toward the university but I was unable to find anything resembling the warren of small streets I had wandered on my first visit. Perhaps I had romanticized my memory of the city, or perhaps the area looked entirely different on a Sunday morning versus a Saturday night. There was certainly plenty of broken glass and other detritus lying about the street suggesting a raucous party scene the night before. We headed back through the center to the eighteenth century Karl Theodor Bridge, known affectionately as the Old Bridge. The entrance to the pedestrian bridge is marked by the Stadttor, a red sandstone gate flanked by white towers that was once part of the city fortifications. From the bridge we had an even better view of the castle perched above the town.

The opposite bank of the Neckar was much quieter but had its share of interesting sights. Adjacent to the bridge is the Liebesstein, a sandstone block with a central hole through which one can view the castle and the old town. The outer surface of the sculpture is festooned with love locks that have completely obscured the metal bars they are attached to. Lack of space has not dissuaded lovers seeking to formalize their attachment as they now simply attach their locks to the ones already in place.

Close to the bridge is the Snake Path, a winding footpath that leads uphill to the famous Philosopher's Way. I was tempted but we were on a tight schedule if we wanted to make our next stop. Instead we walked back east along the Neckar enjoying the impressive classical buildings on the northern bank and the views of the old town across the river.

The true jewel of Heidelberg was the castle. Ruined as it was, it was a magnificent sight amidst the dense trees of the hillside. This was one of the greatest castles of Germany before it was destroyed in a fire cause by a lightning strike in the eighteenth century. Only one building of the castle has been restored and the rest has been preserved in the same state it was in after the fire. If I had been on my own I would have taken the funicular up to the ruins but everyone else was done with castles for the time being and I did want the kids to have a decent amount of time to enjoy our next stop.

We crossed bank to the south bank via another bridge that doubled as a dam. Our final stop before returning to the car was Karlstor, a triumphal arch erected in the eighteenth century to honor Karl Theodor, the leader of the Palatinate-Bavaria state to which Heidelberg belonged at the time. The monument looked practically new after having been renovated thirty years earlier.

Dynamikum is a children's science museum in the city of Pirmasens. close to the French border. It wasn't as large as Technopolis in Belgium but there were plenty of interactive exhibits to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours. The biggest hit were a couple of metal slides between the two floors, one gentle and the other much steeper. It was hilarious watching the kids work up the courage to go down the steep slide from oldest to youngest. I finally had to go up to help Spenser and I could see why they were frightened. From the top it looked like a sheer drop. I had to force myself not to hesitate or I might have chickened out myself.

Aside from Dynamikum Pirmasens doesn't have much of interest to travelers. It's a modern residential town that was historically best know for shoemaking. We were in need of food and my research brought me to a brewhouse in the center where we enjoyed one last traditional German repast of bratwurst and weisswurst before our return to France. We ate n a breezy balcony overlooking the town's rather bland central square.

From Pirmasens we had an hour and a half drive along one lane country roads through the North Vosges forest to Strasbourg. It was a scenic but unremarkable drive except for one small town with a surprising and memorable name. It was the most irresistible opportunity to pose with a signpost since we'd been to Fucking, Austria six years previously. We were immediately feeling the euphoria of being back in France and drove on towards Strasbourg with a renewed sense of anticipation.

Posted by zzlangerhans 15:33 Archived in Germany Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog pirmasens tony_friedman family_travel_blog zornheim

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