When Prince-Elector Friedrich V married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of King James I in 1613, it was–like the majority of royal marriages—based on political alliances and gains. Love had nothing to do with it.
But sometimes it worked out differently and so it was between Friedrich and Elizabeth who fell in love. Heidelberg Castle, where they lived, was already old, dating back to 1200s and the Prince-Elector wanting Elizabeth to love her new home added an English Palace and an elaborate Baroque garden.
But theirs was to be a tragic love story. There were battles, a throne lost, regained, and then lost forever. During all that, Elizabeth bore 13 children before Fredrich died and she sought life in exile.
The castle, a romantic ruin of seemingly endless staircases and corridors taking you here, there, and sometimes nowhere, stands 330-feet above the Alstadt, Heidelberg’s wonderful old town. Towers and battlements protect stone facades, their decorative features still intact though the rooms behind them are gone. Views into the multitude of windows reveals not an interior but woods and the Neckar River below.
“Deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful,” is how Mark Twain described the Gothic-Renaissance castle. He was one of many poets and writers who spent time in what they considered the most romantic city in the world.
The castle is also home to the Heidelberg Tun, a 58, 124 gallon wine barrel said to be the largest in the world. It was built in 1751 on orders from Prince Elector Karl Theodor to store the wine paid in taxes by the region’s wine growers. We should all be so lucky to have too much wine.
Brews and Pork Knuckles
Taking the funicular down to the old town, I meet friends at Vetter’s Alt Heidelberger Brauhaus on Steingasse, Europe’s longest carless street. It’s one of those baronial style Germanic places with high ceilings, large wood beams, long tables and a lot of dark highly polished wood.
Famed for their Vetter’s 33, which they say is the strongest beer in the world, its alcohol content is—you guessed it—33%. But it isn’t all beer her, they’re famed for their traditional German food and so I decide to go full German, ordering the pork knuckle, sauerkraut and dumpling with gravy. Skipping the 33, I opt for the Hubier—a mix of the lager and elderberry syrup.
History, Luxury and a Family Touch
My love affair with the city began several years before when I checked into the five-star Hotel Europäischer Hof Heidelberg. The hotel, one of the few five-star family run hotels in Europe, opened in 1865 and has been owned by von Kretschmann family since around the turn of the last century.
I’d heard that Sylvia von Kretschmann, who with her husband Ernst-Friedrich, ran the hotel for a half-century before their daughter Dr. Caroline von Kretschmann took over, regularly did the hotel’s large floral arrangements. So it was no surprise when I ran into this very elegant woman doing just that in Die Kurfürstenstube, the hotel’s opulent dining room that opened in 1866. Such a romantic place and romantic tradition—how could I not fall in love?
My romance continued at Chocolaterie Knosel where owner Liselotte Knosel talked about studentenkussor or student kiss, a chocolate covered nougat created by her great grandfather Fridolin Knosel in 1863. His Café Knosel was frequented by male university students who admired women from a local finishing school who were, alas, chaperoned by their governesses. A gift of student kisses was a sly way to start a flirtation.
We don’t know how well it turned out for the students but these confections, still hand crafted, remain best sellers more than 150 years later. Café Knosel—the city’s oldest café—is my go to spot for coffee and a pastry at one of their outdoor tables overlooking the church on Marktplatz.
At dusk, on my last night, I boarded Patria, a 1930s ship for dining and a cruise along the Neckar River. Watching the city lights sparkle in the calm water, I knew that though my visit was ending, the romance was just beginning. I would be back.
For more information, visit www.heidelberg-marketing.de