We awoke on Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine at Mannheim, Germany. Although we spent no time touring Mannheim, here are a few fun facts we learned about the city. The #1 Christmas artist, Mannheim Steamroller, is named for the home of Mozart but the band actually hails from Omaha, Nebraska. Mannheim Steamroller refers to an 18th-century musical technique called the Mannheim roller which is a version of a crescendo that originated here.
Mannheim was the starting point of the first long-distance automobile journey in August 1888 in a car built by Karl Benz and driven by his wife, Bertha Benz. Accompanied by her two sons, Bertha decided to do a test drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother. As the story goes, she left a note for her husband telling him about the visit but not their mode of transportation. When he awoke and found the motor car missing, he realized they hadn’t taken the train. The 60-mile trip took all day with plenty of challenges and local attention along the way. Several days later, they returned by a different route ensuring even more witnesses to the adventure. You can read more about this courageous woman who was ahead of her time here. Today, her trip is memorialized by the Bertha Benz Memorial Route and I’m sure you’ve heard of the company, Mercedes-Benz.
Last but not least, we observed Mannheim is also home to a John Deere plant, maker of the ubiquitous green and yellow farm equipment often spotted on the landscape at home in Iowa. We also have John Deere plants in Waterloo and Ankeny, Iowa and the company’s international headquarters is located in nearby Moline, Illinois.
Following breakfast, rather than exploring Mannheim, we boarded a bus for an included shore excursion to Heidelberg, Germany just 11 miles (18 km) away. We traveled directly to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, one of the most romantic and famous ruins in Germany.
As we climbed the hill from the parking lot, our guide led the way and told us about the history of the castle. Originally built as a fortress overlooking the Neckar River and the town of Heidelberg, the castle rose to prominence when the Counts Palatine of the Rhine, later called the Prince-Electors, took up residence. The Palatinate is a region in Germany in the southwest where the most powerful Counts (later called electors) elected the Holy Roman Emperor as established by the Golden Bull of 1356. The Prince-Electors left their mark on the castle as they transformed it from a fortress to a sumptuous palace fit for princes.
Built in 1615 in just one night by Elector Kurfurst Friedrich in honor of his wife’s birthday, Elisabethentor is a beautiful gate on the grounds of the castle.
Ottenrichsbau was constructed by Elector Ottenrich during his rule from 1556-1559 but the building wasn’t completed until 10 years later by his successor. The building is an outstanding example of German Renaissance architecture. The roof was damaged by the French in an attack in 1693 and destroyed by lightning in 1764 which is why you can see the sky through the windows. A roof was added to the first level in the 20th century, however.
Friedrichsbrau was built in the 17th century by Elector Friedrich IV. In the niches between the windows are statues of the Electors who ruled from 915 to 1803.
The Barrel Building (Fassbau) was constructed at the end of the 16th century with a giant barrel built into the cellar which held 58,000 gallons of wine collected as taxes from citizens of the Palatinate.
A dwarf court jester by the nick-name of Perkeo entertained the court beginning in 1718. A wooden figure of him holding a glass of wine still graces the Barrel Building today.
Visitors can enjoy a glass of wine with him at the on-site wine bar, Perkeo’s Vinothek.
After a final look, we headed back down the hill for our walking tour of Heidelberg.
At the bottom of the hill, I took a quick photo of the oldest and most modern funicular railway in Germany which you can ride up to the castle.
The Allstadt or Old Town, is located just below the castle. As our guide led us there, he told us about Heidelberg University, founded in 1386, which is the oldest university in Germany. Unruly students were punished by time spent in a student jail but were still required to attend lectures so as not to encourage bad behavior. After a student was released, he rushed to the student tavern to regale his compatriots with the tale of his incarceration. The historic student tavern, Zum Seppl, is today part of the Heidelberger Kulturbrauerei pictured below.
Our guide left us in Market Square where we explored on our own until we found our way to the bus for our return to the ship. The Church of the Holy Spirit stands in the middle of Market Square so, of course, we were drawn to take a look. The largest Protestant church in Heidelberg, the Church of the Holy Spirit was built beginning in 1398 as the burial place for the Electors of the Palatinate. This church was the birthplace of the Heidelberg Catechism written in 1563.
Outside, I was intrigued by the PETA supporters and snapped the photo below.
Old Town never fails to interest me even if present day additions like the sign imploring us to “eat fresh” at Subway distracts from the charm.
In our rambling, we found the Jesuit Church which was constructed in baroque style beginning in 1712.
Finally, we decided to do what the students in Heidelberg do and sat with our friends at a cafe in Market Square for coffee and conversation.
As we made our way to the river, I couldn’t help but take one more photo of the castle which was visible above the town everywhere we went.
The Old Bridge, built in 1788, is the ninth structure across the River Neckar. The predecessors were all destroyed in the spring by ice flows until this one was contructed completely of stone.
Although we spent only 5 hours in Heidelberg and barely scratched the surface, I understand why this city is a tourist favorite in Germany. It is steeped in history, unscathed by WWII, and bursting with the youthful vigor of nearly 30,000 students.
Based on events from November 2017.