Romance in the rain: Romance in the rain: a Heidelberg weekend

Sheri Byrd
Kaiserslautern American

My husband was turning 40. He hates parties, and would kill me if ever a waiter were to bring a sparkling piece of cake with an off-key public rendition of “Happy Birthday.” However, I was determined to mark the occasion with something memorable and finally decided: a kidnapping.

After delivering both kids to friends’ houses early Friday afternoon, I told “the old man” to get off the computer, we were going away.
“Away where?” he asked me suspiciously.

“Surprise,” I said. The whole thing really made him nervous.
It was raining, but the reservations were made, and we headed out. I told him to just get on the A6 east, so he started guessing destinations. When he hit on Heidelberg, I finally smiled.

We were in the beautiful Hotel Holländer Hof just at the head of the old bridge. The view of the river and opposite bank from the room was fabulous, and the complementary champagne was chilled. (I called ahead about the birthday.)

Huddled under our one little umbrella, we winded our way into the main street of the old town, and ducked into the first café we saw – The Golden Falcon – where we enjoyed a warming snack of cappuccino and apple strudel with cream.

An hour later, it was still raining. Feeling like we needed some exercise, but not wanting to get soaked, we paid 50 cents to climb the downtown church tower. Despite the post-war modern interior of the church, the tower and the very narrow, steep spiral staircases leading to the roof were original, and we were feeling quite worked out by the time we reached the top.

The view was fantastic, as Heidelberg is beautiful in any weather. We looked down over the river, across it to the vineyards, up to the castle ruins, and over the city roof tops, including the old university buildings.

By the time we descended the dizzying steps, the rain had finally let up. We window-shopped a little, then ducked into the City Museum.

We let the paintings from the 15th to 19th centuries take us back in time, and toured the baroque rooms of the museum restored to their original private residence conditions.

Finally, we went back to the room to rest a bit, and uncorked the champagne.
After a typically elegant continental hotel breakfast the following morning, we hit the trails.

Crossing the old bridge to the north side of the Neckar River, we took the steep, windy stone Snake Path up the hill.

The hill is called Heiligenberg – Holy Hill. What I know of it comes only from the fiction of Diana Paxson’s “Oden’s Children” novels. She took the Nibelungen Saga – the legends used for Wagner’s famous Ring trilogy operas – and put them into historical fantasy fiction.

We followed Heidelberg’s famous Philosopher’s Way further up the hill. The little gardens and benches along it are so pretty, and they all overlook the river and the city.

At the top of the hill, we came first to the ruins of St. Stephan’s monastery, built on the ruins of a previous Celtic holy site. There are just a few stone walls, but the main tower overlooking the river and the city was restored in the 19th century.

There was only one other person there, a woman looking out over the city and playing wonderful rhythms on a large drum.

We climbed the tower, involuntarily keeping time to the woman’s drumming, and from the top, we saw a hawk leave his tree and begin to soar and circle over the hillside.

“He’s not even hunting, he’s just enjoying himself,” my husband said.
We found a trail map in the parking lot (we could have driven up there), and discovered the entire hilltop was a historical preservation area.

There were trails along the routes of both the inner and outer Celtic-built walls that had ringed the hilltop settlement, built around 400 B.C., the sign said. There was also a bronze model of the hilltop and the ruins.

The next stop along the trail was an enormous outdoor amphitheater. It was built in the 1930s by the Nazi government as part of their emphasis on historical German culture. We entered through the stage door, then climbed the huge staircase through the bench seats out the back.

Next, we came to the ruins of St. Michael’s church, first built in 870 A.D. on the ruins of a Roman temple, built on a Frankish cemetery, built on the Celtic settlement. Layers and layers and layers of history.

We walked back down the hill through forest of beech and oak and lovely wild foxglove blooming everywhere.

All in all, a very memorable birthday weekend, even according to my husband.

Now, what will I get for my 40th next year?