Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Germany - Day 3, Heidelberg

After the excellent weather yesterday, today looked much less promising and a quick glance out of the hotel window showed lots of people with umbrellas which sort of confirmed that it was raining. Where had all the blue sky gone I wanted to know? After breakfast it started to clear up however and by the time we had the car on the road the weather was starting to brighten up. Today the plan was to go to Heidelberg an ancient and traditional German city about sixty kilometres further north up the Rhine valley and recommended for a visit in all of the travel guide books. Because Gernsbach had been so spectacular I chose this route to get there, even though it was not the most direct, but the town didn’t look quite so good under a canopy of grey cloud and the road out of Gernsbach to Rastatt provided nothing of real interest, so it was a bad decision.

At Rastatt the road joined the Autobahn number 5 and headed north. This was my first drive on a German Autobahn but I have to say that it was really quite enjoyable. Although there was fierce competition for road space with BMWs and Mercedes, with considerably more power than I was packing, the little Fiat Panda exceeded my expectations and did very well indeed. It only had an 1100cc engine but it accelerated well, picked up the pace quickly and was soon holding its own at a steady one hundred and twenty kilometres an hour and the thing really could go. It was nothing like the original Fiat Panda that was introduced in 1980 and which I seem to remember was a bit of an ugly duckling prone to premature rusting and desperately under powered. It was also notoriously unreliable and because of the amount of time it spent in the repair shop became affectionately nicknamed ‘Fix It Again Tommy’. Although it was fast and furious the Autobahn felt strangely safe, much more so than our UK motorways, and I put this down to the fact that the lanes seemed wider, it was not so cluttered with barriers and bridges, the entry slip roads are more generous and it felt more altogether more spacious and for these reasons the lorries and the big trucks felt somehow less intimidating. I really quite enjoyed it!

From the pictures in the guide books I had imagined Heidelberg to be a sleepy little medieval university sort of town so it was disappointing to find that it is really quite large on account of it being part of a densely populated region called the Rhein, Neckar Triangle. Heidelberg lies on the river Neckar, twenty kilometres below the point where it joins the Rhine at Mannheim and turns out to be an important industrial centre and this was a bit of a surprise. To get to the tourist old town required a drive through the busy commercial centre before arriving on the western bank of the river. For a moment or two this looked quite promising but I have to say that in my experience Heidelberg has to be the least visitor friendly place that I have ever visited, especially if you are a motorist. There was simply nowhere to park the car and although there were vacant parking spaces these were all reserved for residents and permit holders. After at least three circuits of both sides of the river we eventually gave up, parked the car in a restricted zone, and keeping one eye out for the traffic warden while we walked only a short distance to look across the river to the historic old town and its famous castle.

Heidelberg has an iconic status as a centre of Germanic history and culture. In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Emperors of Austria and Russia and the King of Prussia formed the ‘Holy Alliance’ in Heidelberg and later in 1848, the year of revolutions, a German National Assembly was established there. During the Nazi era the authorities built a massive stadium on the edge of the city where the SS would parade and have massive rallies. Luckily the city avoided destruction during the war, it is said because the United States army rather liked the look of it and fancied setting up shop there, but in fact, as Heidelberg was neither an industrial centre nor a transport hub, there was nothing much worth bombing there and Allied air raids focused on the more important nearby industrial cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.

It has to be said that all in all Heidelberg was a bit of a disappointment and on account of the parking difficulties and the desperately dreary weather the stay here was restricted to only fifteen minutes or so, long enough to take a few photographs, and then move on and head for the town of Speyer. I am sure that this is being very unfair to Heidelberg because everyone seems to rave about the place, I think we were disorientated by the dramatic change in the weather and didn’t really give it a proper chance.


Sandra said...

I`ve never really fancied Germany for even a short break Andrew, I don`t know why but it just doesn`t appeal. I`m sorry you didn`t really enjoy your day.

Love Sandra x

Anonymous said...

if you want "a sleepy little medieval university sort of town" you should have checked out Rothenburg. It's actually one of my favorite places in Germany. Sorry your day trip was not enjoyable. I've found myself in the same position as you on many occasions. If you are looking for perky days with lots of sunshine...Germany is NOT your place. :(

I haven't been to Heidelberg yet but I've been wanting to go just to see what the hype is about.