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Why Heidelberg: 

My friend college Michelle invited me to her wedding to Ory, in Columbus, Ohio in April. Unfortunately, I had already accepted an invitation to another wedding that same day. Luckily, she said that she was having a second wedding in Heidelberg, Germany in early June. That, I was able to make as it was just 2 weeks after a prior wedding in Goa, India. With the middle weekend being Memorial Day, it would only have been 9 workdays while abroad, something I figured I could pull off. I ended up not working those 9 days but decided to stick to the itinerary since everything had already been booked. 

Heidelberg, located 90 minutes south of Frankfurt, is known to be one of the top tourist destinations in all of Germany, so I was excited both for the wedding and to see the city. 

June 1, 2023: Willkommen

After a long day driving to 5 different UNESCO sites in southern Germany, I reached Heidelberg. 

My first stop was the science campus of Heidelberg University, one of the oldest universities in the world, founded in 1386. Through Instagram, I learned that my friend Dan attends the university as a PhD student but was going to be in Berlin during my stay. He graciously let me stay in his apartment for free. He lived in graduate student housing with 3 other PhD students.

After parking my car (in a lot that in classic German fashion only accepts cash), I took a public bus into the city to reach a schnitzel restaurant on the Neckar River. Here, Michelle, her husband/fiancé Ory (not sure what you call him since they already had their first marriage), Michelle´s immediate family and a few other foreign guests were all getting dinner. 

With the bride, Michelle

It turns out that Michelle has deep ties to Heidelberg. Both of her parents are from here. Her father, a researcher, moved to Ohio for professional reasons before Michelle was born. However, they still have over 100 relatives who live in Germany- most of them in Heidelberg. Therefore, she would visit every year. Michelle´s brother currently lives and works in Heidelberg. 

Michelle´s father explained that Heidelberg is unique in Germany because it was not touched during World War II and therefore the old town is authentic. Apparently, the Allies wanted to make the city their headquarters post-war…and they got their wish. While Heidelberg is not currently occupied by the American army anymore, the largest American overseas base: Rammstein Air Force Base is less than an hour drive to the west. Many of those soldiers visit Heidelberg on the weekends.

After dinner, we took a group picture in front of the iconic Schloss Heidelberg castle before going to bed. 

June 2, 2023: Heidelberg

With the wedding tomorrow, this was my full day to explore Heidelberg. 

I started my day on the Philosophenweg (Philosopher´s Walk), which skirts its way on the hillside across the river from the main town. The name comes from the many Romantic-era philosophers who were inspired by this walk. The castle really does loom over the town.

View of town from the Philosophenweg

From the eastern edge of the pathway, I headed up into the forest and after a solid climb ended at a ruined Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) amphitheater called Heiligenberganlage (good luck pronouncing that!). In 1935 well before the war, Joseph Goebbels gave an impassioned speech  in front of 20,000 here. After the war, the American occupying forces used the amphitheater for jazz show. All the way up until 2017, it was used unofficially for Walpurgis Night, an ancient northern European festival where people burn witch effigies. Nowadays, Heiligenberganlage is eerily unused and weeds are starting to overgrow the seats. 

The abandoned Nazi amphitheater

I then walked down to the river where I crossed along the iconic Alte Brücke bridge. On the other side, I got lunch at the iconic Vetter´s brewery. I ordered white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, a German summer delicacy and to wash it down ordered the Vetter´s 33, claimed to be the strongest beer in the world by original wort. 

From here, I walked to a tramway station where I got a ride up the hill to the castle Schloss Heidelberg. While the castle is mostly in ruins, they do have an hourly guided tour of some rooms which I booked on the spot. 

The tour wasn´t for an hour so I spent some time seeing the rest of the castle´s attractions including a pharmacy museum and a giant barrel. I can saw without a doubt that it is the largest barrel I have ever seen. 

That is one big barrel

While I had not seen many foreign tourists so far on my visit to Germany (save for Mormon missionaries), I noticed an egregious number of Americans in Heidelberg. Was this indeed simply a major tourist attraction, was 2023 the summer to visit Europe, or were they in some way associated with the air force base?

Eventually it was time for the tour to begin. The animated guide explained the history of the castle in detail with many jokes.

Main courtyard in Schloss Heidelberg

In short, Ruprecht III the Prince Elector (eventually Rupert, King of the Romans) was given the modern equivalent of $22 billion to vote for a certain person Holy Roman Emperor around 1400. There were only 7 voting members, so this was actually a big deal. The prince used the money to build a mega fortress to protect against invaders such as the French. 

200 years later, another prince, Frederick V of the Palatinate, married the daughter of the King of England. Being a lowly regional prince marrying way out of his league, he decided to upgrade the palace to make it more ornate and livable while less of a practical defensive structure to keep the girl. 

In the late 1600´s the king of the region moved to the flatlands to a fancy Baroque palace that was more “with the times”. Schloss Heidelberg was abandoned and eventually destroyed during the 30 Years War. Lightning strikes in 1764 destroyed virtually everything that was not destroyed by the war. The only surviving room was the chapel which was located at the very bottom of the castle. Schloss Heidelberg has been a popular tourist attraction since the mid-1800´s and continues to be one today. 

I really enjoyed the tour! 

I then returned to the tram station and took it further up the mountain before transferring to yet another cable car which took me all the way to the summit. From here, I was gifted with sweeping views of Heidelberg, cooler weather, and a few paths through the forest. I wandered for about an hour before heading back down to town. 

At this point, I needed to head to the apartment to change clothes before heading back into town again for the official welcome event with the entire family.  The town center really is beautiful and lively on a Friday night. While there are many tourists, the students are also a sizeable presence. 

After the event, I walked back to the apartment with Michelle and friends. At 11pm, there was still light out.  

June 3, 2023: The German Wedding

Today was the day of the wedding, the reason I spent 2 weeks in Europe instead of going home from India. 

The festivities (and yes, I mean multiple) started at 12 so I had some time to sightsee first. 20 minutes away by car was Schloss Schwetzingen aka that Baroque castle for which the king ditched Schloss Heidelberg. 

Every European country seems to have a “Versailles of” and this is the Versailles of Germany. The castle, while nice, was nothing outrageous. However, the gardens behind the castle were. Like Versailles, they extended seemingly infinitely into the veld. 

I spent 2 hours wandering the gardens. The most intriguing building was a 18th century “mosque”. It had and has no religious significance. Rather, Islamic architecture was chic in the 1700´s so the king decided to build one as part of the garden. 

It was then time to head to the wedding. We all gathered at the hotel (casually 10 minutes from Dan´s apartment) to catch a bus to reach the Stift Neuberg. Founded in the 12 century, the abbey is the resting place of many of Michelle´s ancestors. After the war, they began to allow weddings and Michelle´s parents also got married here. I could tell that Michelle´s father was so happy that the wedding was being held here. 

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel where people changed and then we boarded a large riverboat for a scenic cruise featuring an open bar. I ordered a Hugo spritz made with St. Germaine – an elderflower liqueur. The cruise passed by town and continued further upriver through a gorge. 

Back at the hotel again, we had a cocktail hour while Michelle and Ory played some traditional German wedding games including one where they cut the hole in a sheet.  

After 7 hours of wedding-ing, it was time for the actual party to begin. We ate dinner and delicious German desserts (including the best apple cake of my life) and eventually started to dance. The DJ played mostly American songs, but every now and then would play a “schlager” song – a specific genre of German pop songs that are a hit at weddings (think the German equivalent of Shout or All The Small Things for my generation). 

Since 90% of the guests here were here the vibe was different from most weddings. Everybody knew each other well and was genuinely happy to be in each other´s presence. There were people of all generations including children on the dance floor. 

By 00:30, I was exhausted and decided to head home. The wedding would continue until 3:00 am I was told! 

The next morning, I drove back to Frankfurt to catch the flight home. It was smooth sailing… until a pigeon sitting on the Autobahn flew into my side mirror shattering and partially detaching it. I was worried that the police would stop me, give me a fine, and tell me the car was inoperable forcing me to both tow the car and find transportation to the airport potentially causing me to miss my flight. But luckily, it was a Sunday morning, so nobody was on the road and I was able to disguise the problem by folding the mirror in. A month later, I got a bill for $550, but most importantly I made it back to Frankfurt…and New York safely. 

Final Thoughts:

The highlight of my time in Heidelberg was obviously the wedding, which is unlike any I have ever been to not only because it was the first German wedding I have attended but also because almost everybody was family. This created a unique bond between the guests that was special to watch. 

Heidelberg is a gorgeous town and worthy of its status as a top destination in Germany. The obvious highlight is the castle, but the town itself is very nice and lively. Given the student population, it does not feel as overrun with tourists as other equally-famous places. 

It is possible to see the highlights in 1 long day, but I think 2 days is optimal to see everything at a reasonable pace and soak up the vibes.  

Heidelberg is in the middle of a large region of interesting places to visit including Baden-Baden, the Black Forest, the numerous UNESCO sites, Strasbourg in France, and everything in the Frankfurt area. It is very possible to use the town as a base. 


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