Heidelberg Castle – Travel Around Europe

One looks down from the castle on the twinkling lights of the cramped old town, and notes how it has ambitiously spread its suburbs even beyond the opposite bank and that its villa-lamps sprinkle their way in the distance toward that little hamlet with the great mouthful of a name, – Handschuhsheim, – in the hills. It is there, could we see it, that the tumbledown hut stands that sheltered Luther when he escaped from the “Tile-Devils” of Worms; at a sight of it one wonders if he did not exclaim here as he did at the Diet: “Here I take my stand. I can do no otherwise. God help me !” In Heidelberg itself, the shops of that one long street, Hauptstrasse, send up a wavering, crooked path of softened light, but the more elegant Anlage is discreetly reserved with all its hotels and imposing homes. One distinguishes little at this hour of the peaked tile roofs and faded shutters of the venerable town – the little awninged shops, sombre cafes, Stuben, and restaurants; or the excited appearance of an occasional side street that starts with all enthusiasm at the river, loses heart in a block or two, and comes suddenly to a discouraged end in a tangle of trees and forest paths. We only know that Emperor William I canters his bronze steed with its capacious girth along the middle of LudwigsPlatz right up to the university building where the celebrated professors have their “readings” before their frisky young “Meine Herren”; and that the marketplace is probably as shabby and gloomy as usual, and the Kornmarkt subsided again to its customary listlessness since the last of the evening crowds have taken the mountain railroads there for cool trips to the Konigsstuhl or the Molkenkur or for a trout dinner at the distant Wolfsbrunnen.

Out of this cramped nest of roofs the shadowy Gothic tower of St. Peter’s Church rises boldly, challenging beholders to forget – if they can – how Jerome of Prague once nailed his theses on its doors and defended them before excited multitudes; calling, besides, on the distant and indifferent to sometimes have a thought of the famous university scholars who lie under the weepingwillows of its churchyard. A neighboring bidder for consideration, the famous Heilig-Geistkirche, thrusts a lofty spire skyward above the dark tree-tops until its weather vane is almost on a level with our feet. There is little need for this ecclesiastic to feel any apprehension on the score of being forgotten, so renowned has it been for half a thousand years as once the foremost cathedral of the Palatinate, celebrated for richness of endowment, extent of revenues, the beauty of its art treasures, and the learning of its prebendaries. As it appeals to us tonight it is as one fallen far from its former high estate, and yet the very eagles that soar over Heidelberg must have enough knowledge of religious controversy to recall its past amusing dilemmas of divided orthodoxy. The stranger in the castle ruins will smile as he thinks of what he has read of the days when both Protestants and Catholics worshiped there at one and the same time, through the effective device of a partition wall thrown up to separate choir from nave. The elaborate Catholic ceremonials of the altar necessitated the reservation of the choir for them, while the Protestants got along very nicely with a pulpit built in the end of the nave. What unusual entertainment might have been contrived by neutrals to the controversy had a brick or two been removed from the partition wall and an ear applied alternately to either service! On one side, Ave Marias and Pater Nosters -on the other, hymns of the Lutherans; here, the wailing Confiteor and the penitential breast-beating of mea culpa- there, grim scorn of all ritual and ceremony; in the choir, the intoning of versicle and response, reiterations of “Dominus Vobiscum” and “Et cum Spiritu tuo,” the solemn Tantum Ergo, the passionate Aqnus Dei, and the triple sound of the acolyte’s bell as the Host is elevated above the kneeling, praying throngs – in the nave, a rapt absorption in the new significance of old truths, and lengthy discourses by stern and ascetic expounders; for one congregation, a glittering altar, sacred images, flaming candles, and a jeweled monstrance – stiff pews and a painted pulpit, for the other; for the Catholics, flocks of priests and choir boys, deacons and subdeacons, sumptuously vested in alb and stole and gorgeous chasuble – for the Protestants, one solemn man in black. Neutrals at the dividing wall could have rendered both congregations a service by loosening a brick or two and letting a little incense and beauty pass to the Dissenters’ side, and some word of wisdom concerning a release from dogma get through to the Catholics. Had America’s new policy of church unity existed then, it would have advocated doing away with the wall altogether and finding some compromise for approaching a common God in a common way. Time, the great umpire, has settled the contest as a draw; for the partition wall has come out and the rival camps with it: the present occupants are “Old Catholics” – a sect with which either side has little sympathy and less patience.

The evening lounger in the old castle will doubtless have more than one thought of the famous seat of learning that has, for five and a quarter centuries, invested the name of Heidelberg with so much lustre and glory. He will, of course, have heard it called the”cradle of Germanic science,” and will have been told that of all Germanic universities only those at Prague and Vienna are older than this. He can form some conclusion as to its rich contributions to human knowledge by merely recalling the names of its famous scholars, – Reuchlin, Melanchthon, Ursinus, Voss, Helmholtz, Bunsen, Kuno Fischer, and the rest,-and will gauge its present standing by the acknowledged eminence of its faculties in medicine, law, and philosophy. One thinks of its long eras of philosophic speculation, always deeply earnest if not invariably “profitable, and applauds the force of Longfellow’s simile in “Hyperion” when he compared them to roads in our Western forests that are broad and pleasant at first, but eventually dwindle to a squirreltrack and run up a tree. If the loiterer be a Presbyterian, he will want to acknowledge indebtedness to old Ursinus for that celebrated “Heidelberg Catechism” of three hundred and fifty years ago that supplied the Westminster Assembly with a model for the “Shorter Catechism” in use today. That the university has survived the destructive rigors of so many fierce wars is perhaps sufficient proof of its vitality and the estimate men have set on its usefulness. Tilly carried off its library and presented it to the Pope, when he conquered Heidelberg in the Thirty Years’ War, but although only a small portion of it has ever been returned it has today a half-million volumes and documents, among which are original writings of Martin Luther and manuscripts of the Minnesingers. The pleasant summer semester attracts students here, – being allowed, under the “Freiheit” system, to exchange alma maters, – and then one may count up perhaps two thousand scholastic transients in Heidelberg. To many visitors the equipment will appear meagre, for, excepting the main building in Ludwigs-Platz, the library building, medical institution, and botanical gardens, there is little in sight to remind one of its existence. In witness of which there is the popular joke about a new arrival who inquired of a passer by where the university might be: “Don’t know,” was the reply: “I’m a student myself.”

The presence of the jovial student, however, is too much in evidence at this time of the evening, through distant shouts and songs, to leave any one in doubt about the university being somewhere hereabouts. But when are they not in evidence? At any hour of the day and night you come across them in the cafes, on the streets, loafing on the bridge or up in the castle, or returning or departing on their favorite recreation of walking-trips through the hills. Their smart peaked caps and broad corps ribbons are scenic features of the neighborhood. You wonder when they study, and how much time they ever spend in the private rooms they call their Wohnungen. In spite of the appearance of extreme hauteur conveyed by their invariable and ceremonious punctilio these ruddy-faced boys are highly sociable, and take a prodigious delight in smoking, drinking, and singing together. A Kaffeeconcert is entirely to their liking, and even more a jolly Kegelbahn supper in some forest restaurant at the end of a long tramp. Most of all, which is amazing, they relish their stupid KneiPen where every friendly draft of their weak beer is preceded by a challenge to drink, and where the only redeeming feature is the fine singing. Still, at Commerces, one hears the time-honored Fox Chorus, “What comes there from the hill.” Even the pet vice of dueling might be mildly defended on the ground that German students have no such athletic contests as their brothers of America and England and that each looks to the sword, in consequence, as an arbiter of courage and prowess – from the Fuchse (who are freshmen) to the Burschen (who are seniors). Granted that the occasional sabre duel is really dangerous, still injuries are trifling in the ordinary encounters Auf der Mensur, fought with the thin, basket-hilted Schlager, and preferably on the Paukboden of the famous Hirschgasse tavern up the little valley across the river. Blood apart, it is rather amusing than otherwise to watch the contestants in their pads and goggles, the seconds straddling between them with drawn words, and the callous umpire keeping merry count of the wounds. Few topers and bullies here, but vigorous, wholesome youth.

The outlook from the Grand Balcony is upon a sea of foliage so vast as completely to surround castle, gardens, and terraces and convert them into just such an enchanted island as springs so naturally out of the pages of the “Arabian Nights.” Evidences of sorcery and magic multiply as we make the rounds of our fortress, for voices and music come up out of the tremulous green depths, and companion isles emerge in the moonlit distance, but lifted far above us and set on prodigious waveshoulders of steadily increasing height. The loftiest of these rocks we know to be famous Konigsstuhl, a name they have vainly been trying to change to Kaisersstuhl since the visit of Emperor Francis of Austria, a hundred years ago, and Emperor Alexander of Russia. From this eyrie perch one looks abroad by day on a very considerable portion of the wide, wide world, and the distance covered is only limited by the imagination of the observer. Then the Neckar valley is at one’s feet, and a little farther off is the Rhine, and away yonder are the Haardt Mountains and the sombre edges of the Black Forest. The faint blur on the southwestern horizon is said to be Speyer, where the followers of the Reformation were first called “Protestants,” and the lofty pinnacle of the cathedral, rising above the tombs of its imperial dead, quickens thoughts of that “mellifluous doctor” whose writings were “a river of Paradise,” the crusade preacher, St. Bernard, to whom the Madonna is credited with having revealed herself in that very church. Our mortal eyes may confirm the identity of this much from the Konigsstuhl’s observation tower, but we can only envy the miraculous vision of those who see the spire of the Strassburg Cathedral, sixty miles away. Doubtless they could distinguish the identical tree of the famous Odenwald rhyme: –

” There stands a tree in the Odenwald, With many a bough so green, ‘ Neath which my own true love and I A thousand joys have seen.”

Another of the companion isles of this moonlit, treetop ocean is the popular Molkenkur, a modern “wheycure,” that flourishes on the princely site of the earliest stronghold of this whole region. To those who are strolling its broad terrace and reflecting, perhaps, upon the tragic history of the place, seven centuries roll back and Barbarossa’s brother, the savage Conrad of Hohenstaufen, climbs the forest trail with archers and spearmen, returning to his mountain retreat from a robber raid along the Rhine. And perhaps the visitor fancies he even hears the roar of that historic explosion that rained the wreckage of old Conrad’s fortress on town and river, or sees the blinding lightning stroke that crumbled this dread stronghold into a stalking-ground for the shuddering phantoms of winter fireside legends.,

Reflections that penetrate still farther back into the gloaming of local tradition will precede Conrad’s fortress with the temple of the enchantress Jetta; and could we distinguish in the distance the rock where the cozy inn of the Wolfsbrunnen perches and serves its rare dinners of mountain trout, we should see the very spot where the wolf slew Jetta in judgment of the Goddess Hertha, who was properly indignant that her priestess should have fallen in love with a mortal.

The nearer waters of the billowy forest-sea that ripples around the ruined castle walls contain in their dark, cool depths a picturesque tangle of woodland paths and romantic walks, thickets of fragrant flowers, a shattered arch half cloaked with ivy, and many a pleasant wayside cafe opened to the sky and gay with its little German band. For those who emerge from the shadows and come up like Undines into the moonlight that streams in a silver mist on terrace and garden, as fair a picture reveals itself as can be seen in any part of our world. Here are lakes and grottoes and fountains and statues, all flecked with the heavy shadows of lindens and beeches. Here are crumbling towers and vine-mantled turrets and shattered, moss-grown arch and cornice. Even lovelier today are these gardens and scarcely less celebrated than three hundred years ago when old Solomon de Caus, architect and engineer of the Counts Palatine and first prophet of the power of steam, “leveled the mountain-tops and filled up the valleys” (as he has recorded in a Latin inscription in one of the older grottoes), and built these “plantations” and made them the haunts of singing birds, and filled them with orange-trees and rare exotic plants, and ornamented them with statues and with fountains that made music as they played. The ruined castle is embraced and enfolded in these beautiful gardens as an ailing child by its mother’s arms. The ravages of fire and war have scarred and wrecked it beyond man’s redemption, but the sturdy walls still oppose their twenty-foot masonry to the attacks of Time as stubbornly as did the great Wrent Tower when it defied the powder blasts of the detested Count Melac and his devastating Frenchmen.