Heidelberg – Germany And Austria

Here in Heidelberg at last, and a most glorious town it is. This is our first morning in our new rooms, and the sun streams warmly in the eastern windows as I write, while the old castle rises through the blue vapor on the side of the Kaiserstuhl. The Neckar rushes on below, and the Odenwald, before me, rejoices with its vine-yards in the morning light.

There is so much to be seen around this beautiful place that I scarcely know where to begin a description of it. I have been wandering among the wild paths that lead up and down the mountain-side or away into the forests and lonely meadows in the lap of the Odenwald. My mind is filled with images of the romantic German scenery, whose real beauty is beginning to displace the imaginary picture which I had painted with the enthusiastic words of Howitt. I seem to stand now upon the Kaiserstuhl, which rises above Heidelberg, with that magnificent landscape around me from the Black Forest and Strassburg to Mainz, and from the Vosges in France to the hills of Spessart in Bavaria.

What a glorious panomora! and not less rich in associations than in its natural beauty. Below me had moved the barbarian hordes of old, the triumphant followers of Arminius and the cohorts of Rome, and later full many a warlike host bearing the banners of the red cross to the Holy Land, many a knight returning with his vassals from the field to lay at the feet of his lady-love the scarf he had worn in a hundred battles and claim the reward of his constancy and devotion. But brighter spirits had also toiled below. That plain had witnessed the presence of Luther, and a host who strove with him. There had also trodden the master-spirits of German song—the giant twain with their scarcely less harmonious brethren. They, too, had gathered inspiration from those scenes—more fervent worship of Nature and a deeper love for their beautiful fatherland. . . .

Then there is the Wolfsbrunnen, which one reaches by a beautiful walk up the bank of the Neckar to a quiet dell in the side of the mountain. Through this the roads lead up y rustic mills always in motion, and orchards laden with ripening fruit, to the commencement of the forest, where a quaint stone fountain stands, commemorating the abode of a sorceress of the olden time who was torn in pieces by a wolf. There is a handsome rustic inn here, where every Sunday afternoon a band plays in the portico, while hundreds of people are scattered around in the cool shadow of the trees or feeding the splendid trout in the basin formed by a little stream. They generally return to the city by another walk, leading along the mountain-side to the eastern terrace of the castle, where they have fine views of the great Rhine plain, terminated y the Alsatian hills stretching along the western horizon like the long crested swells on the ocean. We can even see these from the windows of our room on the bank of the Neckar, and I often look with interest on one sharp peak, for on its side stands the castle of Trifels, where Coeur de Lion was imprisoned by the Duke of Austria, and where Blondel, his faithful minstrel, sang the ballad which discovered the retreat of the noble captive.

From the Carl Platz, an open square at the upper end of the city, two paths lead directly up to the castle. By the first walk we ascend a flight of steps to the western gate; passing through which, we enter a delightful garden, between the outer walls of the castle and the huge moat which surrounds it. Great linden, oak and beech trees shadow the walk, and in secluded nooks little mountain-streams spring from the side of the wall into stone basins. There is a tower over the moat on the south side, next the mountain, where the portcullis still hangs with its sharp teeth as it was last drawn up; on each side stand two grim knights guarding the entrance. In one of the wooded walks is an old tree brought from America in the year 1618. It is of the kind called “arbor vitae,” and uncommonly tall and slender for one of this species; yet it does not seem to thrive well in a foreign soil. I noticed that persons had cut many slips off the lower branches, and I would have been tempted to do the same myself if there had been any I could reach. In the curve of the mountain is a handsome pavilion surrounded with beds of flowers and fountains; here all classes meet together in the afternoon to sit with their refreshments in the shade, while frequently a fine band of music gives them their invariable recreation. All this, with the scenery around them, Ieaves nothing unfinished to their present enjoyment. The Germans enjoy life under all circumstances, and in this way they make themselves much happier than we who have far greater means of being so.

At the end of the terrace built for the Princess Elizabeth of England is one of the round towers which was split in twain by the French. Half has fallen entirely away, and the other semicircular shell, which joins the terrace and part of the castle-buildings, clings firmly together, altho part of its foundation is gone, so that its outer ends actually hang in the air. Some idea of the strength of the castle may be obtained when I state that the walls of this tower are twenty-two feet thick, and that a staircase has been made through them to the top, where one can sit under the lindens growing upon it or look down on the city below with the pleasant consciousness that the great mass upon which he stands is only prevented from crashing down with him by the solidity of its masonry. On one side, joining the garden, the statue of the Arch-duke Louis in his breastplate and flowing beard looks out from among the ivy.

There is little to be seen about the castle except the walls themselves. The guide conducted us through passages, in which were heaped many of the enormous cannon-balls which it had received in sieges, to some chambers in the foundation. This was the oldest part of the castle, built in the thirteenth century. We also visited the chapel, which is in a tolerable state of preservation. A kind of narrow bridge crosses it, over which we walked, looking down on the empty pulpit and deserted shrines. We then went into the cellar to see the celebrated tun. In a large vault are kept several enormous hogsheads, one of which is three hundred years old, but they are nothing in comparison with the. tun, which itself fills, a whole vault. It is as high as a common two-story house; on the top is a platform upon which the people used to dance after it was filled, to which one ascends by two flights of steps. I forget exactly how many casks it holds, but I believe eight hundred. It has been empty for fifty years. . . .

Opposite my window rises the Heiligenberg, on the other side of the Neckar. The lower part of it is rich with vineyards, and many cottages stand embosomed in shrubbery among them. Sometimes we see groups of maidens standing under the grape-arbors, and every morning the peasant-women go toiling up the steep paths with baskets on their heads, to labor among the vines. On the Neckar, below us, the fishermen glide about in their boats, sink their square nets fastened to a long pole, and haul them up with the glittering fish, of which the stream is full. I often lean out of the window late at night, when the mountains above are wrapt in dusky obscurity, and listen to the low, musical ripple of the river. It tells to my excited fancy a knightly legend of the old German time. Then comes the bell rung for closing the inns, breaking the spell with its deep clang, which vibrates far away on the night-air till it has roused all the echoes of the Odenwald. I then shut the window, turn into the narrow box which the Germans call a bed, and in a few minutes am wandering in America.

Halfway up the Heidelberg runs a beautiful walk dividing the vineyards from the forest above. This is called “The Philosopher’s Way,” because it was the favorite ramble of the old professors of the university. It can be reached by a toilsome, winding path among the vines, called the Snake-way; and when one has ascended to it, he is well rewarded by the lovely view. In the evening, when the sun has got behind the mountain, it is delightful to sit on the stone steps and watch the golden light creeping up the side of the Kaiserstuhl, tilt at last twilight begins to darken in the valley and a mantle of mist gathers above the ,Neckar.

We ascended the mountain a few days ago. There is a path which leads up through the forest but we took the shortest way, directly up the side, tho it was at an angle of nearly fifty degrees. It was hard enough work scrambling through the thick broom and heather and over stumps and stones. In one of the stone-heaps I dislodged a large orange-colored salamander seven or eight inches long. They are sometimes found on these mountains, as well as a very large kind of lizard, called the “eidechse,” which the Germans say is perfectly harmless, and if one whistles or plays a pipe will come and play around him.

The view from the top reminded me of that from Catskill Mountain House, but is on a smaller scale. The mountains stretch off sideways, confining the view to but half the horizon, and in the middle of the picture the Hudson is well represented by the lengthened windings of the “abounding Rhine ” Nestled at the base below us was the little village of Handschuhheim, one of the oldest in this part of Germany. The castle of its former lords has nearly all fallen down, but the massive solidity of the walls which yet stand proves its antiquity. A few years ago a part of the outer walls which was remarked to have a hollow sound was taken down, when there fell from a deep niche built therein, a skeleton clad in a suit of the old German armor.

We followed a road through the woods to the peak on which stands the ruins of St. Michael’s chapel, which was built in the tenth century and inhabited for a long time by a company of white monks. There is now but a single tower remaining, and all around is grown over with tall bushes and weeds. It had a wild and romantic look, and I sat on a rock and sketched at it till it grew dark, when we got down the mountain the best way we could. .

We have just returned from a second visit to Frankfort, where the great annual fair filled the streets with noise and bustle. On our way back we stopt at the village of Zwingenberg, which lies at the foot of the Melibochus, for the purpose of visiting some of the scenery of the Odenwald. Passing the night at the inn there, we slept with one bed under and two above, and started early in the morning to climb up the side of the Melibochus. After a long walk through the forests, which were beginning to change their summer foliage for a brighter garment, we reached the summit and ascended the stone tower which stands upon it. This view gives one a better idea of the Odenwald than that from the Kaiserstuhl at Heidelberg.

This is a great collection of rocks, in a wild pine wood, heaped together like pebbles on the seashore and worn and rounded as if y the action of water; so much do they resemble waves that one standing at the bottom and looking up can not resist the idea that they will flow down upon him. It must have been a mighty tide whose receding waves left these masses piled up together. The same formation continues at intervals to the foot of the mountains. It reminded me of a glacier of rocks instead of ice.

A little higher up lies a massive block of granite called the Giant’s Column. It is thirty-two feet long and three to four feet in diameter, and still bears the mark of the chisel. When or by whom it was made remains a mystery. Some have supposed it was intended to be erected-for the worship of the sun by the wild Teutonic tribes who inhabited this forest; it is more probably the work of the Romans. A project was once started to erect a monument on the battlefield of Leipsic, but it was found too difficult to carry into execution.

After dining at the little village of Reichelsdorf, in the valley below—where the merry land-lord charged my friend two kreutzers less than my-self because he was not so tall we visited the castle of Schonberg, and joined the Bergstrasse again. We walked the rest of the way here. Long before we arrived the moon shone down on us over the mountains; and when we turned around the foot of the Heiligenberg, the mist descending in the valley of the Neckar rested like a light cloud on the church-spires.