Heidelberg is a university town at the entrance of the Neckar river valley. If you drive in from Mannheim, you will suddenly see the little mountains rising up from the flat plains, and there is the town, nestled between them. It’s quite obvious why people have chosen this spot over thousands of years for their settlements.
The Heiligenberg translates literally to ‘Holy Mountain’ in English, and it has been home to humans since the 5th century BCE. The first big structures were constructed by the Celts around the first century BCE, and you can still see the remains of the double walls that surrounded their hill fort today. It’s always been important spiritually, functioning as a sacrificial site for the Celts, then as a Roman temple, a monastery, and the location for a massive annual Walpurgisnacht party these days. Most of the ruins you can see in our film are from the 12th century monastery. It’s a beautiful place, and it has a distinct feeling to it. I’m not going to go all woo-woo on you, but if six thousand years of humans thought it was important, I figure I’m not too far off the wall in saying it feels kinda neat.
Huge outdoor amphitheatre with an interesting past
There’s also the Thingstätte, a huge outdoor amphitheatre built in 1935 – by the Nazis. It’s creepy, for sure. It has a bit of an odd history, as the whole idea of folk plays was co-opted by the Nazis, but apparently Hitler wasn’t super keen on that whole arm of the propaganda machine. It was hard to convince people to sit outside in grim weather and watch educational plays, unsurprisingly, so by the time this one was finished, they were already being converted into plain old ‘festival sites’ where people came to celebrate the Spring equinox and things like that. By the time World War II arrived, its mountaintop site was more important for defence and a flak tower ended up there. However, after the war, the US troops used to hold jazz concerts there, and a smattering of other performances have attempted to use the site. Now, the biggest thing to happen there is the annual Walpurgisnacht party, which is unsanctioned by anyone, and involved thousands of people going up there in the dark, having bonfires all night and hanging out on April 30. The black circles you can see in our film are the marks left behind, as we filmed this a week after the celebration.
You can walk up to the Thingstätte and the Monastery, but make sure you have an offline map available as signal gets spotty up there. Buses run on Sundays, and there are a few tours that will head up there as well. There is a nice little restaurant with a biergarten right below the Thingstätte. Many people talk about these sites in the same breath as the Philosopher’s Walk, which is much lower on the mountain. They are not that close together, so know that if you plan to hit both of them in one day, it’s a fair hike. Hiking up from the Altstadt will take you about an hour. Personally, being from the west coast of Canada next to the Rockies, I think calling this a mountain is a bit of a stretch, but it is bigger than a hill. Take that how you will!
PS – have you read my post on what to do in Heidelberg?