When we first moved to London, my husband and I devoured every book we could about our neighbourhood. We lived in Spitalfields in East London, which has a long and fascinating history. Unswervingly keen about our knowledge, every family member that came to visit us were treated to mandatory walking tours.
Each successive neighbourhood was awarded the same treatment of intensive research… and the habit stuck when we returned to Vancouver. So much so that I’m working on a mystery novel set in the West End in 1911, amid the fresh stumps and real estate fever that overtook that new west coast centre.
So when we moved to Heidelberg last year, the pattern was no different – though a bit more challenging as not as much pre-Second World War history is published in English.
Heidelberg’s recorded history stretches back even further than London’s, with the discovery of a man’s jawbone dated to between 60,000 and 200,000 years ago. It’s been a noted settlement from as far back as 5000 BCE, and the Romans also made it a stopping point and small town as well. When you stand on the banks of the river Neckar and look up at the entrance to the valley, you can see why people have always chosen to live here. The land approaching the area is all flat plains, then suddenly the river bends and winds into these densely wooded hills. It’s fertile, and protected.
By the 11th century, there are the first mentions of monasteries in the area, and the first castle structure halfway up the Königstuhl. Not long after, Heidelberg University was founded in 1386, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. It suffered badly in the Thirty Years War, being nearly razed to the ground by the French army in the 1690s.
The famous castle has been built, renovated, added to, and hit by lightning many times over its thousand year lifetime. Now it is a picturesque ruin that millions of people visit every day. As my son and I cycle to school every morning across one of Heidelberg’s bridges, I look up at the Schloss in all its red Neckar Valley sandstone glory and can’t help but smile at my good fortune to live below it. I’ve written a whole post about the history of this castle, if you’re looking for more.
And while I would love to take each and every one of you around my beloved home, that wouldn’t quite work out – I do need to go grocery shopping and clean the flat eventually. So how thrilled was I when VoiceMap approached me about writing and recording a GPS-enabled audio tour for Heidelberg. This was so much fun to work on, and I learned loads. Guys, I translated reams of local German history for this, and now I know some very interesting German verbs like ‘to inherit’ and ‘to bestow (position)’. I use them all the time at the bakery (kidding).
So please, download my 40-minute audio tour that takes you around the Altstadt in Heidelberg from VoiceMap, and listen while I tell you how many bridges were built before the stone Alte Brücke, what the sister-in-law of the Sun King had to say about growing up at the castle, how Mark Twain got into the student prison, and where my favourite photography spots are.