The Chocolate Museum, Cologne

The Chocolate Museum, Cologne

Cologne, or Köln in German, is famous for its cathedral, its beer, and its intense Karneval parties. High on our list for our visit also included the Chocolate Museum. I truly didn’t expect to enjoy this museum as much as I did – but it is well laid out, interesting, and fun for adults and kids.

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The Chocolate Museum is on its own little island in Cologne.

The Chocolate Museum is on its own little island in Cologne.

Chocolate Museum history

You can thank Dr Hans Imhoff for this monument to chocolate. Born in Cologne in the 1920s, Imhoff began his chocolate and sweets company after the Second World War, and bought larger and larger German chocolate companies including Stollwerck and Hildebrand. In 1993, he opened the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Lindt has partnered with the museum since 2006. Imhoff’s daughter and her husband continue hold the reins of the museum today.

The museum is full of vintage chocolate tins, containers, labels and more.

The museum is full of vintage chocolate tins, containers, labels and more.

What to expect

There are a few sections to the museum: a look at the cocoa plant itself including a small greenhouse, overview of cocoa production and shipping, the process of making chocolate including a full assembly line, the Lindt Atelier where you can make your own chocolate bars, the history of chocolate consumption, and chocolate marketing through the ages. There’s also a nice restaurant on the ground floor where you can indulge in various chocolate desserts and drinks, and I think my favourite museum gift shop of all time.

The excellent snack and confectionary blogger Lindsay over at Eat, Explore, Etc suggested to head straight for the Lindt Atelier to make our chocolate bars first, as they require 45 minutes to cure. This tip was bang on, as we then took in the rest of the museum, picking up our custom bars on the way out. It’s a little way past the initial part of the museum, but use the map they hand you on the way in to make your way straight there.

Entering the chocolatey world of Lindt

Entering the chocolatey world of Lindt

Making the hard decisions about what to put in his chocolate bar.

Making the hard decisions about what to put in his chocolate bar.

Watching his chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum.

Watching his chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum.

Making your own chocolate bar

I’m going to be honest, this is one of the best parts of the museum. In the Lindt Atelier, you can pick up a form and choose what chocolate you would like, and what else you’d like to add. You queue up to hand over your forms, and pay about 4€ for each custom bar. After, you can watch the chocolatiers make your bar behind glass. You have to wait 45 minutes to pick up your chocolate, so now is the time to see the rest of the museum.

Cocoa plant in the wild! Okay the greenhouse.

Cocoa plant in the wild! Okay the greenhouse.

Have you seen a cocoa plant before?

I certainly hadn’t, not in real life. There is a whole museum section dedicated to the growing of cocoa, the different types, and what it looks like, but the most interesting bit for me was the little greenhouse with live cocoa plants growing there. It’s worth noting that all the information texts are written in German and English, and there are plenty of kid-friendly touching and flap-opening options.

Full chocolate factory action!

Full chocolate factory action!

Factory behind glass

As you approach the Lindt Atelier, you will find a chocolate factory behind glass panels, allowing you to see every step of the process from processing the cocoa to tempering chocolate to pouring it into molds to packaging, all by machine. It’s mesmerizing. I have always loved those ‘How Things Are Made’ shows, so seeing it live was super cool. Kids of all ages love watching the machines too. It doesn’t hurt that there is a giant, and I mean giant, chocolate fountain right there, with a friendly staff member handing out wafers dipped in warm fresh chocolate.

Obviously chocolates are delivered by stork.

Obviously chocolates are delivered by stork.

The Chocolate Museum's vintage packaging section is a dream for typeface lovers.

The Chocolate Museum’s vintage packaging section is a dream for typeface lovers.

Love this chocolate delivery bike!

Love this chocolate delivery bike!

Elephants, windmills – literally anything you can think of has been made into a chocolate box or vending machine.

Elephants, windmills – anything you can think of has been made into a chocolate box or vending machine.

The biggest Lindt ball you've ever seen?

The biggest Lindt ball you’ve ever seen?

Labels, machines, Kinder Surprise!

Upstairs there are rooms upon rooms of old chocolate advertising posters, labels, and packaging, as well as full-size vending machines used to dispense chocolate from all over Europe. There was a great interactive game that my son played with some other random children we met for half an hour up there as well. The display of every Kinder Surprise toy in a big pile was impressive to say the least. I loved the displays of old candy shops with all their drawers and jars. Less interesting for us was the history of chocolate from Central America to the present day. There is a lot to read, and my son wasn’t up for that part.

A drinking chocolate set built specifically for traveling in one's coach. Or a picnic. As you do.

A drinking chocolate set built specifically for traveling in one’s coach. Or a picnic. As you do.

I so want one of these cabinets in my house.

I so want one of these cabinets in my house.

The gift shop, oh the gift shop!

I have never enjoyed a gift shop as much as I did at the Chocolate Museum. It wasn’t just kitchsy chocolates in the shape of Cologne Cathedral (though there were some of those too), but really imaginative bars by smaller chocolate manufacturers as well as chocolate liqueurs, hot chocolate mixes of many types, cocoa nibs, raw chocolate bars, and little tins of chocolate of every description. The prices are quite reasonable for the quality. For the kids there are loads of chocolate cars, castles, keys, soccer balls, people, emoji tins and more. We are still eating our way through our haul a month and a half later! *cough* We may have gone a little crazy in there.

What to do after

After you are all sweet thinged out, a meal of savoury things is in order. There’s not much else down there, so the family-friendly Vapiano right there is your best bet. They have a kids menu which is very affordable but also quite small portions, so if you have a big eater, just get an adult portion. It’s one of these places where you order at the menu station along the wall, and then receive a buzzer that vibrates when your food is ready. It’s really best to get all children situated and then figure out the food.

The Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne

The Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne

The Sports and Olympics Museum is right there next to the Chocolate Museum. We didn’t visit as we were all a bit museumed out at that point, but it looks like it would be good fun with kids. You can borrow sport equipment and go play a game on the rooftop field, as well as check out sports memorabilia throughout the exhibitions. If I’m honest, we’re not really sports people, so it wasn’t our thing.

The cute Chocolate Express minitrain in Cologne that takes you from the Cologne Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum.

The cute Chocolate Express minitrain in Cologne that takes you from the Cologne Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum.

How to get to the Chocolate Museum

The easiest, and most entertaining, way to get down to the Chocolate Museum is to take the Chocolate Express mini train. It leaves from right outside the Cologne Cathedral, and you get a little tour of the city as you head down to the Museum. The tour voiceover is in English and German. You can buy a round-trip ticket, which takes you back up to the Cathedral after you’re finished down on the riverside, though check the last train times if you plan to be down there towards the end of the day. The return journey takes a different route, so it’s well worth it.

Getting to Cologne

Cologne is a short trip from Frankfurt, about an hour and a half on the ICE (intercity express) train – I have a direct booking link for you here:
Frankfurt-Köln

Looking for some other kid-friendly day trips from Frankfurt? I have you covered.

From Hamburg, Berlin and Munich, it’s a four-hour journey by train and you’d best spend a weekend exploring Cologne and Düsseldorf. You can book a train right here:




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Kloster Großcomburg

Kloster Großcomburg

This monastery complex dominates a round hill in this region, overlooking farms and the town of Schwäbisch Hall, which is worth a visit as well. Like most monasteries and castles, it includes buildings and structures from different points in history. Today, many of the buildings are used for teacher training. You can wander the grounds for free, and visit the inside of the cathedral for a small fee, as part of a guided tour only. It’s worth noting that ‘Kloster’ means monastery in German, so you will see many signs for ‘Kloster Großcomburg’. Together with Schwäbisch Hall, this makes for a great adventure from Munich or Frankfurt, that will be much less busy than some of the more famous castles and medieval towns in the area.

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The grounds are gorgeous, even in the snow.

The grounds are gorgeous, even in the snow.

My son running into the monastery gates

My son running into the monastery gates

The buildings run the gamut from Romanesque to Baroque.

The buildings run the gamut from Romanesque to Baroque.

History of the Comburg monastery

This area of Germany was ruled by the Counts of Comburg/Rothenburg (yes, of Rothenburg ob der Tauber fame), and this monastery was originally founded on the ruins of one of their castles in 11th century. It began as a Benedictine monastery, and only admitted monks of noble birth. The monks really stuck to this rule, through a period of Benedictine reform and everything.

Watch for this archway leading to the central church.

Watch for this archway leading to the central church.

These manicured gardens are lovely under snow too.

These manicured gardens are lovely under snow too.

Beautiful courtyards are around every corner.

Beautiful courtyards are around every corner.

The monastery community went through a few ups and downs. During the Thirty Years War, the Abbey remained undamaged, but passed into the hands of the King of Sweden and then again into a local Duke’s possession.

By the time the second half of the 19th century rolled around, the buildings served as a convalescent home for soldiers no longer able to fight. During the Second World War, it was a headquarters for Hitler Youth and a prisoner of war camp. Now, it is a teacher training college.

Doesn't it look a bit like a castle from a distance?

Doesn’t it look a bit like a castle from a distance?

My favourite use of the monastery, however, was as a secondary palace by Paul von Württemberg at the beginning of the 19th century. He was in the middle of an argument with his father about supporting the French during the Napoleonic Wars, and withdrew to Comburg in a bit of a snit. He and his wife lived there for a few years, in the end making up with his father and then spending most of the rest of his life living in Paris.

The impressive 17th-century outer wall. You can walk all the way around the monastery.

The impressive 17th-century outer wall. You can walk all the way around the monastery.

The outer ring wall

One of the first things you encounter on visiting the monastery is the impressive ring wall. It was built in the 1600s. Erasmus Neustetter held various high-ranking positions in the area and monastery, and had this wall built. He had a tempestuous relationship with other church figures, and it seems he spent his later years holed up in Comburg, avoiding conflict. It’s a beautiful spot to hide away, I have to say. Visiting now, you can walk all around the complex along the ring wall, with arrow slits providing little views over the countryside. There is only one way to access the wall however, so once you’re up there, you have to do the full circle or turn back.

One of my favourite photos from this visit, my son exploring the outer wall.

One of my favourite photos from this visit, my son exploring the outer wall.

The central church

This is still a functioning Catholic church, and you can attend services on Sundays. If you’d like to see the interior, be sure to check the monastery’s site for times – it can only be viewed on a guided tour. If you miss this, as we did, it’s still a lovely place to see from the outside. We spent about an hour and a half here just wandering around, which has the added benefit of also being free. Inside the church is one of the largest surviving Romanesque chandeliers, a 12th-century gold altar piece, and extensive Baroque organ and interiors to see.

The entrance to the monastery

The entrance to the monastery

Love all this little passages around the monastery complex.

Love all this little passages around the monastery complex.

The view from the arrow slits in the outer wall.

The view from the arrow slits in the outer wall.

Visiting the Kloster Großcomburg

There is a bus route that will take you from Schwäbisch Hall up to the monastery, or if you choose to drive, there is free parking. There is a very small cafe at the monastery, mostly catering to the students from the training college, so if you visit on a weekend or when the college is closed, you will want to bring your own snacks. If you’re toting a stroller, it’s not too bad in most places, but there are stairs up to the ring wall, and that would be a challenging walk with a buggy. The monastery is definitely worth visiting in conjunction with a trip to Schwäbisch Hall, which I’ve described in more detail here, but it wouldn’t be much more than an afternoon’s entertainment on its own. Like Schwäbisch Hall, you can reach the monastery in about two and a half hours from Frankfurt or Munich. By train, it’s about three hours from either Munich or Frankfurt, involving a change or two of trains as Schwäbisch Hall is on a smaller branch line, and then a bus up to the monastery.

You can book your train right here, in English:



Even the outbuildings are beautiful.

Even the outbuildings are beautiful.

PS – If you’re thinking about visiting some castles in Germany, I have you covered!

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Visiting Schwäbisch Hall

Visiting Schwäbisch Hall

I regularly peruse German instagram tags looking for new places to visit, and I had noticed one place kept popping up: Schwäbisch Hall. I remembered passing the exit on the Autobahn quite a few times, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it was a cute Fachwerk (half-timbred) town, but not much else. One Sunday, we went to investigate, and am I ever glad we did.

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Who can resist these cute Fachwerk houses along the river?

Who can resist these cute Fachwerk houses along the river?

Schwäbisch Hall history

I had assumed that the town was named for a building, but in fact the ‘Hall’ refers to the West Germanic word for ‘drying something by heating it’ and by extension the saltworks that was the town’s min industry for hundreds of years. Possibly. To be fair, no one is exactly sure, and the town itself was just called ‘Hall’ for much of its history. The ‘Schwäbisch’ bit refers to Swabia, a linguistic and cultural region of Germany that includes much of this south west corner of the country – but isn’t actually a state or officially delineated on maps. It has its own German dialect and a very specific (and incredibly good, I should add) group of foods and dishes.

A cold snowy day in Schwäbisch Hall

A cold snowy day in Schwäbisch Hall

The town itself has been the site of salt production since the 5th century when the Celts started boiling off the water from the local saltwater spring, and the last saltworks shut down only in 1925. Before the advent of refrigeration, salt was an absolutely critical substance, allowing people to preserve and dry foods to last over the winter – think sauerkraut, sausages, bacon, pickles. Salt was also used to clean kitchen equipment and surfaces, preventing the spread of bacteria. You can see why a town like Hall would become very prosperous as the centre of salt production.

Colourful houses face the Marktplatz

Colourful houses face the Marktplatz

What to do in Schwäbisch Hall

This gorgeous town survived the Thirty Years War and the Second World War mostly intact when it comes to Fachwerk buildings. Just wandering through the old town is a good few hours activity. The town is set into a little valley around the river Kocher. The Marktplatz is up the hill a bit, and features these three colourful houses you can see in my photo above, as well as an impressive staircase leading up to the church of St Michael. These steps have quite a history of their own, as this is the site of a great outdoor theatre festival that has been running since the 1920s. In the summer you can catch the weekly farmers market here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until midday, and during Advent the Christmas market is here as well. The South German Cheese Market takes place here at the beginning of May as well.

Checking out the ducks, who knew full well where the food comes from at this time of year!

Checking out the ducks, who knew full well where the food comes from at this time of year!

Wander down the winding streets towards the river, and you will find a couple of covered bridges, a park, playground, and the rebuilt Globe Theatre. Down along the river you will also find the Hallisch-Frankisches Museum. For free entry you can learn about the history of salt production, the open-air theatre, and marvel at the piles of historic artefacts from medieval torture chairs to remnants of Celtic stonework.

On the other side of the river and up the hill is the big art gallery, the Kunsthalle Würth, with a rotating exhibition schedule (check their website). This is no small town gallery – when we were there, they had works by Botticelli, Rembrandt and Rubens. There’s the Firefighting Museum (Haller Feuerwehr Museum), which we missed out on with our visit unfortunately! If you’ve got a small person into fire engines, this place will be a huge hit.

We also took a couple of hours in the Großcomburg Monastery on a hill above the town, and it’s so worth the short bus ride.

The covered bridges are particularly cute.

The covered bridges are particularly cute.

The 'new' City Hall, which replaces an old half-timbred one destroyed by fire sometime in the 17th century.

The ‘new’ City Hall, which replaces an old half-timbred one destroyed by fire sometime in the 17th century.

You can see the hills rising up beyond the town here.

You can see the hills rising up beyond the town here.

The famous St Michael's church with it's front steps used for open-air theatre productions.

The famous St Michael’s church with it’s front steps used for open-air theatre productions.

 

What to eat in Schwäbisch Hall

We didn’t have a chance to have a proper meal in town but living so close to Swabia, I can definitely share with you some excellent Swabian dishes you absolutely should try.

Maultaschen are a bit like big ravioli, but much denser. Traditionally filled with meat and cheese, these pasta pockets are called ‘God-cheaters’ in Swabian, referring to the story that the monks would eat them during Lent, hiding the meat from God by covering it in pasta dough. Now you can find Maultaschen of all varieties, from vegan to chicken. The classic way to have it is in broth with chives, but you may also see it served pan-fried. If you go into a grocery store in this region, you will find entire chiller cabinets filled with Maultaschen. They are definitely a favourite in our house.

A bowl of steaming Maultaschen I made at home.

A bowl of steaming Maultaschen I made at home.

Käsespätzle is a glorious glorious thing. Spätzle are little egg noodles made fresh by rubbing the dough over a pot of boiling water. Käsespätzle involves taking those freshly cooked little noodles and layering them with mild cheeses and butter, then topping the whole melting mass with crispy fried onions. You can get this as a dish to itself, or as a side with something else.

Potato salad is a German specialty, of course, but the Swabian version is famous. Instead of a mayonnaise dressing, the Swabian potato salad involves vinegar and onions, it’s quite sharp tasting and a good foil to the richer dishes.

How to get to Schwäbisch Hall

By car, you can reach Schwäbisch Hall in about two and a half hours from Frankfurt or Munich. By train, it’s about three hours from either Munich or Frankfurt, involving a change or two of trains as Schwäbisch Hall is on a smaller branch line.

You can book your train right here, in English:



Hotels in Schwäbisch Hall

We didn’t stay overnight, but for a small town, Hall has a fair amount of cute little places to stay. It’s worth keeping mind that the Goethe Institut runs a popular German language programme here, so book your accommodation as early as you can.



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Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Living in Heidelberg, the castle is a constant presence. Every morning on the way to school, my son and I see it up on the hillside as we cross over the River Neckar. My son goes with his school to see plays there in the summer, and we even had his birthday party up at the Heidelberg castle – which was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever pulled off as a parent.

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My son's birthday party playing knight's tag up in one of the ruined castle buildings (with a guide).

My son’s birthday party playing knight’s tag up in one of the ruined castle towers (with a guide).

So let me share with you the best ways to experience this amazing spot, from someone who has been there many, many times.

Photo taken the time I decided to climb the stairs to the castle the same day I went to the gym. Never do this.

Photo taken the time I decided to climb the stairs to the castle the same day I went to the gym. Never do this.

Planning your trip to the Heidelberg Castle

There are many bus tours that offer a trip to the castle as part of a day trip. If at all possible, spend a night in Heidelberg and experience a bit more. Reading posts about the castle, everyone wishes they had more time to explore the city as well. I’ve collected our favourite things to do in Heidelberg with kids, so start there! Unlike many other German castles, Heidelberg Castle is right in the town, so it’s easy to visit without a car. There is the famous stairway, but it is quite an uphill trek, and you will be doing lots of walking when you’re up there. I’d recommend getting the funicular railway from the old town – you can get a ticket which includes your entrance to the castle, and find out when the next guided tour leaves.

There’s a hiking route that begins at Heidelberg Castle, Joe at Without a Path has all the details on how to follow this beautiful route.
A tumbling down romantic ruin indeed.

A tumbling down romantic ruin indeed.

Heidelberg Castle history

Like many castles, this one has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt many times. There aren’t many records pertaining to the first castle structure higher up on the Königstuhl, but the current castle complex’s history seems to start around 1200. Ruprecht made the first enlargement that you can still see evidence of today, and in fact he and his wife Elizabeth of Hohenzollern (her family has some amazing castles too) are buried in the Church of the Holy Ghost in the market square. Frederick V, who took the position of Elector Palatine in 1610, has a special place in the hearts of Heidelbergers. He married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England and Scotland, and by all accounts he was quite besotted with her. Look for the Elizabeth Tor (gate) in the gardens, which was carved and created in pieces and then assembled in the garden overnight to surprise Elizabeth on her birthday. The extensive formal gardens that were started, but never finished, were also the work of Frederick, ostensibly to entertain Elizabeth. Unfortunately, he accepted the crown of Bohemia right at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, and could not hold it for more than a season. Frederick and Elizabeth lived the rest of their lives in exile, earning them the titles the Winter King and Winter Queen.

The Elizabeth Gate at Heidelberg Castle is just the thing to post on Valentine’s Day. The Prince Elector Palatine Frederick V had stonemasons build this garden arch in pieces, and then assemble it overnight as a birthday surprise for his wife, Elizabeth Stuart (yes, daughter of James I of England and Scotland) around 1613. I thought that was possibly the most romantic thing ever, don’t you think? // Das Elisabethtor am Heidelberger Schloß ist die perfekte Post am Valentingstag. Die Kürfurst Freidrich V. ließ diesen Gartenbogen in Stücken bauen und über Nacht als Geburtstagsüberraschung für seine Frau Elizabeth Stuart (ja, Tochter von James I. von England und Schottland) um 1613 zusammenbauen. Ich dachte, das wäre die das romantischste überhaupt, denkst du nicht? . . . . #gofurther #dreamoflivingabroad #showthemtheworld #familytravels #familytravelblogger #letsgosomewhere #letsgoeverywhere #wanderwithme #familytravelblog #tinytravels #exploringfamilies #takeyourkidseverywhere #almostfearless #fearlessfamtrav #familyadventures #familytraveltribe #havekidswilltravel #familygo #familytraveler #familyjaunts #castleheideblerg #mytinyatlas #living_destinations #myeverydaymagic #pathport #abmtravelbug #visitbawu #visitbawü #historynerd #valentines

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Perkeo is another personality associated with the castle. Clemens Pankert was a buttonmaker in South Tyrol, where he met Prince Charles III Philip. When Prince Charles became Elector Palatine in the first half of the 18th century, he brought Pankert up to Heidelberg with him. It was here that he was nicknamed Perkeo, because his response to being asked if he’d like another glass of wine was always ‘perché no?’ (why not)? Perkeo was a dwarf, and was essentially an entertainer at court in Heidelberg, though apparently he knew a lot about wine besides how to drink vast quantities of it. The legend goes that he drank nothing but wine through his entire life, but when he was sick and he drank water, at the behest of a doctor, he died the next day. To be fair, most people didn’t drink water at that point, it was quite sensible! You will notice pubs and restaurants named after Perkeo around town.

I was surprised to learn on my first visit that none of the damage was the result of the Second World War. All those tumbling down walls and half-collapsed towers are the work of the invading French army in the 17th century, lightning strikes, and the local populace making off with stones.

After the Elector Palatinate gave up on the constant rebuilding of the castle in the late 18th century and moved the court to Mannheim, the castle buildings fell into disuse. Heidelberg residents started to take the stones, metal, and wood to rebuild their own houses. But the pile of disintegrating red Neckar Valley stone was stirring the hearts of Romantic poets and painters, who started to arrive in droves, just to experience the atmosphere. Goethe, of course, and William Turner, are some of the most famous visitors, though Turner’s paintings of the castle involve quite a bit of creative license when it comes to the surrounding landscape. We can thank, ironically, a Frenchman for saving the castle ruin when the government of Baden wanted to knock it down. Charles de Graimberg volunteered as a castle guard in the first half of the 19th century, and his many sketches of the romantic ruins brought tourists to Heidelberg. His residence was near the entrance to the funicular down in the Altstadt, off the Kornmarkt, I point it out in my audio tour. 

There’s a wonderful animation of how the castle has looked at various points in its history made recently, it’s worth a watch.

Heidelberg Castle tour

There are audio guides available, and they will share with you much of the history I’ve detailed above, and more, including the story about the world’s largest wine barrel in the basement of the castle. However, it really is worth doing the guided tour. Like most German castles, you can’t see the inside of the structure without a guided tour. It takes about an hour, and you tromp all over the place, so bringing kids along isn’t as much of a chore as you’d think. The guides are lovely, quite keen local historians, and they have lots of stories to tell that you won’t find in the guidebooks or on Wikipedia. If you think you only have time for either the audio tour or the guided tour, I would do the guided tour. Ask at the ticket desk when the next English language tour leaves. Do remember to wear warm clothes (if it’s autumn or winter) and sturdy shoes, as you will be climbing many imperfect steps, and the castle buildings are unheated.




Can you imagine dusting all those jars?

Can you imagine dusting all those jars?

German pharmacy museum

Tucked into the basements of one of the Schloss buildings is the German Pharmacy Museum. If you’re with older children, and you don’t read German, you will get more out of this corner of the castle with the audio guide. However, it’s also quite a fascinating place to wander through even without a guide, so if your travel companions are running out of steam, it’s still worth a quick visit. Inside, you’ll find several apothecary shops set up nearly in their entirety, as the museum has been bequeathed a number of shop interiors. It’s fascinating, seeing all the many drawers and jars and bottles that would have been the stock and trade of a pharmacist not all that long ago. There’s a Kinder Apotheke (children’s pharmacy) where younger kids can pretend to examine someone and give a prescription. It’s worth noting that it’s very cool down here on hot summer days, and heated in winter. Entrance to the museum is included in your castle entry ticket.

Half the joy of the Pharmacy Museum for me is wandering around in these vaults.

Half the joy of the Pharmacy Museum for me is wandering around in these vaults.

Restaurants at Heidelberg Castle and nearby

While there is a fancy Weinstube (wine tavern), little cafe in the basement, Backstube (bakery restaurant) in the castle courtyard, and a cafe with Bratwurst in the garden, I would suggest eating your main meal down in the town first. The cafe is adequate for a coffee and cake, or an ice cream, but the staff is disorganized and harried. I highly recommend Mahmoud’s for a great falafel or döner, tucked down a side street with a view of the beautiful red sandstone catholic church. If you’d rather do easy Italian, Vapiano (opening summer 2018) across from the big church in the main square has a solid and affordable kids menu. Hans im Glück, also in the main square, is a local burger chain that has a really neat interior full of birch trees. They don’t have a specific kids menu, but it’s easy to find something most children will eat. If you’re looking for dinner, Hans im Glück fills up fast, but you can make a same-day reservation online here. Most of the other restaurants in the square are tourist traps, best avoided. If the weather is good, your best bet will be to pick up sandwiches at a bakery, or a few big soft brezeln, and picnic in the gardens. We had a picnic after my son’s birthday party, and the staff told me it’s perfectly fine – so don’t panic if you don’t see anyone else doing it! The closest bakery to the foot of the funicular is the Mantei Bakerei, but there are many further along the Hauptstraße (the main pedestrianized street with all the shops).

Opening hours and getting to Heidelberg Castle

  • Entrance to the castle courtyard and Pharmacy Museum (doesn’t include the castle interiors, you need to go on a guided tour to see that) costs 7€ for adults and 4€ children, and this ticket includes the funicular railway up and down from the castle to the Old Town
  • The castle courtyard and the Great Barrel is open daily from 8am – 6pm, with last entrance at 5:30pm, with special times on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Day
  • The Pharmacy Museum is open daily from 10am – 6pm (1 April – 31 October), and 10am – 5:30pm (1 November – 31 March), with special times on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Day
  • Guided tours are about 1 hour in duration, and in the summer (1 April – 31 October) English language castle tours run every hour from 11:15am – 4:15pm on Mondays – Fridays, and 10:15am – 4:15pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. In the winter (1 November – 31 March) English language castle tours run every hour from 11:15am – 4:15pm on Mondays – Fridays, and at 11:15am, 12:15am, 2:15pm, and 4:15pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
  • Guided tours cost an additional 5€ for adults, and 2.50€ for children, though there is a family rate of 12.50€

The great thing about the Heidelberg Castle is it’s right above the old town, so there’s no need for a tour bus out to a remote site. Heidelberg is very easy to get to from Frankfurt (Frankfurt-Heidelberg), it’s about an hour by train. From Munich (Munich-Heidelberg), it’s about three hours, so you would want to stay overnight here. That’s not a bad idea, as the comment I see most is ‘I wish I had longer to explore the city!’ when I’m reading comments from visitors. From the Heidelberg train station, you hop on one of the many trams just outside the station. There is a tourist information booth right outside the station as well, and the people there can help you get your bearings. Once you get into the old town, you will want to take the funicular up to the castle itself, the station is just around the corner from the Kornmarkt square.

You can drive to the castle, but there is very limited parking nearby. You can walk up to the castle, but I think it’s worth saving your energy for exploring the castle and grounds and taking the funicular instead.

Book a train right here, in English:




 

Love castles? Me too! Here’s my list of the best castles to visit in Germany that aren’t the super popular Neuschwanstein.

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What it’s like, living in Germany, a year and half on

What it’s like, living in Germany, a year and half on

Sixteen months we’ve lived here, nearly a year and a half. We’ve acclimatised in some ways, and are still figuring it out in others. I meant to write an update on our one-year anniversary, but it didn’t feel right yet.

I’ll answer some of the questions I get a lot… and you can add any others in the comments below.

The gorgeous Burg Hohenzollern

The gorgeous Burg Hohenzollern

So, are you fluent now?

Ha, no. I can order food, sort out problems with a delivery person, ask questions in a shop, have a short conversation with my neighbours, and give directions. Conversations longer than ten minutes means I am struggling, and I still flounder around trying to respond. I understand much more than I can respond to right now, which is the normal progression of learning another language. Is it hard? No, not really. It takes constant practice and work, and a willingness to learn. There are many things about German that are similar to English. Obviously being in Germany makes it much easier, because I’m hearing and using it all the time.

Probably the biggest difference now, to say, a year ago, is my accent is better and people are willing to speak to me longer in German. I’m in no way coming across as a local, but I think I sound more competent.

My son, on the other hand, is much more fluent. Just the other week he ran up to some kids in a museum play area and spent 20 minutes playing in German. His German reading is great, possibly ahead of his English reading. He has some good friends who don’t speak much English at all, which is a real step forward as previously his friends were all English native speakers. Doing his homework with him has been like another German class for me, as he’s working on a lot of grammar things I haven’t learned yet in my classes. Tellingly, he only knows the names for nouns and verbs in German right now. My favourite things are the words he only says in German: ‘mittel’ for middle, ‘milch’ for milk. Even in the middle of English sentences.

The private language classes that were part of our relocation package from my husband’s company are ending soon, and I’ll be starting some online courses on my own.

Chicken hanging out with some eggs at the weekly market in Mainz.

Chicken hanging out with some eggs at the weekly market in Mainz.

And do you like the food now?

The one thing I mentioned at the six month mark that was not my favourite was the food here. The thing with living in a smaller town is the lack of dining out options. Heidelberg is lovely in so many ways, but the restaurant scene is not all that diverse. There are a few nice traditional German places with Flammkuchen, Schnitzel, and Käsespätzle, a couple decent places to get a burger, some fancier places for a celebratory meal – but outside that, well, it’s not great. That’s been good financially, as it means we’re not eating out constantly, but sometimes I want to have takeout that isn’t pizza.

Finding diverse ingredients is a bit of challenge too. Your average German grocery store in our town is great for cheese, sliced meats, and every kind of preserved vegetable in a jar. Kale? No. Broccolini? No. Fresh coriander? Sometimes. Salsa? One kind. I’m not trying to recreate the cuisine of the old country, but it was a struggle initially recalibrating my usual go-to recipes when any kind of Mexican ingredient requires special ordering online, and all the cuts of meat are not only called something different, but are not the same cuts at all. I do still find it challenging that you can’t buy a package of chicken thighs (quarters only!). Obviously moving from a coastal city to somewhere practically smack in the middle of mainland Europe is a bit of an adjustment too, as I was used to eating much more seafood and fish than I do now.

The cutest shop in Heidelberg – also where I get more unusual spices.

The cutest shop in Heidelberg – also where I get more unusual spices.

So I subscribed to a bunch of German recipe sites, bought food magazines, and learned to make some more local recipes. Pork is everything in this region, which is good because we all like it. We’re right in the middle of lots of farms here, so we can buy straight from them farmers through their shops or their excellent vending machines. Compared to Canada, the grocery prices here are incredibly low. I am buying locally, and in some cases bio (organic) as well, and it’s a third less than I would have paid in Vancouver.

My love for German cakes is never ending, of course. I have always loved a good cream-based cake, and that’s a popular format here. Your average German cake tastes about half as sweet as any North American equivalent, and it is so perfect. I feel like I’m tasting the cream and fruit instead just SUGAR.

Our amazing neighbourhood in Heidelberg

Our amazing neighbourhood in Heidelberg

Have you made friends?

Ah, this is a tough one. I have a few good friends, mostly other parents from my son’s bilingual school and a friend of a friend. But I am pretty lonely. I knew this was coming – when we moved to London it took a few years before we found our people. But knowing it conceptually and dealing with the reality is two different wurst entirely. I am grateful for the community of English-speaking German people on Twitter who are always around for a good chat. This is one of the reasons I am so keen to get my German up to speed, I really want to be able to meet people here and take classes and all that. As we’re here long term, the expat community are not really my speed. They are much more rooted in their home country and talk a lot about when they go back ‘home’, and don’t seem to settle down here much. It’s understandable, they are often only here for two or three years. But we’re just not on the same page at all.

Our neighbours have made a big difference too. We have been so incredibly lucky in our housing situation. Not only did we land in a spectacular neighbourhood just a short walk from the river and one of the best playgrounds in the city, but our flat is huge and super affordable. This did not guarantee good neighbours, and I have heard some horror stories – from both Germans and non-Germans. Both our upstairs and downstairs neighbours are lovely older folks who routinely invite us over for a glass of wine or tea, and they are the sweetest. I genuinely love chatting with them, even if it stretches my German skills to the limit.

I know I will get there and make friends eventually, I just have to hang in there and keep working on my language skills.

Looks like France, but nope - it's southern Germany.

Looks like France, but nope – it’s southern Germany.

Do you like Germany?

This is a hard one, because the longer I live here the more layers I find to this country. From the outside looking in, we tend to think things or foods or people are ‘German’, but in reality, this is a very fractured and very young nation. The regions have identities that are so strong, internally they can override national identity easily. Bavaria, for instance, was a kingdom unto itself for hundreds of years before there was a Germany, and they have their own Bavarian language, which is technically a German dialect but… yeah. This is not even taking into account the more recent split of West and East Germany, which also carries with it massive differences in culture and behaviour. So, do I like Germany? Yes, I really do, but I only know my little south-western corner of it, living in a mid-sized university town. I don’t live in the Bavarian heartland of Munich, nor am I up north in complicated and cool Berlin. It’s a massive country with so many fascinating distinct identities within it, I feel saying something like ‘I don’t care for German food’ is doing an incredible disservice to this place. We are starting to explore further and further afield here, and we’re enjoying it so much.

There are little things I love, like the way loads of people bring beautiful wicker baskets to do their shopping in – not just at the weekly markets but also in the grocery store, the corners of farmers’ fields dedicated to pick your own flowers, the prevalence of farm-side vending machines for everything from fruit and vegetables to jam and milk, and the fact that I see 75-year-olds cycling around with their newspaper clamped on their rear rack, a beret on their head, and a pipe in their mouth. Literally, there’s a guy in the neighbourhood who does this.

Tell me, what do you want to know about living here?

PS – I wrote about how we’ve changed since moving to Germany, and if you’re moving abroad, there are a few things you can do to hold on to your sanity

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