Occasionally, I travel to Germany for work. My office is about an hour south of Frankfurt, but I always prefer to stay a bit north of the office in a city called Heidelberg. Heidelberg has a university and is a popular tourist destination, so it is a comfortable place for my non-German-speaking butt to use as a home base.
I spent last week in Germany, working from Monday through Wednesday, and taking a day off on Thursday, their May 1 (Labor Day) holiday to do a bit of hiking on the outskirts of town. Despite staying in Heidelberg more times than I can count, I hadn’t had a chance to hike to the top of the Heiligenberg (‘Holy Mountain’) on the north side of the Neckar river. It was a rainy holiday, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me so I threw on my Columbia Compounder shell and took off for the trails.
One of the reasons I like to stay in Heidelberg is the walkability of the city. I can get around outside of town and to/from the airport using trains, and when I’m in town I can walk everywhere. This hike started right from my hotel room at the NH, a hotel built in the facilities of an old brewery. I walked a few blocks to the start of the Altstadt (old town) and down the Hauptstrasse, a pedestrian only road lined with shops and cafes both new and old. Someone told me it was the longest pedestrian only street in Europe, but I haven’t verified that.
About a mile from my hotel, I turned left to head across the old bridge. On the other side, I found a quiet little cobblestone pathway that climbed steeply up the hillside.
After about half a mile, it spit me out on the famous Philosopher’s Way (Philosophenweg), a wide path that contours around the mountain. I turned left and followed the path to the first little hut, then turned up the mountain. In between spurts of rain, I would get a peek at the Altstadt across the Neckar River, the Old Bridge, and the Castle on the neighboring mountainside.
There are a ton of paths and roads wiggling up the mountain, so I just followed the most obvious path up. I did not have a map – it’s difficult to find any online. Every once in a while a sign would label the way, and it always pointed ‘up’ to get to Heiligenberg. I loved the foggy German forest.
After a couple of miles of climbing I emerged at a parking lot with a little inn. I was near the top and continued up, and a few steps later found myself at the base of the Thingstatte, a large Roman-style open air amphitheater built in the mid 1930s for Nazi propaganda events. It is now used for concerts and other cultural events, including the notorious Walpurgis Night. The place was trashed, having hosted the festivities a mere few hours prior to my visit. The remains of bonfires and heavy drinking littered the seats and stage.
I wasn’t interested in digging through the trash, so I followed the steps to the top of the theater and beyond to a small gate welcoming me to the grounds of the St Michael Monastery ruins. Although I’ve spent some time around fascinating Native American ruins of the same age, there is something amazing about being on a site that has gone through several iterations of use.
Around 500 BC, the Celts built a fortified wall on the summit. Later, the Romans came along and built a temple to Mercury. Around 1000 AD, the Christians came in and built St Michael’s Monastery, whose ruins persist through this day. It’s not often that I get to share a summit with such history.
By this time I was getting pretty soaked, so I retraced my steps back down the mountain. For a post-hike meal, I highly recommend crossing back over the old bridge and stopping by Vetter. If it’s in season, get the maibock. Also get the fried potatoes. Oh so yum. Gratuitous food picture:
After refueling, don’t forget there is a whole other mountain behind you! If you have time, wander up to the castle grounds and enjoy the view of town and across the river to the mountain you just hiked.