Also available: Segment on the Heidelberg Christmas Market
Heidelberg's mile-long Hauptstrasse (Main Street) is where most visitors to Heidelberg will spend the bulk of their time. It is normally crowded, even during the wintertime, with thousands upon thousands of people outside walking along the many storefronts, cafés, and restaurants. Yes, the city is a tourist haven, but it draws so many locals and university students that I don't think of it as a tourist trap -- though some parts of it are. The Hauptstrasse is also where Heidelberg shows its internationality -- with restaurants and shops of every cuisine and nationality imagineable.
I've wandered the Hauptstrasse hundreds of times, and I never tire of it. I've always found the presence of the throngs to be energizing. Normally, it is such a peaceful, happy crowd that I have always felt very welcome and at ease strolling about with them.
So that you may learn to appreciate the city as I have, I'll describe the Hauptstrasse region much as I first saw it when I arrived in Germany back in 1999. My first evening there, I took my old digital camera and catalogued the entire street and the Altstadt, or old city. I began the tour at the Adenauerplatz, marked by the fabulous fountain shown in the first picture. The Adenauerplatz is a small park sitting in the middle of a major traffic circle, and it concealed an underground passageway with a second fountain.
Following the passageway northward, I reached the Bismarckplatz, which was the city's downtown bus and streetcar hub. The Bismarckplatz itself was another small park with a bizarre fountain and a statue of Otto von Bismarck himself, but no one ever went into that park -- instead, everyone headed for the western entrance of the Hauptstraße.
The Hauptstraße's west side was mostly shopping -- with department stores, specialty shops, food markets, and a few restaurants. The second photo shows how the street looks -- a winding brick road lined with shops, topped with apartments. The shopping mall Darmstädter Hof and the major German department store chain Kaufhof stood out most prominently. The restaurants at that end were more of the 'chain' variety (such as the American fave Pizza Hut, the steakhouse Hemingway's, and the popular German seafood chain Nordsee).
While the majority of Heidelberg University was located on the northern side of town, parts of its occupied the Hauptstraße as well. The Bunsendenkmal marked the first square I encountered, located in front of an educational institute. Later, roughly midway up the Hauptstraße was the Universitätplatz -- a large open plaza dominated by the old university building that serves as a bus station, festival area, and street musician/artist zone. In the summer, it was filled with tables from the nearby outdoor café. Heidelberg's festivals, such as its annual Weihnachtsmarkt, occupied the platz during other times of the year.
The Universitätplatz marked the beginning of the Altstadt district, or 'old city', where most of Heidelberg's historic monuments and buildings are located. It was also where the majority of the specialty restaurants and clubs were, along with some of the finer hotels. The best known was the Hotel Ritter, shown in the third photograph. The Ritter was a very posh (and highly expensive) hotel, sophisticted (and highly expensive) restaurant, and a historical landmark. Apart from the castle, it was probably Heidelberg's most photographed building.
The Ritter sat at the west side of the city's main sqaure, which was divided into two "squares" -- the Fischmarkt (fish market) and the Marktplatz, or marketplace. The Fischmarkt no longer served as fish market, but instead handled many of Heidelberg's street souvenir shops, built into the city's Evangelical Church.the Heidelberg Rathaus and the city's Evangelical Church. The much-larger Marktplatz was dominated by the town hall, or Rathaus, shown in the fourth photo. Like the Universitätplatz, the Marktplatz was also an outdoor venue for numerous restaurants and cafés. It also served as the location of the traditional German Saturday markets that would run from about 10 to 2 each Saturday.
Beyond the Rathaus were two additional market squares, though neither serve as such anymore. The first was the Kornmarkt, which had a few interesting features: a beautiful gilded statue in the center, the outline of an old stone house marked in cobblestone, and the first view of the Heidelberg Castle! Beyond that is the Karlsplatz, which showed the first head-on view of the castle. The Karlsplatz hosted what I considered to be the ugliest fountain in the city. (Two years later, this would prompt my sister to have her picture taken next to it with the expression, "What the #@$#@$@# is this?")
After heading back to the Rathaus, I headed due north on Steingasse toward the Neckar River. Immediately in view was the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke, also known as the Karl Theodore Bruecke) with its two huge fat towers. The Old Bridge was cobblestone and offered both a grand view of the city and castle plus a great view of the river itself. Barely visible through the rightmost arch is the nearby dam, which keeps the Neckar from flooding (although the lines on the side of the bridge tell of times when the dam was not successful -- as recent as 1993).
Next to the entrance to the bridge was a brass monkey statue. The monkey (which looked like a baboon) held out a brass disk that passers-by were supposed to rub for good luck. Also, the head of the statue was hollow, and placing one's own head inside it was supposedly worth double good luck... as long as one kept a straight face while doing it, that is.
On my first tour, I followed the Neckar River back toward the Bismarckplatz, passing by several historical government buildings (many of which have been recently renovated). I made particular note of the Stadthalle and the Kongresshaus, which would later become home to a Brazilian restaurant. I then returned toward the Old Bridge and went back up a block to the Unterstrasse, an alley that paralleled the Hauptstrasse and contained some of the more offbeat stores and restaurants. It ended at the Heumarkt, which was not so much a marketplace than parking lot, with the second most hideous fountain in the city. (In the four years since, I would learn the western Germans had a thing for ugly fountains.)
During my first month-and-a-half living there, I had the chance to try out over 30 different restaurants, from budget to black-tie-expensive, from traditional German to international. It was tough to go wrong -- the food was always great and the service tremendous (and those that weren't had a tendency to disappear quickly). University students often got summer jobs in the bars and cafés and it was great to talk to them, as they came from all over the world and spoke both German and English equally well.
Simply put, I never got tired of the Hauptstrasse. So, imagine what a single day there would be like for you!
Also available: Segment on the Heidelberg Christmas Market
Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001, 2003 Tom Galvin