Heidelberg: Christmas in Germany’s oldest university town

Thanks to the wonderful resources of the German National Tourist Board, as well as the many local German tourist boards, I’ve always been able to include at least one gorgeous and arresting photograph in all my posts. Today’s is so inspiring, I’ll step out of the way briefly and let the picture deliver the message: “You want to know what’s special about Heidelberg? Look at this!”

Heidelberg Marketing GmbH

Now the Heidelberg I saw was not a wintry one; it was the last stop in Germany on my summer Rhine cruise—and I should point out now that the river you see pictured is the Neckar, not the Rhine (we took a bus from the ship). Clearly, with a city this spectacular, time of year is a detail.

I’m sure most visitors do just what our group did— a stroll around the old town followed by a funicular ride up to the castle. I was happy enough to go with the flow on that occasion, but I’m not really a guided-tour-kind-of traveler and I know I only skimmed the surface. I’d say a few hours is not really enough to savor Heidelberg fully and would recommend at least an overnight stay.

Heidelberg’s historic center includes a number of public squares and at Christmas several of them have markets, the main one being in Universitätsplatz (the University of Heidelberg is Germany’s oldest and most renowned). Others include the Christmas market in Kornmarkt, that many say offers the city’s best view of the castle and has a petting zoo; the one in Marktplatz with its giant Christmas pyramid; and yet another in the inner courtyard of the castle itself. “Christmas on Ice” at Karlsplatz is a relatively new addition. Other German cities install skating rinks for the holidays, but the setting for this one below the castle sounds particularly magical.

I’ve written elsewhere about the charming tradition in Southern German towns of choosing a Christkindl to preside over the Christmas market. Traditionally a young lady with long golden hair is elected, but a couple of years ago, Heidelberg’s Christkindl was a a 21-year-old music student whose family came from Burundi. Welcome to the new Germany!

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