Heidelberg, Germany (December 23, 2019)

We woke up a short drive from Heidelberg, home to John Deere Europe. Our very entertaining French guide started our tour with a little laugh. After the last war men were looking for women with tractors. In small print: please send picture of tractor. On a more serious note he shared fun facts about Germany. For example, it is one of three countries (along with North Korea and Afghanistan) that has no speed limit on large sections of its autobahn. Germany is roughly the size of Montana and has 83 million citizens. With a birth rate of 1.6, it is in the process of figuring out how to integrate much needed ‘qualified immigrants.’ We came into town by the Marriott Hotel which has joined the urban honey movement by placing hives on its roof. He ended with another joke: How do you say 12:20 in German. Answer: 12:15. Grin.

Before we knew it we were offloading at the entrance of Heidelberg’s famous red sandstone castle. A  structure of some sort has been on the site since the early 1200s. It was added onto, burned, embellished, destroyed by war, damaged by lightning, expanded, hit by lightning again, damaged by war, more fire, and on and on. It slowly morphed into a gigantic fortress home with the plainest of architectural features at one glance and built-to-impress features at another. The imposing ruins perched 330 feet above the river dominate the hillside and offer stunning views of the river and city below.

In a cellar under the castle sits a gigantic 18th century wooden keg, the Heidelberg Tun, and its baby sister. At 23 feet high and 28 feet wide, it’s the world’s largest wine barrel with a capacity of 58,000 gallons! We got to see it and climbed the wooden stairs to stand on the platform atop of the Tun.

We had a couple hours free to roam the streets and squares of Heidelberg. Their Christmas market was being dismantled and required a crane to load dismantled pieces of the largest pavilions. We popped into a store dedicated to gummy candy: gummy pizza, gummy fries, gummy sushi, and of course bears in all flavors. We were on the lookout and managed to find Heidelberger Studentenkuss, the chocolate that has been made for the local university students since 1863 with its trademark silhouette of two people nose to nose. Its nickname Kissing Chocolate seems appropriate. A visit to the beautiful Church of the Jesuits brought the surprise of the day: a contemporary creche with a modern cityscape background, two paper mache popes, Mother Teresa, sheep herders, demonstrators, and biblical characters. None of us could find Baby Jesus or his manger. To confuse us even more, above the door on the way out was a lifesize, apple red, mechanical, female holy ghost with flaming hair and a little angel marionette in one hand.

Being back on board and cruising lazily down the river by early afternoon left us time to enjoyed a leisurely lunch, tour the wheelhouse, and attend a demonstration on how to prepare Rudesheim coffee. This local favorite is served in a special porcelain glass and is a mixture of coffee, brandy, sugar, whipped cream, and dark chocolate. Delicious was our verdict.

Late in the afternoon we started passing a few of the castles that have made this cruise route so popular. Some in ruins and some in wonderful shape. I Googled our location and then searched castles, so I’d know exactly where to look when the time came. Some of the castles still had intact toll stations.

We docked in Rüdesheim am Rhein for the night. A walk along the river led us to town. We enjoyed the exercise and fresh air before another delightful dinner onboard. An accomplished local glassblower demonstrated a few tricks of his trade before we all headed to bed after yet another satisfying day.

… Heidelberg …

Sunrise was at 8:19.

Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany which dates back to 1386.
Twelve professors have Nobel Prizes!

The Heidelberg jaw, a fossilized human jawbone probably 500,000 years old,
was found in the vicinity in 1907.

The city was almost completely spared allied bombings during World War II.

… Rudesheim …

Sunset was at 4:29.

Rudesheim boasts one of the most quirky museums in Europe: Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet. Self-playing instruments are on display ranging from fragile music boxes to a gigantic piano-orchestrion to a snuff box with a musical songbird to Bernhard Dufner’s band of 27 automatic dolls and mechanical violins.


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