A Tramp in Heidelberg

“Deutschland im Sommer sei der Gipfel an Schönheit…” — Germany, in the summer, is the perfection of the beautiful— this exclamation, found in the Bild Atlas issue on the Odenwald (where we live), happened to be written by a fellow countryman, Mark Twain, in 1878, as he sailed from Heilbronn to Heidelberg, some 50km south of here. “But nobody has understood,” the writer continued, “and realized, and enjoyed the utmost possibilities of this soft and peaceful beauty unless he has voyaged down the Neckar on a raft.”

Perhaps the pen of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, who had grown up along the banks of the Mississippi, found a touching reverberation of his childhood in one of Germany’s most charming waterways.

In any case, the notes and sketches Mark Twain made of his Teutonic stay were eventually condensed into a travelogue, A Tramp Abroad (or Bummel durch Europa in German), amusing to expatriates and locals alike. Its contents will undoubtedly find their way time and again into this blog, but I will simply content myself for now with his ode to Heidelberg. When many years ago on a summer day, I first set sight on this city, I sneezed my nose red from its pollen and I too fell under the spell, as Twain had, of its charm.

Heidelberg lies at the mouth of a narrow gorge—a gorge the shape of a shepherd's crook; if one looks up it he perceives that it is about straight, for a mile and a half, then makes a sharp curve to the right and disappears. This gorge—along whose bottom pours the swift Neckar—is confined between (or cloven through) a couple of long, steep ridges, a thousand feet high and densely wooded clear to their summits, with the exception of one section which has been shaved and put under cultivation. These ridges are chopped off at the mouth of the gorge and form two bold and conspicuous headlands, with Heidelberg nestling between them; from their bases spreads away the vast dim expanse of the Rhine valley, and into this expanse the Neckar goes wandering in shining curves and is presently lost to view.
From the north cage one looks up the Neckar gorge; from the west one he looks down it. This last affords the most extensive view, and it is one of the loveliest that can be imagined, too. Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, (….) with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers—the Lear of inanimate nature—deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful. It is a fine sight to see the evening sunlight suddenly strike the leafy declivity at the Castle's base and dash up it and drench it as with a luminous spray, while the adjacent groves are in deep shadow.

— Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880 (available in its entirety on Project Gutenberg)
Engraving from 1880 edition
Heidelberg Castle, 2011 photostill vivid green foliage, summer 2011

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