This afternoon I took a five mile hike from my apartment, across the old bridge over the Neckar River to the Philosophers Way. It was a steep climb of several dozens stairs up to the Philosophers Way, but it was worth it. It gives you a great view of the old city of Heidelberg from across the river, and there are a great variety of flowers, trees, and other plants. I chose to start at the lower end and finished by going down the narrow, twisting, steep Schlangeweg (snake path). From the Philosophers Way I took the footpath up the Heiligenberg (Holy Mountain). It’s about 1400 feet above see level, maybe 1200 from river. I’m not a serious hiker by any means, and it was strenuous for me to go so steep and so steady. I had water, nutella on bread, and chocolate, so all was good. The trees were enormous and most of the time I was the only person I saw, which was a relief from the crush of tourists in the old city.
I finally reached the top, and guess what I saw? A bus stop. Yes, I could have taken a bus – or car if I had one. But there was also a biergarten, which I knew would be helpful later. My goal was to reach the old Celtic, Roman, and Christian holy site on the very top of the mountain. On the way I passed an amphitheater built by Dr. Goebels to promote the Nazi neo-pagan ideology – a start reminder that spiritual places can be turned to evil purposes. Higher up the mountain, though was the location of the old Celtic settlement and shrine. Some of the old wall remains from the original 6th century BC hill fort. When the Romans conquered that part of Germany they built a temple to Mercury on the site. Mercury was associated with the German god Wodan. Some of the old Roman work remains. And then around 1000 the Christians began building St. Michael’s monastery. Only the ruin remains, and some of the stones were used to build a tower for 19th century tourists to see Heidelberg. Even in ruins, the monastery is beautiful. It was so peaceful to sit there and remember the people who brought their prayers to God (or at least their god) for over 2,500 years. So I prayed as well.
From there I walked back down to the biergarten to have refreshing Radler. I order goulash since I was famished by the hike, but I meant the soup. Instead I got the special of the day which was a huge pile of stewed beef and egg noodles with a salad. I could barely eat it all. Stuffed and relaxed, I ventured down to the site of the St Stephen’s cloister at the other end of the mountain top. It is smaller than St Michaels, but is very close to the old Celtic wall and has some very ancient graves. There is a tower built to see Heidelberg, but since the trees were cut away, I just sat on the bench looking down on the castle. It didn’t look like a ruin from that vantage point. I could also see my apartment building more than 2 miles away.
The walk down was much faster, but very steep. I could have taken the easier path, but decided shorter and steeper was better. I found the famous Schlangeweg of Snaky Path which twists up the mountain from the river. It has high walls and lots of irregular steps and cobble stones. Even going down it was a bit rough, but it was beautiful. And so many generations of writers and thinkers have trod upon those stones through the years. It lead me straight to the Old Bridge and back into the old city. I have to admit that the most exhausting part of the hike may have been the final two flights of stairs to my room. I was tired in a very good way and renewed in body and soul. A bunch of water, a shower, and a sparkling wine did much to revive me. Since lunch was late and large, I think dinner will be ice cream tonight. I’m not sure that people who teach pilgrimage recommend ice cream at the end of a steep climb to an ancient holy site, but it sure works for me.