Saturday 18th June 2011 continued, Heidelberg, Germany
Today has been really cool for driving with lovely billowing clouds that make the skies of northern Europe so much more interesting than the glaring blue of the south we've seen so much of during the past months. Driving along the motorway has been really easy, speeding through tunnels, up to ten kilometres long, or being buffeted by side winds as we swept across wide valleys on long, smooth fly-overs towering high above pretty villages or wooded ravines.
Hubert recommended the small town of Bad Wimpfen as meriting a detour and indeed it did. Full of pretty cobbled streets of half-timbered buildings hung about with red roses, and with houses, towers and churches, some dating back to the 13th century, there was nothing out of place except for a couple of pensioners sitting near the church licking ice creams.
Eventually we continued towards Heidelberg where we are camped down on the banks of the winding Neckar river with ducks waddling between the camped vehicles. Until darkness fell a while ago, we could watch the barges plying the river. They seem really large for such a relatively small river.
Sunday 19th June 2011, Heidelberg, Germany
This morning was cold, windy and damp. We took the bus into Heidelberg from the little town of Neckargműnd where we are staying. It followed the Neckar River through its densely wooded valley for twenty minutes down into the centre by the old bridge.
Heidelberg is built from red sandstone which dominates the cliffs to either side of the river in this area. Above the town tower the red walls of the castle. Within the city the buildings are frequently built from ornately carved red sandstone. It takes getting used to. At first I kept imagining we were in Manchester and I was looking, not at the buildings of the University of Heidelberg, but at the John Ryland's library, part of Manchester University! They are roughly comparable in date and similar in design.
Heidelberg was devastated in 1622 during the 30 Years War and twice overrun by the French - in 1689 and 1693. So what is there today in mainly in the Baroque style and dates from the 18th century. Only a couple of buildings on the main square escaped the destruction of 1693, the 15th century Holy Ghost Church and the Haus zum Ritter (1592). The Town Hall, along one side of the main square was built in the baroque style in 1701-03.
Heidelberg University is the oldest in Germany dating from 1386. Today there is a lively student community and the library was very busy on a Sunday afternoon with all seats in the reading room occupied. There were a couple of exhibitions in the library Ian wished to visit. One covered great names from Heidelberg University linked to research and discovery. Here the only name I recognised was Bunsen (of burner fame) an eminent chemist whose death mask was in the exhibition.
The second exhibition displayed several books from the University's collection and displays of paper, parchment, writing materials and colour pigments used in the illumination of manuscripts. Ian was particularly delighted to see the famous Manesser manuscript of Middle High German poetry on display, open at the famous illumination of the minstrel Walter von der Vogelweide, depicting him sitting cross-legged on a stone reflecting on how one should live one's life, as he describes himself as doing in one of his poems. Until 1622 Heidelberg had one of Europe's largest collections of medieval manuscripts, including 130 codices from the famous Carolingian period library at the monastery of Lorch, which included unique texts of classical authors. In that year 3,700 manuscripts and 13,000 printed books ended up in the Vatican Library, handed over as booty after Heidelberg was sacked during the Thirty Years War. Most of them remain there to this day.
It is a smart town with several interesting museums including the museum of packaging, basically displaying products packaged in Heidelberg – biscuits, sweets, teas etc. The day passed very pleasantly. We walked out across the Neckar on the old bridge, built in the 1790s and adorned with statues. From the far side there were impressive views of the town, watched over by the castle on its wooded hill high above. We also climbed up to the castle which is partly closed as much restoration work is taking place.
Late afternoon we returned to Neckargműnd and, as the sun had decided to put in a short appearance, we explored the French market on the main square and the flea market down beside the river. Here we watched as passenger ships stopped to drop off passengers on their way up or down stream.
Monday 20th June 2011, Molsheim, France
We are moving westward faster than anticipated. It has been a day of discoveries and disappointments. The disappointments were that we left Heidelberg in the rain this morning intending to visit Baden-Baden and then carry on to Kehl on the banks of the Rhine. Ian's plan was to camp there and take a bus across the river into France tomorrow to visit Strasbourg. First of all, Baden Baden appeared to be very posh and sufficiently perfect to be a bit boring. In any case we never found out because we couldn't find anywhere to park. As in Interlaken last autumn, you could only park in designated places, there were no suburbs with side streets and parking was only permitted if you displayed a badge in the windscreen apparently only available from hotels. Not being guests we seemed not to be entitled to one and in any case we couldn't park to go and ask. As it was raining and I'd driven up and down through the centre a couple of times seeking somewhere to stop we decided Baden Baden would have to suffer the shame of being one of the few places not to be included in Maxted's European travels.
So we drove on to Kehl through the rain. Ian navigated us to the banks of the Rhine thinking it would be an agreeable approach. However, there was a high dyke protecting the low-lying villages from rising flood waters so we saw nothing at all of the river, just a grassy embankment above fields edged by poplar trees.
In Kehl we were directed miles round the town to a campsite way out from civilisation on the banks of the Rhine – behind the dyke. Strasbourg did not look to be easily accessible and the campsite was fairly pricey. We were both tired from driving without an intended break at Baden Baden and frustrated that our plans were not working as intended. So we cut our losses and crossed into France. This campsite is further from Strasbourg but it's a really good site run by the municipality of Molsheim. It's cheap, friendly and even has wifi – and there are regular trains into Strasbourg! The town is delightful. Near enough to Germany to be clean and smart but just that slightest bit scruffy, so we know we are back in France. The town is a maze of pretty half-timbered houses with baskets of hanging flowers and window boxes filled with geraniums. It's good to hear French spoken around us once more and the main square has bars and restaurants that were quite tempting as we wandered round exploring this evening.
Not everything went wrong today. Shortly after leaving Heidelberg we left the main route and cut across country, passing through pretty, immaculate German villages and tidy, productive countryside where wheat was already ripening in the rolling fields. It was good to be able to turn on to side roads knowing they would be smoothly surfaced with excellent road markings. We'd never have considered such minor roads in Romania or Poland!
Approaching the little town of Bruchsal we passed through an impressive gateway to find ourselves in a perfectly restored baroque town where every building complemented and matched its neighbour. Totally bemused we parked Modestine and returned to gaze in amazement at this perfect ensemble of architecture surrounding a magnificent, ornate palace set in its own formal parkland with fountains, statues, shaded avenues, lodge gates and tromp l'oeil painting on the facades. The whole was just so perfect it seemed unreal, as if we'd just wandered into a film set!
Schloss Bruchsal was founded in 1720 by Cardinal Damian Hugo von Schönborn, Prince Bishop of Speyer, who made the palace the nerve centre of his absolutist reign. The town was bombed and largely destroyed in March 1945 and rebuilt between 1946 and 1974. So in some respects it was indeed unreal. Of course, the castle was closed on Mondays. Typically it is something we really would have loved to explore further.
So after wandering around the grounds with our jaws gaping, we walked to the nearby hub of the town with its pedestrianised shopping area. Unlike the Schloss and its outbuildings this had not been restored but rebuilt after the ravages of war in a modern style. Most shoppers arrived on huge German bicycles, ideal for the flat countryside of the area. It was a smart town which had developed its own atmosphere which was friendly and most pleasant. We lingered agreeably over a coffee, watching the bustle as we waited for the rain to ease, having stupidly left our jackets and brollies in Modestine.