We wandered back to town along the remains of the city wall and found the Karl Theodor Bridge. It was the only bridge across the river to Heidelberg until the late 1800s. After a second bridge was built, Karl Theodor Bridge was nicknamed Alte Brücke, or old bridge.
We passed under the impressive Brückentor (bridge gate), which dates back to the Middle Ages. Like many of Heidelberg’s buildings, the gate is made of local red sandstone. Two round stone towers with elegant red and white striped bases flank the arch. The towers were once occupied by a bridgekeeper. They’ve also been used as a place to keep prisoners.
Originally connected by the city wall, the Brückentor was the entrance to medieval Heidelberg. Today, the old city gate it is one of the most photographed places in Heidelberg, for good reason.
The gate led us onto the pedestrian-only bridge. The bridge has been destroyed and rebuilt at least eight times, most recently in 1947. Although Heidelberg was spared destruction in WWII, partly because American troops wanted to use it as a base, the German army blew up the center of the bridge to prevent the Americans from reaching the city. After the war, local contributions funded the rebuilding of the bridge.
We stopped in the center of the bridge to study the view: neat rows of houses along the peaceful river, tree-lined streets with impressive baroque buildings, and the enormous castle ruin encircled by the forest on the hill above.
On the other side of the bridge, we found the Schlangenweg (snake path), a narrow walled path that zigzags its way up the hill. Sunlight dappled the cobblestone walk, worn smooth by many centuries of walkers. The path cuts steeply through the vineyards passing fields, gardens, and lovely viewpoints until it intersected with the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Path).
Originally a trail through the vineyards, the Philosopher’s Path was discovered by university students and their professors in the 19th century.
The peaceful and beautiful path with views of the old city and the castle was an ideal a place for students and their professors to stroll, reflect, and ponder the meaning of life. It had gotten quite warm, but the entire route was shaded, making it a comfortable place to walk.
We had heard that there was an enormous open-air amphitheater built by the Nazis in 1935 hidden somewhere on the mountain. Curious, we set out on some side trails hoping we might stumble upon the massive, eerie place.
We didn’t anticipate how many paths would lead us up the mountain. Since we didn’t have a map, we chose a route that seemed like it might take us to the top. After hiking a mile or so through a lovely forest, we finally emerged on a road that ended in a parking lot. A short trail lead to the remains of Stephanskloster, or St. Stephen’s Monastery.
The monastery was built around 1094 by a Benedictine monk. It was deserted and fell to ruin in the late Middle Ages. The stones from the ruin were used to create the a nearby tower.
It was an easy climb to the top, where the view of the mountains, the castle, and the surrounding area were spectacular. We never found the amphitheater, but the monastery was certainly worthwhile.
It was late afternoon, so we made our way back to town on a different path that took us by the Neckarwiese (Neckar meadow), a one kilometer stretch of open lawn along the river filled with sunbathers, walkers, and picnickers. People had rented paddle boats, canoes, or kayaks and were enjoying the river.
There was a lot more to explore in this incredible city, but we were exhausted. It was time to return to our hotel and rest up for the next part of our journey.