Inside the old Heilig-Geist-Kirche, the church at the market square, there is the grave of King Ruprecht and his wife. He was the founder of this church, of the oldest still standing building at the castle and also of the university. No wonder he is still remembered by the people in Heidelberg. It is a custom for the bride and groom at their wedding to go to the grave and put some of the wedding flowers down. Sometimes people just put down some flowers without having been to a wedding, so don't be surprised when you see flowers on this grave from 15th century.
Pubs all around the world have their regulars; those guys that sit at the bar every evening and order "the usual!" from the bartender. We Germans, in our ever-efficient ways however, have formalized our own way of drinking :-)
In most typical German restaurants and pubs, you'll notice one or more large inviting tables placed conveniently near the bar, usually with a standing or hanging sign on them with the word "Stammtisch". You'll also notice that even if the restaurant is completely packed with patrons, this table may well be empty.
The word "Stammtisch" is not easily translated into English but it means something like "regulars' table". Literally speaking, the Stammtisch is a table in a bar or restaurant which is reserved for the same guests at the same time every day or every week. Often, these are close friends of the management's family.
Belonging to the local Stammtisch used to carry status in German towns, where the mayor or some other local leader would often hold court in a smoke-filled pub. They were invitation-only, intensely territorial, and strictly male.
The modern Stammtisch tends to be more casual, involving beer and cigars, women as well as men, and maybe a game of cards.
There can be all kinds of Stammtisch. There are those simply for friends to drink together, or those for specific interest groups - say a "gardening discussion Stammtisch" or a "stamp collectors' Stammtisch". Even where I live (in Dubai) we have monthly "German business women's Stammtisch" where people can meet & get to know each other, all with a common interest.
While such a table may seem tempting, sitting at a Stammtisch is a privilege reserved for the pub's regulars: So don't attempt to sit here unless you're invited by "the regulars"!
Did you know that Heidelberg is the headquarters of the US-Army in Germany?
Today, approx. 16,000 Americans live in Heidelberg. Around 4,000 of this number are employed by the US Army. It is estimated that 10% of Heidelberg's total population are American citizens! (I think now I understand why "pretzels" became so popular in the USA...? Haha!)
For many years, the city has always tried to promote and celebrate the "friendly neighbourhood relations" between Germans & Americans. Until about 2 years ago, Heidelberg celebrated the GERMAN-AMERICAN FRIENDSHIP FESTIVAL annually in Patrick Henry Village. PHV is an United States Army installation in the suburb of Kirchheim with a population of approx. 1,500. It opened in 1947 after World War II and was named after the politician Patrick Henry. This festival was always a surprisingly apolitical affair, usually consisting of live music, a huge fairground, heaps of German specialties, American grub and of course excessive amounts of beer.
Some of my fondest teenage-memories took place at this summer fiesta: being "hit-on" by more young American army lads than you can shake a terrorist at, getting a lovely tan, and who could forget first realizing what "hung-over" really means; as well as eating fabulous American ice cream until you felt so sick you wanted to die. Aaaahhh, the good old days!
Unfortunately, this festival has now been replaced with a smaller (budget friendlier?) version; probably much to the relief of annoyed residents of the Patrick Henry Village: this new "Volksfest" takes place in autumn on the "Messplatz" (near the Kirchheimer Weg in Heidelberg itself). This Festival is organized in collaboration with the American community, and in 2007 the festival will be held from the 19. - 28. of October... if you're in the area, I'm sure it's worth stopping by.
Any visitor to the castle will be told the story of the 1720s court dwarf from the Italian border, who once won a drinking bet against a count and replied "perche no", why not, when the count declared him superior. He then moved to Heidelberg and Kurfurst Karl Philipp whom he could also drink under the table in no time (it is said they once shared 37 bottles in another bet...). Every time someone asked him if he wanted wine, he is reputed to have answered "perche no" which soon gave him the assimilated nickname Perkeo and this is why you will find many hotels and other things bearing his name in the city today. Perkeo eventually died after drinking pure water once by mistake the legend claims - not the healthiest of drinks in them days - but this is probably not true. The Perkeo Society which arranges various parades and other events can tell you much more.
It's a big college town so there are lots of young kids running around. For the adults among us, it's also a place full of history and plenty of great snapshots to go home and show your firends. All the people are nice and every business speaks English.
Alot of my friends (myself included) who came here don't want to leave after laying eyes on this lovely town! It must have been the air that we breathed in and the food we ate. But seriously, if you have a chance to come here, do try and spend more time just soaking in the atmosphere and the old world charm of this lovely town. You won't be able to experience this same kind of feeling when you're back in the big cities.
Oh, and the Germans here are a pretty friendly bunch too. Most of them could converse pretty well in English with me... or rather, I should add that they understood what I was trying to convey (with my animated gestures and all!) most of the time. Believe me, this is a big relief to me.