August 15, 2017 Heidelberg & Mainz Germany: wretched Excess is barely enough

            Today our guide was Andreas who wanted to show us his hometown–Heidelberg. “Lets enjoy a beautiful day,” he said. I thought that was a great way to start a tour. He was an enthusiastic guide who obviously loved his country without being blind to all of its faults.

On the way, we drove through Mannheim an industrial city that had been completely destroyed during the Second World War. The Allies bombed it to smithereens because it was so important industrially. Today it is home to Mercedes, Daimler, and Benz. Industry has returned.       Mannheim is a city of factories, transportation, cars, river ports, and railways. It has been completely rebuilt, but there is no old stuff left. So we did not stop in it at all. We just drove through.

The main feature of Heidelberg is course is the Schloss–the castle. The main courtyards with the splendid façade of the Otheinrich Wing (c. 1560) and the Friedrich Building are particularly notable. Andreas made sure we saw the Heidelberg Tun–a wine barrel with a capacity of more than 50,000 gallons of wine. Surely that was sufficient for the students.

According to Andreas, Heidelberg is the city of brains–Universities and other institutions of higher learning. Heidelberg, unlike Mannheim was entirely spared bombing. Not one bomb was dropped on Heidelberg. It makes no sense to bomb books! It really had nothing worth bombing from a military perspective.

It really is a city without a skyline. No tall buildings, but lots of very old buildings. According to Andreas, Heidelberg is the city of science and learning. It is very proud of its universities and scientific institutes. The oldest university in Germany–the University of Heidelberg is found there. This venerable institution was built in 1386. That was 100 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” North America. Today it is the third oldest university in the world after Prague and Vienna.


In Germany a University education is free for all who qualify on the basis of their marks. Anyone can go to University if they are smart enough or work hard enough. That is the way it should be. That is the only way the issue of gross inequality can be at all meaningfully addressed. Germans believe that it is the obligation of society to guarantee an education to all who want it and qualify for it. It is truly a public institution. Yes there is still some civilization left in Europe if you search for it.

Andreas led us to his alma mater the University of Heidelberg. He was very proud of it. He said that 15 Nobel Prize winners had come from this University. That is nearly half as many as all of Canada, in a city with a population of 150,000 people!

About 200 years ago Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous poet, playwright, and man of science stated that there was “something ideal” about Heidelberg’s delightful setting. I think I can see why. It really does seem to be a centre of civilization. Exactly what I was looking for. Heidelberg really is a city of the mind. 30% of the residents of the city are students. It is a true university town. Of course, what could I see by a short stroll through the old part? Perhaps I was just idealizing it.

Mark Twain had similar thoughts about the city. He did not like Germany until he saw this city. He said he liked beer, but hated Germany and Germans. He had expected to stay a night or two here but stayed for 6 months instead. I wish I could have done that. Twain said the site of the University, with its lovely surroundings, was “the last possibility of the beautiful.”



Twain’s’ enthusiasm is still vivid today. Looking out at the city, the old buildings and the view across the Neckar, where it emerges from its steep narrow valley into the Rhine Plain one can easily understand how one can fall in love with the charming old City that nestles below the magnificent ruined castles. Being a bit of an old ruin myself, I can sympathize with old ruined castles. That view inspired many romantic poets, writers, and artists and is still one of Germany’s most beloved sights. That is what it is all about. Respect for knowledge, tradition, and the mind in a lovely landscape. It does not get much better than this!


On our stroll through the old City Andreas showed us a wonderful old church.The church was built to divide Protestants from Catholics a good example of how churches can divide rather than unite. Religion that does that in my view is not real religion. It is ersatz. Or as Donald Trump might say, “Fake religion.” The Germans are expert at building walls. They could teach Trump a lot.

On this trip I really came to appreciate Christian churches. That is a bit surprising since I venture into them so rarely at home. Why did I like these so much? I am not sure. It had something to do with light. The Gothic is all about the light. I find the theology of the churches suspect, but their buildings are divine.



On this trip the madness of Trump was never far from our minds. There were reminders everywhere.

At lunch Chris tried to save me from excess. In other words, from eating and drinking too much. Little did she know that I subscribe to a philosophy learned from a good friend—“wretched excess is barely enough,” he says.



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