‘Heidelberg has a zeitgeist you can feel’

Get The Local flavour of Germany with our series offering an insider's take on life in his or her hometown. This week, Adam Kubik takes us to Heidelberg.

'Heidelberg has a zeitgeist you can feel'
Photo: Adam Kubik

Working on his PhD at Germany’s oldest university, the 26-year-old Polish-German from Upper Silesia picked Heidelberg, the historic centre of German romanticism, as his academic base for the next few years.

What makes Heidelberg special for you?

A small town will not appeal to everyone. Larger places have a greater sense of anonymity. But Heidelberg enchants people because there’s a sense of zeitgeist here that you can really feel. It has a history you can witness everywhere but also an amazing geographic location. It lies in a valley between two hills, atop one of which are the castle ruins. It is this combination of history, culture and geography and the resulting mix of people it attracts, not to mention the fact that it has the oldest university in Germany, that make Heidelberg so special for me. Here you can always meet someone from your home country, however remote that may be.

What is your favourite local festival or event?

I enjoy and highly recommend the Theatre Days in October, during which every theatre in Heidelberg opens its doors and street shows take place in various outdoor locations.

The annual Mannheim-Heidelberg Film festival in November is also worth visiting. It’s a celebration of world cinema and attracts some high profile visitors each year to its picturesque location alongside the castle ruins.

In August the city is filled with hundreds of students attending Germany’s biggest and one of its oldest summer language courses, who run around like lost souls for the first few days until they find their way around. I was one of them.

What’s your favourite place to eat?

If I want a cheap meal in good atmosphere I always head to the Mensa, or canteen. There are three in Heidelberg but the Marstall in the heart of the Old Town is the most famous. In 2011 and 2012 it was voted the best student Mensa in Germany by students themselves. Open till 1am, it is as much a meeting-place as it is a canteen. In the same way that you see familiar faces while walking around Heidelberg, you are also bound to meet someone you know every time you go to the Mensa.

For a cultural fix I visit Schnookeloch. This is one of Heidelberg’s student fraternity bars, where you can sit alongside those who were at one point members of the ancient German tradition. Their symbols adorn the walls and a piano always plays in the background. If you order some Flammkuchen and a glass of Hefeweizen beer you’ll immediately feel the atmosphere.

Where do you usually go to have a drink?

Heidelberg offers an almost endless selection of bars and cafes. I hear that even after years you can discover a bar here that you never know existed.

Unterestraße, which runs parallel to the main shopping street, is the first port of call for most. Bars such as Destille and Betreutes Trinken (which translates as “guided drinking”) are packed so full of people on Friday and Saturday nights that you’re pretty much forced to make friends!

For something more relaxed I like to go to Vetter, a bar with an onsite brewery producing delicious beer according to traditional recipes. In the summer months I buy a small barrel and head over to the Neckarwiese park to sit alongside the river with friends.

What’s the best way of exploring the surroundings?

If you’re feeling lazy you can simply hop on the number 5 tram, which takes you through all the surrounding towns and villages on its way to the nearby city of Mannheim. I’d also recommend a boat trip on the Neckar, which takes in some amazing views.

To experience the countryside it’s enough to simply choose a hill and walk ahead, using your inner compass. As crazy as it sounds, this is the best way to discover the tranquility and beauty of the surrounding area. The further up you go, the more involved you’ll become with the nature.

There are also set routes such as the famous Philosopher’s Walk, although the amount of tourists you encounter along the way makes it impossible to really “get away from it all”. Along this route, the legend goes, Heidelberg’s philosophers and university professors walked and discussed ideas of the time.

Can you tell us something about Heidelberg that only locals would know?

A lot of anecdotes about Heidelberg either come from or are associated with the American writer Mark Twain, who stayed here for three months some century and a half ago and even spent some time in the student prison.

One interesting fact is that the cellars of Heidelberg castle are home to the world’s biggest wine barrel, apparently constructed out of 130 oak trees and topped with a dance floor.

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Interview conducted by Matthew Luxmoore.

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Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts

Catch the very tail-end of the wine season and autumn foliage in one of the lesser-explored corners of the Austrian capital: Mauer.

Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts
Beautiful views and cosy taverns await you on the edge of Vienna. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Wine-hiking is an autumn must-do in Austria. There’s the official Wine Hiking Day (Weinwandertag) that usually draws in big crowds, but it’s also possible to follow the routes through beautiful scenery and wine taverns on your own.

Mauer in the southwest of Vienna is one of the routes that is mostly frequented by locals.

The footpath takes you through scenic vineyards. Photo: Catherine Edwards

You can reach this part of the 23rd district using Vienna’s public transport, and you have a few options. From the Hietzing station on the U4 line, you can take the tramline 60 or bus 56A. The former will take you either to Mauer’s central square or you can get off earlier at Franz-Asenbauer-Gasse to start the hike. If it’s too early in the day for wine just yet, you could start your day at the small and charming Designo cafe (Geßlgasse 6).

Otherwise, the residential area itself doesn’t have much to see, but keep an eye out as you wander between the taverns later — there are some beautiful buildings.

To start the hike, head west along Franz-Asenbauer Gasse, which will take you up into the vineyards, growing some red wine and Vienna’s specialty Gemischter Satz or ‘field blend’, which as the name suggests is a mixture of different types of grapes.

Photo: Catherine Edwards

The paved road takes a left turn, but the hiking route follows a smaller path further upwards. Here you’ll have magnificent views over the whole of Vienna.

If you stick to the official hiking route (see a map from Weinwandern here) you can keep the whole route under 5 kilometres. But more adventurous types don’t need to feel limited.

You can also follow the Stadtwanderweg 6 route (see a map here) either in full, which will add on a hefty 13 kilometres, or just in part, and venture further into the Mauerwald. If you do this, one spot to aim for is the Schießstätte, a former hunting lodge offering hearty Austrian meals.


In any case, you should definitely take a small detour to see the Wotrubakirche, an example of brutalist architecture from the mid-1970s built on a site that was used as a barracks during the Second World War.

Not far from the church is the Pappelteich, a small pond that is not only an important habitat for local flora and fauna, but a popular picnic spot for hikers. Its only water supply is from the rain, and due to climate change the pond has almost dried out in recent years, prompting the city to take action to boost its water supply by adding a permanent pipe.

The church is made up of over 150 concrete blocks. Photo: Catherine Edwards

What you really come to Mauer for, though, are the Heuriger or Viennese wine taverns. 

The most well-known is Edlmoser (Maurer Lange Gasse 123) which has previously been named as the best in Vienna. Note that it’s not open all year so check the website, but in 2021 it should be open between November 5th and 21st, and is also serving the goose that is a popular feature on Viennese menus this time of year.

Tip for translating Heuriger opening times: look for the word ausg’steckt, which is used by those taverns which aren’t open year round. They will also often show that they’re open by attaching a bunch of green twigs to the sign or front door.

Buschenschank Grausenburger. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Also worth visiting are cosy Buschenschank Grausenburger (Maurer Lange Gasse 101a), Heuriger Wiltschko (Wittgensteinstrasse 143 — located near the start of the hiking route, this is a good place to begin your tour) and Heuriger Fuchs-Steinklammer (Jesuitensteig 28).