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“Long have I loved you and for my own delight...... You, of all towns in our country, the loveliest that ever I saw” wrote German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, of the town of Heidelberg. Situated by the delightful banks of the river Neckar and watched over by its mighty castle ruin, Heidelberg played an important role in the development of German Romanticism. Descriptions and poems by a multitude of German writers celebrate Heidelberg’s picturesque location, and the beauty of the city and its castle in the river valley. The re-establishment of Heidelberg University in 1803 created an exciting intellectual climate in which literature and the arts could thrive. Important artists of the era were born here, while others came to Heidelberg to experience the atmospheric beauty of the local landscape and to indulge in reflections on a long-gone mediaeval past, woven with powerful emperors, mighty knights and folklore. The mediaeval heritage of the Neckar valley inspired not only German painters but also the British artists William Turner and George August Wallis. This Art Pursuits study tour invites you to explore one of Germany’s best loved cities and to uncover its Romantic past. Tucked away in charming half-timbered villages strung out along the banks of the Neckar River, discover the unexpected Mediaeval and Renaissance treasures that imbued a whole generation with the Romantic mood.
Specialising in mediaeval art and in cultural politics of post-war Germany at the universities of Regensburg and Aberdeen, Dr Ulrike Ziegler is a well-respected member of Art Pursuits Abroad and has lectured at universities and for multiple cultural institutions, along with organising and leading many study tours in both Germany and Austria. Ulrike is now working on Art Pursuits Abroad’s German programme.
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Late morning flight with BA from London Heathrow to Frankfurt Airport. On arrival the coach will transfer us to our luxurious five-star hotel in Heidelberg. A pre-dinner introductory walk will acquaint us with Heidelberg’s atmospheric old town and its majestic castle ruin, which towers above the city on a rocky hilltop. Afterwards, an evening meal together is a pleasant way to relax with fellow travellers.
After breakfast, we depart the hotel on foot for the Kurpfalz Museum. Here we will learn about the history of the Palatinate region, of which Heidelberg was the capital until the 18th century, and the city’s subsequent transformation into a centre of German Romanticism. The studious yet often raucous student life of this era, as humorously described by Mark Twain in his A Tramp Abroad, is best felt in the historic university buildings nearby, including the famous student prison. The afternoon is dedicated to the exploration of the labyrinthine ruins of Heidelberg castle — the spectacular architectural remains span styles from Mediaeval to Mannerist. The castle was once the residence of one of the seven electors, until the ill-fated attempt of Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate, the ‘Winterking’, and his Stuart wife Elisabeth to become rulers of Bohemia in 1619, which resulted in the forfeiture of the Palatine electoral title.
Full day coach excursion along the southerly stretches of the River Neckar. Our first stop is Heilbronn, where the town church houses an exquisite late-mediaeval altarpiece by local star artist, the wood carver Hans Seyfer. The parish church of nearby Schwaigern offers an interesting contrast, with a sumptuously polychromed triptych by the most important contemporary painter of the region, Jörg Ratgeb. We continue to Besigheim, allegedly ‘Germany’s most beautiful wine village’. In a setting of lush vineyards and pristinely conserved half-timbered houses we will sample some of the local delights; elegant Rieslings of course, but also delicious yet lesser known red wines made from Trollinger and Lemberger grapes. The afternoon offers further artistic surprises in otherwise closed churches: a magnificently carved, fully intact wooden altarpiece by an anonymous master in the parish church of Besigheim, and before our return to Heidelberg, a Romanesque church with a mid-11th-century crypt in nearby Oberstenfeld.
After breakfast, a leisurely morning cruise takes us to the solitude of the Cistercian abbey of Maulbronn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s best-preserved Mediaeval monastery complexes. Founded in the mid-12th century, it retains its gothic appearance despite later alterations. Highlights include the Romanesque abbey church with ceiling paintings attributed to Jörg Ratgeb, an enormous stone crucifix by Nicolaus Gerhaerts of Leyden, and early gothic cloister buildings including a well house and refectory. Since its dissolution in the Reformation, larger parts of the abbey’s economic buildings have been home to a school. Famous alumni include Johannes Kepler, Herman Hesse and the Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. In the afternoon we return to Heidelberg, where the rest of the day is free for your own explorations or relaxation.
A scenic coach journey this morning takes us upstream along the Neckar River — a modern approach to the Romantic ‘wanderlust’. Near Eberbach, we leave the river valley and climb up into the densely forested hill range ‘Kleiner Odenwald’ from where much of the local sandstone was quarried. Our first stop is Lobenfeld, to enjoy the Romanesque and Gothic frescoes in this remote country church. We continue to Schwetzingen for a complete change of scene: a splendid Rococo palace and garden. Built in the 18th century as a summer residence for the Palatine electors, the original design of both palace and garden is remarkably well preserved. As an addition to the existing formal garden, leading landscape architects of the age created one of the earliest English-style landscape gardens in Germany. Its seemingly unforced ‘natural’ beauty was favoured over the Baroque garden at the dawn of the Romantic movement, when the atmospheric attraction of the landscape, the interplay between changes in colour and light throughout the day and the seasons, was keenly felt by artists for the first time. Return to Heidelberg for a farewell group dinner.
After a final breakfast in our hotel, we bid farewell to Heidelberg and head south towards Stuttgart. Our last visit will be to the delightful little town of Esslingen am Neckar, a former free imperial city with a fully intact, charming old town boasting some of Germany’s oldest half-timbered houses dating back to the 13th century. Two of its churches house large areas of exquisite mediaeval stained-glass windows of c. 1320/30. In the afternoon we continue to Stuttgart Airport for an early evening flight, scheduled to land at London Heathrow.