Heidelberg Castle is a large picturesque ruin up on a hill overlooking the city. On the (only half-ruined) façades facing the castle courtyard there are several statues of imposing gentlemen who were all-powerful counts or dukes or whatnot in their time. This one is identified as Ioannes Casimirus MDXCII which translates as “Johannes Casimir 1592”.
This Johannes Casimir was the regent of the Palatinate from 1583 until he died in 1592, ruling on behalf of his nephew, the future Friedrich IV, who was still a child at the time.
Johannes Casimir’s main goal in life was to convert his subjects (including the university professors, who were particularly recalcitrant) from Lutheranism to Calvinism. This was not an easy task since the people were by now accustomed to being Lutherans, having been forcibly converted from Catholicism some thirty years before.
Also there were numerous Anabaptists in the region, and they also resisted being converted to Calvinism, despite such reasonable arguments as being imprisoned and put on starvation diets and having their property confiscated.
In the statue the middle finger of Johannes Casimir’s right hand is extended in a way that might have had some other meaning entirely in the sixteenth century. But to a twenty-first century observer he seems to be giving the finger to someone — perhaps the Anabaptists?
Otto Heinrich, also known as Ottheinrich, was Elector (Kurfürst) of the principality of Pfalz-Neuburg for only three years, from 1556 to 1559, but during that short time he managed to convert the entire principality from Catholicism to Lutheranism. As you can imagine, he did not rely solely on theological arguments to accomplish this.
He also ordered the construction of this large palace, now known as the Ottheinrichsbau, as part of the Heidelberg Castle complex.
When he died his palace was not quite finished, but it was completed a year later. Today there are still (or again) some intact rooms in the basement and on the lower floors, but the upper floors are gone and only the façade remains.
The castle was built in various stages over about three hundred years, gradually evolving from a defensive fortification into a luxurious palace for the ruling Palatinate Counts.
Destruction also occurred in several stages, culminating in the War of Palatinate Succession in the late seventeenth century.
In the nineteenth century there were plans to rebuild the castle, but by that time the ruins had become a trademark of Heidelberg and had started attracting Romantic poets and American tourists, including one group with Mark Twain as their tour guide.
Now you can visit parts of the castle for free, but you have to pay admission to get into the courtyard — unless you have an opera ticket, in which case the admission fee is included.
Past the castle, but on the same level, is a terrace with fine views of the castle, the city and the Neckar Valley.
This terrace is named after a once-popular nineteenth-century German author and poet called Joseph Victor von Scheffel (1826-1886).
He didn’t get the von in his name until he was elevated to the aristocracy on his 50th birthday, just like his more famous colleague Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
This Joseph Victor von Scheffel was the author of several poems about Heidelberg, one of which became popular as a student drinking song:
Alt-Heidelberg, du feine,
Du Stadt an Ehren reich,
Am Neckar und am Rheine
Kein’ andre kommt dir gleich.
This means roughly: “Old Heidelberg, you fine one / you city rich in honors / on the Neckar and on the Rhine / no other is a match for you.” And it goes on and on in the same vein.
My photos in this post are from 2010. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Open-air opera at Heidelberg castle.