Goethe loved living in Heidelberg — and it’s no surprise why. This bustling university town is a hit with tourists, too, with a magical city center and a contemporary edge.
You have been offered a job in Heidelberg?
Being a native of this city I can assure you: you can count yourself lucky indeed.
But be warned: you will come across strong contrasts between old and young, romanticism and high-tech, multicultural open-mindedness and local southwest German mentality.
Life in this famous university town appeals to many people — not to mention the 3.5 million visitors every year attracted by the touristic highlights the town can offer.
Heidelberg is situated about 90 kilometres south of Frankfurt, and with its university more than 600 years old, is steeped in history.
At the same time Heidelberg is cosmopolitan, vibrant and full of young people, which does not come as a surprise considering that one in five of the 130,000 inhabitants is a student.
History and scenery
Let’s put one thing straight from the start: the most famous Heidelberger is not a local at all.
When the jawbone of the ‘Heidelberg Man’ was discovered in 1907 at nearby Mauer, nobody dreamt of naming him ‘Mauer Man’.
Heidelberg just had a better ring to it and seemed a more appropriate place to find the earliest evidence of human existence in Europe — about 600,000 years ago.
And the tradition of learning and discovery continues.
In 2001 Heidelberg still has a magical sound for many scientists, specialists and expats.
Sigmund Romberg’s operetta ‘The Student Prince’ pictures the romantic life of university students against the backdrop of a bittersweet love affair.
The well-known song ‘I’ve lost my heart in Heidelberg’ is one aspect of the city, the other – modern – side is the development of important centres of business and high tech.
Baroque and business
While a baroque town and in the idyllic setting of the beautiful Neckar valley, Heidelberg manages to be a player in several areas of global importance.
The city has been a strong player in the fields of protection of the environment, genetic engineering and information technology.
In 1996 Heidelberg was awarded Germany’s top prize for nature preservation and protection of environment.
And in 1997 the EU presented the town with the European Sustainable City Award.
It is a hub of biotechnology research as part of the Rhein-Neckar Bioregion.
Just to mention a few: The German Cancer Research Center is based here, as well as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).
People of more than 27 nationalities work for EMBL, multiculture being part of the concept. Founded in 1974, they specialise in molecular biology in the fields of biochemical instrumentation, cell biology, biophysics and genetic research.
Five faculties of the Max-Planck-Society for the Advancement of Science and more than 30 schools for languages and management training are located on the Neckar river.
In nearby Walldorf is the headquarters of the software giant SAP which is still expanding rapidly – and subsequently hire many expats.
Apart from work, what else has life got to offer in this fairytale setting?
The atmosphere in this town has always inspired creative hearts. Until this day many of their works are still relevant and may provide some good reading before coming to Heidelberg.
Writers and poets like Goethe, Eichendorff, Hölderlin, Jean Paul, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain, to name just a few, have praised Heidelberg.
Goethe’s statement that “this place is ideal” is accepted with cool nonchalance by the locals. After all, it was here that Goethe fell in love with Marianne von Willemer, and the picturesque setting is still a good place to fall in love.
In summer it is a pleasure to sit down and relax in one of the many street cafés along the 1.5 km pedestrian zone, just enjoying the sunshine, a German beer or a cappuccino.
True Heidelbergers refer to their city as the “most northern town of Italy” — a statement which is only slightly exaggerated.
A walk on the Philosopher’s Path with one of Europe’s most beautiful views over the old town and Heidelberg Castle will easily confirm this.
It winds along the southern slopes with an abundance of subtropical plants on either side.
Entertainment and nightlife
More than ten museums, a number of private galleries and five theatres offer a full programme all year round.
You may also choose to listen to concerts played by the local Philharmonic and the Heidelberg Symphony orchestras, go for a jazz session in Cave 54 or watch the dance shows in the Unterwegs Theater.
Young people, wherever you look — sometimes even on campus.
If you feel like dancing, try the Tangente in Kettengasse in the old part of the city or hang out in the Nachtschicht, Bergheimer Straße, a former factory complex, where a different type of music from hip hop to house is played every night.
The latest films are shown in several cinemas (prices ranging from 10–15 DM). A good source for information on current events is the “Stadtmagazin Meier” (www.meier-online.de)
On the one hand Heidelbergers are very open-minded and multicultural, indeed and they like foreigners.
On the other hand they occasionally prefer to keep to themselves – which excludes everybody not born in the same suburb.
At the market in Handschuhsheim, you may encounter traditional housewives on a Saturday morning at 7 o’clock having a “gemütliche” chat while pretending to buy carrots.
Part of normal life is to cycle, walk or take the bus, as parking fees in the city centre are rather heavy (about 3 DM per hour).
There will be no problem if you feel like strolling through the city at night – not even for women.
The city centre is not only a shopping/cinema/theatre district, but also a residential area – a homely mixture.
You will find it hard to find no-go areas. Of course, there are robberies and burglaries, and you have to lock your car or bicycle, but burglar bars or alarm systems are not really necessary for the average householders nor do they need three dogs to protect their property.
So when you have figured out where to work and where to spend your leisure time, you still need a place to live.
The best way to find digs in Heidelberg is to buy the Saturday edition of the regional newspaper Rhein-Neckar Zeitung (www.rnz.de ), the Sperrmüll (www.sperrmuell.de ), engage an estate agent (expensive, but necessary sometimes) or take the initiative yourself and place an ad.
Be prepared as it may take up to six weeks before you find something suitable.
To give you some idea of costs, the average price for a quality flat of 100 sqm (unfurnished) in the old city centre is about DM2,000 per month (this does not include heating, electricity and garbage removal).
You will have to pay a minimum of DM1,700 a month for a four-room flat (in Germany flats are defined by the number of rooms, so this would be a two-bedroom flat) with (small) garden, bathroom and an extra WC in the sunny east suburb of Ziegelhausen (nice for families). Smaller flats with two-three rooms will still cost about DM1,000 per month, as these are in great demand among students.
Here in this southern part of Germany most flats come unfurnished, meaning that you not only have to bring or buy your own furniture, but also your own kitchen.
In the north of Germany and Berlin the apartments often include built-in kitchens.
So if in doubt, ask!
To compare prices for rented bedsits the Mietspiegel is available from the city council of Heidelberg (www.Heidelberg.de ) It will give you price ranges, as they might vary from one suburb to the next.
Nice districts are Neuenheim, Handschuhsheim with its Tiefburg (sunken castle), Ziegelhausen with its village-like character, the Benedictine monastery of Neuburg and the Weststadt and Südstadt parts.
If you don’t mind driving about 20 minutes, you may also consider attractive nearby towns and areas, such as Speyer and Schwetzingen, Dossenheim and Schriesheim. Here the houses or flats are sometimes more spacious and suitable for families.
Public transport is quite good.
If you travel within in Heidelberg by bus or tram you will have to find out how many ‘zones’ your journey will take you.
Fees for four zones for example are higher than for two zones. Two zones (approx. 4km) will cost you about DM2.70. Tickets can be bought at ticket machines at main stops, as the Main Station or Bismarckplatz.
Weekly or monthly tickets are also available. Everybody speaks at least some English, so you can always ask for help when stuck.