When you hear the words “Philosopher’s walk”, what exactly comes to mind? Is it another way of saying “the path to enlightenment” or is it the moral compass of an intellect towards a certain discipline that would dictate his personal lifestyle? Both of these definitions may be acceptable but for the residents of a college town called Heidelberg in Germany it has a totally different meaning.
About an hour south by train from Frankfurt is the famous college town of Heidelberg where one of the oldest universities in Germany is located – Heidelberg University. Across the River Neckar not far from Bismarckplatz is a narrow street leading up to the steep hills of Saints Mountain lie Philosopher’s Walk. I discovered this “gem” of a place when I was researching about the life and times of my old country’s national hero called Jose Rizal. He studied in Heidelberg for about five months and mentioned in his journals that he had spent some of his free time walking at Philosopher’s Walk. However, he failed to mention that the walk itself was not going to be easy which would lead one to ask to questions, “Why the hell am I doing this?” or “What the hell was I thinking?” – truly philosophical questions for those planning quite an undertaking like this. You will know the reason soon enough.
Philosopher’s Walk was so named because it was said that university professors and philosophers would often take walks there to think and contemplate. The first time I went to Heidelberg, it was March 2015 and the weather still felt like the height of winter. One morning after taking photos of the old town center of Heidelberg, I decided to walk towards the Theodor-Heuss Bridge, crossing the river and head to Landerberger Strasse following the signs leading to Philosopher’s Walk. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I reached the western end of Philosopher’s Walk at the corner of Bergstrasse. It was the steepest street I have ever since – almost at a 45 degree angle from the bottom. My mind immediately thought, Holy cow! Is this for real? Yes, Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore. When I did my search for Heidelberg, I knew that Philosopher’s Walk would be a climb. I just didn’t realize how serious they were when they said “climb.”
After a long walk from the old town center to Landerstrasse, I thought that if I climb Philosopher’s Walk, I would faint in the middle of the street, and I almost did. Climbing up this steep hill, I found the Physics Institute for Heidelberg University and residential buildings under renovation. Then I Thought, if people live in these homes, how can they do a daily hike of Philosopher’s Walk. During my trek I had to stop three or four times on the way just so I could catch my breath. Though I like walking, I didn’t realize I was not quite fit as I thought I was.
Though the hike may seem difficult, there is a reward at the top of the hill called Philosopher’s Garden and a grand view of the city of Heidelberg. When I reach the top, it was about 11 o’clock in the morning and it will still overcast. It was still winter after all. There were benches in this small garden (about and acre and a half of land) where people can sit and enjoy the view. A much needed rest was in order and stayed for a good half hour, took photos and wrote on my journal.
I went back down the same way I went up. When I reached the bottom at Bergstrasse, I felt hungry even though I had a substantial breakfast a few hours before. You would think this would be the end of my adventures in Heidelberg.
I decided to go back to Heidelberg in August of the same year. This time, I had planned to visit other places in Heidelberg but somehow I wanted to go back up and conquer Philosopher’s Walk again. I thought if the locals can do this everyday maybe I could do it again. But before I headed up, I made damn sure that I had a big meal before climbing to avoid fainting.
The summer in Heidelberg was exceptionally warm. A few minutes after lunch, I went to Theodor-Huess Bridge heading up Philosopher’s Walk the same way I did before. This time I felt prepared and confident doing less stops than before. When I reached the gardens, there were lush and colorful foliage that it was during the winter. The reward was better I suppose as the view of the city was clearer this time. In the warm weather, you can see the old city center of Heidelberg in the clearest view possible.
I can see now why they call this Philosopher’s Walk. The steep climb gives people a new or different perspective in life. If you could climb a steep hill and reach the garden, you can overcome any challenges in life. The second time around somehow gives you another perspective. Thinking of the residents who live in Philosopher’s Walk makes you think, if they can climb this street every day, so can I. And I did. Now it’s time to go down and have some ice cream. 🙂