Once we got back on the ship after wandering around Rüdesheim, our Cruise Director Nick held a discussion session about people’s holiday traditions. Guests helped trimmed the various Christmas trees while sharing stories of writing letters to Santa and night before Christmas rituals (ours include dinner at In-&-Out, driving around looking at festively lit houses, and watching The Santa Clause). Everyone had different takes on the same holiday and it was fun to hear how everyone celebrates Christmas. Being that we were in Germany and most everyone on board was American, Nick shared with us some of the European traditions we may not have known about. I certainly had never heard of them.
In particular, there were the stories about Saint Nicholas and the Krampus. Now, Saint Nicholas, the European equivalent of Santa Claus, is somewhat of a familiar character. He brings presents to good children on Saint Nicholas Day and fills the stockings hung by the chimney with care. The Krampus on the other hand is almost the yin to the saintly yang. He is a hairy, beast-like creature with hooves and horns whose mission is to punish the poorly behaved children. Not one to mess with.
As Nick told us these stories, he requested that each of the guests (if they wanted) leave one shoe outside of their cabin before they went to bed that evening. My mother and I did just that.
In the morning, we each had a foil-wrapped chocolate in our boot. At first, I didn’t notice that there were different characters on each of the chocolates, but on further inspection, it was clear that we received both Saint Nicholas (me) and the Krampus (my mom). Yes, it is official… I am the good one in the family!
Delighting in my good girl status, we made our way to the buses for a short drive to Heidelberger Schloss, or Heidelberg Castle.
The castle, dating back to 1214, was impressive, tragic, and full of love.
On a hill, the former fortress had majestic views of the town and river below. What an amazing sight that Prince Elector Ruprecht III, the first to use the castle as a residence, could wake up to each morning. In addition to royals, the castle also housed the largest wine barrel in the world. Seriously, the thing was massive.
The tragedy of the grounds was all the destruction that the castle endured during various wars. Many of the exterior walls were missing, having been obliterated, though many had been rebuilt.
Yet, even in tragedy, there was love.
The Elisabethentor is a beautiful carved arch that was erected by Friedrich V for his wife, Elisabeth Stuart’s birthday in 1615. Legend has it that the gate was raised overnight in the Artillery Garden much to the delight of Elisabeth when she awoke the next morning. During the Christmas season, the Elisabethentor acts as the gateway to a Christmas market that resides in the garden. We bought chocolate in the shape of a cell phone as the snow fell lightly on our shoulders.
I was very excited to see Heidelberg because one of my cousins and his family had recently spent a few years stationed there at one of the local Army bases. Unfortunately, they left a few months before we got there so we didn’t have the chance to see them, but thanks to the inventions of Facebook and Smart Phones, I was able to get immediate restaurant recommendations while they were in the States.
And let me tell you, the potato soup at Bier Brezel was delicious.