Monday, April 18, 2016

Nazi Amphitheater in Heidelberg

About 20 years ago, my brother and I traveled to Germany for a guy's vacation.  It was a truly awesome time together, and memories of that trip will last with me forever.  It's rare that my brother and I get to do heavy-duty one-on-one time, and to have a full week together traveling through such a gorgeous country was a flat-out blessing.

During our time in Heidelberg, we heard about a trail on the University side of the Neckar, and thought we'd stretch our legs with a hike.  It was a fairly good hump up a fairly sizable hill, and eventually got us to the famed Philosopher's Walk (Philosophenweg) with some incredible views of vineyards, the Neckar valley, and the famed Heidelberg castle.

We could tell we were near the top, and chose to push on to see what else we could find.  As we approached the pinnacle, and without any kind of fanfare, we ran into this:

We were dumbstruck.  First, here was this massive amphitheater on top of a hill, yet there was basically no signage to direct folks to it.  Second, it appeared to built by the Third Reich for political/military rallies.

We snapped photos, and headed on our way.

When Mrs. YDP and I returned to Heidelberg this past week, I really wanted to find that crazy amphitheater again.  I knew generally where it was (up the mountain!), but was unsure as to how to get there.  Regardless, my bride was up for an adventure, so after a fantastic tour at Heidelberg castle in the morning, we crossed the river and headed on up the hill.

The path we chose was unfamiliar to me, but we were still rewarded with a number of things that my brother and I didn't see in our previous trip.  There was a gorgeous garden area, a cool old monument in honor of Bismarck, and a number of great vistas for taking photos.  However, we couldn't find that damned Amphitheater.  

We were near the top of the hill, and also near the end of our endurance, but were being encouraged to press on by a series of signs that promised a castle just up the hill.  Hence, we continued on, and indeed were ultimately rewarded by an ancient castle at the top of the hill that afforded the best view we had of the area:

Thinking we'd done it all and had just missed the amphitheater somehow, we made our plans to head back down the mountain.  Before we did, we noticed a park just around the corner from us, and with that, a cute little beer hall for a much-needed refresher.  My wife and I stepped inside, and while our barkeep was drawing two cold ones, my bride noted a postcard on the bar which showed that elusive amphitheater.  She immediately asked in English if the bartender knew where this was.  "Sure," he said, "about two minutes walk up the road!"  He looked amazed that we had missed it.

We cooled off with a beer (OK, it was two), then found the amphitheater.  

With the benefit of the internet, there is now some decent background on what the place really was, and indeed, it does have Nazi roots.  

Here's what we know from Wikipedia:

The Heiligenberg theatre is one of the official Thingstätten or Thingplätze built in the first part of the Nazi era as part of the Thingspiel movement. It is in the form of an egg-shaped amphitheatre and has a capacity of approximately 8,000 seats or 15,000 standees. The architect was Hermann Alker. The original design was to seat 10,300 people with room for an additional 20,000 standees and include a dance ring behind the stage; work began in late April 1934 and was to have been completed in July, but paused and resumed on the reduced plan, and the facility was completed in June 1935 and dedicated on the 22nd of that month. Approximately 20,000 people attended, and in his address to them Joseph Goebbels spoke of the 'holy mountain' that was the site and characterised the Thingstätten as "the Lagtagen [State diets or parliaments] of our time"; he described the theatre as "National Socialism in stone" and compared the construction of Thingstätten to that of the autobahns 

It represents one of the only examples we saw in our travels of WWII in Germany, and given the carnage that war wrought, that's OK.  

My wife and I took a different route down, and as we descended, I became more convinced that this was the route that my brother and I had likely taken those years before.  Overall, it was a gorgeous walk, and one with a great many payoffs.  However, none were perhaps better than the one offered at that beer hall at the top of the mountain (BTW, you could have hit that "elusive" amphitheater with a soft nine iron shot over my left shoulder in the photo below) :


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