While it was hard to find a 4th of July fireworks celebration in the heart of Germany in the early 1960s, there was always the Heidelberg Castle illumination, which promised to be every bit as exciting.
Living overseas in a foreign country did make you miss the things you were familiar with, like holidays such as the Fourth of July.
However, we also learned as young Military Brats that there were many local holidays that were celebrated with much fanfare and a liberal load of fireworks to boot.
We lived in Mannheim, but we made frequent trips to Heidelburg where there was a large Post Exchange, or PX as we referred to it.
In the summer of 1963, we went to Heidelberg as usual, but instead of our usual visit to the PX and commissary then the trip back, we stayed until early evening and made our way through the old downtown, to the Neckar River banks.
As the sun went down, we found a place along the river bank, with a clear view of the darkening castle on the other side of the river, high up in the mountain.
It was a festive mood, with many people milling about, and spreading out blankets and enjoying wine and beer as the sky grew dark and it became harder to see who belonged to the voices we heard around us.
Tiny Lanterns Everywhere
We saw both adults and children carrying impossibly small lanterns. The lanterns were actually a small electric bulb inside a wire frame and plastic, attached to a square battery. Of course we had to have one each.
As the sky darkened and the evening wore on, the castle began to be illuminated, in a way that it made it look like it was burning.
The history of the Heidelberg Castle is like much of Europe: Castles were built, there were wars and raids against the castles, sometimes leading to the destruction and pillaging of the town the castle was protecting.
In the case of the Heidelberg Castle, the castle was under siege and more or less destroyed in the early 1600s, and finally captured by the Swedes in 1633. The castle was restored in 1690.
In June 24, 1764 lightening struck the castle, setting it on fire. Reconstruction of the castle was spread out over a hundred years with most of it completed by 1900.
The castle gets about a million visitors a year with tourists from all over the world.
The eerie illumination was followed by spectacular fireworks, which seemed to go on and on, with no end in sight. The fireworks reflections in the Neckar River below us, coupled with people running around with sparklers and everyone having such a great time, made this one of most memorable experiences of our stay in Germany.
We made the trip to see the Heidelberg Castle lighting and fireworks several times. In a way it was a substitute for the Fourth of July celebrations we were missing back home.
I visited the Heidelberg castle in 1990, and I’m not sure if this was the first time I had viewed it up close or not. Even if it was a repeat visit, it was great to see the fortifications up close and to tour through many rooms within the castle walls.
I also spent some time in the “downtown” areas of Heidelberg, where amazingly enough, much of the city was spared during World War II, and much of the down-town area has cobblestone streets, and buildings that are hundreds of year old.
I was surprised how well Germany continues to embrace the new with the old, and in the middle of it all was a McDonalds, without the giant golden arches and the sign proclaiming how many billions have been sold.
I must admit it was fun to order a Big Mac with a beer instead of the usual sweet tea or Coca-Cola.