Two Tickets to Heidelberg Part II

In the last episode, Billy had reluctantly decided to go to Heidelberg with me:

Billy glanced at his watch. “The more I think about it, I would like to see the castle. Do you think we have time, though?”

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t. It’s only about 15 miles from here.”

Minutes later, I strolled up to the ticket counter and said, “Ich mochte zwei fahrkarte nach Heidelberg, bitte.”

The guy behind the counter didn’t laugh, grin, or even flinch. He pushed a button and two tickets came out.

“Wie viel kostet das?” I asked.

“Vierzig mark.”

That equated to 40 mark, about 10 dollars. I pushed a 50 mark bill under the glass and got change.

As we neared the train, a fast commuter that ran on electricity, Billy’s face lost a little more color. “What exactly did you say to that man?”

“I just asked for the tickets.”

“Sounded like more than that to me.”

“Well I had to know how much they cost.”

We boarded the train and found a seat, Billy next to the window and me the aisle seat.

“You rattled that stuff off like you knew what you were talking about. How did you do that?”

“I paid attention in class.”

“Yeah, well I was there too, and what we got was a German version of Dick and Jane, real simple, nothing like what you just did.”

I looked past Billy and observed the scenery through the window. “You’re making too much out of this. I simply studied the short phrases until I understood not only the meaning but the construction of the sentences then expanded on them.”

A short time later -- a few years have passed since then and the details are a little fuzzy, but I believe it was around 3:00 PM – the beautiful scenery and friendly conversation having eased Billy’s apprehension, we disembarked at the train station in Heidelberg where we eased into the second leg of our shoestring-budget tour.

The schloss, or castle sits on a hill 300 feet above the city and walking the steep, winding road proved challenging even for a couple of young soldiers. It was well worth the effort. The castle on the hill above Heidelberg was mentioned as early as the 13th Century, though it wasn’t until 1400 AD that the building activities were documented.

In my youthful years, breaking through my constantly moving, perhaps even chaotic mind was no easy task – my wife, Kathi might tell you that I haven’t changed – but I slowed down to a near trance-like state as I walked along the halls and rooms of the castle, experiencing the statues, decorations, and architectural details. Seeing, touching, and feeling a man-made structure that was 800 years old, if not older fascinated me beyond description. No need for drugs to treat attention deficit disorder, just a castle.

The depths of the schloss host what’s claimed to be the world’s largest wine barrel: Holding 58,000 gallons of the fruit’s nectar and sporting a dance floor atop, the old wooden cask just might be. I guess one never knows when they might get thirsty during a siege.

And, speaking of drugs, if your attention still waivers the lower floor hides an apothecary museum where you’ll find pharmacopoeias, manuscripts, an array of glass vessels, mortars, and flasks, all encompassed in a laboratory where good old Merlin would have felt right at home.

Along one of the walls, a rope and a sign blocked a doorway, which led to the castle dungeon, and beyond that a set of stairs disappeared into a black hole. The vision I conjured of what might be at the bottom of those steps resembled something dredged from the nightmares of Edgar Allen Poe.

Billy and I roamed around the castle and the adjoining grounds until 6:00 PM when the proprietors closed the attraction. After that we carefully descended the steep, cobblestone path and entered the city of Heidelberg. Billy mentioned he was hungry so we walked the streets until we found a gasthaus (guest house), a German-styled, family owned tavern with a bar and a restaurant.

Once we were inside the establishment, something interesting began to happen. The gasthaus turned out to be popular with the locals, and my using their language attracted their attention. Many of them, especially the younger ones, knew English well enough. However, an American soldier that tried to reciprocate was a bit of a rarity. My efforts intrigued and delighted them.

A good meal and several free rounds of bier (beer) later, Billy tugged at my shirt sleeve and tapped his wrist. His watch showed that it was around midnight.

“Hey,” he said, “we need to get going.”

The trip back to the base wouldn’t prove to be so easy.

We said goodbye to our new-found friends, left the gasthaus, and headed for the train station. It had not occurred to us that certain trains wouldn’t run all night. The last train to Mannheim had left thirty minutes ago and there wouldn’t be another one until 5:30 AM.

Even in his slightly inebriated state, Billy’s face grew serious. “What’ll we do now, Yoncas?”

“Well we could wait the five hours, but with a twenty minute ride and still having to get from Mannheim to the barracks, we’d be cutting it pretty close to make the 6:00 AM roll call.”

“You haven’t let me down yet. Don’t start now.”

Billy was right. Missing roll call could result in anything from a severe tongue lashing to a full-blown court martial. We couldn’t risk it. “I’d say it’s a good night for a walk. We should be able to make it in about three hours.”

Stay tuned for Part III.

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