Thursday, July 18, 2013

Memories of Old Heidelberg

Heidelberg Castle ruins
The writing prompt instructed me to choose three postcards that intrigue me. I sorted through my big box of postcards: some are filled with the travel memories of friends and family, and some memories are my own. I settled on a trio from Heidelberg, Germany.

A trio of postcards from Heidelberg

It has been almost five years since I was in Heidelberg with my sister.
The Great Tun     
It was one of the last stops we made on our German tour. We walked around the famous 15th- to 17th-century ruined castle, part of it only a facade wall, the Great Tun, a giant barrel which holds 58,000 US gallons of wine which reportedly had a direct line down to the city; and the Elisabethentor, an arched gateway built for a royal bride, and subject of one of my postcards.

The two other postcards take a step back to show the landscape. One, a borderless bird's eye view, shows the famous castle on the hill with the red-roofed old town below, and the Neckar River below that. A Roman-style arched viaduct transverses the river. A large tour boat has just passed under the bridge. Rising up from the old town is an enormous brown church. The second postcard, framed in black, shows Heidelberg Castle lit up at night with a light coating of snow.

A medieval section of the castle ruins

Heidelberg Castle is a hodgepodge of styles.
My camera was new and unfamiliar to me on that trip, but still my photographs reveal more of my sense of this place than my travel diary, and my little purchased travel guide fills in the history. There are the shots of the single facade wall with blue sky in the window openings. The castle was destroyed by the French Army during the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-93), and then further by lightning in 1764. Some of it was rebuilt, some not, so what results is a hodgepodge of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture.

The Elisabeth Gate

Frederick V
The Elisabethentor, or Elisabeth Gate, was commissioned by Frederick V, the "Winter King," for his bride Elisabeth Stuart. She was the daughter of the English king. Frederick was called the "Winter King" because his kingdom lasted only slightly longer than a winter, and he ultimately died in exile. All of this happened in the early 17th century.

View from Heidelberg Castle garden
The castle garden provides a great view of the old town which came into existence around 1200. We had some free time to walk around the town where we saw newlyweds emerging from the city hall underneath red heart-shaped balloons.
Just married.
The large brown church turned out to be the Gothic Church of the Holy Spirit, begun in 1398. Between its exterior buttresses are unexpected little shops which date back to the 15th century.
See the brown church in the center? That's the Gothic Church of the Holy Spirit, begun in the 14th century.

Close-up of the Church of the Holy Spirit's new (17th-century) roof.

This trip predates my current obsession with bridges,so I didn't go out of my way to shoot it,
Carl Theodor Bridge, to the left.
but I still noticed the striking arched bridge that links the old town with the other side of the Neckar River. Its full name is the Carl Theodor Bridge, and was named after Prince Elector Carl Theodor who had it built of red sandstone to replace a flimsy wooden one damaged in a flood. This construction stretched from 1786-1788. On March 29, 1945, German soldiers blew up all of the Neckar River bridges, but the Carl Theodor Bridge was rebuilt by 1947.

Waffeln mit Schokosauce
Heidelberg was the only place in Germany where I had to attempt to speak German. We stopped for lunch at a cafe, both interested in the waffles with chocolate sauce advertised on a board outside. The waitress did not speak English, so I carefully ordered the waffles and water without bubbles for both of us.

My Heidelberg postcards are about to be filed away in their box until the next time I'm prompted to flip through them. My memories, however, stay with me. I would like to visit Heidelberg again, this time spending more time at the castle (perhaps touring the inside), and visiting Heidelberg University and its library. I wouldn't mind another serving of those waffles, either!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Atlantic City Minus the Glitz and Glamour

Part of my collection of non-casino-related Atlantic City brochures

 Atlantic City is not a place I go often, and I seem to have a talent for not going to casinos. Yesterday, as I attended a writing workshop there, I recalled other times I visited this city without gambling or glitzy shows on my mind.

Boardwalk Hall (formerly known as Convention Hall)
 Way back in my college days, our marching band accompanied the Temple University football team to an indoor game at Convention Hall (now called Boardwalk Hall).
Boardwalk Hall Detail
This was a special event, probably designed to please big donors. Gambling in AC was still a sparkly new idea. Before we arrived my mind stretched to imagine what football played indoors would look like. Once the game started and appeared much like any outdoor game I had attended, my mind became preoccupied with imagining that this was the same space that hosted the Miss America Pageant for decades. I remember missing the beach so much that  night that I snuck out of the hall with my friend, clarinets in hand, just to touch the beach and get sand between my fingers.

A few years back I received a writing assignment from a magazine. They wanted  an article about Atlantic City activities and destinations that did not involve gambling and nightlife. That was easy for me: I covered the new outlet shopping center called The Walk, fancy boutique shopping on shopping mall piers, and boardwalk strolling on the famous four-mile Boardwalk. I reminded readers that you don't even have to walk the boards, you can hire a three-wheeled rolling chair usually pushed by an ambitious young person anxious to make some dollars. Atlantic City's beach is still there, of course, even though it is overshadowed by some very tall, well lit, modern buildings.

Have you heard of the White House Sub Shop?
This world-famous restaurant is just down the street from yesterday's writing conference. Its walls are covered by autographed 8x10 photographs of famous people who have dined there. We sat under Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and a cluster of former Miss Americas. The steak sandwiches are remarkable, partly because of the ultra-fresh rolls, baked daily at a bakery across the street. This piece of authentic Atlantic City is a cool place to go for lunch, and lines around the block of hungry diners are legendary.

Then there's the Absecon Lighthouse, a grassy oasis in the city just a few blocks from the casino culture. Absecon is the name of the island on which the city sits, and also the inlet just to the north. The lighthouse is New Jersey's tallest with 228 steps. It was built in 1857 and contained a first-order Fresnel lens, the most powerful of the time. We visited Absecon Lighthouse on a tour of New Jersey's eleven lighthouses for an article I have been working on for years. (It's a slow-burn inspiration.)

St. Michael's Catholic Church (left) and Dante Hall (right)
That writing workshop yesterday took place in Dante Hall, a smart little building that used to serve as a parish hall for the adjacent St. Michael's Catholic Church, and a community theater. Here's the connection: Dante Hall is administered by Richard Stockton College of NJ with which Murphy Writing Seminars, LLC, partners. Little bas-relief busts of Dante appear throughout the building next to doorways, an appropriate inspiration for writers swimming in words for a day. This day was called
the Shore Thing Writing Getaway. We talked about writing and received prompts from Peter Murphy that encouraged us to surprised ourselves with our writing. I sat on the Boardwalk to write about an extraordinary day, required to incorporate fortune cookie fortunes. (I'm collecting those now, so don't throw them away!) These prompts were tough, and my results were not my best writing. My best work of the day was a short piece about a lie. I've been lucky (or naive) and couldn't think of many lies I have been told, but one stood out about a person who lied to me for years about his birth date. Not important, maybe, but for years I bought him milestone birthday cards one year too late. The nice essay was worth the deception, I suppose.

Contemporary AC is more than just casinos and nightlife just as the Prohibition-Era Atlantic City of my favorite show Boardwalk Empire had more to offer than gangsters and Speakeasies! My next Atlantic City excursion will probably be to visit a destination visited for over a hundred years by gangsters, flappers, real estate moguls and ordinary folks: Lucy the Elephant in nearby Margate, built in 1881!