Last week I had the joy of accompanying my son Aidan, who is in 5th grade, on a field trip with his American school. The plan was to ride the S-Bahn, or the Stadtschnellbahn (city rapid railway) to the town of Neckarsteinach, hike to the castles, and then ride the river boat on the Neckar back down to Heidelberg. Heck yeah I'll chaperon that. My field trips as a child included, but were not limited to, the local zoo, a dairy farm down the street, the train station my dad worked at, and my all time favorite, exploring the abandoned field across the street. You can see how I plan to relive my childhood vicariously through my children. I can now add exploring German castles to my field trip list. Much better than an abandoned field (honestly, what were my teachers thinking?)
The Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof, or central train station, is a hopping place. We corralled our gaggle of excited American children through the crowds of Germans. We got on the train and rode up the Neckar Valley to Neckarsteinach (pronounced ne-car-stine-achhhh, that last bit is a deep throat clearing that you make when you see ch together. I have yet to master it). Then we walked around the town and looked for the castles. Neckarsteinach is home to four castles. They were built between 1100 and 1230 AD by the Landschad von Steinach family. This family must have had some serious coin to build not one, not two, not even three, but four castles in just over a hundred years. Did they have contentious siblings who refused to live together or something?
The first castle we saw is the Mittleburg, or middle castle.
It is the only one that is still privately owned and lived in, so unfortunately, there was no exploring here.
Next on our hike was the Hinterburg, or hind castle. As you can tell, the Germans got really creative with these names, middle castle, hind castle. And guess what? There is a fore castle too.
There wasn't too much left of the hind castle. Many parts of it were in ruins.
Castle ruins. The kids loved that it was falling down. Made for great climbing and a hide-and-go-seek game.
Aidan scaling the castle walls.
On the Hinterburg, there is a great tower with intact steps you can climb that gives you spectacular views of the Neckar and the Dilsberg mountain fortress.
The town of Neckarsteinach.
Next on our hike was the Schadeck, also called Schwalbennest, or swallow's nest.
Here we stopped for lunch and relaxed after a full day of hiking.
It was time to walk down to the boat and ride back to Heidelberg. The boats that cruise along the Neckar aren't like any regular boat. They are almost like a nice floating restaurant. Many Germans take the boat ride to relax and get some lunch, not necessarily to get somewhere. When we walked up to the dock, all the parents groaned internally a little bit. On the open deck of the boat were about 10 older German men sipping their beer and white wine and giving us the stink eye. They were all in what I like to call, The German Uniform, which is black pants or dark jeans, a white button-up shirt, nice brown shoes, and a black jacket. They were all between 40 and 55 and were none to happy to be sharing their quiet river cruise with a crowd of not just Americans, but American children. They were all giving us a look that they only way I can describe is imagine you were just told that your car needs $1,000.00 worth of work on it. So you do it, and then you take it home and it still doesn't drive. Think of that. Now look in the mirror at how pissed off and annoyed you look. That is how they looked. We gave nervous, tight lipped smiles at them from the shore and upon eye contact they would turn around.
Well, it wasn't the first time I have had to deal with an ornery German. Aidan and I rode the boat quietly on the main floor as not to annoy any Germans. I bought Aidan a large ice cream to keep him quiet. It worked. In fact, he was so quiet that I laid my head back and started to be rocked to sleep by the boat.
We got off in Heidelberg with no major, international incidents. The kids were quiet. They had after all spent the whole day hiking. We disembarked quickly and rode the bus back to school. Upon arriving at home, I realized that we had missed one castle because of time. I guess I will have to go back. Until next time Neckarsteinach.
*Promises that she didn't annoy any unhappy Germans on the boat ride.