Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Apocalyptic Heidelberg

Published onOct 03, 2023
Apocalyptic Heidelberg

Following a workshop on 17 April 2023 at the Centre for Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Studies (CAPAS), a group formed to explore the apocalyptic side of Heidelberg. During the initial meeting on April 19, the following schedule of guided excursions was decided:

  • 26.4 (Wednesday) – Philosopher’s Walk and Old Bridge

  • 3.5 (Wednesday)– Bunker, Parking Garage Voßstraße Heidelberg / Prinzhorn Collection

  • 10.5 (Wednesday)– Schwetzingen Castle

  • 17.5 (Wednesday)– University Place / Book Burning / 90 yr. / Synagogue

  • 24.5 (Wednesday) – Kurpfälzisches Museum / Codex

  • 31.5 (Wednesday)– Uncanny Heidelberg / Schloss

  • 7.6. (Wednesday)– Observatory

  • 12.6 (Monday) – BASF Ludwigshafen Factory Tour

  • 21.6 (Wednesday) Thingstätte

26 April 2023 - Philosophers’ Walk and Old Bridge

Watercolor of an idealized landscape (1795) by Ferdinand Kobell from the Scheuermann Collection

Before starting out with the first excursion with a walk along the famous Philosophers’ Walk to the Old Bridge, the group gathered at the CAPAS Seminar Room to discuss the 1784 flooding of Heidelberg and its depiction in a series of catastrophic paintings by Ferdinand Kobell (further information below). Five of the paintings can be viewed in this German-language article on the web site of Kunst auf Lager. Furthermore, an original watercolour by Ferdinand Kobell (1740-1799) of 1795 was examined by the group.1

Villa Jensen (Philosphenweg 16)

The villa was originally built and owned by Hugo Merton, Professor of Biology and of Jewish origin. Due to the Nuremberg Laws, he was forced out of the university and the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt in 1935. In 1937 he was invited to Edinburgh, but returned soon after, because his possessions in Germany were confiscated. He was arrested in the Concentration Camp of Dachau in 1938, but was deported to Edinburgh, Scotland again a year later, where he died in March 1940; presumably because of his time in the concentration camps.

His wife claimed recompensation and received a one-time payment of 178,- DM, which was renounced after the university had intervened.

Further reading:

Auer, B. (1985). Das Haus Philosophenweg 16. In: Riedl, P.A. (eds) Die Gebäude der Universität Heidelberg. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Ritchie, J. Prof. Hugo Merton. Nature 145, 924–925 (1940).

Hans Jensen, professor of nuclear physics bought the house for the university in 1952. It was never restituted to the heirs of Merton and is still in the possession of the university. Today the Villa is part of the Institute for theoretical physics and houses its library.

Philosophers’ Way

After leaving Villa Jensen at the beginning of the Philosophers’ Way behind, we followed the path uphill until we reached the vantage point above the philosophers’ garden to engage in further exchanges.

An AI’s “view” of the Philosophers’ Way

Philosophenweg is a beautiful walking path in Heidelberg, Germany, that is popular among tourists and locals alike. The path offers stunning views of Heidelberg's Old Town and the Neckar River, and is lined with trees and benches for visitors to enjoy the scenery.

The name "Philosophenweg" means "Philosopher's Walk," as it was a popular spot for philosophers and university professors to stroll and contemplate their ideas. In fact, some of the city's most famous thinkers, such as the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the physicist Max Planck, used to take walks on this path.

The path is about 2.2 kilometers long and starts at the Old Bridge in the Old Town of Heidelberg. It then winds its way up the hillside to the Heiligenberg, where visitors can explore the ruins of a medieval monastery and an amphitheater.

Overall, the Philosophenweg is a must-visit destination in Heidelberg for anyone interested in history, nature, or just a peaceful stroll with a breathtaking view.

One amusing story about the Philosophenweg involves the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who was known for his absent-mindedness. It is said that Hegel was so absorbed in thought while walking on the Philosophenweg that he accidentally walked off the path and fell into the Neckar River below!

Fortunately, Hegel was able to swim to safety and was unharmed. However, the story has become a humorous anecdote about the hazards of being lost in thought.

Another funny story about the Philosophenweg involves the famous German composer Richard Wagner. Legend has it that Wagner was once taking a walk on the path when he was struck with inspiration for his opera "Tristan and Isolde." He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he failed to notice a sign indicating that the path was closed, and he ended up getting lost in the woods for several hours before eventually finding his way back to Heidelberg.

These stories may or may not be entirely true, but they add to the colorful history and folklore surrounding the Philosophenweg.

Source: ChatGPT

After following the Philosophers’ Way for a short while, the group took to the Schlangenweg, known in English as the Snake Path. The path winds down through the romantic gardens directly to the Old Bridge. On the way, it offers numerous benches with stunning views of Heidelberg and the Neckar River.

Further reading:

Old Bridge and Flood of 1784

The Old Bridge is the ninth in a series of bridges in this place beginning in the early 13th century. It takes advantage of a huge rock on the southern bank of the river projecting into the water; hence the name “Steingasse” (Stone Lane) of the street leading from the bridge to the marketplace, which is used as the southern bridgehead. This rock caused many calamities with ships and boats on the Neckar, which shattered here - hence the name “Hackteufel” (hacking devil) of the rock, which lives on in a nearby restaurant and hotel.

Thomas Meier showing the high water marks at the pillar of the old bridge.

Eruptions of the Laki-crater in Iceland in the summer of 1783 made the winter of 1783/84 one of the coldest in central European history, with lots of snow in January and February. Around the 23 February, warm air with heavy rain suddenly and massively intruded, causing the snow to melt away. This caused high water and let the thick ice of the rivers break. The ice was stopped by bridges and blocked them, damming up the rivers, which produced very severe flooding in many cities. Many bridges were too weak to withstand the pressure of ice and water and broke down. In Heidelberg, Cologne (10 m above average) and Bamberg, it was the highest flooding ever recorded in historical times. In Heidelberg, 39 buildings along the Neckar were completely destroyed, while 290 more were damaged.

The catastrophic results of the flooding around Heidelberg were recorded in a series of “Katastrophenbilder” by Ferdinand Kobell, among them the destroyed Old Bridge in the summer of 1784.

Ferdinand Kobell, Die alte Brücke in Heidelberg nach dem Eisgang, 1784, Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg

Further reading on the “Katastrophenbilder” by Ferdinand Kobell:

(Thomas Meier, Rolf Scheuermann)

3 May 2023 - ‘Bunker’ and Prinzhorn Collection

On a sunny day in May, a small group of CAPAS fellows walked to the Galeria Kaufhof in Heidelberg’s Altstadt. We walked behind the three-story department store in an attempt to find an entrance to the underground bunker and had quite a difficult time locating it. After a false start down the truck entrance, we decided to go into the department store, from where we took the elevator down one level to the parking garage.

Exiting the elevator into the concrete parking lot, we found ourselves in a fairly empty garage with American country and pop music and German advertisements for the store being piped over the stereo system throughout the space. While the bunker could hold dozens of cars, most people shopping at Galeria Kaufhof come by foot or bicycle.

We were here not to learn about the parking garage, however, but rather how it can double up as a bunker. Robert Kirsch and Emily Ray, bunker aficionados and authors of a forthcoming book on bunkers that will be published by Columbia University Press, explained that the parking garage-as-bunker can hold 8,000 people. Many of us never would have guessed that the nondescript space could double as a type of fortification for preserving the population in a time of crisis, whether bombing, nuclear war, fire, or another sort of natural or humanitarian disaster. While 8,000 people seems like a lot of people, it’s only five percent of Heidelberg’s population of 160,000.

Little was known about whether provisions were made for ensuring fresh air, food, and water for the 8,000 people hypothetically sheltering inside the bunker. After only 20 minutes in the garage, we felt stifled by the poor air quality. Suffice it to say that after our short visit to the bunker, we were more than ready to see the sun again.

(Mia Bennett, Paolo Vignolo)

10 May 2023 - Approaching the End of the World in the Garden of Schwetzingen Castle


At first sight, Schwetzingen Castle and its lovely garden may appear to be one of the least apocalyptic sceneries of the region that you can find - far from it. It came to our attention that nothing less than the end of the world can be found within its grounds. Accordingly, a small group of adventurous CAPAS members decided to undertake a daring excursion to approach the end of the world.

The current castle dates back to a 14th Century moated castle surrounded by water. On its foundations, a grand hunting lodge was established, which was destroyed during the thirty years war (1618-1648), then rebuilt and again destroyed during the Nine Years War. The current castle was finally built by Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz of the House of Wittelsbach. Due to the Nine Years’ War of 1688-1697, he did not reside in the destroyed Heidelberg Castle, but in the Castle of Düsseldorf. The Schwetzingen Castle, however, became his summer residence. It was built starting in 1697.

Johan Wilhelm’s brother and successor, Carl Philip (1661-1742), moved his seat back to Heidelberg, but had costly plans to turn it into a baroque castle, which led to a fallout with the protestant population of Heidelberg. Therefore, in 1720, he moved his seat to Mannheim. Carl Philip was succeeded by Charles Theodore (1724-1799), Elector of Palatine, who later became Elector of Bavaria. During his time in Mannheim, Schwetzingen was his summer residence. In the 1750s and 1760s, he expanded the former garden vastly, which was designed by the court architect Nicolas de Pigage (1723-1796), but also by Johan Wilhelm Sckell (1722-1792), the father of Friedrich Ludwig Sckell (1750-1823), who designed the English Garden in Munich. His plan was to build a much larger palace, but this plan never manifested due to a lack of funds.

The garden is divided into two parts, an English garden and a French garden. The garden can also be divided into a garden of allegories and a garden of reasoning, exemplifying the idea of enlightenment. It contains over 100 sculptures, but also a couple of interesting buildings. It is incredibly rare that a Baroque garden of this calibre remains maintained, basically in its original shape since its invention, still housing all the statues.

Urns Illustrating the Golden Age of the World

Right after entering the garden through the palace, one stumbles upon urns that illustrate the Golden Age, which can be seen as a leitmotif of the Schwetzingen palace gardens, embodying the utopia of an ideal time long gone by. The four urns have been created by the sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt between 1762 and 1766. Placing them here at the entrance to the garden exemplifies that the theme of the Golden Ages was central to Prince Elector Carl Theodors’s intentions expressed in the garden. The vases symbolize the:

(1) Golden age (peace and harmony, depictions of primitive gardening)

(2) Silver age(agriculture and architecture)

(3) Bronze age (warfare and hunting )

(4) Iron age (navigation, mining and the expansion of territory/colonization).

View from the entrance of the Schwetzing Castle garden

A Mappa Mundi

The garden houses a couple of neoclassical temples, such as the “Roman” temples dedicated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom and warfare, and to Mercurius, god of messages and commerce, as well as the “greek” temple of Apollo, the god of oracles, healing and the arts, along with a nature theatre and a grotto-like rocky foundation.

Stairway up to the Apollo temple and the entrance to the grotto behind the fountain

The garden further houses a constructed ruin of a “Roman” water fort and aqueduct established in 1779. Now, 250 years after its construction, the artificially created ruins of a Roman water fort and aqueduct have turned into proper ruins that witness the bygone times of the Electors of the Palatinate.

The “Roman” water fort and aqueduct

The Orient is represented by a mosque in the South of the garden. It is the oldest and largest building of such a type in Germany, maybe even in Europe. It was built in 1779-1795. It is comprised of a central construction, two minarets and prayer halls. The design of the central construction resembles the Charles Church in Vienna. The mosque was never intended for prayer, but rather for decoration. It stems from a period when Islam in Germany was associated with the ideas of European Enlightenment, which is witnessed by the inscriptions in German and Arabic.

The interior of the mosk

As a whole, the garden is designed along a central axis that connects the highest peaks of the Electoral Palatinate, the Kalmit (672m) of the Palatinate Forest and the Katzenbuckel (626m) of the Odenwald Forest in a direct line. The Castle of Schwetzingen is found at the centre of this axis of the “World Map” or Mappa Mundi of the Palatinate, which also runs through the Heidelberg Castle.

The End of the World

In the end, we reached our final destination in the garden, a perspective painting. The basis for the work established by Nicolas Pigage is a painting by Ferdinand Kobell that was copied and transfered as a Fresco on a curved wall to produce a 3D-effect.

The perspective painting “End of the World” by Ferdinand Kobell

CAPAS Researchers exploring the End of the World

At the rear end of a corridor, which creates a strong sense of depth, a romantic river landscape can be seen. The work is commonly known as “The End of the World.”

A close-up of the End of the World

(Rolf Scheuermann)

17 May 2023– 90th Anniversary of Nazi Book Burning and Past Jewish Synagogues

90th anniversary of Nazi book burning on Universitätsplatz

Heinrich Heine „Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.“
[Where you burn books, you end up burning people.]

90 years ago, in the evening of 17 May 1933, a well-orchestered Nazi-staging burnt a pyre of books on Universitätsplatz in Heidelberg. It was part of a Germany-wide “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” [Action against the un-German spirit], which started some weeks after the NSDAP gained power in the German Reich at the end of January 1933. This action was among the first coordinated actions to suppress and finally eradicate everybody and everything, who dissented to Nazi ideology or was perceived as enemy to the people (Volksfeind) or inferior to the German race. It was flanked by the “Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums” (Law on the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service), issued 7 April 1933, which expelled all Jewish, communist, and dissident professors from universities. The rhetorics of these and other actions of racial delusion centered around ideas of recovering racial purity of the German people and “cleansing” them from inferior influxes.

The “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” was a four-week campaign aimed against the freedom of the university and against freedom to think at all. From 26 April onwards books were collected for a planned nation-wide book burning on 10 May. Each student was called to “cleanse” their own and their acquaintances’ libraries from “harmful” books; academic libraries followed, while public libraries and booksellers were asked to deliver such books. A black list was widely distributed indexing all names and works that had to be selected. The action climaxed in the event of “öffentliche Verbrennung von antivölkischen Propagandaschriften und der jüdisch-marxistischen Zersetzungsliteratur” (public burning of anti-racist propaganda writings and Jewish-Marxist literature of decomposition). In Berlin and other cities it took place as scheduled on 10 May, while in other cities it was delayed by several weeks.

In the case of Heidelberg explanations for the delay differ: Some point to bad and rainy weather in Heidelberg on 10 May, others suggest that not enough books have been collected to make up an impressive pile and that it needed a week more to gather sufficient material. This lack of books partly resulted from the booksellers little appreciation of the action and delivering books to be burned for free, partly from the librarian of the public library, who had been a strong supporter of Nazi ideology for many years. Thus “ungerman” books were already sorted out or never bought into the public library.

The event started with a “lecture” by art historian Prof. Josef August Beringer on „Herabwürdigungen der deutschen Kunst in den Jahren 1918-1933” (Disparagements of German Art in the Years 1918-1933) which produced a bunch of anti-French and anti-intellectual ressentiments railing against all sorts of “isms.” The lecture ended with a call to action and was followed by a speech of a student-leader and several songs while the prepared pyre was set on fire. Piles of books of individual authors were thrown into the fire along with spells, which had been centrally orchestred by the government and were obligatory at all events, e.g. “Gegen Klassenkampf und Materialismus, Für Volksgemeinschaft und idealistische Lebenshaltung! Ich übergebe den Flammen die Schriften von Marx und Kautsky” (Against class struggle and materialism, for national community and idealistic attitude to life! I hand over to the flames the writings of Marx and Kautsky).

Besides several Nazi- and student corporations (Burschenschaften) several students and professors took part. At the book burning in Freiburg, the new rector of the university, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, gave a speech and declared: “Flamme künde uns, leuchte uns, zeige uns den Weg, von dem es kein Zurück mehr gibt! Flammen zündet, Herzen brennt!“ (Flame announce to us, shine on us, show us the way from which there is no turning back! Flames ignite, hearts burn!)

The bookburning of 17 May was part and climax of a series of burning events in Heidelberg, a preceeding one on 11 March devastating the House of the Unions (Gewerkschaftshaus) in Rohrbacherstraße, a follow up on 16 July the same year organised by the Nazi youth-organisation (Hitlerjugend).

In some cases like Hermann Essig, Alexandra Kollontay, Emil Ludwig and Werner Türk the burning of their books in fact turned them almost into oblivion and still today it is hard to trace (printed) copies of their books. Many others like Kurt Tucholsky, Stefan Zweig, Klaus Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Erich Kästner stayed well known, but some of them broken in their hearts. In Paris, Alfred Kantorowicz collected copies of the burnt books in the Library of Freedom and in Prague such a collection was assembled for an exhibition. But both libraries were destroyed by German troops after the occupation of Paris and Prague and until today no complete library of the burnt books exists.

Dietrich Harth (2011). Die Heidelberger Bücherverbrennung des Jahres 1933. Geschichte und Gedenken. Heidelberger Perspektiven. Heidelberg: Kurpfälzischer Verlag Dr. Hermann Lehmann.

The first synagogue in the Untere Straße 24 (ca 1350(?) - 1390)

The second synagogue in Merianstraße 3 (ca. 1700 - 1714)

The third synagogue in Große Mantelgasse 1 (ca. 1715 - 1938)

The events of Nazi-pogroms in Heidelberg are emotionally remembered in Joan Baez’ song “For Sasha.”

(Thomas Meier)

24 May 2023 - Codex Manesse and Kurpfälzisches Museum

Our exploration of the Codex Manesse facsimile (from the original Codices Palatina) and selected objects in the KM archaeological and art collections brought together two main interests: in the art and ritual markers of endings (in feudal contexts), and how artists responded to Heidelberg’s states of ruination to evoke a sense of their melancholic pathos yet potency for the present.

We considered the Codex Manesse (shown below) as a ‘survivor’ of its turbulent past, and indeed, of many episodes of ruination, revolution, and return.  As among the most comprehensive collections of post-Classical Minnesang: ballads, songs and poetry in the Middle High German language, the Codex Manesse escaped the worst spoliations of wars and their sequels – plunder and capture of the majority of the great Codices Palatini following the Thirty Years War, and their transfer to and ‘acquisition’ by the Vatican Library, Rome. Yet, despite this, the original Codex bears in its materiality, the marks, traces, and abrasions of its turbulent journeys in time and spaces of conflict -  of removals from Heidelberg, to Paris (c.1656), its return by French military police to Heidelberg in 1888, and back again, by the US Army, rescued from a Nuremberg air-raid shelter in 1945. In these ways, the Codex carries with it a material ‘sediment’ – still detectable in the facsimile version - that exposes traces of many Apocalypses and the complex entangling of objects with human catastrophe and states of endings.

Codex Manesse

The glory of the Codex is the range and variety of its colour miniatures, depicting a panoply of courtly activities, but focused on the arts of courtly love and war.  Here, we were particularly interested in questions of the rituals of love sacrifice – shown, for example, via arms and the abject, devotion and ‘impossible’ love that carry affects of endings (wounds, abjection, tethers, images of release – the falcon, the hawk). Yet we noted that the Codex Manesse miniatures attest to a vigour, and more earthy intensity of devotions that differ from Troubadour courtly love poems and visual treatments of these themes, indicative of a worldview, more closely connected to the expression of aspirant power-structures via their performative – and in key instances, embodied courtly rituals of love and war.

Detail from the Codex Manesse, c.1300-40 (Codex Palantina, Germ. 848), facsimile, 1925-27 (Leipzig). Heidelberg Universität Bibliothek

At the Kurpfälzisches Museum, we turned to a linked exploration of the material and visual ‘sediment’ of material and symbolic ruination as a potent space of re-imagining and beginnings, and the complex, entangled affects this stimulates. Recent archaeological finds from General Tilly’s Heidelberg encampment (the ‘Tilly find’) uncover a hidden strata of Heidelberg’s ‘lost’ medieval city and world, revealed via myriad material remains – goblet fragments, pottery sherds, shattered timbers and pieces of wood-carved furniture, evidencing again, the power of the material remnant as a time-capsule evoking how the impacts of devastating events are registered on humans and their larger environments, beyond immediate traumas of war or politics.

Our final topic was the image and projection of ‘ruined’ Heidelberg as a site of art and Romantic revelations.  In the works of Carl Rottmann – notably his 1815 painting of Heidelberg Schloss, the elevated viewpoint from a site above the Palatinate Garden to the Neckar valley and West, conjures both the Schloss and its landscapes, as a vision of an enchanted place and time, bathed in a celestial glowing light evoking the ‘ruin’ as the keystone of imagination and transcendence. In other key examples, we considered how Romantic visual tropes – via picturesque time-travel scenarios - featuring towering rocks, peaks, precipitously perched Gothic castles, tiny, often rustic travellers, stormy  landscapes  – are arguably distilled in the Romantic construct of the ‘nocturnal’ as the entwined projection of the ruin as the touchstone of melancholic mood – the pathos of ‘past-ness’ and dream ( the vision).  Rottmann’s ‘nocturnal’ (below) brings the ruined Schloss into a revelatory conjunction with nature, and the celestial meeting of night and day – the rising moon and setting sun. The nocturnal, powerfully evocative of shadows, doublings and the uncanny inversion of day (moonlight; the prominent owl), in Rottmann’s painting, transforms what is decayed in stone and time, into a vision of another world – to a time that re-imagines material remains as beginnings.

Carl Rottmann, View of Heidelberg Castle and the Rhine Valley, 1820-22. Heidelberg: Kurpfälzisches Museum.

(Juliet Simpson)

Uncanny Heidelberg and the Heidelberg Castle

Our starting-point was to rethink the Schloss – in its layered, entangled history, architectures and site – as a constant cycle of destruction-reconstruction, of ruination and uncanny re-imagining. Moving beyond the events of the 1689 Palatinate War and its devastations, our interest was in extending how we reframe the Schloss as an apocalyptic site, in terms of its earlier and later intertwined histories of natural cataclysm (devastating lightning strikes), of dynastic and religious conflict, mirrored in its layered architectures, fortifications and their temporalities.

The CAPAS working group at the castle

This took us on a journey from the fortress-like, yet compact ‘medieval’ Ruprechtian Schloss nucleus, to the highly adapted, feudal-looking early Renaissance Friedrichsbau to the extravagantly oversize Mannerist Englischbau – the final stage of the Schloss’s expansionist architectures of power under the Winter King Friedrich V before the Schloss’s ‘recreation’ as a perpetual ruin. This paradox of the Schloss’s recreation as a ruin is pivotal, of course, to its Romantic potency, as a monument rich in the artistic suggestiveness of shadowy histories. For Romantic writers and artists, notably shown in paintings by Carl Rottmann and JMW Turner (Goethe also drew the ruins), the amplified power of its natural site and exaggerated elevation, evokes from the viewpoint of the ruinous Palatinate Garden and great Promenade, a vista on Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley to the West as a visionary landscape of dream and transcendent expanse. 

Carl Rottmann, Heidelberg Schloss, 1815. Watercolour and pen. Heidelberg: Kurpfälzisches Museum

JMW Turner, Castle in an Alpine Valley called Heidelberg, 1844-5. Oil on canvas. London: Tate Britain

Our exploration of these different stages of ruination and expansion raised further questions about ruination as a politics of memory, culture and placing or perspective. That the Schloss’s ‘ruination’ becomes a strategy of a particular history and memory-construction, as  evidenced in contested views about the Schloss’s ‘reinvention’ in the 1880s, and the eventual choice of the Friedrichsbau as the restored fragment. This politics of ‘façadism’ tends to elide the Schloss’s material, architectural and symbolic relics as bearers of temporal conflicts, and of its many repeated cycles of destruction-creation; spoliation-and repossession – conflicts also occulted in the Romantic and Tourist’s eye view. The paradox is that the ruin becomes ‘the whole;’ the site of ruination, like the ‘romantic’ historical reconstruction, both close off the possibility of ‘living’ history – of traumatic, embodied processes of war, power-shifts, of abrupt temporal discontinuities; beginnings and endings.

Heidelberg Castle – Gate Tower entrance: iron ring with so-called ‘Witch’s Bite’

In the final part of the AH Schloss tour, we considered Walter Benjamin’s 1922 visit to Heidelberg and his evocation of the Schloss in his Reisebilder, as an uncanny constellation of hidden meanings: a ‘denkbilder’ – a thought image. Benjamin takes the Romantic and post-card view and subverts it. His image of Heidelberg Schloss is of the potency of its remains as the image and presence of destruction in the modern city. “Heidelberger Schloss. Ruins, whose remnants soar skywards, sometimes appear double, even on a clear day” (Benjamin 1922).  ‘Ruination’ is not therefore only about the past, but an apocalyptic ‘doubled’ presentiment of a future time – here Benjamin turns for inspiration to the Baroque device, and its extravagant superfluity of the allegorical and emblematic which evokes a horror vacui – the void, and to late 19th-century photography and the imaging of the uncanny or haunted cityscape. Thus, Benjamin’s Heidelberg conjures the power of the ruin as relic, as an immanent vision. He collapses pasts into a network of uncanny ruins and secret, liminal cities, that are porous sites of conflicted past and potential future temporalities (Heidelberg-1922, Riga-1924, Naples-1925) that condense time; they image what is unseen, a present as yet unfolded.

Heidelberg Castle, c.1880. Photograph: albumen print

View Heidelberg Schloss from the Neckar. Photograph (post-card), c. 1895

 Juliet Simpson (23 July 2023)

The Heidelberg Observatories

On Wednesday 7th June, the group visited the astronomical facilities on the Königstuhl, beginning with an overview of current research and our cosmic origins, in the planetarium of the Haus der Astronomie. Thereafter, we walked over to the Landessternwarte (celebrating its 125th anniversary this Summer), for a tour of the historic telescopes.

The Haus der Astronomie outreach centre, adjacent to the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the Landessternwarte on the Königstuhl

Telescopes at the Landessternwarte

A subset of the group continued with a walking tour of the astronomical heritage of the Altstadt, tracing the early history of astronomy in Heidelberg. We began near the Pieterskirche, just a stone’s throw from the site of the city’s first astronomical observatory (albeit without a telescope, which had yet to be invented), constructed by Valentin Ortho in the Gartenhaus on the Plöck in 1593. We discussed the influence of Jacob Christmann (1554-1613), professor of logic and subsequently professor of Arabic in Heidelberg, who, stimulated by his translation of ancient Arabic texts, began to build telescopes in 1611 and published two astronomical treatises shortly before his death.

Michael Maestlin (1550-1631) served as professor of mathematics in Heidelberg from 1580-1584, before moving to Tübingen for the remainder of his career. He was an early full adopter of the Copernican model and mentor of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) in Tübingen. Kepler’s work ‘Astronomia Nova’ was published in Heidelberg in 1609, based on 10 years’ worth of data on the motions of Mars, building on work by Tycho Brahe, and presented the development of his first two laws of planetary motion. At that stage, Kepler regarded the Copernican model as a convenient mechanism to explain the positions of the planets, not as a description of an underlying physical reality. Rather, he proposed that the Sun moves the planets due to some emitted physical species which, analogous to light, pushes the planets in their orbits.

Walking down the Haupstrasse, we stopped in the Märzgasse to view the private observatory constructed around 1880 for Max Wolf (1863-1932). Wolf developed plans for the new observatory on the Königstuhl, which was inaugurated on 20th June 1898.

Max Wolf’s private observatory in the Märzgasse.

The tour ended at the Haus zum Riesen, Haupstrasse 52, where, from an attic room the back of the building, Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchoff conducted observations and analysis of the spectrum of the Sun in 1859. They showed that the dark lines in the solar spectrum discovered by Joseph Fraunhofer (1787-1826) occurred at the same wavelengths as the spectral lines of elements burned in a laboratory Bunsen burner. Their work clarified the origin of spectral emission and absorption lines, the gaseous composition of the Sun and the nature of sunspots, and thereby ushered in the modern era of stellar astrophysics.

The top floor attic room from which Bunsen and Kirchoff conducted their observations and spectral analysis of the Sun.

Further reading

Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Königstuhl (

(Richard Wilman)

BASF Ludwigshafen

On Monday, 12 June 2023, ‘Apocalyptic Heidelberg’ visited nearby Ludwigshafen for a guided BASF factory tour and to explore the little museum attached to the BASF Visitor Centre. The excursion started of with a bus tour through the BASF factory compound at the international BASF headquarter in Ludwigshafen, founded in 1865. It is the largest integrated production site of the BASF, and the largest factory compound of the world that stretches over ~10 km2 with currently 38,371 employees (in 2021).

BASF Ludwigshafen from the outside

BASF Ludwigshafen, 1881

The factory tour was impressive and truly apocalyptic in dimension, but unfortunately, photographs were not allowed during the tour after we had entered the compound.

CAPAS Researchers visiting the BASF Ludwigshafen with a guided tour

Afterward, we had a guided tour through the museum of the visitor centre. The CAPAS researchers enjoyed the various hands-on experiments and interactive elements and stations in the museum.

A CAPAS Researcher attempting to cause a big bang

During the tour, we learned a lot about BASF’s history and achievements, particularly in the area of carbon dioxide reduction. The company aims to reduce CO2 emissions significantly (25%) by 2030 and hopes to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. It should, however, be noted that BASF is currently the company with the highest water consumption in Germany, which was not mentioned.

CAPAS researchers at the BASF Museum at the Visitor’s Centre, Ludwigshafen

A few lacunae were addressed by the group during a work lunch with discussions at an Indian restaurant in Mannheim, which followed the factory tour. Interestingly, neither the great Oppau explosion of 1921 - described by eyewitnesses as “the apparent end of the world”- was addressed by the guide. As a consequence of the Oppau Explosion, 559 people died and 1977 were injured. The detonation could be heard all the way from Munich and caused damage to buildings at a distance of up to 75 km.

Oppau Exlosion of 1921

During the tour, we also did not hear anything about the infamous history of BASF during the second world war. After BASF had merged with companies like Bayer and Hoechst in 1925, it was part of I.G. Farben. It could have been worth noting that I.G. Farben held a 42,5 % share of the company Degesch, which distributed the cyanide-based poisonous gas Zyklon B that killed so many people in gas chambers during the Holocaust. Of course, as the BASF website states, “a definitive answer has yet to be found,” “whether the representatives of I.G. Farben knew that Zyklon B was used for the mass murder of people.”

Furthermore, I.G. Farben established the I.G. Auschwitz production site in Buna/Monowice, a work camp related to the Auschwitz concentration camp with a large workforce of slave laborers. Laborers considered unfit for work were transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Estimates on the numbers vary, but the BASF website acknowledges “41,000 inmates in total, of which around 30,000 were killed.” Even if the post-war-BASF is not responsible for I.G. Farben’s dark history during the Nazi regime, a more open approach to the company’s history would have been welcome.

(Rolf Scheuermann)

Further Reading:

The BASF Visitor’s Centre also offers a Virtual Site Tour in English and German:

Ludwigshafen Site 2021 in Figures:


  • 21.6 – (Wednesday) Thingstätte

    This visit was canceled due to the heat wave.

Other Dark Places in Heidelberg We Did not Visit

Schreiter-window in Heiliggeistkirche

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?