© Kurpfälzisches Museum / Discovery Station

The History of Heidelberg

Come on a journey through time

Heidelberg's history in numbers

Find of the lower jaw of "Homo heidelbergensis"

The so-called "Homo Heidelbergensis" lived in the region around Heidelberg. His lower jaw was discovered near Mauer. This belongs to one of the oldest known representatives of the species "Homo heidelbergensis". The original of the lower jaw is now in the Geological-Paleontological Institute of Heidelberg University.

Settlement around Heidelberg by the Celts

They settled on the Heiligenberg and surrounded its tops with a double ring wall. Today only stone-strewn terraces remain. These can be viewed on a Celtic circular hiking trail.

The Romans occupied the area at the foot of the Heiligenberg

The Roman Heidelberg - its name at that time is unknown - consisted of a around 70 AD. founded fort in today's Neuenheim district and a civil settlement (vicus) that formed around the fort. A bridge built on stone pillars led over the Neckar. However, Heidelberg always remained in the shadow of the neighboring Lopodunum (today Ladenburg), which was the main town in the region at that time. As a result of the Alemanni invasions, Roman Heidelberg was abandoned in the 3rd century.

Heidelberg ("Heidelberch") is mentioned for the first time

A document from the Schönau monastery in the Odenwald in connection with a “Conradus plebanus in heidelberch” gives testimony to the city for the first time, from a pond around the Peterskirche, the oldest church in the city. The name “Heidelberg” is probably derived from “Heide” (the mountain was unwooded at the time) and from Königstuhl (mountain).

University foundation by Elector Ruprecht I.

Heidelberg thus has the oldest university in Germany today. It was the third oldest university in the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations after Prague (1348) and Vienna (1365), but in contrast to the other two, Heidelberg already had a full university at that time, consisting of the faculties of theology, law, medicine and artists -Faculty.

Construction of the Church of the Holy Spirit begins

Elector Ruprecht III. was elected King of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations in 1400 and thus King Ruprecht I .. So he needed both a befitting palace (Ruprechtsbau in Heidelberg Castle) and a representative burial place. In 1410 the choir of the Heiliggeistkirche was completed and King Ruprecht I could be buried there. The church tower was not completed until 1544.

Martin Luther held his "Heidelberg Disputation"

For Luther, the trip to Heidelberg meant his first theological appearance outside Wittenberg after posting his theses in 1517. The disputation took place in the artist faculty because of the large number of visitors. In Heidelberg, Luther advocated the renewal of the church in 28 theses: Salvation of the soul cannot be worked out or bought - it lies in the grace of God.

Introduction of the Reformation by Elector Ottheinrich

Elector Ottheinrich is one of the most dazzling rulers that the Electoral Palatinate has produced. He built the famous Ottheinrichsbau of Heidelberg Castle and with his treasure trove of books, supplemented by libraries from the university and those of his friend Ulrich Fugger, one of the most famous and valuable libraries in Europe at the time, the Bibliotheca Palatina, was created.

Wedding of Elector Friedrich V with the English Princess Elisabeth Stuart

Friedrich V and Elisabeth Stuart were both only 16 years old. Today's castle lights go back to the festive move into Heidelberg with fireworks after their wedding. For the sake of his wife, Friedrich V converted the castle complex, which had been representative up until then, into a palace complex. This is how the English building, the Elisabethentor and the Hortus Palatinus, a magnificent palace garden, which was then considered the eighth wonder of the world, came into being.

[Translate to En:] Pfälzischer Erbfolgekrieg

Destruction of the city and the castle by the French in the Palatinate War of Succession

Ludwig XIV., The Sun King, as brother-in-law of Liselotte von der Pfalz, raised inheritance claims against the Electoral Palatinate, after first her father, Elector Karl Ludwig (1617 - 1680), and then his successor, her brother Karl II. (1651 - 1685), died childless. Since this was denied to him, he invaded the Electoral Palatinate, Heidelberg and the castle were completely destroyed in 1689 and 1693. One of the few buildings in the city that survived the War of Succession is the Hotel Zum Ritter St. Georg with its magnificent Renaissance facade.

Relocation of the residence under Elector Karl Philipp

Karl Philipp moved the residence of the Electoral Palatinate from Heidelberg to Mannheim after his attempt to "catholicize" the citizens of Heidelberg had failed. For example, the Holy Spirit Church should become a purely Catholic place of worship. In the new residential city of Mannheim, he laid the foundation stone for the Mannheim Palace with an attached Jesuit College and the Jesuit Church, one of the most important church buildings of the Counter-Reformation.

Construction of the Old Bridge by Elector Karl Theodor

Elector Karl Theodor had a stone bridge, the Old Bridge, built after the worst flood in Heidelberg's history washed away the formerly wooden bridge. Before that there were a total of 8 previous bridges, all of which were destroyed by the wild Neckar. A statue was erected in his honor, showing him with a view of the castle, as well as Pallas Athene, the goddess of science and the arts.

Reorganization of the University of Heidelberg

Heidelberg becomes part of Baden. The university is reorganized by the Baden Grand Duke as a state-funded educational institution and renamed Ruprecht-Karls-Universität ("Ruperto Carola") - a combination of the names of the founder of the university, Ruprecht I, and the Baden Grand Duke Karl Friedrich. As a now cosmopolitan and liberal university, Heidelberg experienced a second heyday during the 19th century. The natural sciences in particular experience a great moment in the collaboration of Robert Bunsen, Gustav Kirchhoff and Hermann Helmholtz.

Friedrich Ebert is born in Heidelberg

Friedrich Ebert, first Reich President of the Weimar Republic and first democratically elected head of state in Germany, was born in Heidelberg. During his presidency he survived many political crises, but increasingly came under personal fire. Conservative and military forces blamed him for complicity in the lost First World War. During the resulting trials, Ebert had delayed medical treatment for appendicitis. He died of this on February 28, 1925 at the age of 54. He was buried in his native city of Heidelberg.

Opening of the Stadthalle Heidelberg

The Stadthalle Heidelberg was built by the architects Jakob Henkenhaf and Friedrich Ebert from 1901 to 1903. It was built on the occasion of the centenary of the university reform of 1803 as a meeting and festival building for the citizens and is therefore still affectionately known as the “good room in Heidelberg”. It also served as Heidelberg's congress center until 2018. After the city decided to build a new congress center in 2017, the city hall is now being renovated and converted into a concert hall.

Laying of the foundation stone for the New University

It was built from American donations collected by the then American ambassador in Berlin, Jacob Gould Shurman, a former student at Heidelberg University. As a patron he was able to win billionaires like Chrysler or Rockefeller, among others, in order to create the lecture hall capacities urgently needed in Heidelberg. Today the New University is the main lecture building in the old town.


Over 1,400 synagogues and places of worship burned all over Germany, thousands of apartments and houses were destroyed, around 400 German Jews were murdered or driven to suicide - the pogrom night of November 9-10, 1938 marked the transition from persecution to the systematic extermination of the Jewish population by the National Socialists. Heidelberg was not spared either and with the burning synagogue the life of the Jewish community was cruelly ended.

Deportation of the Heidelberg Jews to Gurs

On October 22, 1940, Gestapo officers arrested 299 Jewish Heidelberg residents in their apartments and deported them in public to the main train station. From there they were deported to the French Gurs camp on so-called “special trains”. For two thirds of them, their martyrdom ended there, in Auschwitz or in other killing camps. This has been commemorated in Heidelberg since 2014 with a memorial located at the point where the train to the French camp left in 1940.

Occupation of Heidelberg by the Americans

Heidelberg is taken by American forces on Good Friday, March 30, 1945, without major destruction. From 1947, the Campbell Barracks, as the barracks were called, was the headquarters of the US Army for Europe and NATO. 220,000 American soldiers were temporarily commanded from here.

Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, Gründung 1964© Stadt Heidelberg
Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, Gründung 1964

Foundation of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)

The first commissioner of the DKFZ as a national research institution is the Heidelberg surgeon Prof. Karl Heinrich Bauer.

Around 3,000 employees in over 90 departments and junior research groups research how cancer develops and which factors influence the risk of cancer. On the basis of these results, they develop new approaches in the prevention, diagnosis and therapy of cancer.

Foundation of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA)

The Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) is founded as the fourth Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg. The three other research centers are the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics and the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Law and International Law. You conduct basic research in the service of the general public.

Opening of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)

The EMBL opens in Heidelberg on May 5, 1978. It is Europe's leading research institute and flagship in the life sciences, with more than 80 independent research groups covering the spectrum of molecular biology. So here everything revolves around the question of how the smallest units of life work. In addition to Heidelberg, EMBL operates in Barcelona, Hamburg, Grenoble, Rome and Hinxton.

Inauguration of the newly built synagogue in the Weststadt district

It was designed by the architect Alfred Jakoby. The Jewish Community of Heidelberg is one of ten communities under the umbrella of the Israelite Religious Community of Baden, based in Karlsruhe. Since 1990 many immigrants from Eastern Europe - mainly from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova - have come to Heidelberg. The number of parishioners tripled from 180 to around 540.

Opening of the documentation and cultural center of German Sinti and Roma

The documentation and cultural center of German Sinti and Roma is a place of encounter and dialogue in the middle of Heidelberg's old town. Their rich culture lives here in literature, painting and music. In addition, the center is a place of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism. The Holocaust of the Sinti and Roma in particular is dealt with in the worldwide unique permanent exhibition, which makes the house an important museum for contemporary history and a place of historical remembrance.

Reopening of the Heidelberg Theater and Orchestra

The Heidelberg Theater, which took three years to renovate and expand, was reopened on November 24, 2012. In Heidelberg, a commitment by the city and private donors, which is unique in Germany, made this redevelopment possible. In addition, the theater was expanded to include a second hall, with a two-story foyer and an additional theater hall that combines the old and new stage areas.

Abzug der Amerikanischen Truppen aus Heidelberg 2013© Stadt Heidelberg / Foto Diemer
Abzug der Amerikanischen Truppen aus Heidelberg 2013

Withdrawal of the American armed forces from Heidelberg

With the withdrawal of the Americans, around 180 hectares of space in Heidelberg became free. This is roughly twice the size of the old town. In total, there were around 2,350 apartments on the land used by the Americans. The conversion of the former American locations offers the city of Heidelberg the unique opportunity of socially, ecologically and economically balanced further development.

Heidelberg becomes “UNESCO City of Literature

Since December 1, 2014, the city of Heidelberg has been an official member of the "UNESCO Creative Cities Network" as the "UNESCO City of Literature". The title pays particular tribute to the city's long tradition and lively literary and cultural scene. Literature is omnipresent in Heidelberg. As you stroll through the city, you will find bookshops, second-hand bookshops, publishers and libraries on every corner. The highlight of Heidelberg's literary activities is undoubtedly the annual “Heidelberg Literature Days”.

Heidelberg receives a royal visit

On the second day of their 2017 visit to Germany, Prince William and Duchess Kate visited the city of Heidelberg, where they were greeted by the Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg and Mayor Prof. Dr. Eckart Würzner welcomed and celebrated by 30,000 people. In total, the Royals had four cities: the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the market square, the old bridge (with rowing regatta) and the Neckarwiese. Before that, 1979 was the last time a member of the British royal family on the Neckar - Prince Philip.

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