Despite its relatively small population of 150,000, Heidelberg is without a doubt one of Germany’s cultural and academic powerhouses. It is precisely this reputation that led to its becoming the tenth UNESCO City of Literature in 2014, along with Dunedin, Granada and Prague.
Following the Protestant Reformation, Heidelberg became a hub of Calvinism, and in 1563 the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most important documents in Protestantism, was written there. In the 19th century, Heidelberg was a leading centre of the Romantic movement. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered to be the father of literary Romanticism, visited the ruins of the famous Heidelberg Castle (one of the most significant Renaissance buildings in Northern Europe) in 1814-1815, where he would take frequent walks in its garden. Other famous Romantics associated with the city included: Joseph von Eichendorff, Johann Joseph von Görres, Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. In the 20th century, Karl Jaspers, one of the most important German philosophers of the time, studied and taught at Heidelberg University. However, Heidelberg’s literary scene is not limited to the history books, and many contemporary writers have lived there, such as: Michael Buselmeier, Hilde Domin, Hubert Bar, Steven Bloom, Jorg Burkhard and Christa Dericum.
Heidelberg has also been a source of great inspiration to foreign writers. For example, Mark Twain, one of the most influential figures in American literature, discussed Heidelberg Castle in his humorous essay “The Horrible German Language,” which chronicles his unsuccessful and frustrating attempts at learning German. Heidelberg is also featured in Twain’s book A Tramp Abroad, an account of his travels in Europe. Another important American artist, the poet Charles Bukowski, was popular in Germany in no small part thanks to the effort of his longtime translator and friend, was Heidelberg’s Carl Weissner.
The German city’s rich literary heritage is part of its broader rich cultural scene. The city is home to many museums, including several impressive art collections and a museum devoted to the Nazi genocide of the Sinti and Roma peoples. The city features many prominent arthouse cinemas, including Karlstorkino. Each year, the Heidelberg Spring festival features all sorts of music, from classical to contemporary. The Heidelberg Castle Festival hosts many open-air musical events.
Evidence of the strength of Heidelberg’s literary scene can be found in the fact that the city bestows several prestigious literary prizes. Each year, Heidelberg University awards a €10,000 prize to a young author, the Brentano Young Authors Prize. Meanwhile, the Hilde Domin Prize for Literature in Exile honours writers working in exile. Karlstorbanhof is a leading concert venue, and Heidelberg has a vibrant theatre scene.
Unsurprisingly, Heidelberg is also a leading city of publishers. In all, there are 50 publishing houses in the city, or approximately one for every 3,000 inhabitants. Leading publishers include Springer Science+Business Media, a leading publisher of academic books and newsletters and online databases related to science, technology and business; according to Publishers Weekly, it is the 19 biggest publisher of books in the world. Heidelberg is also a leading centre of the printing industry. In Heidelberg, the book market makes the largest contribution to the creative economy, and the creative sector has a bigger share of Heidelberg’s economy (5.2 percent) than that of any other German city.
The city also has high concentrations of bookstores and libraries. The Heidelberg Municipal Library has an impressive collection of 220,000 book titles. The University Library of Heidelberg loans more than 2 million loans each year, making it one of Germany’s most-visited libraries. It has many precious collections, including the Manesse Codex, an illustrated collection of German poetry from the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, the Heidelberg Electronic Libraries receives 6 million visits each year. The German-American Institute is the only English-language public library in that part of Germany.
Heidelberg can boast of 1.5 bookstores for every 10,000 inhabitants. The Heidelberg Bookstore is owned by the university and offers many academic books, as well as official university merchandise. Meanwhile, presence with Word is an impressive English-language bookstore. The city is also replete with shops selling rare and used books.
Many literary events can be found in Heidelberg. The five-day Heidelberg Literature Festival features many readings, meetings with authors from both Germany and abroad as well as writing workshops. There are frequent poetry slams in bookstores and cafes across the city, which is also the capital of German Rap Literature. WORD UP! regularly features poetry slams; it also frequently organises poetry workshops for youths.
Founded in 1386, Ruperto Carola/Heidelberg University is the oldest in Germany (and the second-oldest in the German-speaking world, after the University of Vienna). Its English department features many writing-related programmes, including in literary theory, poetry and creative writing. Schools in Heidelberg are of a high quality, and their curricula highly value writing skills. Many Heidelberg schools have vibrant creative writing and theatre programmes.