Also available: Segment on the Heidelberg Christmas Market
The purpose of this chapter, like that of the Northern Suburbs, is to help paint a portrait of life in Heidelberg, the city I have called home since 1999. As the region from Heidelberg to Frankfurt am Main has a significant American population, Heidelberg serves as a reasonable case study for the types of living and working environments one may encountered were one to move to Germany full-time. I concentrate my story on this with the southern suburbs, the part of Heidelberg with which I am most familiar. Unlike the other towns and boroughs in the Heidelberg Area, the southern suburbs are purely oriented on living and working. Tourists have little or no reason to venture that direction and are better off staying on the Neckar.
Heidelberg's southern suburbs are a definite mixed bag, which each suburb being completely different in character. Taken together, they can almost be considered a "planned city" unto themselves -- one is a major industrial and commercial center, one a cultural and business center, one a classy higher-income suburb, and other two dominated by low-to-middle income high-rise apartments. There is little overlap of function or purpose, unlike self-incorporated and self-contained towns like Leimen that borders Heidelberg to the south.
I will cover these suburbs north to south, west to east.
The "classy higher-income suburb" is called Kirchheim, located to the west, below Wieblingen and Pfaffengrund. Physically separated from Heidelberg by a series of sports parks and farmland, Kirchheim is the most self-contained of the suburbs on this page. It has its own market square and series of restaurants. In fact, my experience at Kirchheim's restaurants is that they rival the best that the Hauptstrasse has to offer, at significantly lower prices. Kirchheim is so highly regarded that it is the one of very few suburbs that has a straight bus line from its marketsquare directly to the Universitätsplatz on the Hauptstrasse.
The sportsplatz toward Kirchheim is huge, and is similar to the types of sports centers available throughout Germany. This one has multiple soccer fields, a field hockey pitch, running tracks, gymnasium, and other facilities. I have become amazed to the extent that Germans are involved in organized sports activities and sports leagues. Each town not only has a sports club, but that club puts teams on the field in several dozen different sports, and the leagues are managed nationwide -- in soccer, for example, there are two professional divisions (the 1st and 2nd Bundesligas), then two 3rd Division leagues (north and south), then provincial leagues, all the way down to towns and boroughs. The system of promotion and relegation runs throughout the entire hierarchy, not just the professional ranks. For me, it harkened back to the days when perhaps every town in the states had its own baseball team, organized from AAA down to the D division.
The next suburb is Rohrbach, which is the southward extension of Heidelberg's downtown, running along the streetcar tracks from Bismarckplatz in the north down to Ortenauerstrasse in the south. I labelled this one as the cultural center, as it contains a theater, several churches, numerous hotels and restaurants (particular closer to the downtown), and a host of churches. It also houses the city cemetary and hospital. Rohrbacherstrasse is the main drag, and it resembles a strip mall, though the shops and restaurants are moderate in quality (with exceptions). The neighborhoods there are quiet, mostly two-family houses with a few four-flat apartment buildings.
Rohrbach follows a deep cut in a valley heading due south toward Leimen, and the adjacent ridge line contains a number of nice houses tucked away among the trees. As I would find in a number of cities, the Germans like to build streets on the hills directly parallel to the ground, connected together either by zigzagged roads or, in Rohrbach's case, by building avenues that go straight uphill at more than ten degrees. Although Rohrbach looked like both a picturesque and convenient location to live in, I didn't relish the thought of subjecting my car to that level of torture!
Technically, Rohrbach Süd is not a separate suburb from Rohrbach, but I treat is as such here because it is physically separate from the rest of Rohrbach and shares nothing in common. Rohrbach Süd is the industrial and commercial center, dominated by large warehouses and shopping malls. Blocks upon blocks of these buildings reside there, near the train tracks on the north-south route from Heidelberg to Stuttgart. Rohrbach Süd is also expanding, with new office buildings recently completed and more construction projects underway.
Along with Pfaffengrund, much of houseware shopping was done in the Familia Center and adjacent malls in Rohrbach Süd. These shopping centers are not unlike American shopping malls, but the Germans do not use malls exlusively the way we Americans do -- they still rely on the neighborhood stores for daily wares, particularly if it means they don't have to drive.
The other two suburbs sit high on the hills east of Rohrbach Süd, called Boxberg and Emmertsgrund. These two are mainly residential neighborhoods, dominated by high-rise apartment complexes, built on the hillside beyond some vineyards. Emmertsgrund is almost exclusively high-rises and is clearly visible from the main road, as the fifth photo suggests. Boxberg, to the left, is much larger but better dispersed and more tucked into the trees.
I did check into some of the available apartments there and found them inexpensive and clean, but frankly could not get over the idea against living in high rises when there were plenty of other options available. Also, neither had much in the way of markets or other businesses nearby, which meant I would have spent a lot more time going back and forth down to Rohrbach Süd for grocery shopping and other basics... something I can do in Nussloch by walking out my front door.
Several of the other large cities I've visited seem to have single-function districts like this, Kassel coming to mind. I found it an interesting and sharp contrast to the make-up of the smaller towns, with its commercial avenues and residential areas heavily concentrated in the center and the town industries not far away.
Also available: Segment on the Heidelberg Christmas Market
Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001, 2003 Tom Galvin