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Enjoy Jazz Festival, Days 4-6: November 11-13, 2010

Enjoy Jazz Festival, Days 4-6: November 11-13, 2010
John Kelman By
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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6
Enjoy Jazz Festival
Mannheim/Heidelberg/Ludwigshafen, Germany
November 8-13, 2010

Every city has a story, but some have more than others. Heidelberg, Germany, has a history as rich and varied as might be expected from a place that dates back to the middle of the first century AD, when the Romans began to settle in the area, but actually goes even further back, to 600,000 BC, when Homo heidelbergensis, a precursor to the Neanderthal man, was discovered—the oldest known human fossil, and the earliest evidence of human habitation in Central Europe.

Fast-forward a mere 602,010 years, and Heidelberg is a vibrant university town, where roughly one in four of its 135,000 inhabitants is a student at Old Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university, and a place now world-renowned for its programs in natural sciences and law. The first mention of Heidelberg dates back to 1196, making the creation of the university in 1386 a remarkable event, especially considering the great divide between the aristocracies and working people. Old Heidelberg University was, at the time, a place for the elite, and its student prison, one of many parts of the University preserved for public viewing, wasn't exactly a prison in the conventional sense of the word. Yes, students who would go out, get drunk and let loose the pigs belonging to the regular townspeople (thus, the term "hog wild"), would be incarcerated by the university; but after a couple days of bread and water (assuming their sentence even extended beyond that), they were able to attend classes, meet with friends and have food and wine brought in. With a lot of time on their hands, the precursor to modern day graffiti peppers the wall of the prison.

Artwork on the walls of Old Heidelberg University Student Prison

A look at the history of the University is to see the changes that have taken place in Heidelberg. Once a city with a less-than-illustrious past of anti-semitism that dates back to the Hep Hep pogroms of the 1800s and through the Nazi regime of World War II, the University now hosts the only program in Jewish Studies in Germany, where half the students are, in fact, gentiles. The University's Ault Aula ("Old Hall"), like the rest of the University, was rebuilt after Heidlberg—along with over 600 other towns—was destroyed by Louis XIV of France in the late 1600s; but the "new" construction is a remarkable venue, used for convocations, weddings and other important events, and looks like a period piece from a film, except that it's a living, breathing space. In a city where there is no dress code, it's a sure bet that if there are people dressed to the nines, they're either going to a wedding, or a function at the Ault Aula.

The Ault Aula, Old Heidelberg University

The University's library is one of the most impressive in Germany, if not the world. With over 3.5 million catalogued books—many situated underneath the actual building, accessible by a series of tracks—students request books and receive them the next day, after they've been retrieved from storage. The library is also the site of many exhibitions, and one of the more intriguing ones in recent times is the Codex Manesse display, revolving around an illuminated manuscript in codex form that was completed in 1340, and is the first known document of songs that didn't revolve around either academics or religion. Instead, the Codex Manesse is about love in its many forms, though because of the culture of the time, it was inevitably about yearning and love lost.

Page from The Codex Manesse

The story of how the book came to be, how it was then lost to Heidelberg for centuries and, finally, restored to the city through an unusual barter with France in 1888, is interesting in itself, but more intriguing are the pages, songs and stories in the Codex Manesse, which reflect a time when, for the most part, marriages were arranged and women were often treated as little more than breeders—sometimes cloistered away to live their lives in solitude, barring occasional visits from their husbands to father a child. But some of the stories contained in the Manesse are both lovely and surprisingly prescient, addressing issues such as the impossible dream of combining fame, fortune and spirituality.

Early violin at Codex Manesse Exhibition

The 137 manuscripts were done by a handful of artists, but while the stories contained are clear, and because the music itself was never documented at the time, much is left to the imagination, although a bowed instrument that predates the violin makes the musical connection as clear as is possible under the circumstances.

The sense of history that pervades Heidelberg, for people coming from countries with shorter histories such as Canada and the United States, is a profound experience, and one that filters through to many of the venues used by Enjoy Jazz throughout its seven-week run.

Chapter Index
  1. Day 4: Food, feat. Nils Petter Molvær & Christian Fennesz
  2. Day 5: Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers
  3. Day 6: Harold López-Nussa Trio
  4. Wrap-Up

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