A town on the river and a beloved maiden: Heilbronn

Heilbronn combines Swabian virtues with Franconian joie de vivre, industriousness and a sense of tradition with tolerance and the love of good wine. Tucked away amid open, gently rolling countryside and surrounded by vineyards, Heilbronn is much-loved for its beautiful location on the river Neckar, its picturesque vistas and historical buildings.

The river Neckar plays a big part in everyday life in Heilbronn. There is even a theatre ship, the only floating stage in the whole of southern Germany. You can discover Heilbronn and the surrounding area on one of the many riverboats that operate on the Neckar. The Heilbronn taxi boat is available for exclusive sightseeing tours of the smaller waterways and the inland port, one of largest anywhere in Germany. Even in their leisure time, locals are drawn to the waterside. Heilbronn's lush riverbank promenade is ideal for inline skating, cycling or leisurely strolls. And in summer, 'Hip Island' with its sandy beach and bars is perfect for whiling away the hours.

The home of Käthchen

The Neckar – and Käthchen: the eponymous heroine of Heinrich von Kleist's medieval play is the second great passion of the people of Heilbronn. Exactly what Käthchen has to do with the town is not really known, but that doesn't seem to trouble the locals too much, because she is credited with making the town famous. Every two years, they choose their own 'Käthchen' plus two assistants at a festive ball. The Käthchenhaus, a large Gothic stone house from the 14th century, only received its name in 1843 when it was christened as such by travel guides. The town hall also merits a visit, not only as a fine example of early modern architecture, but also for its ornamental astronomical clock. Created by Isaak Habrecht in 1580, this has an inner circle showing the days of the week and their corresponding heavenly bodies: the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Months appear in the middle circle, symbolised by the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the days, weeks and months are represented in the outer circle. The time is told every hour in a mini mechanical miracle. During a memorable spectacle, trumpet-playing angels turn on their places and count out the chimes, gilded rams lock horns, and a rooster crows from his perch.

Of wine and water

Equally unforgettable could be an evening spent imbibing excellent wine at the various inns and taverns in the town. With over 500 hectares of vineyards, Heilbronn is one of the most important wine-growing areas in Germany. There are also 50 or so fountains at which the water flows as freely as the wine.

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