The city of Heidelberg is spread along the banks of the Neckar River in South-West Germany in the Rhine valley with a population of approximately 150,000 people. Writers are drawn to Heidelberg because of its literary history and contemporary reputation for literary excellence, and once there, they often find it hard to leave.
Heidelberg became the tenth City of Literature in December 2014 on the same day as Dunedin, Prague and Granada.
To receive a permanent UNESCO City of Literature designation cities must apply to UNESCO and meet and maintain exacting criteria. They must show that they have outstanding literary heritage, a vibrant contemporary scene, and importantly, that they are a city where their sector works collaboratively to grow and develop through their chosen artform, via capital development, cultural engagement programmes and international collaborations.
10 Things to Know About Heidelberg
- 1. Literary Zeitgeist
- Heidelberg’s literary history spans centuries, from the middle ages to the present. The city has always tended to be two things at once: a strong presence in poetry and a place where writers live. German Romanticism had its heyday in the early 19th century in Heidelberg, and the literary vibrancy continues to this day, in its cafes, its spoken word and poetry slams, and in its streets.
- 2. Writers and Translators
- Heidelberg has always been a centre of learning and literature and its famous writers include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, author of Faust, and the great Romantic-era writers Clemens Brentano, Bettina von Arnim and Friedrich Hölderlin.
The current literary scene has been shaped by writers including Michael Buselmeier, Hilde Domin, Hubert Bar, Steven Bloom, Jorg Burkhard and Christa Dericum.
Heidelberg has a renowned centre for translation, the Institute of Translation and Interpretation at Heidelberg University, and the city’s international outlook is seen in the range of writers drawn to the city. From Muhammad Iqbal and Mark Twain, to Charles Bukowski and JK Rowling, visiting writers are treasured just as much as home grown authors.
- 3. Places for Literature
- Heidelberg nurtures its literature in many locations: from the German-American Institute to the Heidelberger Literaturtage Festival and the Public Library; from the numerous cultural centres, university institutes and bookshops to private and public book clubs.
- 4. Libraries and Collections
- Heidelberg’s municipal and university libraries make up a huge part of the fabric of the city’s literary life and reading programmes. The University Library of Heidelberg is one of the best visited libraries in Germany, with a steadily growing electronic library, and works of historical importance including the Manesse Codex, a beautifully illustrated collection of medieval German poetry.
- 5. The Oldest University in Germany
- The Ruperto Carola, or Heidelberg University, as it’s more commonly known, was founded in 1386 and is the oldest university in Germany. Dozens of writers now associated with Heidelberg attended the university and the University has ten Nobel Prize winners to its name. The University has instituted a poetics lectureship, and together with the city awards the Brentano Prize once a year, a literary award recognising emerging talent. Along with Ruperto Carola, several other universities help make up the diversity that distinguishes science and research in the city.
- 6. City of Readers
- Heidelberg is a city of readers, especially among children, where books hold a special place in the everyday life of schools. Reading programmes are top of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools, and creative writing courses and theatre groups are hugely popular. This enthusiasm for literature reaches into the life of the city with literature clubs and reading groups proving increasingly popular.
- 7. City of Books and Book Dealers
- Perhaps most famously, the city makes printing presses which can be found all over the world bearing Heidelberg’s name. 50 publishing companies form an important part of the city’s literary industry, with many of them distinguished by their broad commitment to translation. Heidelberg is also packed with bookshops of all kinds, some general and some distinctly more quirky and specialised, including antiquarian booksellers.
- 8. Creativity and Commerce
- Heidelberg’s creative brilliance makes it an unusual economic player in Germany. The cultural and creative sector plays a far higher part in the overall economic performance of the city – over a third of the sector’s income is from literature and publishing business – higher than any other city in the country. In 2013 a centre for the creative economy, called the Centre of Creative Industries, was set up to help start-up businesses in the literary field.
- 9. Festivals and Performance
- The Heidelberg Literature festival, or Heidelberger Literaturtage, founded in 1994, is an international literature festival taking place over five days in the 300-seater Spiegeltent. Each year there are readings, talks and discussions by international, national and local authors, with writing workshops for children, panel discussions and concerts.
Heidelberg has a vibrant poetry slam scene, and prides itself on its German Rap Literature which has evolved over the years and taken in several global influences to become a spectacular literary form.
The city is also home to theatre. New writing and performance is an important part of Heidelberg’s culture, making it a diverse incubator for writing talent.
- 10. Literary Prizes
- Heidelberg honours local and international writers with literary prizes. The Clemens Brentano Young Authors Prize, hosted by Heidelberg University, awards 10 000 euros to young writers. The Hilde Domin Prize for Literature in Exile, named after the revered Heidelberg author, is awarded to works of fiction by writers in exile, giving Heidelberg’s literary legacy international reach and scope.