Locks of love

To see locks on doors and gates is normal. But to see colourful locks, on a bridge, serving no ostensible purpose can trigger a dash to the nearest WiFi spot and wake up the browser on the phone.
Travel often offers a warm sprinkle of moments when what the eyes absorb is both new and interesting! The nudging of the browser leads to images and passages springing out and shining a torch on slices of culture that fuels a travelers quest. These discoveries are accentuated by how much these are a way of life in one part of the world while remaining dark, distant or taking other forms in other parts of the world.
Locks. The moment you hear ‘LOCKS’ what are the first images that rush to your mind? To me, locks haven’t held any allure. Sure, they are useful and are necessary in modern society. Perhaps pointing to the ways of the world we live in. Locks and the need for locks  has only grown exponentially!


These locks affixed on this bridge, held enough intrigue to consume my thoughts for a while. I soon figured, these are called Love Locks.
A while later, my curiosity knew no bounds as I soaked in the story of Love Locks.  A relatively new phenomenon originating in Europe about couples in love attaching locks on bridges and throwing the key into the river! Fortification of love, in some form. Tourists did it usually, I read. The bridge across River Neckar in Heidelberg seemed to hold quite a few locks.
But that was a number that paled in comparison to what the internet threw up as examples. Like this bridge in Paris which caved in under the weight of these locks of love!  That Love Locks themselves could be affixed in different bridges for different reasons. Or the website that came up against ‘Love Locks’ as a category! Or the website that came up to send Love Locks : Choose your bridge, choose the lock, pay the money! If I had been on the topic for some more time, I was reasonably sure of finding a start up working on moneitsing this phenomenon. And there, I stopped.
I recall standing there, taken by the pristine river, the quiet expanse and the immediate contrast of colourful locks on a historic bridge! As my eyes surveyed the locks, fresh rain drops ran off them onto the bridge.  As the drops hurried on and disappeared from the parapet wall, I wondered if they held any clue to the people who affixed the locks. Who were they, I wondered. What hopes did they harbour? And what fears?  I shook my head and hoped they still were in love!

Just then, one large bird flew in, settled amidst and walked about the Love Locks. With cackles and calls adding colour to the quiet scene. Interrupted otherwise only by the soft pitter patter of scattering rain. Within minutes, he was joined by his companion.





They seemed to survey the locks, and the river. With some level of detached interest. Perhaps they laughed at human kind’s ways. Perhaps. In a while the rain intensified. And as I ran for cover, the pair flapped their wings and flew away.
From a distance, only the bridge remained. With Love Locks, and dripping rain. Holding a bunch of hopes and prayers.  Thoughts of the ‘locks of love’ ran ignited new thoughts and a fresh round of questions in my mind for a few days. The next day morning I woke up and wondered, after all, What is life without hope? And love?
Any object which helps have a shade of hope and a sliver of love opens up the future just a bit more. So be it, if it were just a lock and a river! Perhaps it helps the flow and in the crossing over to a joyful future.
What else is there?
This post is the last in the series (for now) from a travel to Heidelberg. Earlier posts are here, here and here! 🙂

Bridge Monkey

The internet has powered travel like a turbo charger fitted onto an otherwise placid car. This grand marriage of a placid car and the turbo charger is of little use if after the marriage, you gift the car to a chap who firmly believes that flooring the pedal is a new age sin! When God sits on the dashboard, flooring the pedal is a good thing to do. Especially, if its about harnessing the power of the Internet before you visit a place. Yes, before the trip.

Trawling the internet for tidbits about places that I would see gives my wanderlust as much power as it gives the love for waddlesome sloth, a new meaning. Trawling for tidbits about Heidelberg lead me to the ‘Bridge Monkey’. Monkeys (and for that matter, any ape) hold human kind’s (read ‘my’) attention like none else. I leave it to you to mull over reasons.

Heidelberg’s Bridge Monkey I read, was a ‘tourist attraction’. Clangs of the keys on the keyboard absorbed what otherwise would have been a garrulous tirade on ‘tourist attractions’. I continued to indulge in the insoluble appetite for finding more and soon there was a pile of information that showed up on the screen.

The present day Bridge Monkey is a bronze sculpture that took its place at one end of the famous old bridge called Karl-Theordor-Brucke across the pristine River Neckar. The bridge by itself deserves a separate post. Perhaps many bound volumes of an encyclopedia. Any structure that is as pretty, or as resilient ( it was rebuilt nine times since 1742 ) deserves much more than a passing mention. But this post is about the Bridge Monkey. So there.

The present day Bridge Monkey showed up for the first time 1979. The work of Professor Gernot Rumpf . One website talked about the existence of a similar statue in an earlier time. An installation that disappeared as war and bloodshed punctured the pretty sight and the brilliant air. Sometime between 1689-93.

The idea of the ‘Bridge Monkey’, looked like one nice package and as though that wasn’t enough, it had a legend thrown in as well. Now, with a legend, even a passing gap in a mountain or pile of brick amasses a cloak of righteous importance.

One website told me that “..the Bridge Monkey is intended as a symbolic reminder to Heidelberg’s citizens that neither the city-dwellers nor the people who lived outside the city of Heidelberg were better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as they cross the bridge to remember this”.

By now, the Bridge Monkey had grown in stature in my mind. It had morphed from a ‘tourist attraction’ to a ‘must-see’

So, on a cold rain-soaked evening in Heidelberg, just as the pebbled streets of the old city radiated their stately presence in luxurious understated elegance, I saw the Bridge Monkey. And was instantly aware of the surprise that enveloped me. You see, the trouble with trawling for tidbits is that it surreptitiously provides for constructing an experience in the mind. Often times, what turns up on the ground, can be quite different to what the mind constructs.

The Bridge Monkey in reality presented itself as a structure that is much smaller and simpler than that one the mind had drawn up. Plus, it is unmarked and shows up just like that, at the end of this street.

Heidelberg bridge

I must hurry to give some context. If at all this was to be in India, signboards which said something like ‘One Kilometer to world famous Bridge Monkey’ would be the norm from 357 kilometers! Stores selling sugar cane juice to Super Computers would carry the name of the Bridge Monkey as their names. Photographers lugging cameras would try and entice you into clicking a snap with the Bridge Monkey and hand it out to you in a jiffy.

A customary board that would say ‘The World Famous Bridge Monkey is closed between 2.00 PM – 4.00 PM. Please queue for tickets’. I would have queued as the Sun bristled and beads of sweat marked their presence and as a listless man from behind a dark counter hands over a ticket to enter, I would already be prepared to soak in for whatever follows with a degree of awe.

As much irritating I may make all of these sound, they provide life to the statue and livelihood to a zillion people in the neighbourhood.


In forlorn loneliness it stood. Much smaller than what my mind had conjured up. (Can you spot the Monkey’s tail in the picture above? Peeking amongst the umbrellas)?  An average Ganpati mandal organised by a the local auto drivers would have three times the size an infinite quantum of more noise around it and a scale of fervour that is indescribable. Especially so, considering the fact that the Bridge Monkey had its own prowess too.

Legends and myths invariably have a ring of things to do as well. Action items if you will that perpetuate the myth plus, make the visit seem purposeful! The Bridge Monkey is no exception.


Infact its awesomeness comes three pronged. It is believed that you could run your hands over the mirror to be blessed with fortune, touch the fingers of the monkey for a return to the city of Heidelberg. Plus, touching the accompanying mice, would get you more kids! From whatever little I saw, people go for the mirror and the monkey’s hands, but are cagey about the mouse.

A monkey with a cat face, who can bless you with wealth, travel and kids would be an alluring business proposition. The city of Heidelberg doesn’t seem to think so is obvious from the fact that the Bridge Monkey is left relatively untouched by commerce around it!

In its understated yet active presence, the city seems to showcase its own character. Of a simple, stately and rich presence. A presence that is unobtrusive. And in that unobtrusive solitude, he grew on me.

As time sped by in reckless haste, matched only by tiny flakes of snow that the rain seemed to bring, I found my hands involuntarily touch the fingers of the Bridge Monkey.

So far, nothing. Lets see. 🙂

A lady & her passion! At the Heidelberg Castle

There was a mischievous twinkle in her eye that seemed to light up the evening sky, sparkling incessantly the first time I spoke to her. She looked abjectly interested in where I was from and what tales I brought. It was kind of ironic for she was present to tell some to us. Some people have this raw beauty. A beauty that comes from staying genuinely curious about everything and every person they meet. She was one of them.  There were several other pluses. She was beautiful.  She personified passion. Often times she spoke of love and lucre with a sort of equanimity that would cause a balance to ache. I could have spent hours speaking to her. Time can be a cruel spoilsport. Limited time, is even worse.

We were at the Heidelberg castle. She was our tour guide. She did a swell job of guiding us through the ruins. In a cold weather that the insides of my bones were becoming present to, I became more and more aware of the prescience in her stories and the near perfect timing with which she shared them all. It was not as much the depth of the story, but the intensity of her sharing that brought alive a few hundred year old ruin.

More of the lady, later. The Heidelberg Castle first.




Every city boasts of a few places that are a ‘must go’, if you ever want to tell that world that you indeed went to that place. The Castle happens to be that place for Heidelberg. Now there are tons of notes on the internet starting here, about the Heidelberg castle starting here. What follows now is an incomplete recounting from random notes. Standard disclaimers apply!

For one, the castle is genuinely old. The first mention of this structure is circa 1214 AD. That’s a long time, even by Indian standards, where ‘this is a 1600 year old structure’ can be said with a matter of routine matter of fact, monotone. The structure has survived wars, destruction and even a couple of lightning strikes. A second lightning  strike in fact knocking out a structure that was built in place of a structure that was knocked down by the first strike. Some persistence there!

There were stories of Kings and Queens running away. Falling in love. Fighting the enemy. The Vanquished. The Victors. The armies. The victories. The flags. I couldn’t help think of this quip, standing amidst the ruins there : We learn from history that we don’t learn from history!

Irrespective of all the philosophy stuff, the place presents the visitor with some wonderful objects to construct in the mind how life would have been many years earlier. Exquisite art adorns every corner. In an understated quiet, that you would miss if you didn’t have an extra moment or just that extra dash of curiosity. Here is a door handle as proof. Certainty runs amuck in my mind, that I have missed much! Which is reason enough to want to go back there again.

castle gate




There were a few moments during the entire trip when I rued not carrying a camera  that would do justice the richness that was there for the taking. Standing amidst the ruins of the castle, hearing the stories that were being told, every crevice, every nook and all corners seemed to heap scorn on my lazy idiocy of not carrying the right equipment. But in the soaking in of the raw beauty, there was an immersion in the moment. That was a bold silver lining.

No trip the castle is complete without seeing the huge oak casks built to house  wine! 130 oak trees, the lady said, as I gawked at the heady number. Just that fact could have well given me a solid hangover, as I surveyed the huge casks. What seems like sophisticated plumbing with pipes and taps dart across the barrels. Wine on a tap, could have been cool stuff! Man’s foresight to satisfy his thirst hundreds of years ago is commendable!


I turned to check if my good friend, Mark Twain had anything to say about this opulence in inebriation!  Here is his inimitable take. “Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand  bottles and other traditions say it  holds eighteen hundred million barrels.  I think it is likely that one of these statements is a mistake and the other is a lie. However the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense”  – Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad

The castle seems to have been brought down by a combination of natures prowess, man’s greed and neglect! But then, it is said to to be still standing because of the fact that it is a ‘ruin’.  Surviving a full question of whether comprehensive restoration was required or otherwise, the decision was to leave it a ruin. Ruins make some interesting read and conversation.

The castle itself, except for some portions, the rooms and such else are fully in use. There are administrative blocks, restaurants etc. Plus you could get married here. In the Summer Festival (July-Aug), the place is supposed to come alive and adorn a different avatar that the quiet persona that we were introduced to is an inadvertent mistake.

Time, as I said earlier, is cruel. Especially when it shortens the possibility of what seems to be presented on a platter with a flourish. I just wished I had more time. Especially between me and the lady.

Now for the lady.



I have one gargantuan aggregation of a wish. It is this.  When I am as old as her, if I have a fraction of her passion, a portion of her curiosity, a whisper of her voice, a dose of her knowledge and a cut of her elegant countenance, I would count myself amidst the truly blessed. While the tiniest of quivers in her voice punctuated her sentences, the imprint they left on me, as an example of a life that is truly alive and purposeful, is striking.

My travels often put me in front of people and places. Some people just stay long after the dates of travel recede into the calendar archives. She sure will be one of those for me.

Heidelberg diaries

My travels took me to Germany. Again. Now, if a place beckons you again, sans notice sans fanfare, maybe there is a deeper connection. Who wouldn’t love a deeper connection with Germany anyway?

This time the flight landed in Frankfurt and a train ride helped me set my sights on the city of Heidelberg. A wonderful, serene city that offered far more than copious ‘romantic city’ that it gets talked about, on the internet.

Heid 5

Heidelberg is a beautiful place. It has pebbled roads. The brilliant clean river Neckar. Buildings are bridges that snatch the breath out of your lungs. Plus of course, a picturesque castle tempts the camera like a lollipop would tempt a haggled toddler’s parent! All of that is part of the old city.  And the old city, bristles with pride, shoulder to shoulder with the new city that has all trappings of a developed nation. Add an indelible stamp of a German skyline, where squares, right angles and order have a pervasive presence. Roads filled with cars, buses. Trams. Trains. Traffic Lights and beautiful people with heavy overcoats and other denominations of ‘winter wear’!

Needless to mention, you must have heard about the Heidelberg University, that ranks amongst the best! There are 55 Nobel Laureates that have a Heidelberg connection. FIFTY FIVE! Almost as thought the whole Nobel thing is rigged in its favour.

Here is something else that caught my attention.

In 1907, as a worker was digging up a sandpit, he spotted a jaw. Thankfully, he didn’t view it as a joke and turned it in to a professor at the Heidelberg University. Pretty prescient of him. For that was a fossil of someone who then got named the ‘Heidelberg man’! That fossil proved that the place was inhabited for a very long time. ( The fossil itself is called Homo Heidelberggensis that dates from at least 600,000 years to 1,300,000 years).

The earliest history of Man, having a Heidelberg connection wont have much allure to the selfie clicking-posting-on-facebook tourist, except when there is an opportunity to click a picture with the open jaw in the background! I don’t know if such an opportunity exists though. For some odd reason, the ‘dropped jaw’ as I called it, excited me no end. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to pursue it in person and click a jaw dropping picture of our forefather!

In the meanwhile, here are some pictures of the city.

Sprinting Press


Heid 3

Heid 1

I hope to rustle my Heidelberg memories and get a couple of more posts in soon. Of the castle and the city. And before I get drunk on the memory, I must write about the oak cask that was designed to hold wine! If I don’t, please nudge me.

The oldest description of Heidelberg from 1465 mentions that the city is “frequented by strangers”. It is a tourist destination that holds great allure for people around the world. During WW-II, Heidelberg was one of the few major cities in Germany that wasn’t bombed much. America had a base there, that it vacated in 2014! Yes, in 2014! Talk about long stays! Of course, the Americans staying on there, helped spread the word about Heidelberg’s beauty. Now it a busy  global tourist destination with Japanese tourists and American tourists dominating the scene.

Heidelberg has played hosts to a variety of celebrities. From Mark Twain (who wrote about it in The Tramp Abroad ) to Goethe to Victor Hugo and several others.

Such a stunning scenery which caused Mark Twain to remark

“The town lay, stretched along the river, its intricate cobweb of streets jeweled with twinkling lights. Behind the castle swells a dome-shaped hill, forest-clad, and beyond that a nobler and loftier one. The Castle looks down upon the compact brown-roofed town; and from the town two picturesque old bridges span the river. I have never enjoyed a view which had such a satisfying charm about it as this one gives.

One thinks Heidelberg by day—with its surroundings—is the last possibility of the beautiful; but when he sees Heidelberg by night, a fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned to the border, he requires time to consider upon the verdict”.

That was Mark Twain for you. Now, with my limited prowess, I will only go as far as saying that the city retains the essence of Mark Twain’s verse.

Make your plans people. Its a good place to go!

( Previous posts on the visit to Berlin are here, here, here and here )

Lights On! Past the proverbial crossroad.

On a travel, there is a charm that visiting a ‘famous’ place that is listed as a ‘must-see’ by Lonely Planet or spoken with great passion by someone who has already been there. Like for instance, The Brandenburg Gate of Berlin. Had I not seen the place, I would have gotten a look that people reserve for the most unkempt idiot who has suddenly inherited a fortune. 

Then there are other sorts of places, that are tucked away. That carry a very different charm. Look, “I-saw-something-that-you-didnt-and-you-spent-three-times-more-money-getting-to-the-place-and-back” value that these tucked away places have, is phenomenal, to say the least. Ofcourse, I have been a gullible sucker for such places.

But then, there are other places. Not really places, but aspects of daily life and living which carry a story or two in them. That quietly co-exist in a matter-of-fact way that you only get to discover it if you spend some more time on them. If only you plod, ask around and check. Theres a treasure trove in there. 

Ofcourse, I have something to show. If I wrote three paragraphs and you have come till here, well, there better be something. Isnt it? 

Here it is.


A traffic light in Berlin. Whats so special, you may wonder. Indeed there is. Well, for one they are not uniform. Thats surprising for Germany, wont you think? 
Below are three images from Wikipedia, that perhaps helps you see the difference. Both these co-exist. It was a matter of giant intrigue that and and some plodding later, I sat, shaking my head thinking about that I could have missed an interesting piece of history and culture, had I not asked around! Thank god I asked.   


The man seen on the traffic light is called the Amplemann. He was introduced on the traffic signals of East Berlin in 1961 by a traffic psychologist Kalr Peglau, with the argument that road users react more quickly to appealing symbols.  

Over a period of time, the  Amplemann merged with the culture of what was then East Berlin. He started getting cast as a ‘guardian angel’ in road safety training for children, games etc right from kindergarten. When kids connect at Kindergarten, the impressions are deep and stay for long! 

The reunification of Germany brought, the wall down and the people together. In the quest for standardisation, it was decided that the Amplemann, like several other East German aspects of life would soon be, as the cliched expression goes, be a relic of the past. The nineties saw the gradual phasing out of the Amplemann. But then, a ‘symbol’ that is in the minds of a a ‘society’ and a ‘way of life’ goes far beyond being just another symbol

In response to the discarding from the traffic lights, an industrial designer started making green and red Ampel lamps,  from the original glass of the discarded traffic lights. Ofcourse, it attracted attention. Ofcourse, the Amplemann was back on the discussion table, if not back on the traffic signals. 

Soon, a committee was formed to protect the Ampelmann. The arguments were both emotional and logical. The stocky figure of the Ampelmann  ensured that the symbol had more visibility, it was argued. Several products taking the shape of the Amplemann were launched. 

Fast forward to now. The Ampelmann urges you to stop or move, from the traffic lights of Berlin. Not from the main roads of Berlin, where his competitor, the “Euro man” holds court. But the Amplemann is back, so what if he is seen only in the secondary roads. He is still standing, as one of the last remaining visual elements of a part of a culture that is now part of a larger whole.

I picked large parts of the story from here and had it corroborated with the staff at the hotel, and a taxi driver who nodded in vigorous agreement. You didnt have to be Sherlock Holmes to find that they came from erstwhile East Germany! 

This perhaps was the most fascinating nugget that hooked my attention and enveloped my thoughts. Thank God I plodded around. And the plodding on the internet lead me to other aspects as well. For instance, I had no clue in the world that the traffic lights in Greece sported Wrestlers. Or for that matter, they sport Robots in Japan, on their traffic lights as well!  A compilation is here. And is even better here

Incredible world we live in.  We discover more of it, if we just plod around a little bit.  So, there is a note that I wrote for myself and stuck to my travel bag. “Ask around. Theres a story there”. Curiosity got me a lesson that usually lies sacrificed at the grand altar of ‘seeing one more tourist attraction’!