A literary trip in Heidelberg

Heidelberg had been on my places-I-really-really-have-to-go-to list (it’s one long list) for such a long time now that it’s actually shocking that I only managed to check it off this summer. Especially given that one of my very close childhood friends and sometimes accomplice moved there almost two years ago and I still hadn’t managed to visit her yet despite the number of times I have been gallivanting in Deutschland now.

The Old Bridge in Heidelberg
The Old Bridge in Heidelberg

We both grew up to be Urdu literature enthusiasts. Mind you, now I am one but back in the days, going to Urdu classes used to be the bane of my life which I endured for at least 12 years – yes now I’m quite grateful that I was forced into it. It was no wonder therefore that I wanted to visit the place where one of the most important Urdu poets and philosopher had lived and studied.

We had been exposed to the works of Allama Iqbal since a very young age and I can still recite some of his poems that I learned back when I was a child without missing a single verse. It’s also not surprising that I would try to retrace his steps during my stay in Heidelberg – which we did very successfully. After studying Law in Cambridge, Iqbal would move to Germany for his doctorate, studying both in Heidelberg and Munich (I only learned about this when I was in Heidelberg).

Whilst I didn’t get to wander around the University of Heidelberg, we did make a brief stop in front of the university library – one of the very first thing I saw in Heidelberg – which is just breathtaking. I did think I would have had some time to spend some time in there but we’ll save that for next time.

Major geek session
Major geek session

This however was not the end to my little trip. Heidelberg has been the home to so many pioneers in several fields as well as academics, philosophers and scientists (the list goes on) that it’s almost impossible to walk down a street without finding out that someone important once used to lived there. Did you know that Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, the developer of the Bunsen burner resided there? I didn’t. And I got so excited at this little bit of information when N pointed at (what once used to be) his house that we got made fun of by some male youngsters passing by. If only looks could kill…

The municipality of Heidelberg definitely does not forget those that once graced its streets. So off we were to “Iqbal Ufer”, the street honouring the poet and philosopher, located on the banks of the Neckar, hence the name “Ufer” which translates as ‘river bank’.

OMG WE’RE HERE (Yes not the best angle)

Just in the corner, by the traffic lights and the sign that says “Iqbal Ufer” is also a memorial stone with a translation of his poem “Ek sham Neckar ke kinare” (An evening on the banks of the Neckar/Greetings to the Neckar) engraved.

And there's even a poem!
And there’s even a poem!

Still ist der Berg und der Fluss und das Tal,
Es scheint die Natur in Sinnen versunken.
Die gefiederten Sänger verstummten zumal,
Und der Wald an dem Hügel ruht schlummertrunken.
Die Karawane der Sterne zieht
Ohne Glöckchenklingen auf himmlischen Wegen.
Still leuchtet der Mond, die Bewegung entflieht,
Im Schosse der Nacht sich schlafen zu legen.
So stark ist der Stille Zaubermacht,
Dass der Neckar ruht, nicht weiterfliessend.
Nun sei auch Du stille, mein Herz, in der Nacht.
Und schlafe, das Leid in Dich verschliessend.

The Neckar - a source of inspiration
The Neckar – a source of inspiration

Still is the mountain and the river and the valley,
It seems that Nature is lost in thought.
The feathered singers were silent since,
And the forest on the hill rests drunk in slumber.
The caravan of stars
Without bells ringing on celestial paths.
Still illuminates the moon, who flees movement,
In the bosom of the night, they sleep
So strong is the power of silence,
That the Neckar rests, not flowing.
Now my heart, you should also quiet at night.
And fall asleep, locking the suffering in you.

(My German isn’t too good so if anyone finds a mistake in the above, please let me know).

Finally, after some help from Google, we managed to find the house where he resided (Address: 58, Neuenheimer Landstraße) with a sandstone plaque on the wall commemorating him. That was definitely the cherry on the cake as even my friend who had apparently been living literally 10 minutes from there hadn’t been able to find so we were able to geek out together rather than just me going all nerd in public. Apparently there will be an museum dedicated to Iqbal that’s going to be opened in Heidelberg soon so that should definitely be interesting.

Iqbal's house
Iqbal’s house
He was here.
He was here.

We definitely dug out old Urdu poems when we came back home in the evening, and I realised that despite not having read Urdu for more than six years, I still had it in me. Although I definitely should work on it some more. Going back to have Urdu classes is yet another thing on my long list.

Heidelberg from above
Heidelberg from above

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